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Thread: On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

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    I Think I Can Dance. Aota Bass's Avatar
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    On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

    Based on browsing through, it doesn't seem like there's a thread devoted specifically to editing/viewer manipulation even though it's always an issue on reality tv, so I thought I'd share my thoughts, for what they're worth...

    I got thinking about this because I realized I already have a few favorites chosen (Ricky, Hok, Lauren) despite the fact that I haven't even really seen more than half of the contestants!!! And I know I'm not alone here.

    The way I see it, the editors/producers of reality tv can influence viewer perceptions of characters/contestants in four major ways:

    1. Face Time and Story Arcs
    This one is obvious and effective. People care about others when we hear about their backgrounds, when we see them as people like us rather than solely in their extraordinary roles as dancers/singers/models/fashion designers/chefs/island natives on national tv. Just browsing through the 20 contestants' threads, it's clear that some of them barely got a second of air time in the pre-competition shows, while others have been tracked since their initial auditions, complete with interactions off the dance floor.

    I've heard it said that the editors just show who is interesting, and if we know about a backstory it's because that contestant happens to have a good one. This was clearly the case in some of the audition round storylines (Olivia and her mom, Nancy and her arm, Miles and his dad, etc). But that's not all we get in the scheme of the show. Last year, for instance we heard a few times about the backstories of contestants like Benji & Donyelle when I highly doubt they were unique to them in particular- I'm sure at least ONE of the other top 20 had struggled with weight or been dumped (and honestly, who comes back after 2 years away and expects their previous relationship to be the same way it was when they left???). EVERYONE has struggled to overcome something. Just a little thing like getting dumped or battling weight problems can win tremendous identification points among viewers.

    And it's not face time alone, but also what happens during that face time. Everyone says nice, funny, and quirky things, and everyone reaches a breaking point and says something catty or idiotic, if not intentionally spiteful. What the editors choose to show is all we get to see.

    2. Judges' Comments
    This one gets brought up a lot here on FORT- people talk of Simon being mean to certain contestants he wants sent home or Mia playing favorites to win the contemporary dancers more votes. I personally think this is the least influential method of manipulation. If viewers already love Heidi, they'll feel justified and empowered when the judges compliment her and will feel threatened and anxious when they criticize her. Either way, they are going to vote for her. People aren't mindless robots that do whatever "Simon says." I mean, if EVERYONE always did what Simon said, no one would ever be "out" and that would be the most boring game ever (but a good way to solve the world's problems: "Simon says flap like a birdie! Simon says hop on one leg! Simon says make peace in the Middle East!")

    Then what good are the judges if not to influence viewers? They provide drama. If we just saw people dance and then cut to commercials with no feedback, we wouldn't get to see the cheers, jumps, hugs, and kisses when Shane says they are the couple to beat, or the drama of how the dancers will respond when Nigel says they should probably start packing: will they talk back with an attitude? Will they gracefully thank the judges for helping them grow as dancers? Will Cat have to console them when they break down crying? Will they turn to the audience like a seasoned politician and declare that they'll just have to see what America thinks? Without judges- whether they are mean or nice, insightful or rambling morons- these shows would be lame!

    3. Subtle Production Aspects
    THIS is where I think the real influence happens, and I believe that most of the time it's largely unintentional. But anyone who has taken a film theory or production class knows that the way images work- how the camera focuses, transitions, and moves- have a tremendous but subtle impact on the viewing audience. A dancer positioned in just the right spot during a group number becomes the shining star of the piece, while others literally fade into the background (or remain off the screen during their best moments).

    Last year Brian choreographed an awesome routine for Jessica & Jaymz to Frou Frou's "Let Go," a routine that used the entire space of the stage, from the upper levels, down the stairs, across the stage- all over the place. It's my analysis that the camera crew was not prepared for it and got overwhelmed- you figure they only have a few hours to design the camerawork of the entire show, probably the day before shooting. When I watched this piece for the first time it just looked like a mess- the camera was shooting all over the place and the dancers were never really quite in the center of the frame- and they wound up in the bottom group that week. However, re-watching my tapes of it, I realized their dancing was actually amazing- gorgeous synchronized leaps, great chemistry, and truly gorgeous movement across the space, which explains why the judges loved it and gave them tremendous compliments afterwards. I don't think this was intentional editing to get rid of Jessica & Jaymz (whom I thought should have been in the top 3 males last season, no question). It was just hasty and poorly planned camerawork for choreography that wasn't well-considered for the camera.

