Impact Wrestling and TNA is one of the the most overlooked and ignored promotions in major wrestling. Instead of talking about it each week, fans over the last few years decide to focus on other programming. All sorts of things happen on this program, with massively dwindling viewership when one compares it from 2013 to today, and it rarely gets discussed. However, the concluding segment on the June 30 episode of Impact has become a topic of conversation for its content and production quality. In my opinion, the quality of production is so bad that it is worst produced segment in televised wrestling in over a decade.
The segment seems simple: Matt Hardy’s goes insane and starts attacking his brother Jeff, building to a cage-match at Slammiversary. In order to sign the match, Jeff tracks down Matt to his compound in Cameron, NC. Matt lures Jeff to the supposed ring that they began their career and finally signs the contract. Jeff wants to end the feud there in that ring and Matt appears game. This is a ploy as Matt’s wife Reby distracts Jeff by throwing “Maxel” (or rather a doll representing him) at Jeff, and this allows Matt to sneak attack him give him the Side Effect off the apron through a nearby table.
However, when this segment made the internet, first via an embedded tweet and later on YouTube, the response was swift:
whats the procedure for requesting a mental health assessment on a company https://t.co/PHnv3Z8puV
— Ibiza Mix '97 (@epitasis) June 1, 2016
Stop what you are doing right now and watch the most embarrassing segment of the year from a wrestling promotion https://t.co/lx1SkLfJbY
— Cool Papa Matt (@HulkaMatt) June 1, 2016
Since TNA left Spike, their controversies and woes have populated internet news. Rarely more than a few months goes by between stories of late-pay pop-up. They’re on their second network in two years, and have had repeats/west coast airings removed from the schedule of Pop TV. They’ve been desperately seeking new investors as the current ownership have pulled all funding. Their production staff has been shredded and production is now outsourced to a company, Aeroluxe, run by former TNA talent. For more attentive wrestling fans, or fans who have access to twitter, this is old news.
I bring this up because that last point is what I find interesting as it relates to the Hardys segment. Aeroluxe is doing most of TNA’s production work, from graphics, to audio work, to actually taping the segment. So how did a segment like that get created?
I am a video production person by trade; having had worked in both sports broadcasting in college and primarily as a video editor/film preservationist for the last seven years. While doing this, I entertained becoming a Film Theory professor and underwent coursework for that. Also worth mentioning, I don’t regularly watch TNA/Impact so the following is coming from someone with some impartiality.
Many people noticed this was bad. But why was this awful? I’m going to break down this segment shot-by-shot and not the ridiculous “dramatic” thrust of the video. This is just about the production choices and the results of them. The extended-cut got released while I was writing this, but I am just going to go over the actual signing segment linked below. The time I put next to each point will be a reference to their YouTube video:
Right off the bat, we have some audio sync issues. Watch Matt’s mouth move; it’s not exactly matching up. This is when the editor isn’t able to match the audio track to the video track. This isn’t the biggest sin of the video, but we’ve already got some problems. Traditionally, you’d have a clapboard (the sign with the production’s name, scene, shot, angle that’s now ubiquitous with Hollywood) to line this up right. It allows you to take sound from the SMACK with the video of the clapper hitting the board and it lets the editor get things synced. If a production doesn’t have this, often you’ll have a Production Assistant (more commonly called a PA) or even talent stand in and clap as visibly and loudly as possible.
The consideration to be made is this: This is an on-location shoot two states away from where they usually tape. It’s almost an eight-hour drive from their home offices in Nashville to Cameron. With money as thin as it is, we, the viewer, can already assume that this a very small crewed shoot.
Here I want to talk about the decisions the Director of Cinematography (DC) made. Matt takes Jeff to a garage or barn where their first wrestling ring stands to sign the contract. Immediately the DC decides to do a rapid zoom over Jeff’s shoulder to Matt inside the ring. This zoom is completely extraneous. There is no need to even have this camera action happen. And by choosing to do this move after the shot is framed by Jeff’s shoulder, Matt is out of focus while he’s delivering his line. This is because whatever camera the Camera Operator/Assistant Cinematographer (CO) is using has their auto-focus feature turned on. You never see this in major wrestling, it’s a tremendous faux-pas as it kills the viewer’s focus of the subject. It looks messy and it’s something that would be beat out of you in any production class one could take in school. The camera is a powerful tool, but it’s best used when the CO and the DC tell it what to do. You don’t let it make the decisions, you tell it what to do by setting your focus and using the lens you want it to do.
