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OK…so this is totally shameless self-promotion.
Larry Nance and I have completed the first edition of the Teacher’s Supplement to The Basics of Videojournalism.
This 90 page coil bound book will soon be available at the Journalism Education Association Bookstore.
Contents include more than thirty lesson plans for teachers to instruct budding VJs, as well as suggestions for setting up and teaching a class, forms (Syllabus, Equipment Liability Waiver, templates for scripts) and sample rubrics.
But don’t wait too long. This is limited (at this time) to the 25 books that are being hand delivering to the NSPA/JEA conference in San Francisco tomorrow morning. So pick up your copy there or hop online to order.
…it never changes. The process of creating a visual story that is. Larry Nance and I are merrily working on our tome, The Basics of Videojournalism when what should appear online but some helpful hints for visual shooters.
Trouble is – they’re more than ninety-five years out of date.
Or are they?
Thanks to Amanda Emily, here is a list of hints written by Pathe’ News editor Paul Hugon in 1916 – during the birth of the movement of newsreel shooters. Let’s see how those tips stack up.
Right off there’s this advice. Still applicable today.
The object of motion pictures is to show motion. Only things in which there is motion are worthy of the cameraman’s attention.
Then there’s the highly technical advice on exposure using a hand cranked camera.
For each turn of the handle, eight pictures are exposed. The handle is turned twice in one second. Therefore 16 pictures are exposed in one second.
Translated to today’s terminology, most cameras set on auto expose approximately 30 pictures per second. And you don’t have to keep turning the crank to keep exposing new pictures.
And some advice we’re giving in the book. Use a tripod (dammit).
It is essential, to preserve the illusion which is the basis of the film business, that the pictures should be absolutely steady.
We’re in agreement on tilts and pans too! It is better by far to visualize and shoot what you see in several strong shots rather than taking the lazy route and panning or spraying the scene.
There should never be a panoram, either vertical or horizontal, unless it is absolutely essential to obtain a photographic effect, and in any case the panoram should be, not from the main subject to others, but from others to the main subject, where theattention will finally rest. It is very much better to take two scenes than one panorammed scene. Panoraming is the lazy man’s remedy.
There’s a lot more there and most of it pretty darn good. Shoot pretty subjects, striking effects of light and shade. A hefty dose of technical advice on iris and shutter. Ummmm…you can skip the sections on protecting the negative and shipping (by slow boat to China in those days).
And the conclusion is his Golden Rule…
Make as good a picture for others as you would like others to make for you.
Nothing but the very best is good enough. Think, and think hard, how you can make the best picture. Put it all down in writing; plan your scenes…
There is plenty of room at the top of your profession, but you will not get there by standing about or just grinding away. Brain work is ultimately the only way to big money. And the money is there waiting for you.
(well maybe those last few lines don’t apply anymore…)
For full text, go to the original article on Amanda Emily’s site.
In the wake of the tragedy in Wisconsin…
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.
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.
We all have those little tricks up our sleeves…the tricks we use to fix it, shortcut it, or make it easy for ourselves.
Some years back I posted a quick little emergency “fixit” for those days when your last miniscule lav windscreen disappears. At the time I was experimenting with using my computer with a camcorder plugged in to see if I could record “live” into iMovie.
It worked. The way I shot the video I mean. And the trick works pretty well too. All you’re doing is creating a dead zone above the mike head that keeps wind from hitting the head.
Fast forward six years to today…or rather earlier this year. I needed a way to fix my Lectrosonics wireless receiver to my Panasonic HMC150. The body is so compact and nearly every surface has dials or gizmos that I couldn’t figure out where to attach the reciever. Out of desperation I would stick it in the hand grip…or pocket it tethered to a long enough XLR cable. Awkward.
Looked around on the Internet, but most of the fixes either didn’t look like they’d work with my camera or were way too expensive. So I did what any sane person with too much time on their hands would do…I diddled and daddled and did some thinking to boot and came up with my own gizmo.
I’ll make a video later on…but here’s the drill. Countersink a threaded hole into the plastic. Fill said hole with super glue and screw in the cold shoe. Wait for it to dry. Attach Velcro to fit. Put mated piece of Velcro onto your receiver (or whatever else you want to attach to the camera).
Cost: assuming I could have bought just enough for this one holder, probably less than $10. As it was, I bought enough plastic for four holders (around $14), five of the cold shoes at around three and a half bucks each, and the Velcro roll ran nearly $15. The super glue I had lying around the workshop.
What would I do differently? I got the cold shoes cheap on Amazon.com. If I do it again, I’d probably go for more heavy duty shoes…I can tell the ones I got are not sturdy enough for long term use.
Oh – and once I went to all of this trouble, I found exactly what I needed (same basic design, but metal) over at B&H.
So – two of my tricks are out of the bag…and my partner in crime, Larry Nance, is working on more fixits, make-its, and shortcuts for our book, The Basics Of Videojournalism. The OMB, VJ – the current day Jack (and Jill) of all trades.
