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Crossing The MMAxis

When you cover a sport like hockey, basketball or football, there is a clear, defined direction of play, that being east-west, or for the viewer, left-right. However, what happens in a sport when there is no clearly-defined direction of play? With MMA becoming more and more mainstream everyday, and more events being televised, I felt it time to write down my thoughts on where the line is drawn in crossing the axis in MMA.

However, before we go there, let’s talk about what crossing the axis is and how it affects the broadcast of a sport. Let’s take football as our example. When we watch a game on TV, the main game camera is set up in the stands around the 50-yard line. With the camera here, the action goes from left to right (endzone to endzone). Thus, the axis is created…an imaginary line that intersects the field parallel to the direction of play. If a camera is placed on the opposite side of this line, then we create a “reverse angle”. However, if we switch to it live, then a jarring effect happens. If a player is running the ball right-to-left on the screen, and we cut to our reverse-angle camera, that player is now running left-to-right, causing it to seem if the player is going in the wrong direction.

This is why reverse-angle cameras are only used as replays. We’re established the direction of play by watching it from beginning to end, so we know that the player isn’t actually going the wrong way. To avoid crossing the axis, all cameras are placed on one side of the axis. Cameras placed dead-centre in the endzone are okay, as you have the full 180 degree axis to work with. This is why netcams in hockey and above-the-rim cameras in basketball are allowed…they sit on the axis without crossing it.

Now, that brings us to MMA. By the very nature of the field of play (in this case, the cage), we create a sport that has a true 360 degree direction of play…or, more realistically, no real direction of play. Grappling can take place anywhere in the cage, wins can happen at any spot. There is no goalline, no net…no target to reach”. In this sense, an axis cannot be defined.

But let’s take the sport out of the equation. Let’s look at this purely from a broadcasting point of view. First, let’s look at the placement of your cameras. For the most part, you’ll usually only need 3 handheld cameras cageside. You’ll probably have a jib too, but we’ll put that aside for now. Around the cage, your cameras will, more than likely, be set up in a triangular formation. What this creates is a unique formation. With no clear direction of play, we can take our shot as being ON the axis, rather than facing the axis.

Now, the rules of the axis in any sport dictate that, if you switch to a camera on the axis, you can then go to any camera you want, on either side of the axis. The reason…because by switching to a camera on the axis, we have actually changed the direction of play for the viewing audience. In the case of hockey, if we go to the behind-the-net camera, the action now goes north-south. We now can safely switch to a reverse angle shot, because from north-south, it doesn’t confuse the viewer if you switch to either east-west or west-east. This is the same reason jibs are so useful…they can cross the axis in one fluid motion, but because it’s the same shot, you actually witness the axis being crossed, so you’re no longer disoriented.

Now that we’ve established that we can flip back and forth across the axis so long as we start on the axis, we allow ourselves the ability to switch to either camera 2 or 3 from camera 1 in our triangular camera positioning around an MMA cage. And since we have established that there is no direction of play, we actually create a new axis with every camera change. Or, if you’re a stickler for rules, consider this…since there is no set direction of play, it can be assumed that there is an infinite number of directions for play to go….therefore, an infinite number of axis for us to use. So, no matter what camera you use, you are technically ON an axis and can therefore switch to any camera.

So there you have it…a clear case of breaking the rules by knowing the rules. Granted, this is all in theory, but having done a number of MMA shows, the theory holds. No shot seems out of place or mirrored, as in left-right sports. I would love to hear your thoughts on this, because as with all things in television, things change and rules become mere guidelines. So please have your say and let the discussion begin!

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