February 18, 2013

Leaving the Comfort Zone



On an old Battlestar Galactica dvd commentary track writer/producer Ron Moore talked about how, when he was tasked with re-imagining the classic 1970s TV series for a new generation back in the early 2000s, one of the things he tried to do was make it different from Star Trek (the franchise he got his start in) and discussed how Star Trek, for all its many likable qualities, really hadn't changed that much since its inception. There's always a bridge located in the same place on the ship with the captain's chair in the middle and the big viewscreen on the wall, etc, etc. He felt the franchise had become set in its ways, and while this formula had worked well for Star Trek across many decades and many different series, that was only one way to do it, and he wanted to use the new Battlestar Galactica show as a vehicle to explore different methods of presenting stories about a bunch of people on a spaceship that Star Trek had never bothered to.

Now before you remind me that this isn't a science fiction blog, let me explain how this relates to wrestling.

Something I've always been a big proponent of is TNA trying to find its own identity, of not being beholden to the ways pro wrestling has been done before and finding their own version of it that is unique to them. And to their credit they have tried this many times over their storied history with varying degrees of success. In the past it mainly involved coming up with new and increasingly bizarre gimmick matches, which, thankfully have been greatly toned down if not completely done away with in the last few years.

More recently it involved changing the way the product is shot, incorporating elements of reality television into the backstage segments and pretapes. This tactic has been much more successful as it not only makes iMPACT WRESTLING stand out from the current competition (WWE films their shows in a completely different way), but from everything that has come before as well. To my knowledge, no pro wrestling show has ever used cinematography quite like this, and while its effect on the overall product may be relatively small in the grand scheme of things, this particular style is unique and something that TNA can proudly call their own.

In a few short weeks TNA will be saying goodbye to the iMPACT Zone that has been their home for the better part of a decade and finally taking the show on the road. This major step forward for the company will present a host of new challenges for them to overcome, but also new opportunities. As much as the iMPACT Zone helped keep costs down, it also became a crutch for the production team. After spending quite a few years filming TV in same place they knew all the ins and outs of the venue, they knew how it worked, what they could get away with and what they couldn't. As a result, after a while they seemed to stop trying to push the envelope on the production end because perhaps they knew there were certain things that just couldn't be done there. Now that they're going on the road this is no longer an issue.

Much like with the reality TV camera style, this has to do with the aesthetic of the show. More specifically, it's about how the in-ring product is filmed. Finally getting out of Universal Studios gives the production team the opportunity to try new things and experiment, to look for new ways of presenting the product that the audience hasn't seen before. I'm happy to say that this is already happening.

There are three changes I've noticed in the production since they've been on the UK tour filming the show in real arenas for the last several weeks. These changes might seem rather trivial to some people, but believe me, they don't go unnoticed and they do matter.

#1) Filming the wrestlers from behind when they make their entrances

This is something I believe TNA first tried at Lockdown 2012. I suspect it's being done (at least in part) to hide the fact that they don't really have a full stage on the UK tour from the people watching at home, but whatever the reason, it presents a different visual that I hope TNA will consider sticking with. Following the wrestlers from behind as they walk to the ring gives the viewer the feeling of moving along with the wrestlers instead of waiting for them to come to you. It looks especially impressive when you have a big crowd, looking more like the wrestlers are surrounded by the fans rather than the fans surrounding them. For lack of a better term, it makes them look larger than life.

They haven't been filming every entrance this way (some are filmed with panning shots from the side), but they're doing it frequently enough that it's becoming very noticeable. It might seem like a really small detail, and it is. But, hey, it's different. And WWE doesn't film their wrestlers' entrances like this, so this simple change is something that helps make TNA look distinct and stand out from the myriad of shows Vince Mcmahon churns out on a weekly basis.

#2) Moving the hard camera

I haven't heard anyone talking about this change yet and I can't understand why. Am I the only one who's noticed that the hard camera is now on the ramp? Yeah. Go back and watch last week's show again. Instead on positioning it on the side of the ring where it traditionally is, the hard camera that films the master shot they cut to when they don't have a good angle on the handheld cameras is now set up behind it on the ramp.