…high? Low? In between?
Like I used to tell my students, you gotta know your target audience before you even think about creating a visual story. Well, the same thing applies to writing a book. In this case, The Basics of Videojournalism.
Our original demographic was high schools…then we realized there was a wider potential audience, so we have adapted to that. And we’ve also finally settled on some of the finer points about our audience, including what level of gear they need.
Roughly we’ve broken gear into four basic groups.
So we are taking aim at a target audience who fits in levels 2 & 3 – but we don’t plan to forgot those above and below. While the bulk of the learning will cover all levels of gear, most of the technical advice will help out those in the middle. However, we plan to have specific advice targeting the P&S and DSLR crowds.
For instance if you’re doing an interview with your handy dandy three-chipper and a wireless mike, no worries. Good clean audio, on a tripod, great composition. But what if all you have is a burning desire to learn and a P&S? We got ya covered with shooting tips which will work for both you and your gear. DSLR? Different issues completely, but once again, we’ve got ya covered with workarounds to get good audio and more.
This is more than a generic how-to book – I’ve got decades of broadcast news in my past, plus a short gig shooting videos for a newspaper AND I know my way around a lesson plan pretty well. And co-author Larry Nance has the practical technical background balanced with an artist’s heart and soul (and tempered by a very hard business head). So stick with us – teachers, because we WILL have lessons to help your students learn. And students too – cause what could be MORE fun than having fun learning?
Hrumph! As co-author Larry Nance and I work our way through our notes and continue with the task of writing The Basics of Videojournalism, memories of blog postings past resurface. I’ve cut and pasted the guts of one such posting, which was the result of one too many still photographers or wanna-be’s asking me for the secret of shooting great video.
Those in the know, know already. Once you have the knowledge – once you know what to do – YOU HAVE TO PRACTICE. Yeah. Right. Good old fashioned get your hands on the gear and work with it until it becomes an extension of your body. There are no secrets…there is NO other way. Somewhere between year one and year four-ish you will no longer think about anything but the story – the images – what is in front of you. The camera, tripod, lights will be ancillaries of your brain and body. Your hands will be able to see and will automatically direct the fingers how close/how far to zoom in. The tripod will magically find itself set to the precise level you need it at. Aperture…depth-of-field…shutter speed. All part of your DNA.
Initially getting it all right is going to take time. You resist using a tripod cause it takes time to set up. In the field you think audio sounds great – you can hear it okay in your headset. And you can see your subject so the light must be fine. Right? WRONG! Don’t rush through your story and cheat your audience. They (and you) deserve your best every single day…every single shot. At first you’ll feel as if you have a weight attached to you. Time…time…time…it takes time to get each of these elements done properly. Time to take out the sticks and set them up. Time to check out the light and move your sticks over a bit to get better light or pull out the stand light and umbrella and find an outlet and light your subject. Time to attach the mike and check audio levels. Time to really look at the story and get more than the obvious shots. Time to see the details that will really impact the audience. Time to think and do it right.
And it’s not over in the field. Now you’re back editing and you have more tape and more choices, cause you shot more than you did before. Your tape looks and sounds cleaner, so you aren’t straining to hear the bad audio that sounded so good in the field and sounds like crap in the quiet of the edit area. Nice. You begin editing and suddenly you realize you can really edit…you’re not just covering words with pictures or putting in a great shot just because you have it. You are creating a visual story with an establishing shot and details. You start getting excited and then look at the clock…and deadline time is coming up fast.
At some point all of this will click. Tossing up your sticks will be as effortless as turning the camera on. You’ll always keep the tripod plate attached to the bottom of your camera for quick and easy mounting. You’ll look at light as you enter a room and automaticaly set up in the best area…or put up your reflector or light/umbrella without thinking. At the same time you’ll have the mike out ready to clip on to the interview subject. While you’re shooting the interview, you’ll be visualizing your shots for cover. With time, all of this will become so natural and effortless you will forget you never did it before…and once again, you’ll be concentrating on what is most important: telling the story.
Sigh…yeah. That’s it. And now you know the secret you have a choice to make. How badly do you want it?
It happens not often enough. A few hours (or days) of downtime. Nadda to do but relax and recharge.
Not really. Downtime is when you get the important back lot work done. So here’s a simple primer to keep you from lollygagging about and wasting those precious moments that could make or break you in the field.
Disclaimer: Most of what is listed below I generally take care of daily or after/before each shoot. However, when there is time, that is the time to get into it deeply.
1. Check your kit. Make sure every item in your working kit is in perfect working order. Now’s the time to triple check that little issue you’ve been having with focus or whatever. Track down problems and solve them. Flex cables and listen for static. Look for loose screws. Go through your kit and make sure everything essential is in it/that you haven’t forgotten something. If you have new gizmos, this is the time to run tests to make sure they are compatible. Make sure everything is stowed exactly the way you want it.
2. While you’ve got the gear out and are checking it, give it a wipedown. Brush the bag and get rid of those tiny particles that build up in the bottom. Take off your filters and clean your lens and both sides of the filter. Viewfinder and LCD too.
