When Sh!t Gets Real

When Sh!t Gets Real: A Conversation with Some of Reality Television’s Finest

February 29, 2024 A DGA Reality Television Committee & Western AD/SM/PA Council Event

On February 29, DGA members gathered at the Guild’s Los Angeles Theater for the informative and entertaining discussion, When Sh!t Gets Real: A Conversation with Some of Reality Television’s Finest. Co-hosted by the Reality Television Committee and the Western AD/SM/PA Council, the event featured Director/Reality Television Committee Co-Chair Joseph Guidry (Deal or No Deal Island, The Big Brunch), Directors Rich Kim (Lego Masters, Master Chef) and Michael Shea (FBoy Island, Bachelor in Paradise) and Associate Director/Stage Managers Mickel Picco (World’s Toughest Race, Master Chef), Jason Edwards (The Masked Singer, Barmageddon) and Andy Nelson (Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars, Making It) in a conversation moderated by Reality Television Committee Co-Chairs, Director J. Rupert Thompson (Fear Factor, Wipeout) and Stage Manager David A. Charles (The Masked Singer, Shark Tank), where they discussed the intricacies and unpredictable nature of making programs in the Reality Television genre.

The event kicked off with a welcome from moderators Thompson and Charles who said, “Thank you, everyone, for coming. We just wanted to talk to you about the crazy experiences that we’ve had working in the genre and to bring to light a little bit about what we do as Directors and what our teams do to pull off the craziness that happens when we’re on the set.” They also took a moment to commend the DGA for having acknowledged for so many years the excellent work that Unscripted/non-Dramatic Directors and Directorial Teams do, saying that the rest of the industry is just now catching up. Next year will mark the 20th year of the DGA Award category “Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs.”

After presenting clips from various Reality programs, the panelists discussed their work and what it takes to create unforgettable moments in one of the newest genres of television.

Guidry spoke about how his “first day” of shooting Deal or No Deal Island consisted of two days due to unforeseen weather. “We had everything set up, but then we also had Mother Nature. We shot this in Bocas del Toro, Panama and you can’t really tell the weather there. You have no idea when it’s going to rain. So, that happened. We had to push the day. So, we pushed the day, and we were back-time. We had to start the show on a Monday and it was Thursday that we had to push. Crews were going into six days and seven days, so we couldn’t shoot over the weekend.” To get the necessary opening shots of the cast arriving on the island, he had to cut into a photo-op day. “We had a very small amount of time with this cast because the cast had to go back to their photo-ops. So, I only had three and half hours with them. But I had our four cameras and we just rushed it!”

Edwards explained how there always has to be coverage on the set of a Reality TV show, but that can come into conflict when the crew has to take breaks during the workday. Hitting meal penalty isn’t uncommon on these sets where exciting moments happen just as the crew is scheduled to break for lunch. He said, “We have to figure out how to rotate people through lunch so that we don’t have to break the coverage. So, maybe we send three crews to lunch now, these three crews go into meal penalty, and then we flip flop. But, obviously when that kind of thing is happening, we cannot break the scene. So, we figure out ways to keep it moving.”

Reflecting on all of the places he’s had to set up his video villages, Kim said that one experience in particular took the cake. “I do remember having to set up a little video village with little monitors underneath the table of the scene that I was actually shooting. So, I’m literally in between everyone’s knees and legs, looking at these monitors while they’re talking and eating dinner above me. I’m in the middle of the scene, whispering into the walkie!”

Recalling the uncertainty that comes with working on a race competition show like World’s Toughest Race, Picco shared, “We had a challenge team, I remember, and they coursed the race out. It was an actual adventure racing team. A logistical team. And they were like, ‘This is what we anticipate it being.’ And so, we all kind of followed that system. But then the competing teams just outpaced that! So, then we were playing quick hopscotch trying to get ahead.”

Nelson, who also worked on World’s Toughest Race with Picco, explained his responsibilities while working out of the control room, not in the field with the rest of the crew. “Normally we would do one of these boat races and it would be done in four hours, and we’d go to lunch and then everybody would go home. But this was – these people are leaving; we’re not going to see them again for six to eight days, depending on how long it all takes. They would sleep out in the field. We had this James Bond-type operation in a hotel. Every camera team had a GPS tracker in it. Every contestant boat had a GPS tracker in it. And we were able to watch in real time where everybody was so we could send things out to support them. And it was a twenty-hour a day process because the race didn’t stop. It just went, and then eventually was over in six days.”

Asked about the process of shooting for Reality TV, Shea said, “You plan, and then you do what you can.” Shea attributed a lot of those moments to great collaboration with his team and sometimes with help from the show’s contestants/cast. He acknowledged that you can only do so much in prep, but when the day to start shooting comes, you have to be ready for anything.

The event ended with an informal reception in the DGA lobby.

See video from this event in the gallery below.