Maybe it went unnoticed. Maybe it felt like such an insignificant cosmetic change that people thought it wasn't worth mentioning. Well, I do, damn it! I'm not sure what the impetus for this was, though I wonder if it has to do with the fact that there's very little space around the ring with the way it's set up. But whatever the reason, the change in the hard camera position makes the ring look different, makes the surrounding arena look different. And again, WWE does not film their shows like this, so it's a visual that can be unique to TNA if they choose to stick with it, which I hope they do.

#3) The wheelchair ramp

The most obvious change made to the product's aesthetic since the UK tour began is ironically the only one I have issues with. On the one hand it does give the show a different look than WWE has, arguably more so than the first two examples, but unfortunately it comes with some drawbacks. TNA has experimented with the ramp before. They roll it out every once in a while for a brief stint before putting it back in the closet and I just end up having the same problems with it every time.

First of all, I don't like how it elevates the wrestlers above the fans. You can argue that since they're the stars of the show this is how it should be, but it prevents the wrestlers from interacting with the fans in the front row along the ramp.

Second of all, the ramp is too narrow, making the wrestlers brawling on it problematic, especially if they have to watch their step to avoid the lights on either side of it. There just isn't enough room for them to move around on it effectively. One wrong step and some of those lights could get smashed or, God forbid, one of the wrestlers slips on a banana peel and falls into the crowd, injuring someone.

Third, it takes up too much space. For whatever reason TNA have chosen to set up their ring in such a way that there's hardly any space outside of it for the wrestlers to move around, fight, etc, and quite frankly, it feels very constricting. Every inch is going to count in this situation, which makes the use of the ramp all the more vexing. It hinders what the wrestlers can do outside the ring, not to mention it limits the spots the X-division wrestlers can perform when they go high risk. Some of their most impressive feats involve dives out of the ring, which the ramp prevents by taking up the biggest empty space at ringside. They can still do the spots, yes, but not without the added risk of hitting the crowd barrier as we saw last week.

Not to say it's completely without merit because I do see what TNA are trying to do with it. There are benefits to keeping the ramp, but I personally don't think it's worth what we lose in the trade-off.

These are the three changes we've seen so far. As for what could be next, I have a couple suggestions.

First and most importantly, for safety reasons they need to create more space around ringside. That entire area should be widened by two or three feet on each side, maybe more, because as it is it's way too tight. Not only does it simply not look good, it's dangerous for the wrestlers to not have enough space to work when the action goes to the outside (just ask Marty Scurll). For the same reasons, the ramp should be widened if they intend to stick with it.

Second, they should replace the metal crowd barriers with padded ones. I don't want to sound like I'm harping on this, but the support struts that hold the metal barrier in place are just one more thing taking up space that the wrestlers need to work safely; it would be so easy for them to trip over one of those things. What's more, they're just ugly and cheap-looking. Not only would padded barriers look more professional, but they would be a lot easier on the wrestlers when they inevitably smash into them (again, I'm sure Party Marty can attest to this).

To sum this up, I'm glad TNA are using this opportunity to fine tune things and take steps forward on the production end. It's good to know that they're not satisfied with what they've been doing and are looking for ways to improve the show unlike the other company that seems perfectly content with the same old formula they've used to produce television for years.

Not every change is for the better, some need to be worked on, but at least the effort is there. TNA seem to have a desire to evolve their presentation, a willingness to step out of their comfort zone and change it if need be, and that's a good thing.

And how did this mindset work out for Ron Moore and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, you ask? The show ended up winning a Peabody Award, so... yeah, pretty well.

1 comment:

Talon said...

Good column FK9 (I skipped the part about Battlestar Galactica).

I like all three production changes.

1) The entrance camera angles are a cool visual especially if they pan around to the front. They shouldn't substitute for a good stage though.

2) I figure the hard camera is there just for the UK tapings even if there was more than one show. I would be in favor of keeping it as it is unique though.

3) I like the "wheelchair ramp" as it is a visual stimulator (much like the six-sided ring). To fix the problems you mentioned, I would make more room around ringside and make the ramp wider. There are so many possible spots you can do with a ramp as opposed to before. I like the ramp they used this year as BFG though.

4) The guardrails are probably only there for the UK shows. I prefer the silver ones even if the posts can be adjusted.

5) Am I the only one who hates the look of the new steel cage they have been using. It looks cheap to me. I liked the black one they started using in 2010.