    Lighting has a huge impact on reception (the right shade and angle can make an average person look stunning or repulsive). Costumes can flatter a dancer's figure or not. Same with make-up and hair design. Performance order, too, could influence our viewing (we remember later routines better, a great piece early on can give the audience and fellow dancers great energy to feed off of or can make a weaker dance look even worse by comparison).

    Sometimes, to be sure, this is pure luck and coincidence when editing works for or against people in these subtle ways. But given that the people who work on the editing crews of these major network shows likely went through quite a bit of film school training, I'm sure they are at least aware of how a certain lens, angle, or zoom can make a contestant look like a hero or a villain. And I'm sure that sometimes, when a certain contestant generates water cooler talk (and therefore more viewers and therefore more money), the editors play it up using everything they can in their bag of tricks.

    4. Other Appearances
    Any time a judge or producer mentions a contestant in an interview, or a magazine does a report on the show and features a few contestants' pictures and bios, that person gets a bit of name recognition. And when 20 dancers are vying for popular votes, any publicity is good publicity.

    Effects
    Like I said, viewers aren't slaves to editing. Even the dancer with the least face time only shown saying nasty things put into a horrible costume and given terrible feedback from the judges will have a few fans, and the dancer with the best editing will still have to face haters. In the end, so much of it depends on who an audience connects with and relates to, or who moves and inspires them. Obviously the actual performances and the real personalities of the contestants matter, tremendously, in these relationships.

    But I want to call attention to the editing as something that does actively influence perception, even if it does not determine it. This is why I take all of these "America's Favorite" contests with a huge grain of salt. Sure, Survivor, ANTM, Amazing Race, Top Chef, and other reality tv shows create drama by building sympathy and dislike for characters, but they don't affect the actual outcome of those contests.

    In regards to SYTYCD 2, I'll go on the record as saying I personally feel that Benji benefitted from positive editing as much as he earned the title, while Allison and Jaymz caught tough breaks.

    I'd love to hear feedback- am I overlooking something? Do you feel particular contestants are receiving favoritism or put at a disadvantage beyond their control?
    And I sing sometimes like my life is at stake because you're only as loud as the noises you make.

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    Crazy Shutterbug Harmony2000's Avatar
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    Re: On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

    What an excellent post! I completely agree that the editing that is done on reality shows benefits or hinders some of the participants. They know who they want to win, ringers if you will, and they show these people a lot in the beginning so they can establish the fan bases early. As we already know from other shows, AI for one, the sooner a contestant can establish a fan base the better their odds are to making it to the end.

    I think one you may have overlooked is contrived romances that capture the viewers interest. Examples would be the implied one between Benji/Donyelle. How far would either have gone if not for that? What about Will/Janelle on BB? Again, without that hint of a possible romance, how interested would people had been in them?

    Just my opinion, of course, but I think as people get more savvy to the way reality shows work they will employ the tactic of faking a romance, coming up with a sob story, etc to get the viewers to vote for them.

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    FORT Fogey skyhigh79's Avatar
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    Re: On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

    Over on the DWTS threads there is talk of the "pimp" spot. Basically, who dances last. In dance competitions you want to be the last dancer in a category. Going first is always tough because people don't remember you, the judges have nothing to compare you with and often score low to leave room for a dancer who might be better.

    Editing, lighting, partnering choices, styles, publicity, back stories all have impact, but sometimes the dancer's abilities can trump all of that.

    Unfortunately it might be appearance (beauty) that is the main factor. However, this isn't about being the best dancer, but being the favorite dancer.

