Working in the Reality/Doc TV Industry: Q&A

It’s become clear to me that most people, aside from my very close friends and family, don’t know what it is that I do for a living.  I’ve received messages from people asking if I’m an “influencer” or if I primarily make my money from blogging, etc.  The answer is: nope!  While I do make money blogging, and it is an extreme passion of mine (I adore writing), my main source of income is the work I do in the film/tv industry (as of now).  For the people that do know that I work on shows, they still have a ton of unanswered questions floating around.  Thus, I figured what better way to answer the most popular questions I receive while enabling you all to get to know me a little better than by comprising a blog solely dedicated to JUST THAT?! 🙂

 

 


What is it that you do for work, exactly?

Primarily, I work as a Production Coordinator/Manager on various reality and documentary television shows.  However, I’ve also worked in many other positions including: Associate Producer, Assistant Camera, Hair & Makeup, Unit Production Manager, Production Assistant, Co-producer, Editor, Camera-Operator, Acting and more!

It all depends on the production and what it is they are looking for.  For instance, I would never camera operate for a major cable/network tv show – rather, I only operate camera for projects such as live sporting events and so on.  I’ll leave the real camera operating to the camera pros, like my husband.   To keep it short, my expertise lies more in the producing/directing/managing realms.

 

 


So, what shows have you worked on?

The most recent television series I’ve worked on in 2019 are: Man Vs. Food and Dance Moms.

However, in the years past, I’ve worked on close to fifty various productions including (but not limited to): Friday Night Tykes, Treehouse Masters, Four Weddings, American Ninja Warrior, Mysteries of the Outdoors, many HGTV shows, The Chair, Kart Life, Investigation Discovery shows and more.

I’ve also dabbled on sets of big Hollywood productions such as: Concussion starring Will Smith, Fathers & Daughters starring Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried plus!

With all that being said, one of my favorite things to create is our own content for travel/tourism companies, such as the ads I produced (filmed by my husband, Doug Michaels, and our good friend John Bair) for Voyagaire Lodge and Houseboats.

 

Now, on to the fun questions I am often asked…

 

 


What’s the best show you’ve ever worked on?

This is tough to answer because I’ve worked on SO many incredible productions and I am truly fortunate for that.  But, of course, there are a few that stick out as being the most unforgettable: Friday Night Tykes, Kart Life, Man V. Food and a documentary we did on Charles Mansion for Netflix.  I also had a blast working with one of the coolest crews on a local show for HGTV called “Vintage Rehab” and on a documentary about recovering heroin addicts filmed in Pittsburgh, as well.

Friday Night Tykes (originally, airing on Esquire and also on Netflix) was downright incredible for so many reasons.  Reason one:  I loved my role and I legitimately worked with some amazing people that became my best friends (we’re mostly talking season two).  Furthermore, I loved rooting for these bada$$ kids each game and getting to know their sweet, loving and welcoming families from surrounding communities and towns that I’d otherwise have never gotten to know on such a level.   I even got to hire my brother to work with me on set right after he graduated college (pre joining the Airforce) – working with him was something I’ll never forget.

(Photos above: Working on Friday Night Tykes + with my brother)

 

Kart Life (on TruTV) was a wild one – never did I think I’d get SO into the sport of kid’s racing.  But I grew to LOVE it.  The huge crew was one big party after another and the families were a riot to be around.  I am still connected to so many of these people years after the filming has ended.

Photo Dec 21, 10 30 18 AM

(Photo above: young me with just a handful of the incredible people from Kart Life)

 

Man V. Food (originally on Travel Channel, now on Cooking Channel) is a gem because I get to do my favorite thing: travel.  And I get to constantly try new foods and meet new people from all across the country WHILE working with some of the best people out there – all the while creating everlasting memories and making new friends (and gaining lbs :-P)

Photo Dec 21, 11 26 18 AM

(Photo above of me holding a 12lb lobster during the filming of an episode for Man V. Food)

 

For me, if I vibe with the crew and enjoy the subject matter the filming revolves around…then, my life is grand!

 

 


What’s the worst show you’ve ever worked on?

This is an easy one.  But also, let me begin with saying there were still some good times and positives.  For one, I made new friendships and had some downright hilarious and fun times with the people I did gel with AND I got to work with my husband who kept me sane.  So why was it so bad?

All in all, it was the most “reality” show I’ve worked on and it was heavily produced.  I enjoy more documentary content, without doubt, and I hate seeing people being manipulated in the name of fame and ratings (though, duh, it happens).  Furthermore, the people I didn’t vibe with… I REALLY didn’t vibe with.  There seemed to be an unnecessary shallowness to a lot of these people and, undoubtedly, big egos with an “I’m the best/diva” aura surrounding the set.

I’m not going to forthright mention the title of this show, but you can all take a good guess.  If you’re truly clueless, get in touch with me via DM, etc, and I’ll personally tell you.

(Photo above of some of my besties on the crew and a photo from filming in NYC)

 

 


How fake is Reality TV?

