Think global…work local…

The VJ world is heating up, albeit primarily in the world’s hot spots.

With the ever shrinking network budgets and a growing need for accurate coverage in the nooks and crannies of our expanding world, videojournalists are becoming a prime commodity. Why? They work locally. They know their area and its politics. Most importantly, they know how to get around/work around what might be barriers to outsiders.

What I’ve noticed in viewing stories from abroad is that they seem to be more factual and more organic. The story is allowed to breathe and develop. Strange, because often they are not much longer than the standard minute thirty story here in the States.

And they travel lighter. Camera. Mike. Tripod. Computer. When I asked VJ Ruud Elmendorp about what kind of lights he used, his comment was that there is light everywhere. Makes sense when you’re traveling in a region of the world where electricity may not be the norm. Ruud is a Dutch VJ who (as his LinkedIn account states) is “reporting on conflict and development from the African continent.”

New York videojournalist Shaminder Dulai works with a DSLR, Canon G12, and even his iPhone in a pinch.

“This works for me because I usually do photo and video on the same assignments, so it’s easy for me to switch back and forth. And a note about why I used Canon, it’s only because I’ve already invested in Canon lenses. I firmly believe it’s not the gear but the eye that matters.”

Shaminder says he is bored by gear talk.

So many of us get absorbed by talking about bokah and video jelly, but I say: okay, we know about it, adapt and go tell a great story with what you have now, rather than whine about what you don’t have.”

(Side note: he has been robbed twice with most of his gear stolen.) His theme is backed by others.

Bud Wichers (Netherlands) says his goal is “to shoot a video that stays in peoples’ minds for at least 24 hours.” He diverges from Shaminder…Bud feels that “You can make poor shots, your sound can be terrible, and the lighting totally crap, but, if your story flows, you can still captivate your audience from start to finish.” His take on this comes from covering major breaking stories (including war zones)…which I know from experience may have you trying to watch your back to protect yourself while dodging whatever is thrown your way as you shoot. There is profound truth to his statement.

The Netherlands is a very VJ friendly country and Bud says he is often booked in advance, in addition to covering breaking news. If not booked often he will go to an assignment and shoot it, then sent it to his global list of clients, who often purchase it.

Jonah Kessel is accredited by the New York Times to work for them in China. And he, along with many of the other global VJs, is more than bi-lingual. Working in a multi-cultural world, they are often tri, quadra, multilingual. Since VJ-ing is all about communications, knowledge of the local language is essential.

Why does Jonah drive himself as a storyteller?

“The drive to tell important stories has been embedded in me for a long time. As an individual it’s hard to have much impact in the world. However, as a video journalist or cinematographer I do have the ability to reach mass audiences through my work. So my entire goal is to tell important stories and to help create better awareness of the world we live in. Without awareness, education, and information the world’s problems will only get worse.”

Being driven to tell stories and getting paid to tell them are two separate discussions. Ruud says there are several pathways to get assignments – the first being to find and produce stories and then offer them to a variety of organizations (TV stations and online sites). The second is working with organizations on smaller projects, which often lead to larger assignments. The third is based on spontaneous assignments based on his online presence.

Ruud is all over social media – and he uses it during shoots, “maintaining a series of tweets and posting on several platforms, and reply to comments. Really, at the end of the day you’re completely knackered.”

Arturo de la Pena (Multimedia Journalist with Heraldo Estado de Mexico) says his work is about 40% assignments and 60% covering whatever he wants to. He uses good old fashioned business cards when he meets people, and “starts asking questions. After I have something to build up, I ask some of those questions again, in front of the camera.”

Let’s take a look at the gear used by global VJs. The “Father of Videojournalism”, Michael Rosenblum, has trained thousands of VJs in the over 25 years and says, “the equipment has changed incredibly.”

With the advent of webcasting really surpassing broadcasting in terms of final platform for most of this stuff, we’re seeing that smaller, lighter and easier to use are the driving factors in gear. Pretty much everything shoots to HD.

Rosenblum is currently doing some training at the U.N. using iPhones…cutting on iMovie or FCPX. He emphasizes minimalist gear.

Never use lights. Too much to drag around. If essential, a small litepanel mounted on the camera, but try to avoid it. The rule here is small and as lightweight as possible. Likewise with tripods. simple simple simple.

