Emily Patterson: Reinhardt, thank you for taking the time to tell us your story. It certainly has been an interesting one. Where did it all start and how did you end up here in Los Angeles?
Reinhardt Vermeulen: Thanks so much, it really has been an interesting ride! I was born in Kempton Park in Johannesburg, South Africa. From a young age, I became accustomed to traveling as we moved around South Africa, from sunny Johannesburg right down to Cape Town and back up to a small mining town called Rustenburg. I’ve always loved working with my hands and was soon dubbed an entrepreneur in primary school after I built and sold many wooden cabinets to my teachers. I knew I was destined to work with my hands, and my natural creative vision as well as having the ability to execute my ideas, gave me the confidence to pursue that goal. So from there I started studying mechanical engineering at the age of 16 and got my first real job working in the mining industry at age 18. Something just didn’t feel right though and the question: “What is missing?” kept popping up in my thoughts. At this point, I got an opportunity to travel to London as a Gas & Electric District Manager and I took the opportunity to travel without hesitation. In short, I loved the experience, and the “what is missing” question was quickly answered for me – it was traveling. I returned to South Africa and found myself back at square one – looking for work in mining again. You can imagine my dismay as the “what is missing?” thoughts started popping up again. I didn’t want to work underground, I didn’t want to work in that cold dark place, and I certainly didn’t want to get accidentally blown to smithereens one day, so I am relieved to say I took a gamble and left. Luckily, it paid off, as I got an opportunity to become an Assistant Director of Photography (D.O.P) to my brother who was already a distinguished D.O.P. I jumped at the opportunity and with his experience and guidance I really did have a head start. He taught me everything I needed to know in order to start a new career in entertainment.
I spent a lot of time covering various sporting events, from international rugby, soccer, netball all the way through to wheelchair basketball. As the years ticked by my excitement and interest in TV production grew and I ended up directing motorsport, international karting world championships, and extreme off-road motorcycle championships. Having grown up riding motocross, the passion for this sport was instilled deep within me, so you can imagine how excited I was to be working with big names such as Red Bull and Monster, who are the pioneering brands associated with these great sports. This was, and still is, my passion. I just loved that filming entailed getting on a bike and I felt like I was in my own race, trekking through the racetracks and mountains to get the absolute best coverage possible. The experience was intense and the unforgiving environments (harsh weather conditions, treacherous terrain, etc) that we worked in were extremely challenging, but ultimately just added to the pride of the achievement in the end. I was in control of pre-production right through to the TV broadcast, and the opportunity created a lot of insight into how each and every department works. This paved the way for me as my need for bigger and better prospects continued to grow significantly.
At age 27 I was approached by ITV Australia, who were in search of South Africa’s top production talent to work on the world-famous TV series I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! This was exactly what I wanted and the opportunity created a lot of growth and opened many doors for me going forward. It paved my way into the world of reality TV. My past experience of working on live events meant that I was used to the pressure of never being able to miss a shot, a story, or a comment because if we did there were no second chances. So with all of my experience directing and shooting on fast-paced extreme sporting events, it made moving into the equally fast-paced and high-pressure environment of making reality TV a natural progression. After finishing 5 full seasons of the show, I knew that if I wanted to take my career to the next level then I would need to leave my home country and set my sights on bigger ventures. That is exactly what I did and I now find myself in Los Angeles working on massive shows. When I was working underground in the mines, I never in a million years would have thought that I would be here today. I truly feel blessed and am very thankful for the opportunities I have had and those that are still to come.
Q: Talk us through what a day is like as a Reality TV Director.
A: Well one thing’s for sure, every day is fast-paced, intense, and full of pressure. However, there is not much that comes close to the satisfying feeling of nailing a great scene! My realm of directing is set in a massive control room filled with up to 75 camera outputs, as well as producers, camera operators, audio operators, lighting, executives and so many more. Big shows like I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!, Love Island and Big Brother are all set up in this way. To me, being on the front line as a director is the best job. I just love working out camera angles, building scenes, and chasing reality stories as and when they happen. I am the central person on the front line and therefore the point of contact for over 30 crew members, from all departments. It’s imperative to keep calm and think pragmatically in this role and those skills must become second nature while working in this pressure-filled position. The team aspect on these types of shows is quite amazing and each and every one of us, no matter the role, is a gear that drives this big machine. Once we get going we can’t stop until we wrap. The turn around is extremely quick and what we cover today is in tomorrow’s episode and is history the day after that. It is extremely satisfying working with such a big team and even more so seeing everything fall in, and sometimes out, of place, it is un-scripted reality after all and most of the time we shoot off the cuff.
Q: Moving from South Africa to Los Angeles, what are some of the challenges you had to overcome?
A: Oh boy, there are so many! I think the biggest challenge was leaving my family behind in South Africa. We are a close nit family and the love is endless. Moving to another country has so many difficulties. Everything is different, the people, the cuisine, the rules, driving on the opposite side of the road, and the list just go on. I still can’t get my head wrapped around Fahrenheit, miles, feet, and inches, haha. The industry here is also extremely competitive and often brutal. It has been difficult but I truly believe that the road to success is never straight or without any bumps. So I see the challenges as opportunities to grow. Needless to say the single biggest challenge this year, as with everyone in the world, has been COVID-19. My thoughts and prayers go out to each and every person who is sick and to so many families that have lost loved ones, as well as to all the hard-working people saving lives! This pandemic has really thrown a big monkey wrench into the gears of life!
Q: Thoughtful and interesting analogy, it certainly has been difficult for everyone. How will COVID-19 affect the way you make TV shows now?
A: Very good question. Filming TV shows in L.A literally came to a complete standstill, and starting back up is proving extremely challenging, demanding, and expensive. We are set to shoot Love Island Series 2 in the following weeks and everyone’s health and safety is a top priority, with many safety precautions put into place. So things will certainly be different, but with a team filled with such creative individuals, I am certain we will still pull off a really great series.
Q: What advice would you give to someone that is looking to fill your shoes someday?
A: Do what makes you happy. Follow your heart, trust your instincts, and believe in yourself. Hard work pays off so do plenty of it. Never be afraid to ask questions. When possible find time to shadow and discuss the job with the people you look up to and learn as much as you possibly can from them. Be humble, kind, and never stop smiling. Our industry is filled with amazing, like-minded people and you will make lifetime friends and become part of the entertainment family.