Do you ever watch your favourite reality TV show and wonder to yourself, “So just how does this get made?” I do constantly, and when I want to know something, I fall down a rabbit hole until I get answers. This time I was lucky enough to have a happy history with showrunner, producer, and director Jessica Nahmias, who agreed to give me the rundown of what happens behind-the-scenes, when the cameras are rolling, and when they’re not.
Nahmias has built a solid career, working in LA and Toronto since 2009. After beginnings in entertainment news, she re-ignited her passion for storytelling with real (read: non-famous) people, and started her reality career on shows including TLC’s “Addicted” and Spike’s “Bar Rescue.” She landed her dream job when she was approached by the producers of “The Bachelor” to work on a then-unknown show called “Bachelor in Paradise.”
Since then, her resume reads like a romantic rap sheet: The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and BIP; Love at First Kiss, the TLC show where strangers kissed with the hope of finding lasting romance; Yours, Mine or Ours, the Bravo (US) series where cameras follow couples moving in together, and the currently on-air Gusto series, Where to I Do?, where Tommy Smythe helps engaged couples find the wedding venue of their dreams.
Needless to say, she knows her stuff when it comes to unscripted, romantic reality. She shares with us 10 things you might not know about being a reality TV producer…
1. When you produce a reality show about romance, you need to get close with your cast members quickly. I mean, we’re asking people to share the most intimate aspects of their lives with the world, so we really have to dive in there, right off the bat. For example, I was interviewing a potential couple for season two of Where to I Do? recently, and within five minutes of knowing them – via Skype, no less – they told me I was their “marriage counsellor” and they’d forego pre-marital counselling because they felt like they were already getting it from me. I had been talking to them on a video chat for five minutes.
2. As a reality TV producer on a dating show, you always have to carry Listerine strips on you for your cast, for obvious reasons. After I’d wrap a season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, I’d find those little packs everywhere while unpacking.
3. You need some serious fanny-pack game to be a reality TV producer. You have walkies clipped to you constantly, and all sorts of wires going in and out of your ears, so you need something to clip them to so your pants don’t fall down. Also, you need a space to carry the requisite breath mints, a little notepad (to help you remember your interview questions), and anything else that’s important. At first, I was super embarrassed to don an FP, but now I have a serious collection going. I think my next purchase will be the men’s Supreme FP.
4. We spend a lot of our lives on the floor. Not a metaphor – like, literally, the ground. We need to be close enough to our cast to know what’s going on, but far enough so they don’t feel we’re being creepy. And on top of all that, we need to stay out of shots, so I’d say about 50% of my time on set involves me being on the ground in some way.
5. We work really long hours. I think audiences don’t always realize how long it takes to shoot a show. There’s so much involved, and we’re also at the mercy of things like light and weather. On Where to I Do?, each venue tour airs for about 4-5 minutes in the actual show, but it takes us all day to shoot one venue. All those beautiful shots of spaces on any design or real estate show take hours to get, and then in post-production you have to choose the right ones to fit your story and to fit the shots before and after it.
6. We use a lot of lingo. “10-1” means bathroom break. “10-2” means… well, you can guess. “OTF” means “on the fly,” those confessional-type interviews you see when cast is talking to the camera. But the funny thing is, often they’re done on a beautiful interview set, so there’s nothing “on the fly” about them. They can also be called “ITMs” or “in the moments.” It’s funny because neither OTF nor ITM really makes any sense. A true ITM would be if something just happened, and then you quickly interview your cast about it in what we call a “dirty” way. Which means no beautiful light set ups or tripods. Just quick and dirty. “POV” means “point of view” shot. Ever notice when you’re watching a design show and you see the people walk into the house, and then you see what they’re seeing from their perspective? That’s a POV shot.
7. On shows where a cast member or a couple is making a choice (about which home to buy, which wedding venue to choose, etc.), a lot of people think the producers choose for them. Not the case. On Where to I Do?, for example, the couple always chooses their wedding venue.
8. Crews become family. I know it may sound cliché to say, but you spend so much time together that you really get to know everything about each other. And I mean everything. Especially when it comes to shows about romance. I don’t know if it’s the subject matter or just human nature, but I find that on shows about romance, the crew members (even the burliest male camera operators) open up about their romantic lives and show their sensitive sides.
9. We get emotional sometimes too! Yes, there are a lot of tears on these shows, but it’s not always just the people in front of the camera. I’ll never forget when Carly and Kirk broke up on season 2 of BIP (I know, lifetime ago) – I couldn’t stop crying. I could barely get through my interview with Jade. She was crying, I was crying, it was a mess. I also cry at every wedding on Where to I Do? I’m directing cameras while tears are streaming down my face. It’s quite the sight. And it’s not just on set. The night I found out Ashley and Jared were finally a couple (with the rest of the world), I couldn’t stop crying. Tears were pouring down my face, and I couldn’t sleep all night. I texted them immediately and they basically said, “you were right.” I’d been with each of them from the beginning, and I always knew they were “the one” for each other. I’m so happy they finally see it. I can’t wait for that wedding invite!
10. Everyone just wants love. Even the kookiest, quirkiest, meanest of people who can be on these shows want their happy ending. I’m not sure I believed that before I started on romance shows, but with five years under my belt now, I can tell you that’s probably the most consistent thread I’ve picked up.