Ruud travels light, with the basics of camera, mike, tripod, editing laptop. Arturo shoots with a Canon T4i and Sony NX30, edits with Premier Pro (no word on lights or mikes). Los Angeles (CA, USA) VJ Chrisy Wilcox (gotta love her) uses a Panasonic AG-HMC150 (my camera of choice), Canon Mark iii, Sennheiser wireles lav, Lowel light kit, Zoom H4N, Mac with Final Cut Pro as her basic kit. Also from LA is investigative VJ Paul Huebl who uses a JVC HM100U with Zoom H4n, Sennheiser wireless kit, iPad telepromter, lights and a Macbook Pro with Final Cut X. Bud smartly shops for used gear (you can get some great finds if you’re a careful shopper)…using a Sony JVR Z7 camera, Sony HVL-LBPA LED camera light, some Rode shotgun mikes, Electro Voicce stick mike (the choice of anyone traveling who wants a nearly unbreakable mike)…actually most of his list is audio gear. I’m not even getting into Jonah’s gear list – which is extensive (but he is forgiven).

Now I didn’t go into a lot of depth on their gear lists…trust me, there was more than shown above. But the basics are there. A solid working camera they trust. Generally a second camera for backup – and in some of the remote areas these folks hit, backup is essential. A tripod – they all have them. Audio gear. Right up there with a good camera. The basics. (Paul of course breaks the mold with a teleprompter, but hey – that’s Hollywood.)

And while some of these VJs have plenty of work, others are constantly looking. I suspect it is feast or famine in the global VJ community. Although Shaminder does work with Newsweek, he also funds some projects out of pocket and seeks grants to fund others. Paul works primarily for criminal defense lawyers (due, he says, to TV newsroom budgets being so tight these days). And poor Ruud – his problem is having too much work apparently, with clients asking why he isn’t pitching stories anymore. The choice seems to be to “Either say no to assignments (which I think is killing) or to hire assistants.” Not something he wants to do, but he is thinking about it.

I’d like to thank the VJs who contributed…and honesty they sent me so much material I see a second posting in the future. I also plan to do a bit of investigating from the other side – how does a media organization vet (verify) a global VJ they’ve never seen.

Pondering light…

Ever since I first hefted a camera onto my shoulder I’ve been using tungsten lights to fill in the dark areas and light up the night (as well as interviews). Tungsten seemed to be a fixture for both news and production…been around nearly forever.

But in the past twenty years there have been some pretenders and challengers…and one of them is serious enough that I’m considering bailing from my old standby and sliding over to the cool side of lighting.

Now my first thoughts of betrayal came with the introduction of fluorescent lights. Soft, portable. But I just couldn’t see the real advantages over tungsten. No real ability to control the light spread…really only good for flooding a scene.

Then LEDs came onto the scene…and I was cautious. I mean, they seemed kind of cute but not really a workhorse type of gear that I could use.

So I took the leap with a Flolight 256 and ran it through some tests. The light is bright and holds up against my Lowel Prolight with a 250w lamp pretty well. It’s daylight balanced, very light and runs for an hour or more on a Sony NP battery.

On the down side: not full color spectrum. Even with manual white balance the cast of human skin comes out bluish, so I did what any one with a bit of knowledge of the color wheel would do. I knew I wanted to warm up the image, so I experimented with some white cards with a bluish tint. Opposites do make for an attractive result – by white balancing with the LED light on the blue cards I was able to trick the camera into thinking it was pretty cool out there and the balance shifted to the warm side.

Voila!

I’ve upped my game and have three Flolights now – two 256s and a 128, all powered by battery. They’ve changed my workflow for sure. I no longer have to worry about cables snaking across the floor and can re-position lights in a snap. Using Blackwrap (heat-resistant heavy-duty photographic aluminum foil) I can even create snoots and other handy ways to control the light. And packing it all in at the end of the day…well, no wait time for the light heads to cool down. These little heads barely get warm after hours of use.

So LED lights: I thank you. But the talent and interview subjects I work with in these hot summer days thank you even more for making them the coolest things around.

It’s all in the mind of the shooter…

I keep hearing it. “I could shoot better video if only I had (name the) camera. My life would be so much better if… People would hire me if only…

Hate to break it to ya bro, but that ain’t it. It’s not your gear, unless you’re still trying to keep between the lines with your Crayolas. Then maybe it IS the gear.

What may be lacking is your vision, your talent, your technical chops…

I mean – if you’re bad. You’re BAD. No one wants bad.

Why this rant? Kids who come up to me and think if they had my cam or a better one they could be better than me instantly.

Hah.

