11 Television Cameramen Tell Their Behind-The-Scenes Stories You Don’t Want To Hear

Flickr / Jonathan Kos-Read
Flickr / Jonathan Kos-Read

1. Most disgusting reality TV room in the world

Oh I’ve got a lot. I was a camera op for Shipping Wars on A&E, My 600 Lb. Life for TLC, North Woods Law for Animal Planet, and High Profits for CNN, and others.

Probably the worst was on My 600 Lb. Life. One family was moving out of their apartment, and we were shooting the move. They were very very unsanitary. Instead of cleaning up their dog shit in the small 2 bedroom apartment, they would put plants on top of it. We had to use a mentholatum oil on our upper lips to withstand the stench. The grandma was sleeping on a bed in of the bedrooms. When they went to remove the bed and flipped it over, thousands of bugs scattered out of the bed all over the room. The 80-something year old woman was sleeping on a bed that was infested with roaches and god knows what other bugs. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.

— skeeterou

2. “They love it if you can make them cry”

I was freelancing between film jobs by shooting segments for Inside Edition. On the way to an interview the producer, who wrote his interview questions in the car on the way over, kept talking about how he had to make this woman cry. “They love it upstairs when you can make them cry,” he said. “It’s the gold ring.”

So we go to this woman’s house, get the gear inside, set up the interview and start rolling. It turns out this woman saw her husband and son killed in front of her when the motorcycle they were riding on was hit by a drunk driver. The segment was about drunk drivers who had killed people and gotten away scot free. This guy ran to Canada and he still lived there ten years later.

The producer asked a lot of tear-jerkingly emotional questions and finally got her to cry. It was heartbreaking. As we drove away he all but high-fived himself, he was so happy.

On Strange Universe the producer wanted my sound person to drive the van through a funeral procession so we could shoot it from up close, out the side door. We said no. Where do they get these people?

— ZardozSpeaks

3. Got chased off by drug lords

My husband was doing a documentary for college and we were filming next a a museum and a guy told us: “Are you cops? Stop filming us! this is a drug dealing place”. We thought he was joking. Turns out, it was truth.

They surrounded us and were very violent. Thankfully, my husband kept calm, explain that it was something for college and he’d delete the scene. I was pregnant and then one of them, realized that it was impossible for us to be cops, so he calm the others and told us “Leave!”. We ran out of there. It was very scary.

— Lis_9

4. I got forced into an awkward AF lapdance

I was cameraman for a series about strip clubs in the local area (Birmingham UK). We filmed for about 8 weeks, spending most of our time behind the scenes, talking with the girls, getting a bit of insight into why they were strippers (for the most part, they were earning money for college etc).

It was just about the least sexy thing I could imagine; not my cup of tea. Couldn’t get my head around why men would want to spend money (and sooo much money, at that) when all you could do is look, no touching, no happy finishes. After the first hour of filming, I was immune from any idea that I’d find it sexy. Not like I was spending every day walking around with a semi.

Got to know the girls well. They were universally nice people, doing a job. And even the attractive ones – once you know a bit about them, and why they were getting their tits out – it was as far from being a turn on as I could imagine.

On the last day of filming, in the brightly-lit changing rooms at the back of Legs 11, our (female) producer asked if I had ever had a “private dance” – no, I hadn’t, and no I didn’t want one.

“Oh, we can’t have that! Who’s going to give [me] a dance? He’s never had one!”

They sat me in a chair, and with my sound man filming it, one of the girls did her “private routine” for me. Well, on me. Lots of gyrating, rubbing herself on my legs, then pulling her pants aside and getting an inch away from my nose…


It was all in good humour, but it was fuckin’ weird. Uncomfortable. I mean, where do you look? And everyone was watching me. I knew this girl, I’d filmed interviews with her and her kids; she wasn’t my type (sooo not my type), but she was a sweet person, and now she’s putting on the sultry looks, sticking her nethers in my face. And I had an audience – a dozen other girls, mostly naked, my producer, my sound man, our production assistant, all standing round watching and laughing.

I didn’t know where to look.

In hindsight, I think I did a good job of playing along; acting the right sort of jocular / cringy / ha ha ha, isn’t this uncomfortable thing, but in reality it just all felt a bit fucked up. And the room was so fuckin’ bright.

Not exactly nightmare stuff, but occasionally it does freak me out to remember that somewhere, sitting on a shelf in the TV station’s archives, there’s a DigiBeta tape of my “private dance”. Eech.

— slartibartfist

4. We had to see how awful things were being handed

Went to PH like 6 months after typhoon Haiyan to document a medical team. The island we went to was still completely fucked, nothing was being done, and none of the donations were being given to them. The med team was super pissed off at the situation.

— loserlame

5. Hoarder nightmares

We had an episode of hoarders where a long-dead cat was discovered, and another where an obese man said he’d like to clear the walkway to his front door so that EMT could get to him in case he had a heart attack or his wife tried to stab him. He said both things not nonchalantly as though they were ordinary and totally normal events that happen to him routinely. His wife was a total jerk.

There was also the man with an enormous scrotum who used it as a table when eating. Not sure if that made the final cut.

