Beware the Frankenbite

frankensteinOne week closer to Halloween; time to discuss another character in our lineup of editorial monsters and ghouls.

Unlike Dracula the Multitasker, whose mere presence guarantees horrific outcomes, today’s editorial monster is not as black and white in its effect.

Let us cautiously consider… the Frankenbite.

If you’re not familiar with the word, it’s a combination of “soundbite” and “Frankenstein,” the novel written in 1818 by Mary Shelley about a mad scientist who stitched together a monster from pieces of various human corpses. A description that some would consider accurate when applied to Reality TV in general. But we digress.

Frankenbites come into being when, for whatever reason, content creators make a mashup of soundbites that never existed together in their original form. Sometimes in order to make a character say what the producers want to hear, editors and story producers will grab a phrase here, a word there, and cobble together a brand new thought.

Sleazy? Well… that would depend on the greater context of things.

Suppose someone on a reality show says, “I never wanted that,” but the producer decides they should say the opposite. Well, it’s fairly easy to change it to, “I want that.” All you have to do is remove the word “never” and the “-ed” from “wanted.” Then “I never wanted that,” becomes “I want that.” Much can be accomplished by eliminating words or consonants.

Another example: You’re interviewing Jane, the principal of a school, and she says, “Sally is my best friend out of all the teachers here.” For whatever reason, you’d rather have her say, “Sally is my best teacher here.” So you remove, “friend out of all the,” and lop off the “s” at the end of “teachers.” Make the audio edit a couple frames earlier, and then tack on the last word.

Before: Sally is my best friend out of all the teachers here.

After: Sally is my best// teacher// here.

Depending on how distinctly each word is pronounced, you could potentially get really fancy and say:

Sally is// the// best// teacher// here.

Now forget fancy, let’s go full-on sleazy Reality TV producer on this puppy. Later on in the interview, Principal Jane says, “The school board doesn’t seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation.” And even later, when asked about the cramped parking lot that she’s been working to obtain licenses from the city to expand: “Over 400 of our students have their own cars, and only 100 of them can park on the school lot. It’s just not right.”

Your network executives decide that instead of Jane and Sally being friends, they should hate each other’s guts. Jane’s sentence therefore becomes, as a shining example of a stitched-together Frankenbite:

Before: Sally is my best friend out of all the teachers here.

Before: The school board doesn’t seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation.

Before: …only 100 of them can park on the school lot. It’s just not right.

After: Sally// doesn’t seem to appreciate// the teachers here.// It’s just not right.

Feeling slimy and cheap? Maybe, maybe not. No matter how you happen to feel about it, Frankenbites like these can be heard on television somewhere literally every hour of every day.

And the thing is: when done well, they sound absolutely real. It’s no wonder people who appear on TV shows are blown away by how the show puts words in their mouths that they “never said.” Well… technically yes, you did. And you signed a whole stack of contracts and legalese saying that they were allowed to do that to you, whether you realized it or not.

first frankenbiteThis and other reasons are excellent examples of why if a reality producer ever tempts you with the idea of coming onto a show – and you actually care about being fairly represented – you should run screaming into the night.

These ideas are expanded from “Rule #39: Exercise your authority to change and alter words. Just because they’re there doesn’t mean they should stay as they are,” from Edit Better: Hollywood-Tested Strategies for Powerful Video Editing. Want more ideas like these? Check this out.

And if you like the idea of interacting with an expanding, international group of creative types who are all about improving their editorial and storytelling skills, then you should go here.

In the meantime: as editors, we will be more effective and more highly valued when we exercise our skills to splice, dice, and flip-flop words to clarify, alter, or completely reverse their intended meanings. And so the Frankenbite stumbles along, for purposes that range from benign… all the way to outright devious.

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