Debates and Reaction Shots

I’ve caught all the debates so far, and, regardless of your political persuasion, I think you’ll agree that they might better be called, “How to avoid answering the question by replaying sections of my stump speech.” The candidates negotiate and sign long, multi-page contracts that specify what they and the anchor can and cannot say and do, turning these important events into something almost entirely canned.

But one critical issue that I have not heard mentioned elsewhere regards editing: Who is doing the technical direction, the live cutting? Presumably it’s one person — because as far as I can tell, all the networks are running the same feed. Are the editing choices part of the contract, too? And, if so, shouldn’t that be disclosed?

We who cut dialog for a living know only too well that the listener is at least as important as the speaker. But the debates have been woefully lacking in reaction shots, which, because they can’t be scripted, might be the only aspect of these events that isn’t controlled.

In earlier rounds, we saw a refreshing use of split screen, allowing us to look at both candidates simultaneously. And just as in a dialog scene, it was often far more interesting to see how the candidates listened and reacted to criticism, than how they talked.

But the last debate, the so called “town meeting,” included almost none of that. In the wide shots I noticed McCain wandering around the stage and grimacing from time to time, and after the debate some commentators referred to this, but at home, we rarely saw it.

The question is why. We’ve got plenty of bandwidth now. Maybe instead of running the same feed on ten channels we could devote one to each candidate. Or maybe we should have one channel (CSPAN?) run a split screen continuously. Who knows? That might get better ratings than the bland, predictable stuff we’re seeing now.

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3 Comments on “Debates and Reaction Shots”

  1. Michael Sheehan Says:

    Hey there — CSPAN does run a split screen. They will cut awya to the moderator for questions, sometimes, but it is 99% just a spit screen. Most illuminating and enjoyable to watch, for the reasons you describe.

  2. Frank Reynolds Says:

    Yeah, but isn’t there a danger of polarizing us even more? It’s not far from having one channel devoted to each candidate to having an “Obama Network” and “McCain Network” that would just put a spin on whatever their candidates say.

  3. Paul Says:

    If they edited for 16:9 only, a split screen all of the time would make sense. In the 4:3 world that the networks seem to cling to, split screen doesn’t work very well.

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