What It’s Like to Direct an Entire Season of The Bachelorette

Photo: Craig Sjodin/ABC

Ken Fuchs makes fairy tales happen. You can thank the longtime director of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette — who’s also helmed 17 seasons of Family Feud and all ten seasons of Shark Tank — for capturing all Bachelor Nation’s favorite picture-perfect proposals, quirky limo introductions, and cocktail-party meltdowns. Ahead of Monday’s Bachelorette premiere, Vulture called up Fuchs to talk Becca Kufrin’s season, the very end of Arie Luyendyk’s season, the joy of directing Bachelor weddings, and the art of keeping reality TV real. Well, mostly real.

How did you start working in reality TV?
I came to Los Angeles out of school in the ‘80s and I started working in production. I did some scripted stuff along the way, and I found that it just didn’t suit my taste. The pace was very different. I worked my way up the ladder, started ADing, eventually that led to game shows and talk shows. I consider that all reality television in some ways, though there was no such thing as “reality” as we know it. But the key was always being able to shoot something live so you didn’t interfere with the emotion and content of what was happening.

No one really knew what The Bachelor was or how long it would stick around. I started on Trista’s year, the first Bachelorette and the third season of the franchise. In fact, Warner Brothers had called me on season one, but I wasn’t available. I remember watching a bit of [the first two seasons] and thinking, “Wow, this looks and feels different than anything else I’ve seen.”

How is directing an unscripted show different from a scripted one?
We’re all there to tell a story and hopefully entertain viewers. The tools are very much the same. My job really has to do with the look and the feel of the show. We’re talking about what cameras to use, what lenses to use, what filters to use, what lights to use. We’re working with art department, hair and makeup, wardrobe, and editors, on the post-production end.

But of course there’s differences. I don’t yell “cut” and I don’t yell “action” and I don’t do multiple takes. Because we’re trying to let the action unfold in a very real and authentic way, it’s a little bit more like documentary filmmaking. We try to have as small a footprint as possible, so the cast can look past the cameras and forget about the crew and just focus on the conversation that they’re having with each other or with the Bachelor.

Chris Harrison and Ken Fuchs. Photo: ABC

What questions do you hear the most from Bachelor fans?
When people ask me how much is real, I tell them, “A lot. Most of it.” Even though people say, “Oh, it can’t be real” and “Who would say that?” I think the longevity of our shows is due to the fact that if you do compare it to some of the other reality stuff out there, which is heavily manipulated, that doesn’t ring as true with viewers. I don’t think those shows last as long.

I mean, yeah, I guess there is some artifice to a group of people leaving their hometowns and jobs to come and live in a house together and date one person. That’s not your typical Saturday night at the bar. But once you get past the premise, really very little is manufactured.

What’s a typical day at work on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette?
It really does vary day to day and episode to episode. A lot depends on if we’re still in Los Angeles or if we’re on the road. But in general, what you see on the show is what we do: The contestants find out what the schedule is in terms of dates and who’s going on them, and then the other guys or women are back at the house. We split up our camera teams and our directing teams and our producing teams. We divide and conquer, until the cocktail-party rose-ceremony nights, where everyone will be in one location and then we can put all our resources there.

We try to live somewhat normal lives during production, but the hours are pretty crazy. It’s a challenge. For directors, it’s long hours, because you’ll be the first one into prep and usually the last one to leave at night. It can be quite long — 12-hour, 14-hour, 16-hour shifts. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Is it true that rose ceremonies typically last until morning?
We’re not running and gunning every second of the night, but the first few rose ceremonies do go into the wee morning. For the crews that are doing that those specific nights, they won’t come in until four or five o’clock in the afternoon, so it’s not that painful.

It depends on the time of year, because we won’t start until it gets dark. There’s a lot of breaks in the action where we might want to take the Bachelorette for interviews. Those take some time. But then, as the numbers dwindle, that cocktail party gets shorter and it just depends whether she needs to talk to every guy. We try to give the guys time with her, because in addition to make a TV show, we’re trying to, you know, let relationships develop.

What’s your favorite location you’ve traveled to with The Bachelor? Which ones have been the most challenging?
I love traveling, so this has been a blessing, although I must say it’s not as glamorous as you would think. A lot of airports. A lot of waiting at gates. A lot of buses and transfers and cars and trains. It’s a bit hard on the crews. It’s hard on their families and kids and spouses. I have a few favorites: Recently we were in Finland, Norway, and Denmark. I particularly love Spain. Paris was wonderful. Early on, I think it was Emily [Maynard]’s season, we went to Cape Town, South Africa, which is just an incredible city.

