Following record breaking ratings for season ten, Lisa Vanderpump’s reality series “Vanderpump Rules” received its first Emmy nomination for unstructured reality program. The first-time nominee goes up against “Deadliest Catch,” “Life Below Zero,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked,” and “Welcome To Wrexham.”

The series also earned an Emmy second nomination for picture editing for an unstructured reality program, with a talented team of editors comprised of Paul Peltekian, Ramin Mortazavi, Sax Eno, and Jesse Friedman.

Peltekian is well-known as an Emmy nominated picture editor and producer based out of Los Angeles, who’s workd on “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” and “The Bachelor” in addition to “Vanderpump Rules.”

Mortazavi has been working in film and television for in various capacities for nearly three decades. Son to a media mogul father who created the Sepas Film Awards in his home country of Iran, Mortazavi credits feature multiple hit shows including “Punk’d,” “Pimp My Ride,” “The Hills New Beginnings,” “Siesta Key,” “Shahs of Sunset,” “Botched,” “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” and currently “Vanderpump Rules.”

For Sax Eno, his twenty years in reality editing include “Project Runway,” “The Bachelor,” Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” “Big Brother,” “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” and “Master Chef.” After working on the first four seasons of “Vanderpump Rules,” Eno returned for the tenth season where he focused mostly on the episodes leading up to and including the SCANDOVAL episode. 

Editor Jesse Friedman’s work includes “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” and the recently released “How to Become a Cult Leader” in addition to his Emmy nominated work on “Vanderpump Rules.”

Awards Focus’ Byron Burton spoke to the four editors about their ongoing work on the series and what makes for a great reality program narrative in the editing suite.

Awards Focus: Can you tell us about the initial process at the start of a season on “Vanderpump Rules”? How is the footage presented to you, how do you comb through it, and how long does the process take from start to finish?

Peltekian: Every editor is part of a team that consists of a story producer and a story editor. We’ll generally take full ownership of our first episode, seeing it through from start to finish. Our brilliant executive producers, Jeremiah Smith and Natalie Neurauter, and Co-EP Lauren Nathan will roughly lay out  what each episode will contain based on the stories that are coming in from our field teams. Then, our talented story producing teams start digging through the hours of material for their specific episode, which on average consists of about 3 days worth of shooting. They’ll start building stringouts of each scene in the Avid, then hand them off to us, the editors. Many of us like to dig into the raw material ourselves because everyone sees the footage through a different lens. It’s always in everyone’s interest to know what exists in the raw footage because we will inevitably revisit it.

Within two to three weeks of working on our episode, we’ll screen it with Natalie and Lauren for their first look. I think that this is the most critical screening because it’ll be the first time that we’re watching the entire episode from top to bottom, and we’ll get a sense of what’s working, what isn’t, and what needs more clarification. It’s an opportunity to discuss things at a much deeper level. The episode might not be completely scored with music or have all the flashy, fun B-roll transitions, but we do our absolute best to make it look like an actual show. From that point, we’ll do a few more revisions and get the show as close as we can to what will air before sending it off to Bravo for their feedback. All in all, it takes between 10-14 weeks to complete a single episode of “Vanderpump Rules,” from the moment our producers start the string-out process to when we do the final lock and hand it over for online and mix.

AF: There are quite a few of you on the Emmy nomination for the episode “Lady and the Glamp.” How are scenes/episodes split, and how do you communicate with each other to ensure the tone has a consistent rhythm and through line?

Friedman: “Vanderpump Rules” is unique in that we are all assigned our own individual episodes, but when cuts are on deadline or an editor is on vacation, we frequently have an all-hands-on-deck approach. I was the primary editor on “Lady and the Glamp” and seeing our own episodes through from start to finish gives us the ability to keep a consistent tone. That being said, the show is full of excellent editors who understand the aesthetic of the series and the help we lend to one another is essential to the ultimate success of the show.

AF: Walk us through the challenge of turning unscripted content into a cohesive narrative. In what ways is editing for unscripted similar to editing scripted content? Is there a certain formula for successful reality television?

