In an issue focused on unscripted television and the unique challenges of producing and posting shows for the genre, it only seems fitting to look at one of Food Network’s most highly-rated series. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, starring culinary host Guy Fieri, is twice nominated for the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program. Food Network rolled out the series in 2006, with Fieri at the wheel of his red '68 Camaro, driving cross country, visiting some of America’s favorite self-proclaimed diners, drive-ins and dives. There, he spends time with each establishment’s owners in their respective kitchens and samples the signature dishes along the way.
While the show gives off a casual, easy/breezy vibe, with the laid-back, spikey-haired California host enjoying some good food with friends and seemingly driving himself to and from each destination, what goes on behind the scenes is a different story. Literally from soup to nuts (an analogy just too perfect here to pass up), tackling everything from talent relations and network relations, scheduling, logistics and research to the production, post, managing the deliverables and creating behind-the-scenes extras, blooper specials and other online exclusives, is full-service, Denver-based production and post house Citizen Pictures (www.citizenpictures.com).
“We literally do everything on the show,” says Kat Higgins, executive producer, who points out that while the show began in 2006, “Citizen acquired it about four-and-a-half years ago, and since then, we’ve managed every aspect of the production. There isn’t any single piece or part of this show that is produced out of the Citizen umbrella.”
This, of course, includes the logistics of that red Camaro. “We can be on a shoot in New York and literally 10 days later be shooting in San Francisco, so the car has to get transported across the country,” adds Frank Matson, CEO, who continues that the production “is a well-oiled machine. That’s the one comment we get from so many people, ‘I can’t believe how tight your crew is,’ and ‘I can’t believe what you get accomplished in a day.’ We sort of have to, because we have a limited time with Guy. We just came back from Bakersfield, CA. We shot nine restaurants in three days.”
In order to pull off the production and post, as well as some of its other projects, the 15,000-square-foot Citizen Pictures relies on its roughly 15 edit suites, stages, sound sweetening services, graphics, FX, editing and more (there’s an estimated 100 full-time and independent staffers), with around 20 staff in the field and another 10 to 15 in post, dedicated to Diners, Drive Ins and Dives (“Triple D”) exclusively.
“It’s a very extensive process — it takes a long time before we come into a town, to narrow it down to restaurants that meet the criteria of the show,” says Matson.
Once they do, two full crews are working in tandem. So, two full crews that are assigned to their own individual shoot locations or restaurants go out and shoot several days of B roll before Fieri even comes to town. “We have a field producer, a DP, a second camera, audio, an associate producer, and production assistant on each crew,” says Higgins (left). “Then that is duplicated for a second crew. In order to maximize the time we have with Guy, we are typically shooting three locations each day. So that means our crews are kind of leap frogging — Crew A will shoot in the morning, then Guy will go shoot with Crew B, while Crew A is going to set up at the third location of the day.”
According to Josh Dirmish, operations manager, the production is all 24p, using a combination of Panasonic HDX-500 DVC Pro HD cameras, Canon 5D Mark IIIs and GoPros for some interesting driving and kitchen angles, as well as Lectrosonics wireless mics for the talent, a boom for guests, and Sound Devices gear for the audio recording.
“We shoot in the field, two cards, in 2K," says Dirmish (pictured below). "The tape is backed up in the field for redundancy, and as soon as that gets into our facility, we’re digitizing our tape deck into our transcoder and all into one flavor, ProRes (HQ). That’s when the assistant editors are organizing, logging and syncing. All of that happens here, 24/7, once it’s in the building. We’re not doing a lot of anything besides shooting and copying in the field.”
Once in post, editor Jamie Wallace dives in with Final Cut 7, also citing DaVinci Resolve for color, Pro Tools for audio and After Effects for any additional graphics. “We definitely have a few challenges on the post side,” says Wallace, pointing to the enormous amount of “really good material from the field that we have to whittle down and refine into a 21-minute segment. It’s a real challenge, but a good challenge. It’s really fun to shape a show from so much really good material and spend time figuring out what’s important and what helps the restaurant shine.”
According to Wallace (in checkered shirt, below), editing an unscripted reality show like Triple D, as opposed to a scripted drama, “draws on a range of skills. In a way each segment is like a mini documentary. We’re really trying to tell the unique story of each restaurant and the people who run it. At the same time, we need to show the actual process of how they make their food and it’s very important that we get that right. So it’s a balance between the very detailed, nuts-and-bolts, food process stuff and the entertainment value of Guy interacting with the chef and customers. Then you have the more montage-like sections, like the cold open and teases, which in a way are much closer to cutting a trailer or commercial. Fitting all of that into the established framework of the show in a way that doesn’t feel disjointed is really a fun challenge.”
Higgins adds, “One of the other challenges, just a bi-product of this being a reality television show is, we’re dealing with people here who, their whole life is their restaurant. It’s what they do. It’s what they know. Then we come in with a pretty sizeable camera crew and a huge celebrity talent, and it’s just one of those variables that we encounter with every single location — how well are these people going to be able to perform? They have to make their food, make it the same way they make it any other day, have it be really tasty and do this while these cameras are shoved in their faces. Granted, we’re very kind people and we’re kind to people, but it’s just one of those variables you can never really get around because we’re using real people. We’re not casting or scripting this, yet somehow, eight years into it, people are still making tremendously tasty food that Guy is genuinely enjoying on camera.”
Matson (below) agrees, “They are so nervous. Usually, the crew is working with them a few days before Guy comes into town, so they have a rapport, and a comfort level with the crew before we even get there, so that’s key. But also, Guy is just so good at making people forget the cameras and getting a comedic banter with those people so they feel at ease. And he’s always doing wild and crazy stuff on the set and it just takes the nervous edge off of it, and that’s a really big part of it.”
“We have the benefit of working with an incredibly-talented guy who is just real," Higgins adds. "If he was this made-for-TV character, that may be a different case, but he is this real, genuine guy and people feel that and when they have him in their kitchen, and people realize he’s just a regular dude whose joking around. It really takes the edge off.”
Dirmish credits the whole team, from assistant editors and production assistants to transcribers and media loggers, for the production’s success.
Matson adds, “The last two years in a row, the show was nominated for a Primetime Emmy, up against programs that are massive network shows with giant staff, and we’re very proud of that. We didn’t win, but to be nominated two years in a row with those other shows in that category, I think speaks volumes to the job everyone is doing.”