Amy Stern (bigbrotherreads) wrote,
Amy Stern

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Somewhere, my film professor from undergrad is crying, and she doesn't know why.

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! is basically the platonic ideal of bad reality television editing.

Which is actually kind of helpful, because nothing highlights conventions you don't even notice anymore like a show that doesn't bother to use them. When I took a film class in undergrad, I remember discussing techniques that we've been raised on so we don't even notice them anymore: shot/reverse shot, eyeline match, cross-cutting, etc. Reality television uses a similar but not identical set of conventions. Big Brother, for example, does shot/reverse shot, but because they can't lay out the scene, they don't necessarily have the "perfect" shots or audio. They can't re-record if something isn't perfect. So they adopt conventions.

For example:

Picture Description
overhead shotThe first shot is a bird's eye view shot. These cameras are posted high up on the walls for establishing shots and for anything that can't be gotten through one of the cameras that would allow the viewer to make eye contact with the subject of the frame. In this particular shot, the people in question are Maggie and Kaysar, as is obvious from context and from their outfits. They're clearly in the corner of the backyard, and the shot is just wide enough to show that they're right by the pool. The subtitles show that they're whispering.

This shot also helps us identify where the cameras are. Inside the two-way window/mirrors lining the backyard is a hallway in which cameramen and cameras can move around- but only within that space, which naturally narrows the scope of what they can see. The mirror/window behind Maggie's head is being used to film Kaysar, and the mirror/window to the side is being used to film Maggie.
You sealed my fate.The picture changes to a focus on Maggie but the subtitle stays the same. She starts speaking in the overhead shot and continues into this one, reenforcing the idea that it's all one conversation.
No.Kaysar saying "No" happens when we're still on Maggie's face, showing the interaction between the two, even though the back of Kaysar's head isn't in the shot like it might be in a traditional shot/reverse shot.
I sealed your partner's fate.Focus on Kaysar, where you can see Maggie's head to the side. Maggie is facing slightly stage right and up in her shots and Kaysar is facing slightly stage left and down in his, contributing to the eyeline matchup. Although it's not a 180 degree switch, the way you would get in a scripted show, the interaction is clearly established.

The problem is both harder and easier in shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race, where the cameras are held by actual people: easier, because they can access more shots, but harder because cameras are shooting simultaneouly and one of the conventions of contemporary reality programs is that the cameras never appear in the shots, as they take away from the reality (ironically, since the viewer knows cameras ARE there, which technically would make it MORE real- but that's a debate for a theorist much moreinterested in that side of all of this than I am).

This clip of Kimmi and Alicia fighting over the chickens is a good example. They start off with one camera on them, panning from one to the other. As they walk apart, both cameras are clearly to the same side and angling in each direction (one at Kimmi, one at Alicia) and to cover up places where they can't get a good shot, they're able to use reaction shots and voiceovers. The shots of Elisabeth, Nick, and Mike may not actually be from that time, but intercut they establish the scene that the producers wanted to provide. While reaction shots might be used in a scripted program, they would be used only when the reactions of the primary characters of the scene aren't important. Moreover, Alicia saying "I'm tired of the chickens, I'm tired of it" is a voiceover which, in all likelihood, is not actually from that moment; the camera isn't focused on her, which means the sound likely wasn't either, and her speaking is significantly clearer than the rest of the fight scene. Again, the dubbing would be more streamlined in a scripted program, but this is part of the "real" aspect.

Watching I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here (which Joe McHale from The Soup describes pretty accurately: "you take a little of The Surreal Life, a dash of Rock of Love Bus... a hint of Big Brother pettiness, toss in a dollop of the American Idol voting system, blatantly rip off Survivor format, and presto!"), it feels like people thought reality shows were much less complicated than they are. The camera angles are off, there are a lot of shots of people being discussed rather than people having the discussion, there are very few focuses on faces, and there are excessive confessionals to tie shots together because they can't figure out basic continuity. In fact, the timeline is screwy; things claim to be live and then we see things that happened "after" those things in an ad for the next day' episode. It's like they considered the logic and decided not even to try.

During the most recent challenge, the pattern was very simple: focus on someone doing well, focus on someone struggling, confessional of struggling person explaining how or why s/he couldn't handle it, shot of that person falling. It's not suspenseful at all. Anything they attempt to shoot live is consistently ruined by their inability to stick to a time frame. Julie Chen and Jeff Probst know exactly how long they have for each thing and stick with it so that your live episode will have a conclusion; here, we start on what is literally a five-minute competition and don't have time to finish it. And while I guess the argument could be made that they're doing it live four nights a week- hey, you know who else does live four nights a week? Big Brother, in every single country but the U.S. And even here, we have at least one live show a week, and they manage to pull it off without too many GIANT MISTAKES.

This is why reality TV editors deserve to be part of the WGA. Standards, NBC: look into them.
Tags: reality: bbus, reality: edgic, reality: i'm a celebrity get me out of h, reality: survivor: australian outback
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