Movies and TV shows about jobs... behind the scenes!
September 30, 2016 3:36 AM   Subscribe

I loved Whiplash. I love Top Chef. I love documentaries about ballet. What else can I watch that gives an entertaining insight into the 'backstage' of various professions?

I find learning about the minutiae of other professions kind of fascinating. Oh, there are different glove sizes for doctors to wear in surgery? Cool! Piping buttercream roses is a standard skill that pastry chefs are taught in culinary school? Amazing! You have to go through an air shower to work in a cleanroom? Oooooh!

Things I like:
- Well-made reality competition shows like Top Chef, ANTM and Shear Genius, although I really only care about the bits where they're actually making the food / doing the modelling / cutting the hair, not the drama about who's going to get voted out. Chopped failed for me on that count (too much drama, not enough chef talk).
- TV shows about doctors, but again, I want to know about the science (and the glove sizes!) and not so much the intern falling in love with the resident.
- Movies like Whiplash and basically any dance documentary, which show the day-to-day life of someone wanting to achieve in a tough industry. Struggling to do a paradiddle in time? Need to break in those pointe shoes? Yes please!
- Movies like The Martian, which dedicate a decent amount of time to the (reeeeeasonably) realistic and detailed portrayal of an interesting profession.

What else will satisfy my thirst for occupational knowledge?

(On preview, there are some good suggestions in this previous ask from a couple of years ago but I'm not just looking for reality shows so my question stands!)
posted by lovedbymarylane to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (39 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Might not 100% scratch your specificity itch, but 'Mozart in the Jungle' is just fantastic, and has loads of juicy behind-the-scenes of the orchestra tidbits.
posted by nerdfish at 3:47 AM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

For the well-made reality competition shows, I'd highly recommend The Great British Bakeoff and The Great British Sewing Bee.
posted by kuanes at 4:03 AM on September 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

BBC have done a couple of things you might like (I assume you can get hold of them somehow via the interweb):
- The Tube - behind the scenes of managing the London Underground
- An hour to save your life - follows 3 patients through the golden hour via the paramedics and emergency hospital treatment
posted by crocomancer at 4:11 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Project Runway, believe it or not, has very little drama and gets really technical about fashion design and clothes construction.
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:18 AM on September 30, 2016 [10 favorites]

You are going to love Face Off.

I'm a fan of the reality competition genre in general, and I've seen a lot over the years, and Face Off is the best for a whole host of reasons.

1) It's about effects makeup, something that's intended to be seen on screen, so watching on your TV at home you see everything you're supposed to. You're not missing flavor or construction details.

2) The judges and mentor are people you've heard of even if you're not in the scene. Michael Whitmore! Ve Neill! They've won awards for their work and have decades of experience, and the contestants all trust and respect them and take their guidance to heart.

3) You actually see everything get made, from start to finish, and the show explains the process in detail.

4) There's no inter-contestant sniping and they actually help each other out. It's an industry that rewards teamwork, and you see it in every episode.

5) People are actually employable after they've been on the show. They're getting exposure in exactly the medium they need it in. They've had old contestants come back season to season to introduce challenges and stuff, and they're all working.

It's really fantastic. I think there have been 10 seasons so far (??) and the back catalogue is totally worth going back in and watching.

Face Off!!!
posted by phunniemee at 4:38 AM on September 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm like you! Two documentaries stand out for me: Jockey and Rize.

After watching them I spent the next few weeks regaling my friends with the weird inner workings of jockeys and krumpers.
posted by kinsey at 4:51 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like The Profit for this very thing. Each week the host learns about a failing business and decides whether to invest. If he does, he's in charge and you get to see how his changes play out. I like that you get to see both the broken system and the fix. Plus, the show features various industries.
posted by banjonaut at 5:24 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you seen Ballet 422? It "...illuminates the process behind the creation of a single ballet."
posted by Dolley at 5:38 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I very much enjoyed the PBS docuseries "Circus", which followed the now (but hopefully only temporarily) defunct Big Apple Circus through an entire season as they created a year's show, put it together, and then took it on tour around the country.
posted by briank at 5:47 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

6 Days to Air -- great documentary about how each South Park episode is made from ideation to animation in a week.

The Great British Bake Off -- it is a cooking contest show...but, the judges are very very technical and you learn a little bit about the different types of goods they're baking. Very little non-sense drama. And overall, a compassionate view towards the contestants -- who, actually don't uproot their lives to be on the show, but compete on the weekends!
posted by ellerhodes at 5:48 AM on September 30, 2016

Holmes on Homes deviates from the typical DIY-home show by examining screwed up sitautions left by other contractors and showing how to fix them.