Next, the audio. It’s tinny, has a strong echo, and isn’t clear. This tells us that they aren’t using a Boom Operator (the dudes with the pole with a directional “shotgun” microphone attached) or just a plain directional microphone. We can also hear the CO audibly do the zoom on their camera (listen to the click at the end of the zoom). This sound allows the viewer to consider that they used audio pulled from the camera (often called an on-board mic). This doesn’t happen outside of student productions. Often if you’re interviewing a subject they’ll have a microphone on them or a boom overhead to pick up audio. This audio is usually recorded on a separate device (remember talking about syncing audio to video? This is why we do that!) and mixed with the video in editing.
At this point, I’m pretty certain that they just have someone else holding the camera and is letting the camera do its thing. That’s it. That’s their crew.
The camera zooms to Jeff walking to the ring and then pans to him walking across the barn. I find this the most aggravating shot choice of the segment. This may be personal taste, but the zoom into someone walking is tacky. Most shows will instead establish a medium shot of the wrestler going down the hallway (I remember all the jokes that Christopher Robin Zimmerman used to make about THE ROCK IS WALKING) and follow them as they walk. Or you have what Lucha Underground does in their previews where they have the entire hallway and someone walks down it towards the camera. Either would have been better stylistic choices than this initial action.
Then the camera does a bad pan. It goes early, which means the subject (Jeff) goes out of frame and then back into frame. Their timing is horrible and it makes this look even more low-rent. Conclusion: This is just a random person holding the camera and doesn’t know what they are really doing.
Also the barn garage door is open and the amount of light streaming in leaves an over-exposed block on the screen. Remember this for later for I will be coming back to this.
Cut to Jeff’s back as he tries to enter the ring. It starts alright. We see Jeff from his back, and Matt in the ring. It even maintains “Rule of Thirds,” when the operator lines up the subjects in a shot as if they are aligned to a grid as if it was in a tic-tac-toe game. Rule of Thirds allow the viewer’s eyes to be drawn to the subject. It creates flow and balance on the screen. This is often ignored in wrestling since the CO is often shooting for action/sports prospective where the Rule doesn’t necessarily apply.
And wow. What a bad camera move.
Then the camera, for whatever reason, pans down to the floor and then quickly back up to the previous position. As a video editor, you will never choose this take if given the option. While shooting, the CO/DC/Directors will make note of this to the script supervisor to mark that take as unusable for the editor. It completely removes the subject from frame (there is no reason, stylistic or otherwise, to have Jeff’s head out of frame). Now, here they made a choice: You didn’t really need this action or shot. It’s already clear in the viewer’s mind that Jeff was there to settle this via previous segments and with his action already coming into the barn this segment, we know this. So the editor made a conscious decision to have this as shot. Personally? I would have insisted on multiple takes and have someone shoot this properly. If I was given this and told this shot was necessary? I would have run head first into a brick wall and ask if I could get Alan Smithee’d on this segment (to be honest, I would have done that immediately upon seeing the footage, but that’s neither here nor there).
[00:21 – 00:24]
Four edits in three seconds. All of them are of Matt and Jeff positioning themselves around the table to sign the contract. If you edit this quickly, it’s hard for the viewer to register what is happening. Such rapid cuts would be appropriate for an Action scene. Sure, it makes sense, but this is just staging. Of course, there is action in how Matt Hardy left the ring in the least elegant way possible. The noise created by this completely takes away from whatever seriousness this encounter might encourage
[00:24 – 00:30]
A completely awkward circling pan around the table with the Hardys. Sound picks up the CO scuffling as they attempt this maneuver. When this happens on professional set, the camera is often set up on a tripod on rails. This lets the DC achieve a smooth level pan motion. The camera doesn’t bobble and the subjects stay perfectly in frame. Also the rails, along with proper microphone placement, prevent any sound to be picked up in motion. This clearly isn’t the case here. It’s very clear that every shot in this scene was shot by hand, which makes me wonder if they even had a tripod on set.
Worth noting is that we get ANOTHER great shot of the open garage door.
[00:30 – 00:34]
Extreme Close Up of Matt signing the contract. Matt’s not in full frame during this shot, we only get his hands and the contract. The frame is completely out of “Rule of Thirds” as the contract is front in center. As he signs, the camera steps back showing more of him. This is actually one of the better shots of the segment as its selection and purpose doesn’t take away from the story being told. That being said, it’s not a smooth “step back” and it’s more camera jitteriness.