3. Cables. They are mating snakes if not watched closely. Go through ALL of your cables not in the kit and ID, check, and label and stow with their kin. That includes USB, FW, XLR, excess power cables and more.
4. Even though you have backup batteries, media, and lamps in your kit, run a thorough inventory and order extras as backups to the backups. Nothing kills a shoot worse than no bulbs for a light and no way to grab what you need. Check out prices on media…if there are sales, grab a few extra. While you’re at it, assess the age of your camera batteries and consider whether it’s time to buy a replacement or get them restored.
5. Sometimes your “stuff” is just that. The solution? Assess, ebay, donate, discard. If you haven’t used an item in five years (or bought it and NEVER used it), assess whether it is worth keeping. Be realistic…if in doubt, label and stow away. But really – the unused 100′ roll of 16mm color reversal from 1981??? The twenty firewire cables – do you need THAT many? The free handout software discs from 2001…all that stuff that you never got around to and never will? Your options are obvious. Keep it if you must. But selling it will both bring in some cash and clear space. If it isn’t salable or you’re the generous type, donate. To charity or your local high school broadcasting program. Last resort – toss it. Trashcan it.
I try to keep on top of stuff…but it seems to have a life of its own and keeps building up. These past few weeks I’ve been dubbing Beta tapes down to hard drive (thank you Mike Filson for the loaner) to clear space in the garage. Eventual plan is some kind of long term digital storage. My spare cable box overrunneth…it is on the event horizon. Plus I have to winnow the library. Yes there are some books I will keep (Nurnberg’s “Lighting for Photography” circa 1969 from my college days) but have already donated “The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography” to my old high school. All of the books on that great new invention – the Internet – are laughable and on their way out, as are the software samples from the many conference attended. I wish you luck with your downtime housecleaning. Now…back to the back room…
I’m posting videos two and three up top here/read the backstory below. As soon as video one is cleared for public view, will put it up also.
Apparently I can’t embed this one/so here’s the link: Click Here.
There is absolutely NOTHING like a pending deadline to get those creative juices running.
I have two videos and both are due tomorrow. Due to factors beyond my control, shooting wasn’t completed until Saturday and then life got in the way of editing. So at 6am this morning I dove into the projects.
Neither of these is scripted by the way – they’re both for an arts organization in San Jose and I have plenty of good interview sound (12+ minutes of edited-down bites) and cover shots (mine and the ahem…stuff they provided/more on that later). Plus I’ve got a whiz banger of a college student trying to prove his creds by creating a music bed for me. Oh – and I already jammed together a short demo for both them and a contest last week. But I want both of these vids to be new/different.
So how do you produce a video or two on deadline without a script? It helps that I interviewed the three main players with the organization and got not only great sound bot a sound understanding of what they’re doing. It also helps that they’ve given me a lot of freedom to pull this off (no bosses hanging over me nitpicking away at my every thought and edit).
My first goal is to lay down the audio bed for the one minute version. Plus a drifting logo. Done. That defines my time constraints – and I like to be right down to the nanosecond on that.
Right now I’m logging the sound – I already pulled the relevant bites and am transcribing and noting TRT for each. Then it’s off to the kettle for another cuppa tea while I read over the transcripts and mull over my strategy. I’ll grab a series of strong sound bites and play with them and the music bed…then slam in some strong b-roll. That should take care of v id1 in a few hours.
The longer and more challenging project has to be in storytelling mode and three to ten minutes long. More on that later…
(About the “aham” above…while the videos provided for b-roll from my arts org are okay, they are not professionally shot, although I will say one had an pretty good editor. I had no raw footage, which is my preference. Plus downloading standard def youtube videos is not my idea of image acquisition. Not to mention the issues of using hi def and standard def in the same project…but we can make this work. You do what you have to do.)
Day Two: Saved! My volunteer music creator came through early this morning (well, he emailed it last night) and I was able to drop the music bed in in place of the old one. It sings and zings! Trying to showcase a complex organization in a minute or less is a challenge, but one I’m pretty sure I pulled off. Music bed/sound bites, and b-roll and stills, all woven together into a tight little bundle. Into the Dropbox by 9am and on to video #2.
Now when I’m doing a series of related vids and know I’ll be using the same resources I take an easy shortcut. Stole the sound bites from the Artshots video and copied to video timeline #1 from yesterday. After logging new sound, I marked and popped the new bites into the same timeline and then created a new sequence for my final video project/the one I’m working on now and moved a copy of all bites over to that timeline. Saves a lot of time and grief.
Each of these videos has to be a bit difference. Artshots video had to be a 90 second sizzler. #2 video (for TechSoup) had no boundaries except it had to run about a minute. #3 video (for Cisco) can run up to ten minutes long…which is nice. I can just pick a pace and edit along until it is done – and right now I’m hanging in there at about five minutes. Just about right. Once the flurry is over (say about a month from now) I’ll link to all three so you can see how they went.