If you were of a certain age in 1992, then you remember watching the first season of MTV’s The Real World, but we were all probably too young to realize at the time that the show would start a wave of what would later be called “reality TV.” The first season, which brought a group of young people from all over the country and put them up in a luxurious Soho loft in New York City, was the very first experiment in seeing what happens when people “stopped being polite and started getting real.”
That led to 32 more seasons of The Real World set all over the world, but more importantly, it paved the way for other shows like Survivor, Big Brother, and even things like The Osbournes, a later MTV hit.
The Real World Homecoming: New York, which debuted on Paramount+ back in March, reunites the cast of that first season, all now in their 50s, in the original location to see if maybe they can all get along better now that they’re all adults. Spoiler: Nope!
Recently, Below the Line spoke to Editor Jacob Lane, who was charged with figuring out a way to tell the story of these individuals in the present day while superimposing who they are now with who they were during the filming of the original series in 1992. It’s quite a jarring return to a period which seemed a lot more innocent now, but that didn’t keep things like a pandemic and the aftermath of 2020’s #BlackLivesMatter revelations from leaking into the show.
Below the Line: I just watched this recently, and it freaked me out a little a.) because I still thought of the cast from the first Real World as being in their teens and 20s and b.) because I realized that their loft was just around the corner from where I worked in the ’90s. I had no idea that was all going on so close to where I was every day.
Jacob Lane: Heather said something similar when she was talking about, “Oh my God, I had no idea this was here, and I’ve been so close to this for so long.”
BTL: I guess it’s just very well hidden. Before we start, I do like to find out a little about the background of the people I speak to, so I can learn what got them into their craft. What were you doing before getting into editing?
Lane: I actually started in television news. There was a high school TV station, where I went to school in Kansas, and I started shooting local stories for the affiliate there in town. And then, because of that, got a scholarship for broadcasting to a school in Illinois. I went to that school because they had a PBS station on campus that I ended up working and running master control while doing homework, things like that. I then started working at an ABC affiliate in Illinois in the Quad Cities, and then moved out to California around 2000 and kind of jumped from shooting over to editing, and I’ve kind of been doing that ever since.
BTL: You’ve been working on Bunim-Murray shows like the Kardashians and Total Bellas for some time now. That’s all Bunim-Murray, right?
Lane: It has been for the last several years. I’ve been here kind of straight through for about a decade, but I did my first show with Bunim-Murray in 2006. And was freelancing sort of bouncing around. I did Amazing Race, and then came sort of back and forth between a few different companies. I worked at Authentic Entertainment and did the first season of Ace of Cakes and History of the Underworld and things like that for History Channel, and then sort of settled in at Bunim-Murray and have kind of been here doing the docuseries and some of the competition shows and things like that.
BTL: And you worked on a revival of Real World in 2008?
Lane: In 2006, I did the anniversary special and that was like Season 20 in 2005, and then I did the revival of Real World on Facebook. I think that was two years ago now. We did Atlanta and that was Season 33.
BTL: When you heard about the reunion, were you already on board as editor before they began filming in New York? I assume someone had to go through the original series and figure things out beforehand.
Lane: That’s a funny story, because we started talking about it, and it was such a short schedule. We sort of started planning for this in December, and the shoot date was like the 28th of January, so it was VERY fast. We had a team of just a couple of story people that were flying through that original season and sort of giving us notes for the shoot and being able to find the right pieces to be able to playback in the house. But we were told at the time that the original tapes didn’t exist, and no one could find them, and then a week into shooting, someone at MTV was like, “Oh, my God, we found the tapes.” And then suddenly, we had something like 30 boxes of beta tapes from 1992 that we were like, “Oh my God, we need to start digitizing now,” because the show released the first week of March and that’s such a fast turnaround as it is, and suddenly, we had this influx of all of this raw footage from 1992. Because it was the first sort of reality show around that time, they didn’t have the capabilities or the systems that we have now to archive that stuff and have it quickly accessible. So it was sort of a mountain of stuff to go through. But I mean, what a difference that made in the coverage of the show, and us being able to really dive into the raw footage and sort of taking a different view on some of those scenes. I think it really gave the show something that I haven’t really seen before in a reunion.
BTL: So the actual filming was in January of this year? That’s super-fast, but also it’s really at the height of when the pandemic was spiking and before vaccines became available.
