11 Things I Learned Producing Reality TV Dating Shows That Are Helping Me Reluctantly Plan My Wedding

As a seasoned planner of things love-related, I’ve already been down the petal-lined aisles.
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Publish date:
October 2, 2014
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marriage, weddings, dating shows

Despite never really wanting to plan a wedding, here I am, knee-deep in budgets, family drama, and taffeta. Six more months of this. A month ago, I was too eyeball-hearted by my bling to curb maternal expectations. I could have had an elopement, but my mom’s Pintrest page was donned with veils three years ago after a washer/dryer purchase made my relationship serious.

I formerly produced reality dating shows. I've planned enough over-the-top dates to know a wedding is the ultimate job. I also know a lot of this process is going to suck. It's a lot more work than people think. It costs a lot more than people think, and it's not TV network funny money getting wasted when mistakes happen. No one is ever completely prepared to take on a wedding production. It's amateur hour event planning. This Mcbillion-dollar industry is based on little girl sugarplum dreams and high emotional stakes. Your tears will cost you every penny.

As a seasoned planner of things love-related, I’ve already been down the petal-lined aisles. Now it’s my turn to pull off the series finale of my maiden name. My executive producer (aka mom) expects me to deliver, so I’m putting on my producer pants and going over lessons of shows past.

1. Your wedding date is everything. Have it five days before your engagement.

Vendors wouldn’t give me the time of day before I locked down the date and venue. Once you book, someone has bet a solid non-refundable deposit on the nuptials. It’s like saying, “I’m legit. This isn’t my YouTube channel. It’s the 67th season of the freaking Bachelor!” I found the average engagement is 18 months, most places reserve a year out. Bitches are early.

2. Prioritize and pick your battles.

Know what to care about. I don't want to be crying over pergola drapery if the officiate is allergic to daises.
On a reality show, the priorities are: #1 Contestants are on time. #2 Wardrobe looks decent. #3 Camera gets it all. #4 Keep the crew happy. For a wedding, it's pretty much the same. It goes in this order: #1 The groom shows up. #2 My dress is awesome. #3 The photographer has brains. #4 Everyone who eats food enjoys themselves.

3. Wedding gown prices are designed for inflated feels.

I walked into the bridal salon and they let me roam around with a glass of champagne neglecting price tags. I tried on a love-at-first-sight pick. It was the most expensive clothing ever to touch my skin. They clipped it to fit. I stepped onto the pedestal, and put on a veil. My mom cried. They gave me a bouquet. No one was in her right mind. I didn’t get the dress.

In dating show land this happens when producers pitch something unfeasible and the execs smell an Emmy: “She helicopters onto the tallest building in world, he teleports to meet her, then they have their first kiss on the moon.” Best advice, sleep on it before your mouth writes a check your butt can’t cash. I talked my mom down and chose something more modestly priced.

4. The guest list will tear your heart out.

If you’re funding the grand affair, you’ll have the most control over attendance. If your parents foot the bill, prepare to invite your mom's knitting club. All of a sudden I found myself cutting childhood friends and close co-workers so a third cousin can bring his seven kids. But it's not my 30k, so I’ll shut up about it.

Dating show equivalent: Casting directors never listened to who I cared about either. They just push for the wangs who make good TV, not the ones ready for a love connection.

5. DJs are essential and total rip-offs at the same time.

When putting together a television episode, production pays royalties for every note. Music is the jewelry for any event. What would "Rock of Love" be on mute?

You need tunes for tone, dinner ambiance, and of course cutting a rug. I can offer a more eclectic playlist with my iTunes on shuffle than the mod-pop hits a DJ spins. But I’ll still fork over a nominal fee to a dude who will mispronounce my new last name every time.

6. It's easy to grossly underestimate the amount of beauty treatments.

For a mid-morning taping, hair and makeup department want talent in the chair at or before 5 a.m. A lot of contestants don’t start out pretty.

Eyebrow waxing, nether region waxing, makeup trial, makeup on the day, up-do trial, up-do on the day, highlights, lowlights, hair cut, manicure, pedicure, false eyelashes, spray tans, facials, teeth whitening, gym membership, juice cleanse, body treatments, exfoliation. The list goes on. It's not just for the bride! He's got to look his best, too. To avoid a nasty stress zit from appearing on my forehead, I’m keeping calm, and just scheduling. Scheduling far, far in advance.

7. Good photographers are buried.

There are lots of people with cameras out there. When I hire a shooter, I go straight for the portfolio. Factor in recommendations, and ask to see full wedding coverage. A bad photographer can make the best location look like a subway car in the crack of Brooklyn. A good photographer can make a crappy location appear to be a carefully styled set. Nothing else matters as long as it looks good on camera.

Conversely, you get what you pay for (see: priorities). Also, I want to actually like my photographer. Meeting the shooter before booking is essential. If they’re following me around all the damn day, might as well be able to joke with them.

8. You will be over budget, promise. Like your 7th grade bra, padding is everything.

If production taught me anything, it's start the budget early, update it often, and padding, padding, padding. I can’t tell you how many segments had me begging for more money in a line producer’s office (a line producer keeps the budget). I have to be my own line producer.

I'll forget to budget in a tip for a delivery guy here, or the quote won't be just right there. I'll decide to go with higher quality in places I didn't expect. I’m classy, so I will. For things like cake and flowers, I’ll pay in full up front. Vendors love that, and sometimes they give discounts.

9. People in the industry are very bubbly.

I am not an excitable person. Wedding people drive me nuts. I had a photographer use the word "totally" five times in an email. Please talk to me like the professional I know you are. In their defense, they do cater to a spectrum of overwhelmed zombie couples and princess brides who [hashtag] still can't believe it's happening!!!

If people bug me, I won’t work with them. Just like reality TV, this is a freelance industry. If I can help it, I only hire people I click with. They end up being the people who rush exotic flowers and pull last minute alterations. It’s easier to bend the rules for someone you actually care about.

10. As producer, this is the longest mediation for which you will ever act as counsel.

My parents are one way, his are another. Everyone has opinions. I delicately let people down, build people up, and then deal with the fallout with my new spouse. I’m only allowed to rant in front of my lover, also known as my associate producer. I don't assume anything, and I always try my best to understand, crying only when appropriate.

If your parents bankroll the operation, they are executive producers. They can shut you down. I might be master planner, but they can take me off the air. I’ve only been imagining my wedding since boys didn't have cooties. My mother, however, has been imagining my wedding before I was even swimming in the womb. Make no mistake, emotions are out of control on this.

11. You are a human, take care of yourself.

When taking on the part-time job of wedding planner, late nights in front of spreadsheets and empty piggy bank dreams take their toll. I’ve poured too much myself into too many gigs. No production is worth my health, not even my wedding. Talk to your partner -- they are forever going to be your personal shrink. Know that you will feel better if you eat better and get rest. I learned this the hard way.

Ultimately, I know what’s truly important, and it's not tablescapes or escort cards. When things got stressful on a show, we would remind ourselves that we were creating an episode people would watch in their sweats while stuffing their faces. My wedding is one day, my spouse is the rest of my life. Perspective curbs crazy.