Thursday, December 18, 2014

Putting the Sport in Sports Entertainment Part 3

Product Construction and Presentation

By Wake Chambers
Up to now through the first two parts of this series, it has focused on the general explanations and structural aspects, which comprise the competitive elements of the idea. Now, we start to move into how the product would potentially be portrayed. A wrestling show gives off a certain feel and presents an identity of sorts. This is to what we now turn.

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Competitive Elements

General Presentation

Obviously, the idea is centered on creating a heavy sports feel to the show. The idea is not, however, to strip wrestling of telling stories and operate strictly like a sports league. In fact, stories would still remain front and center; they would just be told in a different reality of the show being a closer portrayal of how an actual sport exists, with the stories told around a much more important competitive aspect. The stories would attempt to closer resemble a realistic drama taking place in a sports setting.

To paint a potential picture of how it might go down, I imagine telling stories very similar to what occurs in actual sports in combination with a mixture of documentary and reality television elements. First off, as briefly explained in Part 1, stories have to deal with the fact of more sports elements being introduced to the competitive aspects as illustrated in Part 2. There is more structure placed in earning titles, facing opponents, and other competitive elements. They obviously have a major impact on what would happen in the product. There would be a lot of elements involved with presenting the overall concept.

Camera Methods

With the types of stories told, there would be a change in how things are presented and potentially take somewhat of a different methodology in how things are filmed in different instances. With the idea of creating a greater sports feel to the product, realism takes a much greater importance. Telling stories in a more believable fashion and developing more consistent logic in stories themselves becomes incredibly important. Sometimes the filming of the show itself creates a challenge for this. We could take certain styles of filming to help make certain parts of storytelling more realistic.

Television production obviously is not an area of expertise for me, but for one, I would borrow elements from previous filming patterns of TNA. TNA has established a filming crew to catch the action and events happening backstage, whereby the camera is “unseen” or acknowledged in kayfabe by wrestlers and other characters. With the recent focus on in-ring happenings, this method has been used much less frequently. Under this new medium, I foresee it as being much more important to the narrative. The backstage would be more heavily involved than it currently is. It would serve as a great way to keep a sports feel seem more legitimate.

Another potential style of shooting, which might feel similar to the previous one, is possibly utilizing the found footage style of storytelling. It is not actually something so foreign to wrestling. If you remember the old black and white nWo vignettes, it was close to the idea of found footage; I guess my thought is they could utilize found footage more for on-location type of scenes to further feuds or extend stories. Perhaps found footage might not be the best terminology to describe it, but I picture it closer to having the characters filming themselves as opposed to a specific cameraman filming the scene. This thought is in the interest of creating a more realistic style of filming into these sorts of scenes and progressing kayfabe. In reality, a wrestler is not going to be hauling a cameraman with them on the road, in their home, or virtually anywhere the actual show is not taking place, so this style of filming would help further the legitimacy of the idea outside of the arena where wrestling matches are not taking place, while still telling the stories around the wrestling.

The other special sort of filming style I would implement would be a wider use of documentary-style forms of shooting. You probably have already noticed on Impact how they have the camera man asking wrestlers about upcoming matches or events. This is the style of shooting in which I am referring. It involves a more intimate, close-up form of filming, and tends to be used here and there each week. I imagine this idea using a wider array of these sorts of moments. There might be other special camera methods that might be applicable as well, but these are the ones of note that would help in particular with this idea overall.

For an excellent example of how I envision how some of these styles might combine together to form a whole, check out this example from the MLB that could potentially be applied as something from a professional wrestling show here.

Supplemental Vignettes 

There are already a wide use of vignettes used to help tell stories and hype things in TNA and wrestling in general. They are an excellent tool for a wide variety of purposes. And that would be no different with this idea; however again, there would likely be a different emphasis or certain styles used to portray the sports elements. Generally, a more realistic approach would be used.