Worst story ever. Mom at the school I used to work with came up to ask me about the exorbitant cost of gear. He son was applying for one of those fancy schmancy art school that guarantee you’ll be the next Ford Coppola…or at the very least be rolling in bucks once you graduate (and that’s a rant I’ll reserve for later). I told her that until he got into school a plain ole three or four hundred dollar camera would do to teach him the basics and let him get hands on. So a few weeks later I hear the kid got the (then) camera of his dreams, most likely draining the family savings to boot. All this so he could make an application video to get into the school. We’ll kinda sashay past the fact this was a family that didn’t do college and this was their first kid heading down that path…they had no idea what was expected.

My take when I talked to mom again was astonishment. Explained to her that the school was looking for his ideas…how his mind flowed…his RAW talent. The fine tuning and technical skills were why he wanted to go there.

A tool in the wrong hands does not produce craftsman quality work. It just produces high quality crap.

Now I’m no Emmy winner…always been a meat and potatoes kind of shooter. I know the basics and know how to use whatever tool I have on hand to get the story done. So here’s my third stab at proving a point. (The first stab being Wyoming Cattle Drive and the second Absailing. The former shot with an $80 ebay acquisition/Canon ZR60 and the latter a cheapie still camera with video ability/Exilim Z75.)

It ain’t the cost of the gear…it is the mind behind the grind…the wisdom whispering to the beast…that makes for good shooting AND editing.

Case in point: Refurbished Kodak Playtouch purchased on ebay for $59. Edited on one of my local library’s computers using Final Cut Pro X (and I could have done just as well with iMovie or Moviemaker). There was no zoom, so I zoomed with my legs. Used macro and wide shot settings. Kept fingers crossed and got decent white balance most of the time. Got up close and personal with my interview subject to get more or less clean audio.

So quitcha bitchin and come to terms with your bank account. If you can’t get good with a basic camera, basically you are not gonna get good at all.

Freelance VJ sites

The blessing and bane of being a VJ is getting paid to do what you love. If you’re lucky, you have a staff job with an understanding news director or editor who knows that you will give your all if s/he treats you right. That means a living wage and a reasonable amount of time to do stories you love mixed in with the day-to-day assignments.

But that’s not the reality for most current and aspiring VJs. Love is one thing. Earning an income is another.

I’ve been checking out some sites that purport to channel VJ videos into potential cash flows. Although most cater to breaking news, there is room for other types of stories too. Read carefully and check each out yourself before leaping on board.

And while you’re checking out the organizations, also be aware that some charge a commission – a flat fee or percentage – on your sales while others pay a flat rate to you and others may have different ways to make money.

Cont3nt.com_First up is cont3nt.com. Founded by former National Geographic employee Anton Gelman, cont3nt.com is the new kid on the block. Like most of the sites below, its emphasis is on breaking news…getting your just-shot breakers up on the site and out marketed to a global market. He has a variety of contracts from short-term limited to total buyout. Nice part is that if you have current clients he won’t horn in on them…but he does open up new market potential. All business is transacted directly by the freelancer and the client…cont3nt.com does not get involved in anything beyond providing the platform and collecting a small fee per transaction. They do require (as most do) that you sign an ethics statement. cont3nt.com also has a ratings system for their VJs…the more experience you have and the more and higher quality stories you provide, the higher your ranking.

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CrowdMedia specializes in sifting through twitter feeds, looking for photographs at news events and venues. You can’t apply – and rates are low by professional standards unless the event is major (see below).

CEO Martin Roldan has this to say about his site:

Our marketplace is only for photos right now. Contact is made through our platform directly, with images coming from Twitter. Direct upload will be open as soon as our unique “Authenticity Detection” will be fully operational. This is to make sure we only get photos depicting real events and that people uploading them are the rightful owners.

Since we are focusing on the value of real-time events, images are at a fixed rate of $20 during the first 48 hours and $5 after that time. A photo of a major event could be purchased more than 1000 times.

ELANCE-NEW-LOGO eLance seems to be a meeting place on steroids for those seeking temporary workers and freelancers of all ilks, not just videographers. Potential employers post a job then view the matched freelancers. They have to deposit the full amount of the quote from the freelancer plus the commission to eLance…freelancer paid either when the job is done or when milestones are reached. Not just a VJ site though you may find the occasional gig there.

emphasis empahs.is is a crowdfunding platform for visual journalists. You have to provide the usual: a short proposal of two or three sentences, one page proposal outlining the scope/relevance of said project, your personal (short) bio, links to your work and a video pitch. Offhand this looks more like a still visual storyteller site…but check it out and let us know what you find out.

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gothamist-logo Geothamist serves hyperlocal major metropolitan areas around the world…if you live in or near one of those listed there may be opportunities for you.

