Tonight, E! heads back under the knife in the return of its groundbreaking reconstructive plastic surgery series, Botched. In each episode, Dr. Terry Dubrow and Dr. Paul Nassif transform bodies and lives by correcting plastic surgery-gone-bad or devastating physical situations that have rendered the patients all but shut-ins.
The creation of any kind of reality programming requires the work of a small army of talented entertainment professionals, and I was curious about the specific challenges of shooting a show as graphic and intimate as Botched. The camera men and women who film the consults and surgeries do so without he benefit of the blurs that we enjoy as viewers. Often these professionals are quite literally staring into the bodies of the people whom they were interviewing moments before.
Beth Kochendorfer has been working in reality television for over a decade on documentary-style reality television that is unscripted and shot on location, or “in the field.” A few of the shows that Beth has worked on in addition to Botched include The Real Housewives of Orange County, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Ladies of London, Million Dollar Decorators, William Shatner’s talk show, Shatner’s Raw Nerve and America’s Next Top Model. On Botched, Kochendorfer serves as the series’ Director of Photography, and explains, “I’m a department head in charge of all things visual. I’m in charge of the camerawork, the lighting. I’m also a liaison — I work with the producers to get the content that they want for a scene, but also in non-scripted, you’re working with the cast; you’re involved in their lives too. You have to have a good rapport with your cast and making them comfortable and capturing the story.” Kochendorfer adds that her role is extremely hands on, “This is a shooting position; so I’m very intimately involved in what’s being captured on camera.”
Capturing the details of surgery takes a small village of professionals and its second season, Botched has two crews to capture the show’s action. Kochendorfer explains, “On each crew (in the field) we have eight people. There is a senior camera operator [Beth’s position], a second camera operator, one audio person, one camera assistant, two production assistants, a supervising producer and an associate producer. That’s the little squadron — or unit — that goes out to shoot each scene. When we’re in the operating room, it’s just the two camera operators. Every once in a while a producer will pop in or audio will pop in, but mainly it’s the two camera ops.”
The crew is augmented by another army who handles the series’ pre- and post-production. This group includes the casting department, editors, an audio department, and a host of producers and other production staff. Each member of the Botched team is an expert in their craft and works with the singular goal of producing honest and moving stories that highlight the incredible work that Drs. Dubrow and Nassif do for their extraordinary patients. And the doctors have become beacons of hope for people who are suffering from botched plastic surgery or have physical anomalies that require heavy-duty reconstructive surgery.
I asked Kochendorfer how she handles the graphic reality of surgery and she reveals, “I love working on this show for that reason. I love what we get to witness and be a part of.” She explains, “It really is a positive show and these are doctors who are really doing good work. It’s nice to be a part of happy endings. I would say being able to capture that is a privilege. It’s a privilege to be in the room and be a part of these people’s lives and transformations. Every once in a while, my stomach will turn, but for the most part, it’s really interesting. When my stomach turns, it’s usually the smell of cauterizing — the burning flesh — that gets me.”
The series has a mix of eccentric patients who are trying to create a specific, often extreme change in their appearance, but for Kochendorfer, she’s drawn to the heartfelt stories of people who have something functionally wrong that affects their daily lives. “The doctors doing surgery, and helping them look better, and feel better about themselves, is transformative and live changing. And of course, I find myself personally invested in our cast. I love watching their journeys, I love being a part of that. You work very intimately with someone for a very short period of time and you become their cheerleader.”
Kochendorfer says a few of her favorite stories from Season 1 included Desiree who had a botched tummy tuck and Jenn Farinet who had her botched nosejobs and extremely deviated septum fixed. She reveals that Jenn’s procedure, “Wasn’t even that huge of a physical change, but it was so powerful for her psychologically that she was a completely different person after the procedure.”
Kochendorfer reveals that in Season 2, the show’s producers found people with even more dramatic challenges than last year. “There is one woman in particular who is hands down the most transformational person we’ve ever seen. I can’t reveal too much, but your jaw will drop.” She adds, “There is definitely one particular nose job and one boob job this season that I didn’t think were fixable. Even other doctors were saying, ‘You should not go near this case,’ and the doctors are able to pull off miracles!
There are cases that have literally made me respect our doctors more because I didn’t think they could fix these people. And they were able to make them better and change their lives. I like being part of a show that has positive endings.”
In a reality TV landscape cluttered with endless shows filled with screaming and fighting, the opportunity to work on a series that so positively and dramatically affects the lives of its participants is a rarity. Kochendorfer and her fellow crew members comprehend what a gift that the show is. “I really can’t express how much of a privilege it is to work on this show,” she says. “What’s hard and interesting to me about this job is, you really have to be personally involved with these people. You are with them showing off the parts of their bodies that they have been hiding for years. They’re getting naked in front of you; they’re getting cut open in front of you; they’re bearing their souls in front of you. To me, it’s a privilege to be a part of that and to know that they’re comfortable enough to do that with us.”
Kochendorfer admits that the show is popular because some of the patients are sensational and viewers love to be shocked, but at the end of the day, “This is real life; it’s real surgery. It’s a real life and death situation. This is as real as TV can get; and that is the honest answer of why I love being a part of the show. It’s entertaining, but it’s also extraordinarily helpful for people. I’ve seen so many good outcomes. But there are a few this season that are jaw-dropping. It’s jaw dropping that the doctors are able to fix these folks.”
Botched > E! Entertainment Tuesdays at 9pm ET/ PT beginning April 14
all images courtesy and © Beth Kochendorfer.