In the Clear

Showrunner Dave Rupel explains the painstaking clearance process.

In last week’s blog, I talked about the difficulties of traveling out of city to shoot. This week, I’m going to do the opposite. Because while shooting within Los Angeles certainly has its benefits, there are certain obstacles that you face no matter where you film. 

In a word, clearance –- which is a catch-all word that basically means you need a lot of permission to film (and/or use) things and put them on national television. 

For example, in this week’s episode, Kyle and Taylor both throw birthday parties for their daughters on the same day. Parties, in general, are a clearance nightmare. Even worse are kids’ parties –- because no one under 18 can sign their own release. A parent must sign for them. Not nannies, not babysitters, not siblings. It’s got to be a parent. 

As I stated a few blogs ago, we take special care when we shoot with minors. Not only are their child labor laws –- which have become much more heavily policed in the wake of the Jon & Kate Plus Eight drama –- it’s also just the right thing to do, ethically. Adults realize (well, mostly) the ramifications of appearing on a reality TV show. But kids –- particularly those attending parties for two and four-year-olds –- have no concept. So as much as possible, we reached out to the parents of the kids attending the party to make them aware we would be filming. Because believe it or not, not everyone wants to be on a TV show.

Here’s how the clearance process works. At any location, when people other than the Housewives people are going to appear on camera, we place a sign-up at every location, which is kind of like the iTunes agreement. By walking by this sign and entering this location, you are giving us permission to show your likeness. 

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Beyond that, if anyone has a significant interaction with one of our cast members, that person will need to sign a specific release. And because lawyers draft releases, and it’s a lawyer’s job to protect their client from every infinite possibility, the release is an extremely dense two-page document filled up with lots of legalese –- like “every medium in existence today and every medium invented in the future” –- things that tend to be off-putting to the average person. Every person gets their photo taken as well, just so that months later in the editing process, we can verify that all those people have indeed been cleared. (And on the rare occasion, we can’t verify that, we have to blur the person’s face. We hate blurring, so we avoid it at all costs.)  So while you’re watching all the happy guests at the parties, keep in mind there are behind-the-scenes crew people scurrying about making sure that everyone who needs to get released, does. 

Another aspect to clearance? Artwork. Every painting, poster and professional photograph has to be cleared, or it too has to be blurred. (Look around your home. Do you know the artist responsible, and beyond that, how to contact them? Yeah. Most people don’t. So we wind up doing a lot of detective work.)

Finally, those delightful clips from the first episode?  Kyle in Halloween and Kim in Escape to Witch Mountain and CHiPs? Every person who is shown has to give written approval before we can use it. (And don’t get me started on costs, because showing clips is incredibly pricey.) Our team found a delightful clip from an episode of CHiPs, in which Kim’s character is literally on the ledge of a tall building, being talked out of jumping by Erik Estrada’s Ponch.  Being able to include the CHiPs exchange of, “You don’t know how hard it is, Ponch.” “Yes, I do, baby.” That’s a priceless moment of classic '80s TV. Thanks for playing ball, Erik.

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