Newsmodo, again, has a similar platform to most of the others.

According to Managing Editor Ryan Jones, Newsmodo is a free global platform for freelance journalists. newsmodo He says, “We offer journalists around the world the opportunity to work for big and small international media companies. They set assignments for you to pitch to OR you pitch unsolicited and they commission.”

305549_980 reportersunited is not just for the word folks…it’s actually targeting VJs. Like cont3nt.com it seeks breaking stories, but also wants good factual features. And I’ve worked with their team just enough to know they will seek clients if you have a good idea…and they act as an intermediary between VJ and client to ensure the story fits the need. What else you need to know: independent video news agency, adherence to journalism standards of facts/conduct/ethics, global distribution (all of these sites provide that).

storyhunter5 storyhunter was founded by VJs and although you can provide story ideas, they also provide assignments you can sign up for. They do screen, so no newbies here. Their emphasis is serious work and breakers for working VJs.

ttm_tumblr_profile transterramedia is another global site that accepts pitches from VJs and matches them up with clients. They do breaking news but accept hard-hitting general news and features. They do screen before allowing VJs on board and do work closely with their contributors (this from experience).

vourno_logo Vourno is fresh off the press…came out less than two weeks ago. It is a crowdsourcing platform aimed at “Vournos” or video journos. They solicit “pubs” to provide support and funding for projects you propose. The VJ owns the rights to their work…what Vourno does is provide exposure for VJs and their story ideas to a public willing to pay to see a story through. This is not an income stream where you are paid to work…your story is funded for what it will cost to produce and then you are free to market it to clients once it has appeared on the Vourno site for a specified amount of time.

Realize that I’ve vastly condensed the information and approach each of the above sites is taking…but the bottom line is they are potential money-makers if you have the skills, ideas, and commitment to follow through and provide what you promised.

In addition to these there are job/gig websites, including staffmeup, productionhub, mandy, mediamatch, journalismjobs. You can find others by doing a web search with the type of job you’re interested in and “job board.” These offer short and long-term gigs and even full-time jobs. Pay ranges from (what else) free to union scale. (I’ll be updating this list and adding urls over the next few months.)

And Facebook has opened up some possibilities, although with disclaimers. Many gigs are in conflict zones on pages like “Find a journalist…around the world.” Other sites are mainly for discussion with the occasional gig – videojournalist, Global VJs and TV Freelancers. In many cases you have to ask to be added because they are closed groups and you may even be screened to ensure you are a professional.

So as bleak as the full-time staff market may be…if you are enterprising and industrious you may be able to make your passion a paying profession.

Timeless advice…

…it never changes.  The process of creating a visual story that is. But then – 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.

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.

b-roll hack

b-roll-logo1000 Cameragod down under came up with a novel concept to booster the rep of one of my favorite sites – b-roll. (b-roll is the go-to site for broadcast news cameramen to discuss gear, gossip and more.)

Here is his tip – and a great one it is. I would never have thought of this.

And here is my tip – and oldie but goodie. Especially if you’re fairly new to the biz.

I look forward to more of these and hope to learn from an amazing group of peers.

Looking for stories…

images …is the name of a site I was directed to this week.  While the concept may not be original (one story a week) the execution is amazing.  Joan Planas and Ana Salva’ have a vision of producing a story a week focusing on people. Plain people who have stories to tell that educate and inform the audience about their community and country.

I like that they spend the time to get to know their subjects over a day or week and the entire story is told in the subject’s own words (with subtitles as necessary).  

But what I like even more is their artistry…their use of motion and exposure and music to make each story unique and real.

So check it out at HERE and let me know what you think.

There be Dragons!

Love this crawling quote on my husband’s computer: “It’s not that we say dragons are real…but we say they can be beaten…”

Dragons being, of course, totally (ahem) imaginary creatures that lurk in fairy tales and in the backs of our minds.

Well in the back of my mind lately there’s been a desire to cut out the seemingly endless hours I spend transcribing interviews. I’d looked into voice recognition software in the past and had an inkling there were some possibilities out there. What did me in was a marathon week of listening to and transcribing a panel discussion of high school debaters and interviews with five coaches. Oh – and presentations by the students too.

Word. For. Word.

Regular folks like to talk. Speech and debate folks take it seriously and my fingers and brain were seriously addled by the time I was through. Limpid fingers…mush for brains.

So I finally began my search in earnest and dragons kept resurfacing as a solution.

