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The Sweet Science of Producing Boxing Shows

Jon Connor and Cristina Valdivieso, two renowned event filmmakers from Philadelphia, went to Los Angeles in June to shadow World Light Welterweight boxing champion Amir Khan as he prepared for his title unification bout, capturing footage for pay-per-view broadcast in the UK. Stephen Nathans-Kelly describes how they pulled it off.

There's something about boxing movies that is inordinately compelling for a sport that, in real life, often seems to be little more than two men in a ring beating each other senseless. But then why do films about boxers such as On the Waterfront, Body and Soul, The Harder They Fall, Fat City, Rocky, Raging Bull, When We Were Kings, Million Dollar Baby, and The Fighter hold us in thrall? Maybe it's because, as On the Waterfront and The Harder They Fall screenwriter Budd Schulberg said, "Boxing is a mental sport. Think of a prizefight as a chess game of mind and body, and you are a little closer to it than if you compare it to a bloody brawl in an alley."

Or maybe it's because the so-called sweet science of boxing is both chess game and back-alley brawl, and there's so much punch, power, pathos, and hubris to mine within that contradiction, that filmmakers so often seem to strike gold there. For EventDV 25 filmmakers Cristina Valdivieso and Jon Connor—partners in Society Hill Studios and Third Frame Media, two top contenders from Rocky Balboa's fighting city of Philadelphia—seizing the opportunity to document 4 days in the training life of super lightweight Amir Khan for British pay-per-view TV was a no-brainer.

Amir Khan Promo from Cristina Valdivieso + Jon Connor on Vimeo.

But the gig itself took the stamina of a 15-round split decision, and drew on the best of their knowledge and talents honed shooting events and documentary film projects.

The Philip Bloom Connection

Cristina and Jon first made contact with UK-based pay-per-view sports channel Primetime in late 2009 when the UK-based broadcaster approached DSLR icon Philip Bloom, their partner in the late, lamented Canon Filmmakers Live, to shoot a pilot for a show called World's Greatest Ever.

Bloom referred Cristina and Jon for the gig because they shared his key qualification: Like Philip, they were owners and expert operators of Canon's just-released EOS 7D. The show's producers wanted the show shot on Canon DSLR, but knew that the 5D Mark II, though taking much of the world by storm at the time, couldn't shoot 25p, which was a must for PAL-based British TV production.

Amir Khan Society Hill Studios

World's Greatest Ever was an interview- and roundtable-based show that assembled various old-school sports journalists such as former Boxing Illustrated editor Bert Sugar, and a handful of boxing greats to discuss "who, pound for pound, were the best fighters of all time in each division." Cristina was hired to shoot the pilot with her 7D while Jon took stills for a behind-the-scenes documentary. "Both of us had always been pretty big boxing fans," Jon says, "and we are from Philadelphia, where we have a statue of Rocky," so it seemed like a natural.