One element of note would be a wider use of biographical vignettes. These would involve vignettes that directly involve getting to know wrestlers, perspectives of specific characters, introductions to new wrestlers, and other introspective pieces. Examples of these types of vignettes that have been used in TNA are the latest Lashley and Roode pieces leading up to their title fights, the pieces on Chris Sabin leading up to his world title win, or the vignette that first introduced Brittany to TNA fans. Oppositely, there would be less obscure teases happening akin to Havok coming to TNA. We would need to see this style of vignettes weekly to maintain the feel of the show.

Overall though, the general style of vignettes TNA already produces from week to week work well with this concept. You would still get the opening vignettes we get every week. You would still get the vignettes summarizing storylines. The style of vignette would be dictated by the need of the specific instance they are used.

Creating an Organic Feel

One essential element to the idea overall is going to be the overall feel to the show. Several sub-elements would be involved to establish the organic feel of a sports show but are not limited to what I will talk about here specifically. In fact, the elements from the previous camera work and vignette sections contribute to the overall feel as well. An organic feel will feature a heavy dose of realistic elements and lend to the believability of a sports drama. Altogether, the amalgamation of said elements will aid the audience in suspending disbelief.

A common criticism I see of this approach to realism in wrestling is the fact the audience already knows the show is scripted. Therefore, to the critic, emulating wrestling so closely as a sport is pointless, believing a more fantastical, over-the-top approach is more conducive to success and entertaining. The idea here is not to fool the audience, but it rather is to portray the product as much as possible to the real thing to evoke more emotion and investment from the audience. It does not necessarily mean you take out the larger-than-life feel from wrestling with this idea but do things that lend more believability into those elements. There are many small things that can contribute to this.

First, I foresee a change in small elements of how interactions between characters happen, specifically when a character is interrupted or match interference takes place. Currently, the interrupting or interfering wrestler’s music will play in the vast majority of instances. Such circumstances are quite artificial in nature. Of course, certain situations might call for a wrestler’s theme music, but most of the time, this will not be the case to maintain a realistic approach. In reality, a wrestler looking to interfere in a match will not telegraph his approach with music blaring on the loudspeakers; it would be intended as a surprise or be spontaneous. The same goes for wrestlers coming out to interrupt a promo; in most instances, an impromptu interruption will simply happen where the wrestler will not think about going over to the sound guy to kick on the music before he goes to disrupt in-ring events. Kicking on the music in supposedly extemporaneous, off-the-cuff happenings feels hokey and artificial.

Second, creating a dynamic element to the show would be incredibly important for this idea. Wrestling, in its current state, is very compartmentalized, transitioning from segment to segment. I picture the PSSE idea developing a fluid method for transitioning between segments. However, this may take time and experimentation to achieve what I picture. Each segment in the current wrestling environment tends to feel semi-secluded from the rest of the events of the show, so the trick here would be to develop methods to break that seclusion segment to segment.

Third, to help with creating a dynamic element, developing layered events and storytelling would contribute immensely. This already happens to an extent in modern day wrestling but would be more prevalent under this concept. Layered events would happen with the time element of the show, whereby segments or events might either bleed into each other for seamless transitions or have blatant interruptions of other segments to create a more chaotic feel or present a more unplanned feel. For example (and used in wrestling already), you might interrupt a match or promo when a backstage brawl breaks out and use split screen to keep tabs as both occur. Or another example, maybe during a backstage interview an event is captured in the background, such as a backstage attack, so the cameraman/interviewer cuts the interview short to go investigate the aftermath, leading directly into a change of focus on the show.

