When you are no longer a journalist…

Comes the day when we all have to retire…from work.  At that point are we still journalists?  Or former journalists?  Or do we morph into something else as we settle into our new lifestyle.

My life is divided into segments.  Child.  Student.  Photographer.  Broadcast news cameraman.  Teacher.  Freelance VJ.  And now retired…and no longer a journalist (although I still shoot stories and post them online for myself and area non-profits).

So I’m taking up a label my bud Kathleen has been using for years.  She got it right.  Shes a Visual Storyteller (aka VS) which really is the same as a VJ with, I think, more wiggle room.

…let the storytelling continue and never end…

Indelible…

There are some people who pass through your life who leave an indelible impression which forever changes who you are and will become. In my case it was Delta College photography professor Edwin Schwyn, who took an extremely shy little high school girl with an unabashed passion for photography and gave her a breadth and depth of technical technical knowledge that would sustain her throughout her career. I’ve thanked Ed several times over the years but he has moved to the back of my mind in recent years. However today at the Stockton Arts Week event I was hosting who should wander by…as remarkable as ever.

Do Not Go Gentle…

…into that good night.  A poem read in high school that stayed with me…

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas (1914~1953)

The thought of growing old when in my teens seemed a remote possibility.  Almost as much as the thought of once again being young seeming even more unbelievable.  But in age I ponder how to use the time left…to do it wisely, wildly?  To strike out on new adventures or continue in a comfortable rut or find a middle ground.

Thomas’s poem seems to want the aging to rage and fight against the final night.  But the passion should be more about pushing one’s creative limits with a blinding passion that re-ignites love of life and all that make it worthwhile.  Yes, anger is an emotion – strong one.  But it is also a destroyer, not a creator.  And I choose the passion of creating.  In my case creating stories visually.

While I doubt that I can ever truly lay down my camera, I seem to use it less and less on on a day to day basis.  But I still love the art and craft of storytelling and seem to be seguing more and more into discussion and demonstration – not so much in the learn/teach mode as share and explore.  My visualization is moving from the nuts and bolts of wide, medium, close-up to a sense of light…dark…motion…feeling.  A sequence of emotions that join together in an attempt to communicate.

I have something new to play with at a pace more suited to my age and abilities that will still allow exploration of the world and its inhabitants and my first loves.  Seeing and communicating what I see so that others may share the vision.

Digging into the archives 5.5.16

Yep…I must be bored.  Again.  Decided to go back in time and start re-posting some of the oldies but goodies.  Shake things up a bit and maybe re-find my love of writing by getting some inspiration from when it all clicked.

So we’ll begin with two from 2006.  My first blog posting.

Hello world!

Plus announcement of retiring from news.

Goodbye to news October 2002

In reading (and re-reading) the latter I find myself amazed at the changes in the craft of creating visual stories over the past forty years.  From a cumbersome chemical-based process to high-tech and digital.  Wonder how an old dog would do in the modern mix at times…

If anyone has a favorite or topic they’d like to see shoot me a message or comment.

Invisible work…

Videojournalism or reporting visually can make you highly visible.  There ya are:  camera in hand, mike out.  You’re gathering news to put up…somewhere.  On the web, on TV, whatever.

So folks see you with that gear and think, “Hey, I can do THAT!”  Piece of cake.

That’s the visible part of your job.

The invisible part, kind of like an iceberg, is 80 or 90 percent submerged where no one can see it.

Like:  how do you choose a story, an angle, which questions to ask/which to keep and consider asking.  Which shots to get.  What you DON’T shoot.

And…editing.

The invisible part of the job.

From what I’ve experienced, shooting can be the flashy easy part.  And for every hour put in shooting, you may have another hour (or more) piecing together those random clips into something cohesive.

And (to the uninitiated) there are more layers.

Typical assignment.

  1. Get assignment and figure out your angle
  2. Make calls/email and set up interviews/b-roll
  3. Shoot
  4. Log – transcribe NATs and interviews
  5. Write script
  6. Edit

1-2-3 might take three or four or more hours.  Four and five maybe another hour.  And poor old editing gets whatever is left.  If you’re working with a reporter, pray that they remember to toss you enough time to edit the story together properly.  If you’re a one man band, don’t box yourself in.  Allow time to edit.

And for those who think it all comes together miraculously…think again.  An iceberg is a pretty thing, but can be deadly.  Especially come deadline time.