About the panelists:
J. Rupert ThompsonDirector J. Rupert Thompson (co-moderator)
Thompson’s directorial credits include programs such as MTV News, Wipeout, America’s Next Top Model, Guy’s Grocery Games, American Gladiators and Battle of the Network Stars. He has been nominated for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs seven times: in 2008 for Estate of Panic, "102, That Sinking Feeling,” in 2006 for Fear Factor, "Military Fear Factor, Season Finale," in 2011 for Fear Factor 2.0, "Scorpion Tales," in 2012 for Stars Earn Stripes, "Amphibious Assault" and in 2013 for The Hero, "Teamwork." He has twice taken home the award in that category: in 2005 for his Fear Factor episode, "Heist Fear Factor, Season 6 Premiere" and in 2016 for his American Grit episode, "The Finale - Over the Falls." Thompson has been a DGA member since 1995 and currently serves as a Co-Chair of the Reality Television Committee, as an alternate on the DGA National Board and previously served as an alternate on the Western Directors Council. 
David A. CharlesAssociate Director/Stage Manager David A. Charles (co-moderator)
Charles’ Associate Director and Stage Manager credits include programs such as The Oscars Red Carpet, The Masked Singer, The World's Best, Beat Shazam, Ellen's Game of Games, Drop the Mic, Lip Sync Battle, America's Next Top Model, Big Brother, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deal or No Deal and Shark Tank. He has also worked as a Director and was nominated for the 2020 DGA Award in the Reality Programs category for his “3,2,1...Go!” episode of the series, World's Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. A DGA member since 2000, Charles currently serves as First Vice Chair of the Western AD/SM/PA Council and as a Co-Chair of the Reality Television Committee and has served on various Guild committees including the Return-to-Work Committee, the Safety Committee and the Negotiating Committee. 
Joseph GuidryDirector Joseph Guidry
Guidry’s directorial credits include episodes of Deal or No Deal Island, Project Greenlight: A New Generation, Brain Games on the Road, About Last Night, The Netflix Afterparty, Red Table Talk, Top Chef Jr, Movie Night With Karlie Kloss, Say It to My Face!, Kimora: House of Fab, Kidnapped by the Kids and Punk’d. He has been nominated four times for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs: in 2023 for Project Greenlight: A New Generation, “PGL vs. Gray Matter Problem” (shared with: Alexandra Lipsitz), in 2022 for The Big Brunch, “Carb Loading Brunch,” in 2021 for Full Bloom, “Final Floral Face Off,” and took home won the Award in this category in 2020 for his Full Bloom episode: “Petal to the Metal.” Guidry has been a DGA member since 2015 and currently serves as a co-chair of the Reality Television Committee. 
Rich KimDirector Rich Kim
Kim’s directorial credits include episodes of Master Chef, Master Chef Jr, Is It Cake?, Dr. Seuss Baking Show, Wipeout, Family Game Fight, Foodtastic, Making It, Let's Talk, Project Runway, Skin Wars, The Briefcase, Tough Love, Shedding for the Wedding and Awake: The Million Dollar Game. He has been nominated three times for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs: in 2023 for Lego Masters, “Is It Brick?,” in 2022 for Lego Masters, “Jurass-brick World” and in 2020 for Lego Masters, “Mega City Block.” Kim has been a DGA member since 2009. 
Michael SheaDirector Michael Shea
Shea’s directorial credits include episodes of Ex on the Beach, The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, Cosmic Love, Cake Boss: Next Great Baker, Best Baker in America, Wedding Cake Challenge, Winner Cakes All, Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge, Supermarket Stakeout, Christmas Cookie Challenge, The One That Got Away and FGirl Island. He was for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Reality Programs in 2022 for FBoy Island, “Do You Like Cats?” Shea has been a DGA member since 2017. 
Jason EdwardsAssociate Director/Stage Manager Jason Edwards
Edwards’ credits include programs such as FGirl Island, Fboy Island, Kids Say the Darndest Things, Love is Blind, Paradise Hotel, Double Dare, Top Shot, Survivor, Top Chef, Face Off, What the Fit, The Glee Project, Kicking & Screaming, Double Dare and The Masked Singer where he has also directed segments. He has been a DGA member since 2012. 
Andy NelsonAssociate Director/Stage Manager Andy Nelson
Nelson’s Stage Manager and/or Associate Director credits include episodes of shows and specials such as The Masked SingerThe Biggest Loser, The Titan Games, World of Dance, Ultimate Tag, Eco Challenge, Domino Masters, Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer, Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars and Baking It. Nelson has been a DGA member since 2007 and has served three terms on the Western AD/SM/PA Council as a member or alternate. 
Mickel PiccoAssociate Director/Stage Manager Mickel Picco
Picco’s credits include episodes of shows and specials such as Master Chef, Master Chef Jrs, Domino Masters, Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food StarsRenovation Impossible,Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, CMT Music Awards, World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, Project Runway, The Final Table, 12 Dates of Christmas, The Voice, Beat Shazam, Titan Games, America’s Next Top Model, Domino Masters, World of Dance, FBoy Island and FGirl Island. Picco has been a DGA member since 2017. 

About the DGA Reality Television Committee

Formed in 2003, the Reality Television Committee seeks to address areas of concern that apply to Directors and Director’s team members working in this genre and promote the DGA’s Reality Television Agreements so that members working on these shows may continue to enjoy Guild protections and benefits.

About the Western AD/SM/PA Council:

The Western AD/SM/PA Council is the elected body that represents the Guild members who reside in the Western region and work in television as Associate Directors, Stage Managers or Production Associates.

Pictures & Video

photos by Elisa Haber

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