It's pretty interesting stuff and you're watching a real contractor do his work, not just arrange fluffed pillows and large clocks on the wall.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:00 AM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

The documentary Somm follows three people studying for the wine master sommelier exam. There's a little bit in there about the service elements of being a sommelier, but the most interesting parts to me were about the process of studying for the exam. The test is only offered once a year, so seeing what that looked like too was also pretty interesting.
posted by lilac girl at 6:01 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

There's way too much manufactured drama now, but the earlier seasons of The Deadliest Catch scratched this itch for me. Interspersed with scenes of dangerous crab fishing were little informational tidbits about how crab move, different types of crab, minutiae about sorting and dumping dirty crab and females, how the derby fishing system compares to the current quota system, how much crab pots weigh, etc. etc. I know it was suggested in the earlier thread, but I wanted to get in my advice about skipping the later seasons. Basically, when Captain Elliot shows up, it's probably time to say goodbye to the show.
posted by xyzzy at 6:14 AM on September 30, 2016

The documentary Kings of Pastry is exactly this. (It's about pastry chefs getting ready for the most important competition of their careers, but they're not competing against each other or sniping at each other.) Also, the series of documentary shorts about the New York City Ballet, city.ballet.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:17 AM on September 30, 2016

I think the movie Spotlight gives an ultra-realistic portrayal of what investigative journalists actually do and the type of work they deal with - digging through spreadsheets, sitting on conference calls, having to spike stories, etc. It is super procedural but paced really well.

I also thought Moneyball gave a great look into the business of baseball/sports - again, the part where people crunch numbers and sit on conference calls in the front office and not the typical athleticism/rivalry tropes in most sports movies.
posted by windbox at 6:18 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Windbox is right about Moneyball.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:21 AM on September 30, 2016

Two documentaries about very different things - More Than Honey and Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey - have scratched this itch for me.
posted by Mizu at 6:26 AM on September 30, 2016

20 Feet From Stardom is a really excellent documentary about backup singers.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:52 AM on September 30, 2016 [8 favorites]

Circus x 1000. So good. I also thought that Vet School and Dr. Dee Alaska Vet were pretty well done; they are both on Amazon Prime. They seemed true to the experience of my vet friends.

Are you interested in actual behind-the-scenes stuff even if the production quality is lower? Youtube is stuffed full of instructional videos made in clean rooms, operating theaters, or labs. here is an online tour of my neighborhood clean room lab facility. JoVE is nothing but videos on how to do various lab techniques. Lots of good stuff there.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:53 AM on September 30, 2016

Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience is a comedy show where the host tries out a new profession in each episode.
posted by fireandthud at 6:59 AM on September 30, 2016

Ultimate Airport Dubai follows around employees at an airport. Pretty interesting look into some of the unexpected jobs that go on in an airport.

And would Dirty Jobs qualify?
posted by duoshao at 7:03 AM on September 30, 2016

The BBC did a 3-part series on the English National Ballet company called Agony & Ecstasy. It has a some about the process of being a dancer, but also running a company, staging a ballet, working on funding, getting visas for visiting foreign professionals, etc. A leetle bit manufactured drama (esp. one guy who's a real jerk, maybe just for the show?) but really interesting overall.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
posted by clerestory at 7:05 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Chef's Table and The Mind of a Chef are two docuseries about chefs that are pretty good. I also enjoyed the movie Today's Special (written by and starring Aasif Mandvi, formerly of the Daily Show) and Chef (written by and starring Jon Favreau).
Food-related documentaries not about chefs: Sriracha was interesting, also I really liked The Search for General Tso. Seconding Somm.
The British version of Kitchen Nightmares is far and away above the US version- little drama, lots of info, not just throwing money at the project, really teaching people how to fix their restaurants. If you can sit through a little drama, Bar Rescue and Bad Ink were both ok (especially in earlier seasons).

I'm watching Project Runway right now (several seasons are on Hulu) and enjoying it. Very like Top Chef in that it's a reality series with a winner, but it's pretty low drama and has good details about clothes construction.

I'll also second 20 Feet from Stardom! Great documentary. My husband loves music documentaries and there are tons of those. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon is a pretty good one about a famous music manager that deals with the music business.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:06 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Channel 4 in the UK did a FASCINATING series years ago called "Faking it" in which "ordinary" people learn how to become a Master of another profession in 30 days or something.

There was a truly excellent episode about a guy who worked in a burger van and he was coached by Gordon Ramsay to "Fake it" as a classically trained chef.

TONS of behind the scenes footage of what it takes to become a Hair Dresser, or ballerina or cellist etc. The link I have included is from Channel 4, not entirely sure if it will work in all countries but you may be able to find the shows somewhere else.
posted by JenThePro at 7:33 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I loved "Every Little Step" which was a documentary from 2008 about the realities of casting a Broadway show (in this case, A Chorus Line).
posted by amicamentis at 8:44 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love this stuff too, and am excited to check out some of these suggestions!

Seconding Face Off.