    In my experience, I have seen dancers win dance competitions just because of who they are and their reputation, not based on their actual dancing at the competition. It is no different here. I imagine people with dance knowledge will view the dancers differently than those who have no experience other than what they see on these shows.
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    Crazy Shutterbug Harmony2000's Avatar
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    Re: On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

    Do any of you watch the ballroom competitions? They televised one not too long ago that Tony (from DWTS) and his partner were in, I SWEAR they won their category simply on name recognition and because they were the winners the year before. They were nowhere near as good as the new dancers, a couple whose name escapes me but they were the talk of the competition because they were a new partnership and were already good enough to make it to the competitions.

    Anyways, I agree that reputation and who they are gets them the win sometimes. In a show like this? Oh yeah, most definitely if you are pretty you get far. Also if you are a man. Think about it. Who are all those screaming fans voting for? Not the girls, thats for sure.

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    FORT Fogey mbcrowder's Avatar
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    Re: On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

    I think the backstory is very important early. Fanbases are developed ... and hard to overcome. Consider Sanjaya from AI6 - overplayed backstory between he and his sister. Fanbase develops ... and then, Oh The Horror! He Can't Sing!!! And it took 12 weeks to get rid of him.

    Backstory can backfire.

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    FORT Fogey
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    Re: On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

    Not exactly sure if it's been touched on or where it fits in, but don't forget demographics and relatability. If there's a contestant on a show who is "just like me!" then I might be more apt to vote for him. Similarly, if a show is marketed to a certain age group/gender, you're putting those contestants who don't identify for that age group in jeopardy. Melinda may be a brilliant singer, but she ain't no idol ...

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    Chihuahua's rule! drkim's Avatar
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    Re: On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

    I've noticed some camera problems this season. They will switch cameras in the middle of a great move! It ruins it! Or one dancer will be behind the other for a while and the camera is just running around trying to find the right angle. It has messed up some dances especially those that really move. Breaks up the moves and flow.

    I feel this season that Dom has been shoved in our faces because he stayed while Ricky left and there was such a backlash for that. So, the judges the next week, including Mia, say how Dom has surprised them all, that he has grown, etc... I feel he is the arrogant one, not Danny.
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    FORT Regular drooler's Avatar
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    Re: On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

    I definitely believe there was some "pimping" last night. I thought Danny and Anya's foxtrot was meh and Lacey and Kameron's hip hop had a lot of acting and not much dancing. But they had the coveted last two dances and the judges nearly wet their pants slobbering over Danny and Lacey. Meanwhile they gave a really nice dance by Lauren & Neil short shrift.

    I think judges comments do have an impact. I also think that the choreography has the biggest impact.

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    Re: On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

    Quote Originally Posted by drkim;2481361;
    I've noticed some camera problems this season. They will switch cameras in the middle of a great move! It ruins it! Or one dancer will be behind the other for a while and the camera is just running around trying to find the right angle. It has messed up some dances especially those that really move. Breaks up the moves and flow.
    I noticed that also but it seemed particularly obvious during Danny & Anya’s contemporary piece last week. It looked like the camera couldn’t manage to keep both of them in frame and you often cut one of them in half to follow the other. One moment stands out particularly where all you could see was Anya’s leg lifted in arabesque at the bottom of the screen with Danny leaping up in the background. But that entire piece was plagued with bad editing, the weird superimposed images during their spin and the numerous close ups on their faces took a lot away from the choreography and the performance as a whole. I think that was one of the major reasons they we’re in the bottom three.
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    Re: On Editing and Viewer Manipulation

    On the subject of camera angles...

    I think that there is often a really big chasm between the impact the piece has on an audience observing from within a theatre and the impact the piece has on the audience observing from the limited confines of the camera shot.

    Often I have wished that the darn cameras would just zoom out and show the entire stage so that I could get an overall impact of the piece rather than just the swirling image of the edge of a dress or a shot of feet spinning in place.

    I wonder how it would look if they did just show the stage, rather than jumping around with all the different shots? Would it come across as cheesy and unprofessional, would the viewing audience love it or hate it, etc?

    Lisa G

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