We do a lot in the Caribbean. Those are a challenge. Incredible heat, incredible humidity. There’s so much work that goes into it, that we’re glad you don’t see. That’s what we do to make pretty pictures. Just last season, with Arie’s finale, that was very challenging, being in Peru at the altitude. Imagine doing your job at 12,000 feet, but your job involves carrying lights up and down this massive hill. My crew really had a great workout there.

I think my favorite finale might have been Zermatt, Switzerland, with the Matterhorn in the background. Was that Ben Flajnik? I think that was Ben Flajnik. [It was.] We set it up. Beautiful, all ready to go. We come back the next morning and the mountain goats had come up overnight and chewed through all our cable. We had to relay and redo everything very quickly so we could be ready to shoot that afternoon.

How well do you get to know the cast?
I get to know the leads because I have to work with them somewhat. But again, I really don’t get to know the cast too much. I don’t need to know them. I leave that to the producers. It’s by design, because I don’t want them to feel directed. They just get to be in the moment and focus on the Bachelor or the Bachelorette.

Trista is the gold standard to me, because of course that was the first wedding. That wedding was one of the highlights of my career. It was such a big deal at the time. It gave credibility to the series. People said, “That will never work,” but once it worked once, you could never say that again. To see them renew their vows, and their kids, it’s just been amazing. More recently, I really love Ben Higgins. I think he’s a tremendous guy. I liked Rachel very much. She was very bright and nice. And I love Becca.

From your perspective, how has the cottage industry of Bachelor spoilers evolved?
Early on, it wasn’t a factor at all. I think we started pre-cell phones, almost pre-internet. We do have security and we try to keep some things private, because I think the viewer would like to discover them fresh on the show. But at this point we’ve had to sort of embrace a lot of that, because for one thing it’s unavoidable, and on the other hand it’s almost self-promotional.

There’s always going to be people who go beyond what’s appropriate. There’s always going to be viewers who want that stuff. But I think the majority of people don’t want it. Or if they do, they still watch because it heightens the interest. They want to see what’s true and what’s not.

Has there been a Bachelor or Bachelorette breakup that surprised you?
Honestly, I don’t keep in touch with these people. We become somewhat friendly, but I’m not really sure what happens to their lives or their relationships once they leave. But I’m happy to see Ashley and J.P., Jason and Molly, Sean and Catherine, and Jade and Tanner — they are some of my favorites, because I spent a little more time having done their weddings. That becomes a personally intimate relationship. I love those guys dearly.

In terms of the ones that break up, I really don’t know. I don’t follow that as a fan. I’m too busy shooting the next season. And relationships do break up, you know. It’s not Earth-shattering to think that not every relationship ends up in a marriage.

What’s it like to direct a Bachelor wedding?
It’s a blast. We really, really love doing them. We treat it like a Bachelor shoot, but with a few more cameras and a few more resources thrown at it. Sean and Catherine’s was live, so that was my favorite, because for a director live TV is the holy grail. You are really in control of a lot of what gets seen and heard. That’s very exciting.

Our production designer, Angelic Rutherford, works closely with the couple and their wedding planner to create the wedding that they want, that we can also shoot to look good on television. It’s a beautiful culmination of all the work that went into their season.

What did you make of the backlash to Arie and Becca’s on-camera breakup? Were you there?
I was not on the scene for that. That was his decision. It wasn’t something that we planned on or in any way would have manufactured. Talk about authentic, right? This happens in real life, too, where guys feel one way or change their mind. Or a woman has doubts. Whatever happened, happened — it made for a fantastic live finale. It comes back to the idea that we, as a show, need to embrace what’s happening in these people’s lives, in their minds, in their hearts. We can’t control everything, nor should we.

Is there anything you could get away with telling me about this upcoming season?
All I can tell you is the honest-to-God truth, which is that Becca is really remarkable. She’s bright, beautiful, funny, likable. Obviously the way Arie’s season ended made her a bit of a fan favorite. You guys are going to love this season, because she’s a great Bachelorette. She covers all the bases of someone you’d want to go through this journey with.

What It’s Like to Direct an Episode of The Bachelorette