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There are some meaty stories out there…and producer John Goheen began stalking them more than a year ago.
A unique alignment of numbers occurred last year. November 11, 2011. 11.11.11…and a tie-in with “on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” which marked the war to end all wars. WWII. Sadly this was a great misstatement.
Goheen put out the call for volunteers to each document the day of a veteran in their area for his vision of a documentary honoring our service men and women, both active and retired. Thirty-seven photogs responded and came through with stories ranging from Veteran’s Day ceremonies to features on individual veterans.
Although only 15 videos were included in the final documentary, the rest are available on the V-Day 11.11.11 website under the link to “Stories.”
And the range of stories is as remarkable as the men and women who sacrifice daily to keep our country’s freedoms safe. I was lucky enough to follow Stockton WWII ace pilot Bill Behrns around on that day…with some unexpected results.
I will tell you that the only thing scarier than the ride in an aging and very rattly WWII plane was the trip to the airport with Bill driving. And yes – he still drives a mini-van with the same style and speed that he took to the air in during WWII.
BTW – if you know a veteran’s group or are interested, the film will be made available for educational purposed.
I’ve been to two of these in the past week with another one coming up on Thursday. For you newbies, a dog and pony show used to be a small traveling circus – but in the biz it is a show put on for the entertainment of the media or the masses (see Addendum at end). In the case of my projects, it was more for the masses than the media, but still each had its challenges.
Generally D&Ps are not real visual stories. Oh, the folks pushing them may think they’re the most wonderful thing in the world, but trust me. Visual they ain’t. So it’s up to the VJ covering the event to discover and reveal the true meaning or purpose of the event.
There are a couple of ways to present stories like these. Example: the first event was an awards ceremony at a local college. At this event I was taping my high school MESA (Math, Science, Engineering Achievement) team receiving awards and I didn’t want to work the crowd or the stage so I set up beside the sound board in the back of the room and plugged in to get good audio. Venue: a large dark auditorium. I just rolled on the speeches and presentations. That was it. When I edited, all I was aiming for was snippets of the event. Four videos focusing on four different speeches or presentations. Rote shoot and playback.
The second event was an hour and a half speech by a New York Times best selling author. There was something of interest – his service dog. Venue: a large flatly lit general purpose room. So I got some b-roll of the dog before the speech and then the book-signing afterwards. And rolled (and rolled) on the speech. The library wanted to document the event and pretty much is letting me decide what to do with it. This time I’ll pick out the four or five best sound bites from the speech and string them together, but will also do a mini-package TV style for them to post on their website using the b-roll.
Final event will be a presentation to a local legislator at a lunch for disabled veterans. Venue: a military armory set up with lunch tables for the vets. For this one I’ll skip the shoot and playback and just do a simple package, most likely focusing on either the re-election race the congressman is in or use the presentation as a way to segue to issues of veterans in today’s society. Don’t know yet and don’t want to predict what might strike my fancy.
You’ll notice that I kind of had a plan for each story – and I had that plan BEFORE I headed out to shoot. Having a plan is important so you have a sense of direction of where to take the story. Equally important is being able to change as the story changes…being flexible. So while the MESA event was pretty much set in stone, the library event had some wiggle room because I had a client and more time. And the veterans event has yet to happen, so I need to keep my options open.
Each of these venues, by the way, had the same feel even though they are very different. A focal point up front with an audience watching. Not a lot happening, so you, as the storyteller, have to make it happen with images you see and capture and words you write to explain.
How to shoot these? Unless you have a prepared copy of the speeches (and trust me, with politicians you often do) be prepared to roll at any point. Generally once a speaker gets their pacing, it is after the opening remarks and obligatory thank yous (to everyone on the planet it it seems). Second best roll time is towards the end as they summarize. But don’t be caught off guard…those great sound moments can pop up anywhere and you need to be prepared. Just as important – you need to NOT roll. A lot of speeches are mundane, too technical, not focused, or even just plain bad. What you are aiming for are highlights that will help your audience understand the gist of the event.
While you are shooting you need to determine how you will present the information and video. Sometimes you’ll just go with a SOT (sound on tape or sound bites), other times you may want to explain more and add narration and b-roll. So cover your bases and get those cover shots (of the dog, of people listening). Don’t forget your wide, medium, and close-ups. Assess the audience and get shots of folks leaning forward or sleeping. Shoot the signs and literature. Find those shots that will help you, in the end, tell the story.
Addendum: more on dog and pony shows. Literally speaking, they are somewhat meaningless entertainment – not opera or true art, but a mild distraction put out there for those out of the mainstream. Today the meaning is tilted more towards a show put on just to put on a show…to attract attention with no real purpose other than that. I’m gonna hafta give that my first two projects probably don’t fit that category…the awards ceremony had meaning and the author talk was educational (even thought there WAS a dog involved). Gonna have to wait and see on the political presentation though.
Before the Internet…before TV…and pretty darn near alongside silent movies and radio way back in the early decades of the 20th century there was a breed of men who braved all manner of dangers from dancing beauty queens to crashing zeppelins to bring the news to theaters around the world.
And now Amanda Emily has rounded up their tall tales into a tome of her own – From Behind the Lens: Short Stories of the News Photographers From the Pre-War Newsreel Era. A must read for all who love history, news, both.