Lane: Yeah, it was a huge undertaking for everybody, and it was quarantining the cast and the crew in New York, so that we could have that sort of space where people weren’t going to have to wear masks, so that they could really be together. Obviously, you see with Eric what happened, that there was still there’s danger out there all the time. But, yeah, it was very fast, it came together very quickly. It was sort of that small window, where the loft was available, to be able to get them back in that same place, which was a really special thing.
BTL: Eric was off on his own at a hotel, so was someone able to sneak in with a camera to film him sitting on his couch? How did that work, as far as filming him, so you could project him into the loft, so he could interact with the others?
Lane: I wasn’t in the field with them, and that sort of came together very fast, obviously, when that [positive COVID] test came out, because his original interview, he was sitting in the interview chair when that positive test came in, and then he was sort of pulled and isolated. I think that we had a couple of robo-cameras in there that we were able to control, and I think that we had the room in the same hotel or next to him, so that we could make sure that those were still running all the time. And then he self-shot a lot of stuff for us, as well, and then obviously, having that capability to sort of getting him in the room with them through the TV was kind of a cool thing to be able to get his insight and his personality into the room, even though he was still isolated.
BTL: This series is a good example of how the necessities with Covid leads to some ingenious solutions in order to keep filming despite Covid. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about just that, but it’s still pretty amazing since I assumed this was shot in September or sometime last year.
Lane: Yeah, it was incredibly fast. I didn’t even really know that we were going to launch Paramount+ the first week that it [launched], and so the edit schedule was extremely rushed, to the point to where you would typically have more cuts on episode one, especially with a new series like this with a network, but because of the turnaround, shooting the last week of January and airing the first second week of March You’re talking five weeks — that’s not enough time to do a show. So there were 22 editors on this series, which was such an incredible group of people to be able to come together, because we were also working remotely through Covid to be able to get through all this footage as quickly as we did and work as a team and sort of take piecemeal sections of the show and make it feel like a cohesive series was such an incredible job by that team to be able to pull that off.
BTL: And they were back in the loft for just 10 days from beginning to end?
Lane: Yeah, so there’s like an interview day on the front and back. I think that they were actually in the loft six or seven days with interview spaces on the front and the back, and then I think they did a promo day on the back end, too. So yeah, it was very short.
BTL: I want to go back to the original show and the beta tapes you found. I guess when the show first came on, there was no AVID, and they were still using old video-to-video techniques.
Lane: It was still tape-to-tape, and they were doing paper cuts from the studio producers, and the editor would digitize their own material, so you’re sort of watching everything as it comes in. We watch all the footage now, but in a very different way where it’s already grouped for us, with that many cameras, whereas back then, they were sort of inventing the process for us a little bit. We even had one of the original editors from Season One on this season, Oskar [Dektyar]. It was such an incredible thing. Back in the day, they used to create these Real World books, and there’s a picture of Oskar in the back, editing one of those first seasons. We shared that around with some of the people on our show. I think we had a PA on the show that wasn’t born. It was such an interesting experience to have some of our staff hearing the stories for the first time.
BTL: That first season is pretty amazing when you realize how it’s built over the 20 or 30 years since then and how other shows use that same technique. Did you rewatch the original edited series to get some idea how they did the pacing and tone and all that?
Lane: Yeah, 100%, and honestly, I was 12 years old when it came to out, and that was right in my wheelhouse. It was perfect for me, and I felt like it was made for my generation. I was remembering those scenes even before revisiting it, but man, it was such a walk down memory lane to sort of go through that stuff. It was fun as a professional now to be able to break down the stories and look at the editing style, and a lot of those things that they did that became sort of the style of MTV and the style of reality at the time, some of those jump cuts were sort of done out of necessity, because they didn’t have the coverage. They didn’t have the magic of having nine cameras and security cams and those things to sort of get them the coverage. They were inventing the interview process and the confessional room, because they didn’t even have the confessional the first season to be able to get that internal monologue from the characters to get you through some of the story pieces. It was interesting to be able to go back through that. As much as possible, we tried to emulate some of the things in this series, in sort of an updated way, obviously, but one of the cornerstones of that shooting style was that everything was Dutch angle, and everything looked like you were going uphill or downhill. I do incorporate in our graphic, so when we do those split screens, it’s got a Dutch angle on the cut, inspired from some of the styles from back then and bringing it forward a little bit. It also allowed us to use a lot of that 4X3 square footage, to fill a little bit more of the frame without having to see the classic black bars on the side that you’re used to seeing.