This is a hard question to answer because it ALL depends on which show we’re discussing.  However, let me say this: these shows aren’t “scripted” like most non-tv personnel assume.  Many shows are, indeed, heavily produced where talent are coaxed into saying / doing things due to producers’ master persuasion/manipulation.  AND editing plays a huge role in faking scenes/making things appear to be different from what was actually said/what actually took place.  Through editing, they can easily skew the context.

For instance, I’ve been on shows where I was responsible for “planting” a fake gift from an enemy in hopes that a fight would ensue.  This quote on quote “enemy” never sent a thing – it was merely something the producers concocted to extract drama.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are verite shows such as “Friday Night Tykes” where coaxing/manipulating etc were NOT ALLOWED.  It was strictly REAL words from the talent (coaches and players) being interviewed.  We weren’t even allowed to interview the kids and feeding lines to anyone being interviewed was frowned upon and reprimanded.  I adored the documentary style of this show, immensely.  It was a breath of fresh air.

 

 

 


How did you get started in the industry?

I always knew I wanted to work in film and tv, but never knew HOW to go about it.  Thus, I did what I THOUGHT I had to do: go to college and major in Communications.

To read more about my college years and struggles, check out my blog: It’s Ok to Live a Life Others Do Not Understand.

Through my later years in college, I began auditioning for roles in indie films, commercials, music videos etc and began acting in my spare time, often.   I loved acting (more so back then than I do now), but it wasn’t exactly going to pay my bills OR fulfill my career goals.

After working on multiple projects with my (now) husband, Doug, and after a year or more of our friendship blossoming – we finally quit denying our undeniable connection and FINALLY began dating (quickly falling in love). *aweeee*  Okay, moving on…

Once we began dating, we began to dive deeper into what we wanted for our future and he asked me “do you want to work in film/tv behind the camera?”.  Obviously, I answered “yes”.  Therefore, he helped me get my first PA job on a realilty show for the Oxygen network titled “I’m Having Their Baby”.

Once I began to build my resume, jobs came my way more and more often (so is how the freelance life works).  In this industry, connections are EVERYTHING.  Without good connections and experience under your belt, finding work will prove more difficult.  But through time and resume building, the jobs will begin to flow your way.  Nowadays, just as many jobs come to me (via e-mails and calls and built friendships etc) as I go looking for jobs/applying.

I must add, not a single job I’ve had in this industry has asked to look at my college records/degree.  NO ONE CARES.  It’s all about “What have you worked on and what have you done?” AND “who do you know?”.

I pretty much wasted 5 (yes, 5 *cue eyeroll*) years on schooling that, frankly, didn’t help me ONE SINGLE BIT.   BE SURE that college is right for YOUR career choice before making that HUGE HUGE HUGE investment. *words of wisdom*

 


What are some resources for beginning to work in the industry?

Research local film offices, for instance in Pittsburgh go to: Pittsburgh Film Office and see what local productions are in need for cast/crew.  Send an e-mail, cover letter and resume to any and all you find.

Utilize the hiring website: Staff Me Up

If you’re starting with ZERO experience and need to learn the craft and build connections/resume, offer to help on low-budget student films OR become an extra on the bigger productions and watch all that goes into creating a major film.  Through observing, you can learn a lot.  Also, just by being on set you are able to meet people and hop on board more projects to come.  PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE.

In your downtime, create your own works through your own website, youtube etc.

This industry is a hustle (especially at the start).  If you can’t hustle, freelance may not be the right move for you.

 

 


What’s the downside/hardest part to working freelance in the tv/film industry?

I sacrifice a life of security and comfort for my freedom.  As a freelancer in the film industry and as a travel blogger, a job is never a guarantee.  AND, even though I may have a good paying gig lined up for months, it could get dropped the day before it is scheduled to begin.  And there I am, left short thousands of dollars.   Even more, some jobs that I do work may or may not pay me right away.  I’ve literally had to wait over 2 months to receive paychecks before – and that was when I worked for BIG, Hollywood productions!  Seriously!  I had to FIGHT them for my paycheck.  It’s absurd.  Other times, I can get paid that same day or week.  Nothing is set in stone or is for certain.

I have to sacrifice time with friends and family.  This is a tough one!  Luckily, for me, my friends and family are finally (after 6 years of being in the industry) beginning to understand.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy – for me or for them.

Not that long ago, I had to forgo one of my good friend’s baby showers because I got an out of town gig that day.  I haven’t seen her in years (because she moved away) and was really looking forward to reuniting with her and my other girl friends.   Furthermore, my best friend had this charity event planned for the end of April for months and I was planning on attending and really looking forward to it.  Low and behold, just a week before, I booked a gig for that exact weekend in Michigan.  I had to cancel on her and I felt terrible.  Still feel terrible.  It’s NOT easy.  My husband and I had to turn down a couple thousand dollars of work to go to my brother’s wedding (we obviously weren’t going to miss THAT).  Furthermore, it never fails, the minute we book a vacation – along comes an extended tv gig offer.  It’s a huge balancing act that we are constantly struggling to perfect.  BUT, through the years, we’re getting pretty damn good at it. 😉

 


What’s the BEST part of working freelance in the industry?