Newsreelers were the very first VJs…but this time let’s call them Visual Journalists. Heading out alone or with an assistant (and then a soundman beginning in the late 1920s) they covered the events of their time from serious to sensational. In Amanda’s book you will read the stories behind the news as well as learn about these remarkable men, who were looked upon as heros in their day.
I encourage you to take a look…I know I’m ordering mine tomorrow.
(Transparency: Yep, she’s a bud of mine…but I wouldn’t be posting here unless I believed in her and her book. She’s an old soul in a young body.)
So I turned up at the Lodi Library for an event that was postponed (unbeknownst to me). Instead parking was at a premium because the twice annual Lodi Street Faire had taken over downtown.
Well, dangit, now that I had the camera AND a parking place it seemed to make sense to take a stroll through downtown and get some shots for my book-in-the-works.
Hmmm…what to shoot. Did a bit of Rule of Thirds with horizon high, middle and low. Then set up to shoot wide, medium, close-up, extreme close-up.
Too close apparently. The artist running the booth I chose at random walked out and told me not to shoot her jewelry. Apparently the latest scam is to photograph street artwork, and send it to China where it is knocked off and sold for less.
I explained to her that it was a public street and I had a right to shoot visuals. She insisted I did not and offered to call “the officials.”
Well…normally if I were really working a news shift this is where I’d pick up and move on. Unless it was a perp or real news, in which case I’d do what I did next. Stood my ground and suggested that she might as well go ahead.
So while she walked over to a near-by security guy, I mulled over what I was sure would happen. Ya see, I’m in the middle of researching and writing the legal chapter of my tome…and as most professionals, know my rights. Public street, open access, no expectation of privacy. My little experiment for the day was to see how far this would go before someone…anyone…explained what rights to privacy you really have in public.
I meandered over to the security guy who told me I couldn’t shoot video if someone didn’t want me to. That people have a right to privacy.
So it began to become an exercise in educating people. The old guy standing nearby had called “the officials” and told me people had a right to privacy. I explained, yes they do. But not on a public street. And I explained I could probably have just moved on, but I was standing on my First Amendment Rights.
And that’s when Mr. Security called me a troublemaker.
Right on. That’s me.
And it was pointed out that the cops were pulling up to the scene. On their bikes, hot and a bit tired.
I explained what I had done – and Cop #1 said, nope. No expectation of privacy on a public street. Sweet. He sent Cop #2 over to speak with the artist lady while I inquired if this was part of Lodi Police training. His response: Nope…I’ve been a cop for years and I know this.
Then someone brought up that I wasn’t media and he again pointed out that you don’t need to be media to take pictures in a public area.
How did this finally end? I joshed with the cops a bit, apologizing for making them pedal all the way down to handle my “crisis.” Oh – and it didn’t hurt that Cop #1 and I began talking and I mentioned I was a retired news photog. We parted on friendly terms.
Around this time the security guy began to explain that he wasn’t taking sides. And he really seemed both sorry and taken aback about what the actual laws about right to privacy in public are.
Lesson accomplished. Stood my ground graciously and quietly, all the while trying to educate people. And those few who sat through it learned that (a) there is no expectation of privacy in a public area and (b) anyone can take photos/video in public. I would have spoken again to the artist lady but I suspect it wouldn’t have gone well. As it was I’m dumping whatever I shot of her and her booth.
And right now I’m very very proud of the Lodi Police Department.
Every now and then something comes along and the reaction is, “COOL! Why didn’t I think of that?” (or…”I thought of that years ago and it’s FINALLY come out.)
Back in the early 2000s JVC had something called the GY-DV300u aka the Streamcorder. That little gem was way ahead of its time. I grabbed one because after some pretty heavy duty research I found it had all the gizmos I wanted and needed to have a life after a multi-decade career as a broadcast news cameraman. But it had that little extra “umph” in the background that intrigued me – the ability to stream live to the web. And for some reason it never really took off. And the camera and it’s revolutionary potential kind of faded away…
Until NAB this year when the 300u’s great granddaughter returned. And with a vengeance.
Meet the JVC ProHD Mobile News Camera! To me it’s an old friend gussied up and modernized. But it is a game changer and this time the time is ripe for it to reach the heights it missed last time around.
What’s new? Okay, so I admit I’m addicted to glass. A 23x zoom. Something that can reach out and pull you (and your audience) in close to situations you don’t even WANT to get close to. Most prosumer cameras in this price range only have a 10x or 14x zoom, leaving you miles short of the shot you really want.
Dual slot recording…the less expensive version of this camera, the JVC GY-HM600 ProHD Camera has two slots for continuous recording too, but lacks the ability to record in HD in one slot and SD in the other. That ability allows you to shoot HD for the main event but SD to stream back quickly to the station for on-air. Wow.
I don’t even need to get into real manual controls, XLR inputs, three chips (1/3 CMOS)…the usual suspects in a pro’s array of necessary tools.
What happened in the past ten years that makes this new again?
Well, this time news is READY for a camera like this. In 2002 (when I got my JVC 300u) going live on the web was something entertaining…fun. But nobody in real news considered it seriously. After all, it wasn’t really professional – was it? Tiny little camera, poor quality…and there were live trucks and microwave trucks to handle important stories.
Times change…and now cell phones and Skype can put out decent enough (okay, so even I debate that one) images for news. Plus, reality has set in – financial reality. With the competition out there, lean and fast may make the difference between survival and death to cost conscious news organizations.
And while I absolutely love those good ole days, I’m a realist. What I see is a camera that may mean survival.