Sexy Beasts: Making the game-changing Netflix dating show with Hollywood production values

Take one zany dating show format, add Hollywood-style make-up VFX and shoot it with the production values of a blockbuster. The result is Sexy Beasts, which arrived on Netflix last week.

Director Sam Campbell is a reality TV specialist. He’s previously shot The Circle for Netflix, Gordon, Gino and Fred: Road Trip for ITV, and The Face with Naomi Campbell for Sky, amongst others. 'Largescale entertaining shows, with multiple cameras... Glossy, high-end unscripted television,’ is his wheelhouse.

‘In terms of production values, Sexy Beasts is a game changer,’ Campbell tells HCC.’ It’s the first unscripted show to be shot in 4K with HDR, and the prosthetics are so good.

Handling post is Julian Nelson, who says his role ‘spans all picture finishing. I try to get involved as early as I can, which only tends to really be a Netflix production, because they tend to be a bit more collaborative…’ he says.


'The idea is bonkers, isn't it?'
With Sexy Beasts, Netflix has taken a format first seen on BBC 3 in 2014 and given it a big-budget makeover. It’s a traditional dating show made mad – all the contestants are unrecognisable behind elaborate masks and fantasy prosthetics. It’s only when suitors have been chosen are the love beasts revealed to each other in their true form.

‘The idea is bonkers, isn't it?' says Campbell. 'People donning ridiculous but incredible-looking prosthetics and going out on dates with each other...

'The format is the same as the original. Obviously the main difference is budget. When it came to Netflix they just wanted it far glossier, bigger locations - we ended up shooting the series at Knebworth Country House.

'The original was HD for BBC Three, whereas Netflix wanted to finish in the highest possible standard,' says Nelson. 'So we shot on Sony Venice cameras in 4K, and we mastered in Dolby Vision. You really see the money on the screen, the location, the masks, all of those things just end up working together and look amazing.’

‘We used five Sony Venice cameras on location,' adds Campbell. 'This was a unique chance to go big with the HDR 4K format.’


So, what does shooting in Dolby Vision give you creatively in this genre?

Campbell explains: ‘From my point of view, it’s just the quality of the image. The detail that you get with HDR can be seen in the sky, and in the dark spots. In those contrasty areas, it's all there. If someone's wearing a black outfit it looks great. On other cameras, so much detail gets lost in the blacks. HDR gives you confidence. You know that when you shoot in those dark cavernous corners in Knebworth, when you’re shooting at night, there is still going to be detail in the picture.

‘A reality TV setup is very different to dramas, in that we don't have a script. Okay, so we'll give people marks but once it goes, it goes. We will have four or five cameras on one scene and there’s no stopping. It just gives you confidence that when the cameras are pointing in a certain direction, it’s going to look good.’

'The extended colour gamut was huge for this show,' says Julian Nelson. 'It’ll be interesting to see if all the other networks and studios think that they need to step up the game a bit when they see it. When you’re working for a regular channel, you don't get this kind of camera choice.

'We had these lovely hero shots that Sam set up, which have a very glossy kind of studio feel. There's so much to play with lighting wise. Then in post we added more lights on top, using various plugins.’


But with the Gothic location, and the outlandish make-ups, was there ever a temptation to make the show even a little creepy?

‘When we recc’d all the locations, there's are gargoyles everywhere and staircases and I was wondering how it was going to work,' admits Campbell. 'In real life, it’s sort of dark and gloomy, but that wouldn’t work – it would look too much like a drama.

'Netflix was clear the show couldn’t be scary. So we just added loads of colour, loads of warmth. Wherever we could put in colour, we would throw it in. We wanted to make it funny, and really bring those masks alive, not make them feel scary or grotesque. What's brilliant is that people played it completely straight…’

Sexy Beasts is available on Netflix now.