Dragons Naturally Speaking. Managed to finagle some coupons and points and got it for nearly half off and began my adventure last night. And was frankly pretty impressed. The program is set up for one voice and you have to go through a learning curve with the software. So I spent about ten minutes setting up my profile, which included reading sentences and learning how to insert capital letters and punctuation, how to start a new line and more and then I transcribed two short interviews in slightly more time than it took to view them. Wow.

The method to get this done could be considered multi-tasking to the extreme. Dragon was open to transcribe into MS Word. I had a screen with an interview playing back. I just had to make sure that Word was the active screen and I would repeat word for word whatever the interview subject was saying. Even transcribed some nats.

The only thing better of course would be to plug-in all audio directly for transcription…but this sure beats the old way of listen and type quickly and then back up and start listening and typing again. For my purposes I don’t need impeccable accuracy…so rough drafts are workable for scripting purposes.

And now I’m ready for that next big project – a series of interviews and nats for DSES…and trust me, it is gonna go together oh so much faster than anticipated.

Marrying old and new…

…technologies that is.

So in my gear bags I have stuff that is more than a decade old that can be married with my new toys. We’re talking June-December weddings here folks. Analog and digital. Fresh out of the box and faded with time.

My mainstay tripod/now too heavy for everyday use (purchased in 2002) is firmly fixed to the short jib I got a year ago. Old heavy tripod is a perfect base for a jib. Can hold the twenty pound weights and give a stable platform for shooting.

Ditto the XLR cables and Electrovoice mike. Old technology…heck dating back to the seventies (not mine but the concept). It can be married to any out-of-the-box camera.

I guess what I’m getting at is that while new is nice and in some cases better, some old stuff just won’t die.

I have a Canon ZR10…picked it up on ebay a few years ago. I have fond memories of my first digital camera…same camera…that I got right after bailing from news in 2002. Just couldn’t live without a camera in hand and it was affordable at the time (on a rookie teacher’s stipend).

That little baby still works and I pull it out occasionally just for old times sake. It has an amazing zoom, audio inputs…and while the quality is most definitely NOT high def, it puts out an acceptable image.

My gear bags are a combination of new and old, fresh-faced and creaky-old. I keep what works and find ways to marry it with what is current to make images that matter.

So if you’re out there in dreamtime wanting the best and newest, realize that it’s only gear. What really counts is your vision…what comes out of using the gear. Videojournalism is NOT about having all of the toys. It is about telling the story.

What’s old is new…

…again. Retro can be all the rage…and if you haven’t skidded over the 30 year mark, then either sit back and enjoy the ride or skedaddle. If you’re looking back at fifty, enjoy the memories.

It’s happened again.

There’s a whole generation now who have not lived without something I could never have conceived of at their age.

I was the generation that thought transistor radios, cars and TV were just, well, ordinary. (My folks saw them as a foothold to the future.) But then man landed on the moon and we all saw stars and beyond. The universe was ours.

Next thing you know we have a generation who ho-hums space exploration. In fact, they see it as something their parents and grandparents did. None of that stuff for them…they’d rather send out the robots.

Back in the day we shot on something called film. Kind of a bendable plastic coated on one side with a thin veneer of silver hallaide embedded in a gel. (I’m hoping here that the lesson of silver tarnishing in reaction to sunlight hasn’t been forgotten.) The film came in various sizes to fit different cameras (think SD or compact flash cards). Sizes ranged from 8mm to 16mm to 35mm and upwards. While the upper ranges belonged to the pros (and were prohibitively expensive), the smallest sizes (8mm and super-8 primarily) were affordable enough for home movie-makers.

Unlike today’s memory cards which just sit there and absorb data, film was mechanically pushed and pulled through the camera. On a still camera it was frame by frame…one shot per frame, then push the crank to advance. In “movie” or “film” cameras it clattered through at 24 frames per second. To make things even more fun, if you had a camera that could shoot audio (aka single system sound), then the audio was recorded 28 frames BEFORE the visuals.

How do I know all this? Years of shooting news with a single system sound 16mm camera. Years of threading said film into said camera. Years of editing A, B, C roll (and beyond!).

So what is this vision from the past that is sparking this posting?

Bolex_D16_SimplifiedWhy the Digital Bolex of course.

In days of yore Bolex made some pretty nifty gear…small handheld numbers with a handle on the bottom for ease of use. And the new DB (Digital Bolex) has the retro look of its grandpappy. But with new guts and interchangeable lenses from what I can see.

So no more threading film…no more messy chemicals…just pop in the CF card and you’re out shooting in the style of yesteryear. It even has a 16mm mode (I gotta get me one of those!).