Working on the Vancouver set of Lifetime’s UnREAL can be… challenging, to say the least. As a drama that centers on the crew members behind a Bachelor-like reality dating competition, the show requires filming from the perspective of Everlasting, it’s show-within-a-show, and filming what goes on among the backstabbing producers that make dramatic TV. Just call it double fisting — not of glasses of champagne, but of two complete series.
A scene showing Darius (B.J. Britt) getting hot-and-heavy with one of the contestants, a frontrunner who swears she’s not being followed by a camera, proves the point. At first, Darius would rather not have to interact at all — we’re now four episodes into UnREAL, when the suitor’s beginning to feel exhausted from the Everlasting insanity — but despite all the shooting (and showboating), he gives in to a frank conversation with his potential “wifey.” That’s when the trouble starts: Producer Jay (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) has spotted the pair, and he follows closely behind with a cameraman ready to capture their tryst.
The filming of the filming of the scene requires a carefully choreographed setup. Bowyer-Chapman and a real cameraman — there are extras dressed as crew members, but this scene requires a pro — hover behind the railing of the balcony to track Darius, while another unit of cameras tracks Jay, and one more shoots Darius without Jay’s interference. When the scene airs, UnREAL‘s shots of Darius will be intercut with shots from Jay’s cameraman and shots of Jay grinning on the interaction.
Got all that? No worries if not — Britt’s still getting used to all the cameras and to the swarm of extras who look exactly like crew members. “It’s hard to wrap your brain around it,” he says after filming. “I’ve gone up to a bunch of people and asked, ‘Where is so-and-so?’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t work here, I’m just an actor,’ so I’m like, ‘Ah! I’m so sorry!’ You don’t know which cameras are rolling, and it’s confusing, but it keeps you on your A game.”
Also new to the lineup this season: Michael Rady, who plays Coleman, a respected filmmaker brought on by the network to produce. Rady binged the first season after landing the role and became obsessed with the drama — and with how the show works behind-the-scenes. “I was curious watching the first season how [it works], like, do they just have twice as many camera trucks and crew trucks?” he says. “It’s just interesting to watch this show get made, because they can use all of their camera trucks as prop trucks, and they don’t have to hide their lights. It helps production move along more smoothly… the things that normally have to be hidden don’t have to be worried about.”
Still, he found himself just as lost as Britt when he first began filming. “The first three days, I was taking three steps toward someone, and I was like, ‘Oh no, I don’t think they’re actually an AD [an assistant director],” he says, laughing. Despite the confusion, Rady says playing opposite the characters he watched in season 1 felt even more surreal. “I was full on geeking out, unabashedly so in my first scene,” he remembers. “I’m so curious what that scene’s going to look like [when it airs], because I was so not present. When [Coleman] got introduced to the whole gang in the control room, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Rachel! Oh my God, Quinn is right there! Quinn’s so mean, this is so exciting!’… In my internal monologue, I was like, ‘I can’t hear the words you’re saying! I love you! I love this show!'” Join the club, Michael.
UnREAL returns June 6 at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.
For the complete feature on UnREAL’s second season, pick up a copy of Entertainment Weekly issue #1417-1418, on newsstands now or available here.