I have the freedom to travel and adventure, near and far, and constantly meet new people in new places.  I have endless experiences in which I grow and learn from – providing me with knowledge and wisdom, grace and kindness, understanding and compassion, open-mind and insight.  My life I live is helping shape me into the person I strive to be with each and every step along the way.

This life is not routine.  I despise routine.  I don’t like to know what each day holds – I thrive with unpredictability and change.  And my life affords me JUST that.  It’s spontaneous and exciting, with all its ups and downs.

My lifestyle helps me regulate my emotions.  I’ve learned to deal with defeat and let downs, like when a job I’m super pumped about gets cancelled – I’ve learned to cope with it.  I’ve learned to not pout and be depressed.  I’ve learned to MOVE ON.  Leave things in the past.  Enjoy the present.  Look forward to the FUTURE.  Just breath and roll with the tides of life.

I’ve learned to push myself out of my comfort zone and say “screw you” to my anxiety.  I’ve taken jobs that I (admittedly) have been under qualified for or unsure of.  I decided to just apply and give it a go – and what would you know?  I’ve succeeded at them.  You NEVER know until you try.  And what’s the worst that will happen?  That job hates me and I get fired?  Who cares.   I’ll find another. 🙂    So many people don’t apply for jobs and try for positions because they don’t meet one or two qualifications – but heck with that!  I DO!  And it’s worth it.  Fake it till’ you make it has done wonders for my career.  Never be afraid to try and fail.

Words of advice:  Everything I’ve ever been afraid to do – yet still did – has been the MOST worth it.  With no risk, comes little to no reward

 


Why don’t you move to LA or NYC, etc?

I’m not going to lie, in years past, we have discussed this possibility.  However, with time, we’ve come to learn that neither of those places are for us.  Not to mention, Doug has built himself up, tremendously, in the Pittsburgh area and is one of two (maybe three) guys who are first sought after to run camera/DP when a show/event/commercial etc comes to town.  He’s worked for Dancing with the Stars and Undercover Boss to several NFL and NHL gigs and Good Morning America segments, etc.  From reality to national news, he does it all!

More times than not, our work also travels us around the country (cue: Man V. Food and Married at First Sight and so on).  Thus, there will be MONTHS where we go without being home.

Overall, it makes sense to live in a place with a lower cost of living considering we’re BARELY ever home AND…the less we pay for rent etc, the more we have for TRAVELING  and ADVENTURES (no brainer).   Also, this equals less days we have to work in order to sustain our lifestyle.  On top of all that, we’re both established in the industry here and have less competition to battle it out with.  (Fun fact: Doug is still rated a top Camera Man in the country according to a huge film/tv staffing site – sorry, had to brag because he’s the epitome of a hardworking, talented hustler).

Lastly, I actually love Pittsburgh and I’m proud of my city <3.


Do you prefer working on reality/doc tv or big time Hollywood scripted series/movies?

I actually prefer to work on reality/doc tv because it’s (most of the time) more laid back, smaller crews, more personal connections are formed with the talent, crew and so on.  I also find that it’s much easier to move up ranks in the reality/doc tv world vs. the major motion picture side.  I feel I get to learn more being in a smaller filming setting; I’ve learned more about lighting and camera operating, audio and producing/directing being on reality/doc tv than I would if I were standing on a street corner “locking down” the sidewalk for a major motion picture (which I’ve actually done before, lol).

 

 


What’s a super funny thing that’s happened to you behind the scenes?

I totally got pee’d on by a toddler I was forced to watch as his parents were being interviewed.  He was a nightmare; screaming bloody murder for his parents the entire time and constantly trying to run away from me (into the middle of a fishing pier and a road).  Thus, I had no choice but to pick him up and hold him as his powerful lungs released into my ear drums and his bladder released onto the entire side of my shirt and shorts.  He wasn’t wearing a diaper.  I was soaked.  It was gross.

 

 


What’s one of the coolest experiences?

AH!  There are SO many (main reason I love my career).  However, one that immediately stands out…

Acting in a reenactment scene for the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries of the Outdoors” in the middle of giant sand dunes next to Death Valley National Park.  We were brought out to location via dune buggies and the whole scene/day was surreal.

 

 

 


What’s next for the two of you?

After this much needed holiday break, Doug and I will kick off the new year with more work on Man Vs. Food (heck yessss!).  Also this year, more Married at First Sight.

Of course, even more traveling and blogging on the horizon come 2020, as well!  Even though we don’t have many trips set in stone (for all the reasons listed above – such as the uncertainty of this industry), we DO KNOW that we will be heading to Germany for Oktoberfest with good friends in Fall 2020 and hope to make a Euro-trip out of it, seeing other countries as well.  We shall see!

Also, more surprises on the way…stay tuned!

 

As always, thank you so much for reading!  If you have any more questions that were not answered in this post, PLEASE don’t hesitate to contact me via the comments below or on social media.

Much love and happy holidays to all!

-Mindy

Photo Dec 21, 10 15 50 AM

 

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