When my HuffPost editor first suggested I write a "Lessons Learned" blog about my experience making reality television, I got excited. Then I had a few false starts. You see, I've been seeing little clips of the show -- mostly the same promos the general public is seeing -- on the TLC "Wedding Island" website all week, and it's sorta made me change my tune. Now that my own show is actually premiering on TLC TONIGHT (July 17) -- I have whole new perspective.
Here are five things I've learned, with some tips embedded if you're considering taking this crazy step yourself. Trust me, it's a wild ride!
1) Not everybody approved of my decision to participate in reality television. Despite our nation's fascination with it, we condemn it constantly (pot calling kettle black here if you've read my previous snarky blogs). First lesson -- once you decide to commit to it, go for it 100 percent. Don't change who you are. Do what you do. And forget anybody who doesn't support your decision. Have fun with it and ignore the party poopers. They'll change their tune when they see what you've created. Even my mom, who probably hasn't slept since she learned about "Wedding Island," has finally gotten excited after seeing the promos on TLC. Oh, and stop reading your Facebook and Twitter about two weeks before the show airs (do as I say, not as I do).
2) Reality television talent (that's me) work pretty much 24/7 during production. That means they want to film everything from the minute they arrive to the minute they leave. Makes total sense. Especially when they have to haul all that gear to an island seven miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. That means viewers will see the good, the bad and the ugly -- and we don't see it first! We get to see it with you when it airs on television. Everybody gets tired, everybody gets grumpy, and everybody is human. And we're all trying to pretend the camera crew isn't there and just do our jobs and that gets frustrating too. And then one day you all crash into each other, literally (my staff, cameras, sound guys, producers) and everybody laughs so hard that it makes all of it really worth the effort.
3) There's no way to script any kind of schedule for a wedding planning show like mine. Crazy stuff just happens. I can't pre-schedule lost luggage and hours of time at the emergency room with wedding guests, or responding to ridiculous phone calls for any number of things at any time of night -- you just have to roll with it. This makes it harder on the production crew because they're just trying to keep up with us to help document the insanity going down. Most of what happens is never seen by our clients -- and that's the way we like it. Now that we're doing this television show, my clients will know when they came dangerously close to not having those special wedding flowers or decorations. No more hiding those little bugaboos.
4) I took on a project unlike anything I've ever seen on reality TV, meaning I kept looking for somebody to compare myself to so I could seek some professional advice. Shows about other wedding planners let them look fab and stylish and show them executing flawless events in cities where they have countless resources. "Wedding Island" shows me hot and sweaty and changing clothes three times a day. It shows how completely unglamorous wedding planning can be when you're living in the tropics creating fairytale weddings in paradise. Just watching the commercials makes me want to hide when I see my hair during some of those late night conference calls. You do realize some of my clients are four hours behind me, right? We're in the Atlantic time zone. Nobody has good hair after 18 hours in the office. So basically, I have to accept that people are going to see the real me. I don't have a makeup artist to style me before interviews and I sit outside in 90 degree heat sweating all my makeup off. I'm starting to feel positively envious of the air-conditioned interview locations I see on other shows, but I can promise that you're going to see the real me on TV.
5) The most important thing I learned about making a successful reality television show is that you have to trust the people making the show. SallyAnn Salsano, the 800-lb gorilla of reality television and creator of "Jersey Shore" who I am lucky enough to have as my executive producer, told me from the beginning that if we didn't trust her company, 495 Productions, and if we didn't trust our network, TLC, we could never make a good reality show. We had to let our guard down. We had to show them what our lives were really like and let them document it, and they had to film how our company really functions (on good days and bad). It was REALLY hard at first. My husband and I had to trust them to show the real truth and not "make us look bad," a concern anybody in my position would have had signing on to this kind of project. It's not that I don't expect them to show me making mistakes, I just wanted to make sure they weren't planning to fabricate any. Blind trust isn't easy, (especially for my cop husband), but we did our best. We let them see it all. The scary part is that the promos we've seen so far DEFINITELY show what it's really like on "Wedding Island." This is the real deal folks.
OK, keep your fingers crossed for me that letting all of you into my life wasn't my biggest professional mistake ever! I'm dying to hear what my readers think when you see the show. It's not like a typical wedding show -- it's more about the wedding planning and less about the brides and their weddings. Don't get me wrong, the brides and weddings are the focus at all times, but the meat of the show is how we make miracles happen in a place where nothing ever goes right on the first try.
Let me know what you think of the show! Dying for feedback! Watch us tonight and tomorrow night on TLC at 10 pm Eastern/Pacific time!!!
Take a look at a clip from "Wedding Island" below.
Follow Sandy Malone on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SandyMalone_