[00:34 – 00:50]
The longest single shot of the segment to this point. An abrupt edit to a medium shot of Matt telling Jeff that he’s going to get what he wants at Slammiversary. This might be a personal editing taste, but it’s far too quick from the signing to this shot. The edit occurs in the middle of the action of Matt unfolding where he lifted up the contract to sign. One shouldn’t make these edits in the middle of an action as the viewer can’t digest the action. In the case, it was probably a matter of frames between when the editor cut and the end of the action.
The camera pans up and moves to a bad over the shoulder. Earlier in the segment, they had a lot better constructed version of this shot type and this one has Matt positioned poorly and the camera not even over Jeff’s shoulder. There is so much bad negative space going on here: Since the camera isn’t over Jeff’s shoulder properly, Matt is only taking up a small amount the frame. In addition, if it was placed right, the viewer wouldn’t have a beautiful wall of the barn taking up nearly the entirety of the left-half of the frame. I wonder if this is a different person holding the camera now, because with the movements it’s at a different height than before.
There is another spinning pan (with less audible shuffling this time!) and we get another shot of the GARAGE DOOR. This span happens way too fast and in such a way that Jeff and Matt don’t stay in frame at the same time. Another important aspect of these camera actions is to circle the subjects in such a way to give the viewer some sense of tension. They’re supposed to be close together and we are to “feel” the emotion. When the DC can’t plan for the CO to keep the subjects in frame, the shot is completely minimalized and there is no effect for the viewer.
Reby enters the scene, with Baby Maxel in his Baby Bjorn. She comes in from the door right next to the garage door. Now there is something real important that happens as she enters
THE GARAGE DOOR IS NOW CLOSED AND WE HAVE A MAJOR CONTINUITY ERROR!
There is a real obvious reason why door is closed as she enters. If she came in when the door was open before, she would have been completely washed out as the natural life completely overexposes anything that would stand in front of it. She would have looked like a complete ghost. That present a couple of questions about this shoot:
- Did they know that the garage door was a problem and therefore knew it had to be closed when she entered the scene?
- Did they know that the garage door was a problem only because they attempted this shot before, and actually this is a rare second take used on this shoot?
- Or was this a bizarre stylistic choice in an attempt to increase the camp factor of this already very ridiculous and low-quality production?
I hope one day the Hardys will talk about this feud and about this segment, because these are the questions that keep me up at night.
Dramatic music starts to play. Honestly, of all their choices in this segment, this bothers me the least and probably is another point in the intentional camp factor column of this scene.
[00:53 – 1:02]
Let us lump these together. There is a pretty quick shot from outside of the ring with Matt inside and Jeff on the apron. This was a good visual shot. Things were framed well and the focus was properly on the the subject. However, the audio sync problems occurred again. Matt’s mouth isn’t moving in sync with his lines. On top of that, the audio is actually much clearer than before. I wonder if they decided to dub some lines and edit this audio in later. The sentiment is a good one, the audio before was horrid. But why do this now? And why do this poorly?
And a completely too quick (and out of place) cut to Reby storming the ring. Again this is too sudden for the viewers and it’s completely unnecessary as the viewer already knows she’s entering the segment.
The camera pans to Reby and then immediately cuts to a behind shot to all three of them in frame. I don’t have an immediate problem with this shot, as at this point all three should be the focus of the scene. The camera focus is on Jeff rather than Reby, which is where it should be considering her introduction and the fact that she’s about to throw a gosh-darn baby at Jeff.
At 1:00, the cut is to Reby preparing throw poor fake Maxel. She’s not in clear focus while she’s performing the action. At this point, I’d be rather surprised if it was in proper focus or if they decided to turn off the auto-focus. If you, the reader, take anything away from this article, please manually focus your shots.
Here is the big swerve of the segment. Instead of risking poor, innocent, and angelic Maxel, Reby is clearly in cahoots with Matt as it’s a doll. Now I think this direction is actually a choice to reference “American Sniper,” a film last year where they visibly used a doll instead of a baby actor. Aiding this point is the fact that Doll Maxel is dressed in what looks like a camo onesie. Maybe not everything in this segment is horrible!
What is horrible is that they went back to the poor audio that they were relying upon earlier in the segment when Jeff is surprised by Reby’s actions. They should have decided to go with what I believe to be their dubbed audio (but sync it properly guys!) Also, there is a really awkward piece of foley (sound effect) work with Jeff catching the doll. I don’t know if it’s a weird squishy doll, but I’m going to guess that it was a sound effect chosen for camp rather than realism.
