Editing 101

Reality television shows might not have any resemblance to reality, and their intellectual value is debatable, but one thing many of them have mastered is editing. The typical Mark Burnett reality show seems to be shot with multiple camcorders, following all the contestants from multiple angles, acquiring hundreds of hours of footage.
The magic happens in the editing room, when all that footage is condensed into forty minute episodes packed with drama and a storyline. I wouldn't be surprised if the shooting ratio is something like 20:1. Need a villain? Find a moment when one of the contestants lets his guard down and lets loose with a snide remark, then toss in a few angry responses from some of the other contestants.
Or highlight two rivals who don't particularly care for each other. Start with a few old clips where the two clashed. Interview each of them and ask pointed questions about how they feel about their rival, but don't show or reveal the questions. End the episode with a challenge pitting the two rivals against each other.
Days and days of footage are condensed into 40 minutes of non-stop action and conflict, set to a military soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. It's conflict concentrate, and one suspects that many minor conflicts are transformed into epic clashes in the editing bay. Whether you accept that or not, it is a model of efficient editing, straight out of the Michael Moore playbook.
This latest episode of The Contender was one of the better ones, pitting the easygoing good guy Jessie Brinkley against uptight, intense, cutthroat reality show contestant Anthony Bonsante, who lied about who he was going to call out in an earlier episode so he could challenge someone who wasn't prepared to fight. In Bonsante's defense, he's a single father of two who works as a K-Mart Overnight Production Supervisor, and he didn't break any contest rules.
The episode's fight build-up a confident, fit, and focused Bonsante, while Brinkley seemed mentally distracted, overweight, lazy, and a bit unsure of himself. Jessie had to lose eight or nine pounds of water weight in one day to make his fight day weight requirement of 161, going out for a jog in the sunshine in black, plastic sweats. Even then, he had to hop back on the treadmill in sweats again a few hours before the fight to drop an additional half pound. Brutal.
[As an aside, I was shocked to find out these guys weight just a few pounds more than I do. TV really does add 10 pounds and about six inches.]
The five round fights in The Contender are also examples of ruthless editing. You don't see much of the fighters circling each other. The edited footage of each round includes only flurries of punches, spliced together with reaction shots from the crowd: Sly and Sugar Ray tossing mock punches and cringing at big hits, the wives and mothers and children screaming bloody murder or gasping in horror, and occasionally a token celebrity guest like James Caan or Sharon Stone clapping and enjoying the life of leisure of a celebrity.
Bonsante won the first two rounds, Brinkley the third. Then Bonsante went into his frenzy mode in round four, throwing about five hundred punches in a row like Agent Smith pounding on Neo against the subway wall. Brinkley was down 3-1 with one round remaining, so he had to have a knockout. Bonsante came out in frenzy mode again even though he only needed to play defense to win the decision. For more than half the round, the aggression worked, and it looked hopeless for Brinkley. Then, suddenly, the camera went into slow motion, always a cue in The Contender that a momentous punch is on the way. Brinkley tossed a huge uppercut that had Bonsante spinning, and when the spinning stopped, Brinkley lined up another huge right uppercut that displaced Bonsante's head about a foot. The edited fight footage cut from a slow mo of the uppercut immediately to an overhead shot of Bonsante falling back onto the canvas with an audible thud, arms and legs sprawled in all directions like Wile E. Coyote running into a rock wall. A beauty of a cut.
Though Bonsante got back up, he was loopy, and Brinkley pounded him as Bonsante's daughter looked on with tears, screaming. Bonsante's mother ran to the ringside screaming "Stop the fight! Stop the fight!" I have no problem with boxing, and the violence is beautiful, almost lyrical, but one of the more uncomfortable aspects of The Contender is watching the fighters' really young children at ringside watching their fathers sustaining bloody beatings.
We need to sic the world's reality television show editors on the hundreds of thousands of hours of home videos around the country.
Footnote: Bonsante on Sly: "Sly's had three marriages and God knows he hasn't made the best movies, but he capitalizes on everything."