Peltekian: The process of creating an unscripted show, I think, is totally different from a scripted show in the sense that we’re kind of working in reverse order. A scripted show obviously starts with writers and a script. The way the vast majority of unscripted shows are done, and I’ve done my fair share — Vanderpump Rules, Real Housewives of Orange County, Beverly Hills, Dallas, Married to Medicine, to name a few — is that they are filmed documentary style.

We’re actually following their lives—the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. So when the footage gets to us in post-production, we have several days of footage per episode that we have to distill down to a cohesive, well-laid-out forty-three minute story; and therein lies the challenge.

The blueprint or roadmap is up to us, the producers and the editors. We don’t have an annotated script with director notes, best takes, etc. We’re constructing this story by chipping away at roughly 60-70 hours of footage to help focus our story forward. We’re trying to find the subtext, the motivation, the “why?” in every scene.  I like to imagine the process like you’re in a diamond mine, chiseling away at the rock until you get to the sparkly gems; in our case that gem is the story, the drama and the comedic moments. And then we’re polishing that diamond using interviews, music, sound fx, graphic elements, flashbacks and a host of other editorial “devices.”

I think as an unscripted editor, we have much more freedom in telling these stories than a scripted show would have, because the majority of the nuts and bolts of the storytelling work is being done in post-production and not in the writers’ room. We also don’t get the luxury of multiple takes from different angles and the plethora of choices for performances. We work with only what we have. That’s not at all to downplay the amazing work that scripted editors do to elevate a script; it’s just the nature of the unscripted genre.

But what makes an unscripted show successful? Of the hundreds of hours of unscripted television that I’ve edited or produced over my 20+ year career, the three things that make a show successful, in my opinion, are:
1. An amazing cast that is willing to be transparent and as real and humble as possible in front of the cameras.
2. An amazing production team that moves at the speed of light to make the impossible possible. That not only includes our producers, but also our camera and audio teams. They have the rapport and unshakable trust with the cast to allow them to be their true selves when the red light goes on.
3. A stellar post team, from our EPs in post to our story producers, down to the entire editing team and assistant editors that have to dissect hundreds of hours of material and make a fun, compelling and interesting show, every day for months on end, season after season.

I think Vanderpump Rules checks all three boxes. It’s been an amazing ride on this show, and I can’t wait to see what season eleven brings us!

AF: Can you talk about some of the technical tricks you all employ to highlight dramatic or hilarious moments on the show?

Mortazavi: I’ve been doing this for two decades and on every show I’ve worked on, I’ve learned something new to add to my “bag of editing tricks”. For example, when I was on ‘Punk’d’, I really learned the art of crafting comedic moments by using reaction shots. By adding a reaction to a funny or dramatic moment, you’re bringing attention to something that you don’t want the viewer to miss.  These moments can be further enhanced by adding sound effects to the reaction shot to punctuate it even more. 

Working on the documentary “Ivory Wars,” I used music to highlight the tragedy of ivory poaching in Africa.  In order to really create an impact on the viewer, the music was used in a way to complement the horrible footage that was captured on camera. The music couldn’t dominate or over power the scene but it had to compliment it and help bring out the emotion. Most of the scoring on that project was very “dronish” and occasionally intense that really helped bring out the anger out of the viewer by seeing the horrible things that were happening to innocent majestic animals.

Sometimes the best technical trick is to let a scene or moment play dry and have no music at all.  That allows the viewer to really sit and observe the scene or moment and come to their own conclusion without an editor telling them how they should feel with their music choices. Another editorial trick that can be utilized is to drop the music in the middle of the cue to create an awkward silence as a means to bring attention to something, comedic or dramatic. There are so many editorial tricks that can be used, but these are some of the ones that I choose most frequently in my work. 

AF: What is the methodology behind interweaving footage with talking heads? At what point in the process are talking heads introduced to the narrative?