Matt attacks Jeff with a glass…something. I’m assuming that the glass object was in his jacket, because that’s the only rationale why it’s appearing out of nowhere. The action shot is much better than their camera work earlier in the segment. Maybe the DC/CO has much more experience in shooting wrestling than doing a dramatic segment.
They keep the camera on Jeff as Matt awkwardly gets to the apron. I like this choice and if they were able to keep the camera’s focus on Jeff it would have been much better. He’s the subject at this point as everything has been a swerve in order for Matt to play mind games and attack his younger brother
As Matt is preparing to give a Side Effect to Jeff, he starts talking to him again. We can’t see Matt’s mouth move and that’s a major problem. It’s amateur work. Having a quick shot of Matt’s face having Jeff in the hold would have given this a better impact. Instead it’s muffled and is a detriment rather than a positive.
And now the slow-motion in-air Side Effect. The lighting is completely different during this shot, a common thing to happen when slow-motion is just applied as an effect, either in-camera or in post-production. Since they’re using all fluorescent lights in the barn, the image is darker. Someone skilled in post-production could have re-applied white balance and not make this effect as noticeable. Another thing to consider is that this seems to be have shot with a different camera, which means they actually planned for a two-camera shoot. They had to make this spot in one take. If you’re going to make this a one take shot, then shouldn’t you make sure that it looks good and is white balanced correctly?
The dramatic music is louder. This was probably more for the added drama or campiness, however at this point the segment is so preposterously directed and produced that a viewer can’t determine their intentions.
They go through the table. The editor made a really bad cut here, as we don’t see Jeff go through the table in slow-motion. Why would you even bother with slow-motion effects if you aren’t going to show the point of impact? Instead the editor cuts before so the impact happens at full-speed. I’d be embarrassed at that decision. When spots are supposed to be the focus of a segment and the editor doesn’t do their job correctly, it completely ruins the concept of the segment. If I were directing this, I would have fought tooth and nail to make sure the cut happens AFTER impact. If I were the editor, I would be known better than to cut early.
I want to point out that this table is a practical table, like one a viewer would have at home, rather than the prop or designed ones used typically on television. That’s probably why they went through the side rather than straight through as it wouldn’t have broken if it was straight through. Now I haven’t gone through a table in my life, but I’m willing to guess that this table was less fun to go through than the usual ones of particle board.
This is the longest shot of the segment happens in the aftermath. It’s the shaky stuff we’ve seen all segment long. The autofocus has its issues. And we
–FADE TO BLACK–
This segment was only a part of the story they were telling on Impact between the Hardys. The first segment even had a crane/jib or drone shot of Jeff arriving to Matt’s house. Did they decide to fully commit to the first segment and not have time for the last one? Or was this the intended product, a mess?
Now the counter argument will be that this was all done intentionally for camp value. Camp is one of the (many) things the wrestling industry does poorly. It is done intentionally to the point providing melodrama via a jackhammer. Things are so “funny” because the writing or direction tries hard to enforce that it’s supposed to be funny. If this is an attempt to create a new Shockmaster, then it’s a dramatic failure. Camp works best when it’s done in a completely earnest manner. The Shockmaster worked as camp because it wasn’t supposed to be that way, it was supposed to be a new monster debut. This even applies to film. The now-classic “The Room” ended up being a beloved film because it was done without a since of irony. If this is done in irony, then it’s over-attempt complete sabotages the effect.
Whatever is the intended effect of this segment, it is completely ruined by bad production top to bottom. The shot selection is poor, which makes the viewer consider if they only decided to have one take for the majority the segment. The audio goes from being out of sync, to being horrible due to using what was likely the camera’s microphone, to having bad audio effect choices, to having dramatic music for the sake of dramatic music. The editor makes poor decisions on when to make cuts, which kills the impact of the big spot of the segment. There are massive continuity errors with the garage door and glass object. It is an unmitigated train wreck that shouldn’t be seen outside of a beginner’s production course. This shouldn’t have made air in this state.
This segment is TNA’s production woes and poor decision making in a microcosm. It’s funny that probably wasn’t even produced by Aeroluxe as the evidence provided in the segment gives credence to that was a poorly produced amateur production. Why have a contract with a production company when you aren’t even using them? Even worse, why would Aeroluxe want to invest in a company that’s spurning their contract and have others film their segment? I’m just left with one two-part question:
Why did they think these were the best production decisions to be made and who was responsible for these decisions?