BTL: I remember in the first season, there was also a control room in the loft in a separate area for the producers, so did they do that this time as well or was that not possible with Covid? Or just not necessary?
Lane: I think they had a room across the hall, but I’m not certain, because I wasn’t there in person, whether that’s part of the same loft or whether that was like the room across the hall. But it was the same sort of thing that the whole crew was a room away in there to be able to come in when they needed to come in to be able to talk to the cast and there for deliveries and food and all those sorts of things and to be able to make sure the cameras are up and running and available all the time.
BTL: When you say there were nine cameras, I’m assuming that there weren’t nine camera people and that they were more controlled remotely?
Lane: Yeah, we had a lot of security cameras running in the different rooms at all times. There’s always that camera in the confessional space running. And then additionally, there’s typically three to four live cameras floating around and roaming at all times as well. In addition to the cameras that were in Eric’s space, so when we’re grouping those things, there’s a lot to look at there and a lot to think up and make available.
BTL: Did you say that the producers actually went through all the footage beforehand, so they didn’t send you everything? Did they just send you some idea of what they wanted cut together? Or did you have to go through all of it?
Lane: They don’t really have time to go through everything, because they were still shooting. Because it was such a quick turnaround, we had story people that we had a 24-hour live feed that was running to us in LA. Our story people were watching it live as it happens, and then, at the end of the day, the showrunners and executives are taking notes of things. “Oh, this is a great moment, this is a good moment, maybe we could build something with this.” So you’re getting director’s notes and sort of highlights of the day. But you’re never going to capture those little, funny moments through like director’s notes. It’s definitely something that the story team is still like going through the 24 hours a day footage, and the editors will go through as well, when they get to those specific scenes.
BTL: I was wondering if you had a live feed, because if they’re shooting six days, by Day 5, you could already have something cut from Day 1 in some form. But how did that work? Were you cutting while they were still shooting?
Lane: The story team, absolutely. We had a person in the field that was also uploading footage to us so that we could get it in LA right away. That obviously takes time, because it’s such a huge amount of material. But they’re feeding it up, and we’re pulling it down at the same time. So that our story team, I think by Day 3 of the shoot, we were already sort of cutting pieces together and going through that first day, so that editors could start. I think we started really cutting three or four days into that second week. So as they were finishing shooting, the editors are actually touching material, grabbing pieces from the story team already. It was very, very fast.
BTL: It’s also amazing when you realize that you’re all separate and working remotely and not in the same area, I assume.
Lane: We sort of came up with a few things. We have really not stopped working through the full pandemic and sort of through the past year kind of came up with a few different tools of how to stay in communication. We’re using a system called Resilio, which basically, as the footage gets digitized and grouped at the office, that program automatically sends out the exact matching file to everyone’s drives at home and so that everybody has a drive at home that exactly matches the drives at the office so that the Avid, you can share timelines back and forth, and everything’s gonna be online and synced up. That way is, it’s as if you’re working in the office. The only thing you’re sort of missing is rendering files, which is not a big deal in comparison to the massive amount of data that you can be sharing back and forth. That was obviously a major thing that we needed in order to keep 22 people plus the story team running at all times. In addition to that, sort of using Google Docs as a place to sort of meet up, and we have a grid of stories and a grid of scenes where every episode that everyone is sort of live editing, as they’re cutting, and sort of moving around, like, “Hey, this doesn’t really work here, maybe we should move it down.” And having daily Zoom calls with nine or ten of us every morning and every night to talk through how things are going. And “Is this thing working?” and “Are you using this bite or using that bite?” sort of sharing things back and forth. We kind of had invented over the last year of how do we do this remotely because we weren’t really prepared when everything happened, obviously. But, man, it was such a Herculean effort to get everybody on the same page, but credit to everyone for sticking with it and working through the technology side of it along the way, still being able to dig into those stories and tell some really rich, interesting stories
BTL: I wanted to ask about the music choices, because you used a lot of that early ’90s music that would have been on the original show. How was it decided to use music from those times rather than modern music from today?
