Fall 2014

Thomas Kuk

Reality AD

DGA Quarterly Magazine On the Job with Thomas KukAlthough 1st AD Thomas Kuk has worked on literally dozens of reality shows, his most important lesson may have come from Murder in Small Town X, an ambitious early hybrid that Kuk says set the blueprint “for what not to do in reality television.”

“We took over a whole town in Maine,” he remembers, “and would set up situations for the contestants to interact in a non-scripted format.” In one episode, he was prepping a strip bar with staged patrons where contestants would enter to find clues.

“It was challenging because at a certain point, I’d have to cue the fire and police departments to rush in and then film the contestants’ reactions. Survivor was just getting started [in 2001], so as an AD, there were no set parameters for the genre.”

By the time he worked on Punk’d, proper procedures were in place. “Probably the most memorable episode was when we ‘punk’d’ The Rock [Dwayne Johnson],” Kuk recalls. “He was shooting Be Cool in downtown LA and I had to pose as a PA while we swapped out his trailer for a special effects trailer that we blew up in a huge fireball, on a live set. Safety was the biggest issue,” he says, noting that Johnson and the crew were kept a considerable distance from the explosion.

Kuk realized his long-held desire to work with reality TV’s busiest director, J. Rupert Thompson, on Fear Factor. “Rupert always uses the newest [crane and camera] technology to get these visionary kind of shots,” says Kuk.

Kuk’s toughest day with Thompson would come later, on the military-themed Stars Earn Stripes. “We had to fly our contestants, in full military combat gear, in a Huey helicopter and drop them into a lake, where they had to swim to a Zodiac [boat],” he recalls. “As they approached land, they had to crawl through mud and barbed wire, firing a 50-caliber machine gun, with propane mortars going off all around them.”

Kuk says he loves the unpredictability of non-scripted television. “People may not take a show like Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew that seriously,” he says. “But seeing people like [actor] Tom Sizemore, [ex-baseball pitcher] ‘Doc’ Gooden, and especially [drummer] Steve Adler, from my favorite band, Guns N’ Roses, break their addictions is really rewarding. You feel like you’ve helped change someone’s life, and that’s professionally satisfying.

(Photo: Dale Berman)

At Work With

Short profiles of Guild members in all categories sharing their experiences at work.

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