Directing for reality television: bringing integrity to the table


Jane Kennedy, experienced South African director and producer is at the helm of
pay-channel M-Net’s third instalment of reality television series MasterChef
South Africa, and gives her views on how to keep things real behind the scenes
and on set.

“Reality is about the contestants,’ says Kennedy who worked as content
director on seasons one and two of MasterChef South Africa. “Over the past few
years I have been working more and more in reality television. I am committed
to reality being real and not manipulated. I am naturally curious and
fundamentally compassionate, and therefore past “victims’ and producers alike
refer to me as the gentle prober or the “people whisperer’.

“Once the infrastructure is in place and we’re all on the same page, the biggest
challenge is to stay in integrity and to allow reality, the story and encounters to
unfold. With MasterChef South Africa we want situations in which people fight
their own battles and come out stronger for the experience. The series is about
the individual’s journey,’ adds Kennedy.

Storytelling, affirmation, inclusivity

With seven cameras on set, Kennedy and the seasoned crew try to pre-empt
where the action is going to be and how the contestants will react. “For me the
process starts with the characters, the faster you get to know them the more
likely it will be that you are going to anticipate their responses, which makes for
good television.’

The director says that reality television is fundamentally about storytelling and
understanding how stories, their arcs and structures work. “That is probably
one of the most important skills as well as being aware of the “bigger picture’
perspective. Reality is like a drama in a sense, except that you don’t get to direct
the actors. As it is a much more controlled environment you need technical
experience, and know how to choose your crew. It’s not about doing it all
yourself, it is about finding the best person in each department who wants to
deliver on set.’

Addressing her leadership style on MasterChef South Africa, Kennedy favours
working in a team and growing people, both contestants and crew members,
which yields positive results. “For me it’s about affirming people, and being
completely inclusive,’ she says.

Crucible for emotions

On previous shows, Kennedy worked very closely with the contestants, getting
them in touch about why they chose to participate. “For them, it’s a deep
psychological process. Reality becomes a crucible for emotions. I choose the
softer approach to directing, as the contestants are going through a deeply
emotional journey. As a result, they need to be supported by the crew, who also
need to be in touch with their own process and with themselves, which in turn
enables the contestants to deliver to the best of their abilities.’

In an emotive and engaging experience, the contestants experience intense
personal growth in front of millions of people. “I want to honour that and be
respectful of what they go through, and do feel deeply for them.’

There is no doubt that reality television is permeating all levels of society and a
series such as MasterChef South Africa, which is aspirational in nature and
attracts audiences who become involved with much more than the talent’s
cooking skills.

Audience satisfaction

Adds Kennedy: “MasterChef is about dreams. I believe there is a hunger for us
to see other people succeed because it gives us hope, which in turn makes
success become more attainable. We want to give viewers real journeys and I
think that is what audiences tune in to see.’

The minute the contestants start cooking, despite careful planning and
preparation on the part of Kennedy and her crew, reality starts playing out and
constructing situations is impossible. “From that moment we have to anticipate
what is going to happen next,’ says Kennedy. “We need to establish where the
“heat in the kitchen’ is in order to capture it appropriately.’

As things can get quite sophisticated with cooking, Kennedy stresses that the
audience must never feel alienated. “In reality we work on many levels to
entertain and grow our audience, that is the biggest reason we’re here,’ she

That’s why choosing the “right’ contestants is very similar to combining the
correct mix of ingredients. Kennedy says, “It really is a collaborative process and
as a director you have to realise that not everything begins and ends with you. I
am only able to work with my style of directing because I have the support of
the two executive producers Donald Clarke and Harriet Gavshon with Donald’s
reality directing experience and his complete intimacy with the MasterChef
format and Harriet’s big picture perspective.

Kennedy regards directing MasterChef South Africa as a great opportunity to
create a show where everyone is allowed to bring different strengths to the
table. “You never know where the next brilliant idea will originate from. It’s a
dance to a piece of music you’re not necessarily familiar with, but to which you
are completely committed,’ Kennedy concludes.

Season three of MasterChef South Africa screens later in the year and is
produced by Lucky Bean Media and Quizzical Pictures.


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