Lane: There was a lot of conversation about that, obviously, with the network and with us and credit to our music team and the network for getting us the materials and to be able to drive that aspect especially. But there was definitely talk we had. In the opening of the show, it was, “Are we just staying in the 90s the whole time, or are we trying to update it as well?” It was sort of the balance between those two. I think that by the end of the show, we probably used a lot more 90 stuff than we used modern. I think we used modern library stuff to help derive the scenes, so it a little bit more today, from a music standpoint, when you’re inside the scenes. Definitely during those transitional moments, and the big sort of emotional moments, we were trying to use some of the stuff from the original season and make sure that we were using stuff from the era. That first season, they were using stuff all the way from 1982 through current day stuff at the time. We obviously did a little bit of that, and used stuff from the early 80s, mid-80s, up to the 90s, just to help continue to drive that sort of nostalgia factor in the show. We spent a lot longer in some of those moments than I think we traditionally would today. I think if you did that long opening montage for the first episode today, I think that the network would be like, “You got to cut that down.” It just felt right and felt good to sort of let that breathe and let that play a little bit longer than we would now.
BTL: I’m sure all those bands and acts are happy to get a surprise check thirty years later. One of the most dramatic moments in the show, obviously, is the whole Becky and Kevin arguments with Norman getting involved and Becky leaving. How far into the shoot was that? I couldn’t really tell how many days into the shoot that would have happened, but it obviously affected the rest of the shoot and the show.
Lane: I think that happened in Day Two, honestly, it was very quick. I think that when you break it down, I think that first episode is one day, and then the second episode is like the start of Day Two. You know what? I think it’s Day 3, because I think Day 2 ends mid-Episode 2, and then Day 3 lasts for almost two full episodes. Because basically that day, start mid-Episode 2 goes all the way through show three, and then heads into show four before you do another day change. And it wasn’t originally that way in our first cut.[laughs] We were trying to figure that out, as we were building it. It’s like “We’ve got six episodes, and we’ve got seven days — are we going to do an episode a day? Or are we going to try and spread this out and let the story sort of drive where we’re going to do our breaks?” Ultimately, through the back and forth process, that’s where we ended up.
This is such an important story and drives so much of the drama, let’s not let runtime determine how long this is going to play. We really wanted to be able to do that conversation justice on both sides and be able to let everybody have their say. I think that in the same way, we were talking about the montage playing a little longer. That individual scene is maybe one of the longest things we’ve ever cut, because that was the back third of Episode Two, and then at least the front third of Episode Three. That was all sort of that same theme of sitting on the couch and sort of going through all that.
BTL: I was looking through your IMDB, and I notice that you’re a co-executive producer on a bunch of Bunim-Murray shows that you don’t necessarily edit, and I was curious about that and whether that’s a role you take from being there so long, or how that works if you’re not physically editing the shows?
Lane: Well, I’m still physically editing a lot. [laughs] At Bunim-Murray, it’s a little bit of a different process than I think a lot of places where once it gets into edit, we traditionally have like a lead editor or a supervising editor type that sort of helps produce the show in post. So traditionally, when the footage comes back, that person will create the style of the show, like the pacing. We’ll work with the music department to design, what sort of library we’re going to use, what sort of music we’re going to use, how we’re going to use it? We’ll traditionally make example transitions of how are we going to use this, and how are we going to make it different? And how are the graphics going to work in the show? Sort of creating the style template, and then we’ll help guide the show through the process by going back and forth with the network on the notes and making sure that the series feels cohesive from an editing standpoint.
So you’re really starting out by editing the first episode and working through it and figuring it out, and then sort of working with the team for the rest of the season to make sure that it’s all sort of working and feeling cohesive throughout. Obviously, on a show like this, where we had 22 people, and we were all working all hours and weekends to sort of make it work and get to that deadline, I was managing that team, but also sort of cutting the scenes and finishing and doing notes and sort of bringing it home at the very end as well, as people started to roll off the project.
BTL: It was a pleasure talking to you, Jacob, and this show was a nice surprise to see this reunion on Paramount+, but it was nice to see that even though they were all in their 50s, other than maybe Kevin shaving his head, they were all pretty much the same people.
Lane: It is really crazy, and for a series like that, that a lot of us grew up on, it was such a joy to revisit that cast and see where they’re at now. It was really great, especially for a series that I think a lot of us, at least in the reality space, we all have a career basically because of that cast and because of that season, and it was such a fulfilling, exciting moment to be able to work with them again.
The entire season of The Real World Homecoming: New York is now available to watch on Paramount+. In fact, all 32 seasons of The Real World are available on the Viacom-CBS streamer.
All pictures courtesy Paramount+, except where noted.