upfronts 2014

How America’s Funniest Home Videos Makes Those Montages

Before there was YouTube, there was America’s Funniest Home Videos, our original national repository of camcorder footage of groin injuries, trampoline accidents, and bad dancing. But despite its internet competition, the show—which celebrates its 25th anniversary this fall—is still a ratings hit for ABC. Much of that is due to supervising producer Richard Connor, the editing genius behind the show’s signature montages (over the past 14 years, he’s made more than 600 of them). Here’s how he does it.

Set the Tone Right Away
“The first clip in the montage needs to be really funny and make the theme clear. I did a montage about dogs once, and the opening clip was a Chihuahua who starts harassing a big dog, and the big dog growls at him. Then the little dog lifts his leg, pees on the big dog, and kicks dirt on him. If you don’t understand what the concept is after that clip, I can’t help you.”

Get the Music Right
“The song has to be up-tempo. This season, I knew I had to use ‘Get Lucky.’ Today I’m editing a montage set to Taylor Swift’s ‘22.’ The chorus goes, ‘I’m feeling 22,’ so I have grannies and teens doing things not befitting their age. Half the montages I do are set to classical music. We did gymnastics falls to Rossini’s ‘The Thieving Magpie’: Dah-dah-dah-daaah-dun-HIT! ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ sounds like flying, so I used it for toy gliders hitting people in the head.”

Somebody Has to Get Hurt …
“People expect someone to get hit. Unless the theme is, like, babies. Once, I was desperate for a new theme, so I did a package of people almost being hit. It was called ‘Close Calls.’ No one got it. I would sting the music just when the bat would miss a kid’s head. It wasn’t great. Nobody got hurt, nobody fell—and you need people to fall.”

… But Not Too Badly
“We did a motorcycle-accidents montage and the comment we got was ‘Faces of Death.’ You can jerk the audience right out with a clip of someone looking really hurt. It took me some time to learn I was making people nervous. Now I’m pretty diligent about going, ‘Hmm, it’s a little brutal.’ ”

Sweeten With Sound Effects
“I had a woman chasing another woman through an apartment to Shania Twain’s ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman!,’ and her blouse gets caught on a doorknob. It rips her shirt to shreds. It’s just not funny if there’s no riiiip! When I put the sound effect in, it made everyone laugh so hard.”

Mix It Up
“You don’t want the same idea over and over again, like a bunch of hard hits in a row, because they lose their impact. If I’m doing a montage about birthdays, maybe there will be a kid doing a face-plant into a cake, then I’ll do a blindfolded kid playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and he walks into a wall, and then I’ll cut to a clip where somebody gets hit with a piñata stick. You can’t be redundant.”

Nothing Beats A Crotch Hit—but Use Them Sparingly
“What is it about a groin injury? Even when somebody should be ready for one—like when they’re skateboarding over a railing—they never are. I’ve never done a montage of just groin hits; after three, you’d be numb. But a well-placed one in a montage really gets a reaction. And if I sync up a crash of the orchestra to an impact of the groin with a piñata hit? Nirvana.”

Surprise Is Your Friend
“You know when you see the dad holding a piñata that he’s going to get hit. That’s funny because you know what’s going to happen. But the best kind of laugh is when you don’t see it coming. One clip had two women jumping rope, but then a big yoga ball enters the frame, and one of the girls lands on it and goes down really hard. You’re waiting for one thing to happen, and this other thing happens.”

Stick With What Works
“There are some staple themes we do annually: dogs, cats, weddings, kids, and trampolines. Also, we get clips of people pulling their teeth out with weird things. The first tooth montage I did way back when was to Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer,’ with people using doorknobs or dart guns. For a more recent package, I got a clip of a guy who taped his kid’s tooth to a remote-control helicopter.”

Dogs Are Funnier Than Cats
“Dogs are a home run. Cats? Not as much. People send clips of their cats being mellow. It’s cute, but dogs have a lot of things going for them. One of the most famous AFV clips of all time is one where this little wiener dog grabs a firecracker while it’s going off, and it’s shooting horizontally like a machine gun and people are diving out of the way. That won the $10,000.”

Keep It Short
“If you go online and watch homemade montages, they tend to be longer than three minutes, and you get fatigued. If I’m feeling wild and crazy, I might go 1:35. After you see 25 clips of the same idea, you check out a little bit.”

Finish Strong
“Generally the funniest clip in the montage is the closer. I just did a montage of babies, and I ended with a baby sitting on a chair with a dog, and the baby suddenly really fouls his diaper. You hear it, audibly. And the dog’s ears go back, he gives the kid a glance, and he gets the hell out of there. The baby tips over when the dog leaves. So it has three funny things happen in five seconds. God could have given me that clip, that’s how perfect it was.”

*This article appeared in the May 5, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.

Making America’s Funniest Home Videos Montages