Mortazavi: Using interviews to tell a story can be very helpful when cutting a scene.  The first way we use interviews is to clarify moments and storylines. The interviews fill in the missing information or explain to the viewer moments that were not caught on camera. We also use interviews to get inside the head of our cast members. They tell us what they were thinking in that moment and we get to better understand their point of view.  Another way we use interviews is to utilize it as a tool for passage of time. By weaving interviews and footage together, we can go from point A to B fairly quickly and get through a lot of footage, especially with setups of events and parties.

AF: It seems like editors of unscripted have as much responsibility to the “script” or narrative of the show as anyone else. Can you speak to the delicate balance of finding a story within the footage given to you? As editors, how do you decide what is included and what isn’t?

Eno: Unscripted editors have a lot of responsibility. Everything we do is about story. I think when people hear the word “edit” they think of removing things, but editing a reality show like “Vanderpump Rules” is very much a building process, not necessarily a process of omitting things. We are building scenes, building episodes, building character arcs for each cast member for the whole season. Finding the story in the footage is very much a team effort – we are all trying to find the big moments and how to build to those moments. We work with the most genius story department in the business to carve these stories out of hours of footage. I love what Paul said about chiseling the diamond and finding the “why” for each scene. Every scene has a purpose – it’s serving the overall story in some way and the emotion is usually building to the end of the scene. So, editing scenes is a lot like putting together a puzzle, you’re trying to make all these different pieces fit together. Once you find a part of the scene that’s working, then you build on that and keep building until you’ve built the whole scene.

AF: Was there one particular scene, sequence, or beat in the show that was made all the more impactful by a smart editing decision on “Lady and the Glamp?” How did your work in post enhance what was already in the footage?

Friedman: I found out about what would come to be known as “Scandoval” on March 2nd. The story broke on March 3rd and late that evening, in spite of having an early plane to catch the following morning, my mind was racing trying to solve a key part of my episode. We had footage of Lala telling James about her suspicions about the affair and many scenes that had small moments that led to those suspicions. In light of the new information, I knew I had the material to make something work, but I needed a creative way to reveal those pieces. Because all of these moments happened prior to Lala talking to James, I thought it might work to use a VHS rewind and fast forward effect to guide the audience through everything in reverse.

I wrote a very long work text at 1am to Executive Producer Natalie Neurauter that detailed everything I wanted to use and where the rewinds and fast forwards would go. Later that day, she wrote me back, “I am OBSESSED. Yes. 1000 times yes.” To have a very raw idea met with a response like that made my year! I was fortunately able to execute what I had pitched and the final result is very close to that late night text.

AF: And of course, this season of Vanderpump Rules included one of the most iconic reality TV character arcs we have ever seen. What was it like being a part of the editing team for the show as “Scandoval” broke?    

Eno:  It kind of felt like my entire 20 year career of editing reality shows set me up to edit this crucial Tom Sandoval/Ariana breakup scene. I thought back to a scene I cut in season 2 of “Vanderpump Rules” when we were seeing Tom and Ariana on screen together for the first time and then thinking about everything that happened between the two of them over the past 9 years… it all led up to this moment. It’s rare that you happen to be working on a show that the whole world seems to be talking about, but we had to just shut out all of that noise and approach the footage the way that we normally would. That said, we knew that people needed to feel like they were seeing everything.

Even though the conversation was longer than 7 minutes and needed to be cut down, if the scene had felt heavily edited, I think people would have felt cheated. The footage was so raw because we filmed that scene literally the day the news broke, so the editing had to capture that raw feeling. I had to let the beginning of the scene play out longer than we normally would so that it almost feels like you’re watching raw footage. We played the entire scene without interview bites and very little music because we wanted the audience to really feel that raw emotion in real-time.

I didn’t want to try to influence the audience to feel a certain way, I wanted them to feel like they were sitting in the room with Tom and Ariana in the thick of their most vulnerable final moments as a couple. Audiences are smart and they can tell the difference between real emotion and what’s been altered in the edit, so it was a delicate balance because if we had gone even a little too melodramatic with our editing tricks, I don’t think the scene would have worked. It had to feel authentic. 

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a voting member of the Television Academy, Critics Choice Association, Hollywood Critics Association, and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (the SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

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