Layered storytelling would be a little more complex, but it would not be entirely new to the TNA product. As you have seen in 2014, the storytelling has reverted to a more compartmentalized style where each individual story tends to keep to itself generally. Under the Pritchard creative regime, there was a higher degree of layered storytelling where different stories had a variety of influences regarding different characters being involved in multiple stories, overlapping elements of the different stories, or decisions in one story arc also influencing other stories as well. I would propose a return to this style of storytelling for the concept because it is a more realistic style of storytelling. Sports have a variety of interchanging parts that influence a variety of outcomes. For example, if you watch any major sports playoff race or offseason, you might notice how one team’s success/failure or decision can influence a team in an entirely different division. Taking it further, in the MLB offseason the initial free agent signings will have a huge influence on later free agent contracts and who ends up going to which team. It is these types of realities in actual sports that make me think of a return to that style of narrative in this concept. The more you can delve into the believable side the better the effect of the concept. A return to the heavier interactivity throughout the show as was done in Pritchard’s style, perhaps even going further, would aid it along. Of course, this sort of construction for the product would also require a greater amount of planning.

And lastly, TNA would need to keep better track of how events lead into one another and maintain a consistent breadth to its storytelling logic. You would not want to see storylines suddenly dropped as has been done in the past. Again, this is to maintain a higher level of believability and further legitimize the concept. Like with any form of story, events need to transpire in a logical progression from point A to point B. Also, the details of each story need to not drop off without explanation. Improving upon tendency in wrestling generally would behoove this concept.

Announcing 

There is not too much to say about commentating for this concept, but the nature of it still warrants a mention for this idea. It would still serve its primary purposes of selling the product, furthering the storylines, and legitimizing the wrestling and show, but its tone would need to stay in the realm of the sportive nature of the concept. You are going to still want a color guy and play-by-play announcer who play well off each other. It all needs to edge towards selling the believability of the product. There will need to be a solid play-by-play commentating that really edges as a sport announcer would actually talk. The color guy would need to give the air similarly the great work Taz does to sell finishers, such as his descriptions of Samuel Shaw’s submission. Together, the two, or perhaps three, announcers should provide a full picture of the sports aspects and excellent analysis you would see in a true competition. Again, while still scripted, the narrative of the show given by the announcers is something like a voice in a novel, where they are creating the feeling of the show as a something akin to sport. The importance of the job is imperative here as it has always been.

Characterization

Now, we move to the how characters are actually portrayed by the talents. Obviously, as fans, we are used to the traditional mold of faces and heels, bad guys and good guys. As I have thought this idea through, somehow this traditional ways of doing characters seems like it should be adjusted regarding this concept. Realism is key, of course, so doing characters in a different fashion seems necessary. In sports, there are no bad guys or good guys, as you know, so the concept should adapt to that reality. Our characters are also presented as athletes, so characterization should follow suit. Then again, it is a scripted sport no doubt, so you also want to maintain a certain extent of “larger-than-life” people on the show. So I decided to apply a concept I developed early on in my time here at the Asylum in a column entitled “Embrace the Grey." Please take a look at this piece to understand how I foresee the characters working with the overall PSSE concept. Do not worry; I will wait for you………okay….awesome. Good to have you back.

So as you can deduce, the “Embrace the Grey” concepts fits pretty well with the PSSE. As you can see, gimmicks do not disappear. Wrestlers are still going to play characters. As aforementioned, stories are still integral. What changes occur is the face/heel dynamic is altered into a more variegating plethora of possibilities with added nuance. There would be characters that come off more heel-like. There would be characters that seem much like a face. Other characters might come off as a face with heel tendencies or vice versa. Each character would have its own intricacies of the “Embrace the Grey” possibilities. The characters themselves are not strictly good guys or bad guys but simply characters with a personality, furthering the realistic portrayal of the overall PSSE concept. Each character has their own personal motivations that play into it, which rest on competition and being the best.

Here ends Part 3. At this point, I am not sure when I plan on putting up Part 4, but stay tuned, it could be soon or it could take awhile, as I would like to work on other columns outside of this conceptual series and have other things going on outside of writing. When Part 4 comes around though, it will be moving into more of the beef of the concept, the presentation of stories, along with some of my own story concepts I have thought up. Impressed? I thought so. Okay, maybe not much. Why don’t you let me know when it comes around then?


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