Emergency Room: Life + Death at VGH is a docuseries set in a Canadian ER. It's very much the medical details--as in don't watch with anyone squeamish. If you speak French, De Garde 24hres (On Call 24hrs) is a more general what doctors do in a hospital docuseries... No subtitles, sadly.

Slightly different but I also really enjoy Grand Designs, a British reality series that follows people as they (and their architects/builders/etc) build architecturally ambitious homes. The host is an architect, and he gets pretty deeply into architecture and project management. The only drama is around coming in on schedule and on budget (sometimes quite dramatic!!). There are 12+ seasons and all are consistently good.

Also, since you mentioned ANTM, you really must check out RuPaul's Drag Race. Not only professional drag queen goodness, but also laughs so hard at the ANTM deathly seriousness.
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:33 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

You might like BBC What do artists do all day (ive seen a few on youtube) They basically follow a different artists around all day or PBS Craftsmans Legacy The host visits and makes something with a craftsman for each episode.
posted by ljesse at 10:54 AM on September 30, 2016

BBC has done this a lot. 24 Hours in the A&E, Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS in a Day, The Barristers.
posted by praemunire at 11:27 AM on September 30, 2016

BROADCAST NEWS! Which is a great movie in general but also a great look behind the scenes of national news production; a little outdated today but I think it will really REALLY appeal to you. It's got loads of inside baseball-y stuff.

Speaking of baseball, I agree that Moneyball also scratches this itch.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:14 PM on September 30, 2016

So has channel 4: Royal Navy School, Murder Detectives, 24hrs in A&E, One born every minute, Educating Yorkshire, British Army Girls... so many. They're cheap to make.
posted by tinkletown at 12:15 PM on September 30, 2016

Shirobako is an anime about making anime, and I think it's just what you're looking for. It's all about the pressures of creating good animation with limited budgets and schedules, and you'll learn a ton about the different roles and techniques that go into anime production. Plus, all the protagonists are women, and they're not sexualized at all and there are no romance subplots. It's all about the work.
posted by eggplantplacebo at 4:42 PM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

The first season of Unreal was really great for this - it's about what goes into making a show like The Bachelor. (The creator was a producer on The Bachelor)

The War Room, about the 1992 Clinton campaign, is a great look at working on a political campaign at the high levels.
posted by lunasol at 8:02 PM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

The documentary "The September Issue" is a fascinating behind the scenes-look at Vogue magazine, chronicling the production of the most important issue of the year, the 840 page fall-fashion issue. Directed by R.J. Cutler who made the aforementioned "The War Room". (Trailer)
posted by Petersondub at 10:11 AM on October 1, 2016

I don't want to sound like the old crazy guy, but I'd probably try watching two episodes of Antiques Roadshow on PBS.

The only drama is when someone winds up stupidly happy, which isn't entirely rare.

The expertise are the appraisers they're working with, who know a *lot* about some very, very, veeerrry random stuff. Presumably collectible stuff, but I still can't tell from looking at most of it. :)
posted by talldean at 3:14 PM on October 1, 2016

Oh goodness, a hearty second for '6 Days to Air'! It's SUCH an inspiring documentary!
posted by nerdfish at 4:10 PM on October 1, 2016

Sing Faster: The Stagehand's Ring Cycle is a look at the stagehands' work on a production of Wagner's Ring operas.

I can say from personal experience that the amount of work and timing required by stagehands in a large opera production is striking. And the backstage voice channel really is running all the time with singer and stage cues.
posted by Warren Terra at 11:22 PM on October 1, 2016

I'll also recommend Project Runway, The Profit, and definitely The War Room. (You might also be interested in Game Change, based on the book about the 2008 campaign.)

I'll add in Hard Knocks, which follows an NFL team during training camp. The Los Angeles Rams was this year's featured team. Past seasons have followed the Baltimore Ravens, the Dallas Cowboys (twice), the Kansas City Chiefs, the Cincinnati Bengals (twice), the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Houston Texans.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:59 PM on October 2, 2016

You might already know these, but for ballet there's Breaking Pointe, which is quite dramatic unfortunately, but also really insightful about the pressures of young dancers fighting for their place in the company. And also The Secret Lives of Dancers, which is less reality show and more documentary, but I've found it hard to track down. It's a New Zealand show, and I caught some on a plane but haven't been able to find it anywhere since. Really enjoyed it, though.
posted by bellebethcooper at 9:16 PM on October 2, 2016

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - I think it does a really good job of getting into the head of a comedy sketch writer (Although it changes as it goes on). It's fantastic TV though.
News Room - A bit preachy at times, but good stuff.

Non Fiction:
Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge - I loved this show so much. It's a group of puppet makers working to win prize money and a contract with the Henson company. The contestants are mostly nice and supportive of each other, it's really nice TV.
posted by chrispy108 at 2:35 AM on October 8, 2016

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