— little_green_lamb

6. Accidental shot of something, something

So back in late 80’s I worked for a local television station in Paducha, Kentucky. We were hosting the (whatever-whatever) annual Children’s Miracle Network, Live. I was running the remote or “bunny-cam” as we sometimes called it. I would go around the studio audience and get bumper shots or reaction shots or whatever the director yelled in my headset to get.

About mid-way through the evening during one of those exhausting montage vignettes showing kids in need of help I took a rest off to the side of the audience. Little did I know that my cam was giving the control room a impromptu up-skirt of a not-at-all unattractive woman. It could have easily been the elderly lady in the seat behind her if I was sitting on the next step up.

Noting went live thankfully (although they might have seen a spike in donations if it had.) They let it go on I guess until I asked what they were all giggling and talking about.

Once they told me my face went to thirteen shades of red as I slowly backed right on out of there before anyone had suspicions.

I passed the remote cam to someone else to take over and I jumped on one of the fixed studio cams never to look back. I never lived it down.

— Waneman

7. Drank the witch doctor’s potion

I used to shoot and edit short docs for NGOs that did water well work over seas. Burkina Faso was the most remote location out of all the trips I had taken. We stayed in a small dirt village a few hours from the capitol, then drove another 2 hours every morning to get to our locations.

Anyway, we met this witch doctor who brought us to his small mud house. We asked if we could film b-roll inside, but he was being super hostile and wanted something valuable in return. We argued back and forth for a bit through our translator but had no luck. Then the witch doctor told us he would approach the spirits and ask them if it was ok for us to come in. He went inside his shrine and started shaking this bead shaker and talking to someone. We could hear both voices, completely different sounding, and at times talking over each other. This went on for a few minutes. Then he came out and asked us to drink this potion if we wanted to go in. Our guide suggested we don’t, but we had come this far, so we each took little sips. He met with the spirits one more time, then finally let us in.

It was a dark mud room, no bigger than the size of a queen bed, with a single beam of light coming through. He showed us his dolls and medicine. Also razor blades that he would use to make cuts on children’s bellies and stuff medicine into (saw some gnarly scars that trip too). But the whole time I was looking for a voice box or recorder to explain the phoniness of the “spirits” but found nothing. Kind of gave me the creeps.

— joshtay11

8. The actual creepiness of prison

I worked on a documentary about Riker’s Island, which is a very large jail just off the north part of Queens, NYC. The whole thing was surreal, but the worst part was the maternity ward where incarcerated mothers had a few hours a day to see their kids in a large acrylic cell.

We had incredible access to everything- one of the executive producers was the niece of Rose Singer, whom the nursery is named after and she became a member of the Board of Corrections of NYC shortly after.

Other things that stand out:

Unannounced ‘TEAMS’ meetings at 0600 where the main governing body of the island grilled the heads of each jail about incidents and things like amount of toilet paper their jail used that month.

The smell of hardcore disinfectant and overwhelming body odor.

The food was a lot of starchy pasta and soda.

Extraction was the term used when officers went in as a team and removed an inmate by surprise force to find contraband.

The officers patrolled the island on mountain bikes. They had water teams of boats, jet-skis, and divers. LaGuardia is only about a hundred feet away at one point so there are escape attempts, but the divers are there to rescue prisoners. There’s a dangerous tidal pool call Hell Gate there.

You enter by bridge, the producers made sandwiches in a cooler for everyone.

— RollX

9. Blowjobs under the table

Former camera operator/ AV tech for live events here.

It was an annual banquet, everyone had to be in a bowtie including me, which usually I get away wearing black polo and khakis at anything, but not this time. I was basically filming the speakers, awards ceremony, auction, etc. As I was packing up people who remained there were the high end socialites of the city I was in, and they were fucking wasted. One table in particular I kept hearing, “nooo OH NO..COME ON Jay” and a trophy wife was sucking this well known local attorneys dick under the table in front of everyone. It wasn’t the first interesting incident, seen a republican congressman make out with another dude at a country club. It was his actual boyfriend, but to the public he was still in the closet.

What’s amazing is how the scandalous drama among socialites never make local or national news more often.

— paneling

10. I got to hit someone!

Part of a camera crew filming a documentary in a business. Female employee had pranked a male employee’s car. He became violent when he confronted her, so we had to restrain him. I got to hit him with the boom (mic), which was rather satisfying as nobody really like him.

— Erunamo99

11. Just cut it out, people

I’m a former one-band-band reporter. I Shot, wrote and edited my stories. No fancy van or crew.

I can’t count how many non-live stand-ups or interviews on the street were ruined by the “F#$% her in the Pussy” non-sense.

Some examples, not all mine.

Apartment building fire with multiple families on the street crying? Someone drives by and yells “F her in the P”

Interviewing the neighbor of a woman who police believe is being held at gun point by her drunk husband. Another driver swings by “F her in the P”

Another reporter I worked with: Candle light vigil, and someone runs into his camera shot and yells “F her in the P”

It stopped being funny years ago, now you are just being rude.

— 4u5t3n Thought Catalog Logo Mark

More From Thought Catalog