Scorching Sun and Creative Solutions: The Making of an Art Reality Show

It's go-time to film the first challenge of episode 1 of "The Outstanding Artist". It's very early, and the sun is just coming up, with everyone bustling around to set up the scene. Each artist has an easel to paint on, somewhat squished into the spot where we will have the most shade.

Setting the Scene

Artist contestants from Season 3 of The Outstanding Artist set up their paint easel and supplies

I see the artists taking their nightstands from their rooms and bringing them out to put their palettes, brushes, and solvent on. I flash forward ten episodes to a rainbow mess of paint and Panayiotis screaming at me with a giant calculator in his hand, trying to tell me I owe him thousands to buy him all new furniture for the rooms. I told the director we needed to cover the furniture and suggested getting plastic or something. "No way! It will ruin the shot! We can't have that. Don't you have a budget for set design?"

I appeal to Jake. "You know Panayiotis will do everything he possibly can to charge us for these and not be fair about it."

"There is nothing we can do. We need them. We didn't buy anything for them to have their palettes on. I have already talked to Panayiotis, and he said it's fine; we can repaint them."

I didn't feel confident about that, but he's right; what else can we do at this point?

Facing the Mediterrean Sun

Although it was only May, the summer temperature on the island was in the upper 80s and low 90s, and some of the artists would not be able to handle full sun for hours. For the first challenge, we would have to start filming by 8 am, so most of the artists would be in the shade for most of the time. But this wouldn't work past the first episode. Some challenges were longer, with larger canvases. We had all the challenges planned out and thought we would film everything at the hotel. We were going to design the set, and all the equipment, lighting, and blocking would be consistent, creating a template ready to go each day.

If we film in different locations to find shade, we'll have to move people and equipment and reconfigure lighting and blocking each time. Transporting easels, supplies, and equipment without a van or truck would be extremely challenging. The weather report showed that temperatures would only increase, and my weather app showed only yellow suns.

The First Painting Challenge

Artist Contestants waiting to hear what their first challenge is of The Outstanding Artist

The first challenge was to paint one of the Olympian Greek gods or goddesses. Ironically, there is debate over whether there are 12 or 13 gods. Some argue there are only 12 because Hades lives in the underworld, not on Mt. Olympus. Others say Hades is included. Originally, the show was designed for 12 contestants, but with Ritika's visa delay and Tanya's last-minute inclusion, we now had 13, so Hades was also included in the challenge. Each artist drew a god from a jar, meeting their fate with their subject, and the challenge began.

Artists' Struggle With Rising Temperatures

As the shade thinned and the sun beat down, I saw the artists struggling to focus, their faces turning redder. They fanned themselves and placed wet washcloths from the refrigerators on their necks. Their acrylic paint was drying quickly, and the glare made it difficult to see at times. Yet, they had to paint their best in hopes of not being eliminated and advancing to the next round.

I was most concerned about Anna, our ginger contestant from Oregon, where the sun rarely shines. She was laden with sunscreen, wore a long-sleeved white shirt and leggings under her overalls, and donned a large hat.

We tried moving other contestants who could handle more sun into her spot. Bri had been practicing for months by painting outdoors, getting used to the elements, and conditioning her skin. Jessi was also suffering and tried inching to the left as the sun moved, but eventually, she was hedged in by a bush and couldn't go further.

Suddenly, I heard Jake announce, "Stop time, everyone stop painting, we need to take a break!" as Katrina, feeling sick and close to throwing up, was led to a table under an umbrella. We brought ice and towels to cool her down while we swapped places with Bri, who still had some shade. After about 30 minutes, we resumed for the final hour.

That's when I decided this was not sustainable. We could no longer paint here.

Seeking New Solutions

Artist Contestants from Season 3 of The Outstanding Artist comepte in their first challenge

I pulled the director aside and said, "We can't paint here again unless we paint from 6 pm to 9 pm and from 6 am to 9 am." He replied, "That's not possible because we film the eliminations from 6-9 pm." I said, "Why don't we film the eliminations the following afternoon since it's under shade?" He insisted, "No way, the eliminations must be filmed as the sun is setting because it's symbolic, and it has to be the same each time."

"Well, that sounds nice, but something has to give, either your blocking template or your symbolic eliminations. We can't subject these artists to the sun again."

Then the director said, "Look, the quality of the show comes first, sunburns second. They will get used to it. It's not a big deal."

I walked away from the conversation, feeling a war brewing inside me. I felt the impending dangers, temptations, the ego, the control. I felt the frustration of not being heard. I didn't agree that the quality of the show came first. The artist is first. They are here, trusting us with their precious and profound stories, and we should not burn them under the sun. I knew what I had to do.

The Quest for New Film Locations

After we finished filming everything for the morning, I told Jake and Dimitra, "We can't do this again. We will not film them under the sun again. We must move the set around and find shade. I don't care what the director thinks; he'll have to adapt."

Dimitra concurred, "I agree! I felt so bad for them. It was awful watching them bake like that."

Jake agreed and thought that a change of scenery could be nice but was concerned about the logistics of finding new places. He didn't have time to figure it all out.

I realized this task would fall to me. I knew I would have to go around the island, knock on doors, make connections, and find suitable places for filming the challenges. I knew our plans had to be flexible, and we would need to be more creative than ever before.

Embracing the Unknown

The sunset view from Spetses, Greece

It was a call to adventure. We had to leave the realm of set plans and familiarity to venture into the unknown. I had to find shade and face whatever challenges lay ahead of us, like these artists who answered the call to join this project, facing the reality of being on camera for interviews and challenges. They would paint while the world witnessed their defeats and their overcoming. I, too, had to discover what I was made of and find the boundaries of my will.

There would be trials and unspeakable adversity, but also exploration and the conquering of an extraordinary world. If we want to live a life of greatness, if we want to live an extraordinary life, we must be willing to leave our comfort and the ordinary behind. We must face our fears, overcome challenges, and step into the unknown. it's non-negotiable. 

I knew in the month ahead, like these artists, I would have to face my insecurities, fears, and shortcomings. I was embarking on a journey and would never be the same.

Share your experience in the comments below!


  • Josie Gabe

    I love Spetsi, I got married on Hydra the island next to it its really arty and fab food and bars and great inspiration for art. People are easier here.

  • Toni

    Oh gosh Elli! The response of the director is astonishing. I’ll have to wait to find out what happens—but I have no idea how it would be possible to continue working with him after that. Sitting on the edge of my seat over here!!
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Oh yes! More to come! I had my own growth experience throughout this whole project.

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