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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.

Shadow Boxing

Fast-forward to June 2011. Cristina and Jon were in Indiana visiting Eric Kessler of Kessler Crane. Primetime called again to invite them to L.A. to shadow boxer Amir Khan for 4 critical training days in preparation for his June 23 super lightweight title unification fight against Zab Judah, which Primetime was broadcasting in the UK. The idea, Jon says, was "to follow him day and night, like HBO 24x7," and capture footage that would air on Primetime before the fight. Two days later they were hopping a plane to L.A.

With their 7Ds, their lenses, their sliders, crane (which Jon says they carried everywhere but didn't get to use), and laptops and offload drives in tow, Cristina and Jon arrived in L.A. on Sunday for a 4-day shoot that would begin on Monday. Part of this meant preparing to work with Khan's rather odd schedule, which included early morning training and mid-morning sleeping before more training, media appearances, and the like.

Amir Khan Society Hill Studios

Their first call came at 3:45 A.M. on Monday, when they were summoned to drive down to Santa Monica to shoot Khan "doing a 2-set circuit running steep stairs. Then we went back to the hotel and slept for a few hours"-because Khan was going home to sleep for a few hours-before heading over to Khan's training facility of choice, the celebrity-studded Wild Card Boxing Club. There they would shoot him "going into the gym and doing the speedbag. But we didn't shoot any sparring," Jon says. "So close to the fight," Khan's team "was worried about leaks."

Venue Restrictions and Other Challenges

And just as with many event shoots, they had to contend with arbitrary venue restrictions. "When we first got there, they said, ‘You can't shoot in the gym,'" presumably because there were so many celebrities around. HBO also had a crew there shooting a documentary. Shut out, for all practical purposes, Jon and Cristina left the gym that day thinking, "What are we doing here?" After a call from the show's producer to a lawyer got them cleared to shoot, Jon says, "The second day was much easier, and we got the shots we needed." And even though Day 2 turned into an 18-hour day (with a 5 AM call coming up on Wednesday), Jon says, the shoot went smoothly because their subjects proved so easy to work with. "One thing that struck me was how down-to-earth Amir Khan was. And his family and the rest of his entourage were the same way."

Which is not to say that they didn't deal with a few eccentricities. One thing Jon says is apparent in the footage, are the intense demands of his training regimen, such as 60 pushups every hour, at regular intervals, regardless of whether he was sleeping, sparring, or walking down Hollywood Boulevard. But that was all part of the gig-4 days in the life of a super lightweight champion, inside and outside the gym. Jon, Cristina, a producer, and "another guy who said he was just there to pay for everything," followed Khan everywhere. "Because the schedule would change frequently," Jon recalls, "there was a lot of us going somewhere, waiting and waiting, and then being ready to go" on a moment's notice. "We walked with [Khan] down Hollywood Boulevard, with Cristina shooting on the Glidecam for 15 minutes, walking and talking and interviewing him. He liked to go out there and relax and get his mind off stuff."