Time traveler…

I pulled into the parking lot and the first memory hit.  A bunch of drunken fishermen just before the 11 o’clock show pushing the buzzer non-stop.  They’d caught a 6 foot sturgeon and they wanted it on TV.  Now.

Second memory as I got out of the car.  Being walked to my vehicle after the eleven many nights by the custodian.  Homeless men on their way to the shelter often got tired and would crawl into any car that wasn’t locked in hopes of spending the night in relative warmth and safety.

1974.  KXTV.  Channel 10.  My first gig in news.

And my oh my how things have changed.  The tiny lobby is now bigger than the old newsroom.  The hallway that ended a bit beyond the newsroom goes on and on and twists around in a building that seems four times the size of the old station.

And the technology.

I was visiting today to check out the weather sets (aka greenscreens or chroma key sets) to see how they’re lit to help out in a similar but vastly smaller setup at the Stockton Children’s Museum.  Here’s what that looks like right now.

SAMSUNG CSC
Stockton Children’s Museum Channel 10 Room

You can see the hot spots…something we’ve been battling.  The lights are in strips…maybe a dozen LED bulbs.  We’ve tried diffusing and blackwrap to control them but it kept coming back to intensity and positioning.  Too much in some areas and not enough on the bottom.  Kind of figured out we needed softer lights, thus the visit to the present news set in Sacto.

Now I’m gonna toss a bunch of photos of their set up so my electrical guys can see how it looks.

Simple solution.  Fluorescents and we can work in the tight space at the museum…don’t even need the high studio ceilings to make it work.  And they use the same lights pretty much for the chroma wall and talent.  Three big grids front and center…placed as far back as our wall.  They also hung a couple of smaller lights to hit the lower corners of the screen.  Plus some lights coming in over the back of the wall to backlight the talent.

Fortunately I have a bunch of old shop lights I can experiment with to see if it will work…then can let the electricians get to work and do their magic.

But now back to memory lane.

Ward Koppel (morning show producer) lead me around the building through the news sets, newsroom, photographers’ room, edit bays, control room and master control.  Where bodies used to thrive and work as a team, much has been automated from robotic cameras to a reduction of maybe 8 people in the control room to two now.

Shooters are pretty much Videojournalists/MMJs now using camcorders they can dock directly in the edit bays.  TVU units make live shots both a challenge and more spontaneous.  There’s a GoPro locker and each shooter has their own locker for gear.

Photos in order of appearance.  Control room, newsroom, newsroom small set, another newsroom view with assignment desk, larger newsroom set.

And since my former nickname was “Scanner Mama” a new toy – a scanner that can handle the trunk system and can be programmed to recognize signals whenever you change locations.  Mmmmm!

20160321_084625

Gonna finish this up now with a dive into the deep past.  Apparently Channel 10 celebrated 60 years on air last year and there are photos that tell the tale of its history posted all over.

Some of it recognizable.  First up – Bruce McCormick, followed by my first reporter Rich Iberra.  The cluster of photos has only one person I worked with – Creighton Sanders, sports director in the 70s.  And my first and favorite anchor, Dick Cable.

20160321_090004

A somewhat shaky shot from before my time of Governor Pat Brown.

More photos with folks I knew and worked with or against (other stations) over the years.

And the mystery photos.  Who is that lady?  Why is that cameraman rappelling?  And who the heck is the cowboy who apparently was in a lot of photos way back when connected with the station.

It’s been a good day.  I learned a lot, reminisced a lot…

…and now on with life.

Drifting with the current…

Over the past decade I’ve been toying with making fiction stories…not news, but actual films.  It began when I was teaching high school broadcasting and had my students team up to enter the 48 Hour Film Project 48 Hour Film Project.

Then after I retired from teaching I joined up with some talented teams as a crew member.

This year for the first time since leading my students I was Team Leader for a film done at the San Jose 2015 48 Hour Film Project…which took city winner honors. Which is why this week is being spent in Atlanta at the international 48 film festival – Filmapalooza.

Enjoy the trailer and movie. And let me know what you think. Our chops are no where near good enough to take any prizes here but still I’m proud of the cast and crew.

 

And so it ends…and so it begins

CyndyMemorial.2 I began this blog way back in 2006 as a creative vent and educational site. Over the years I’ve seen the VJ model go from the original OMB (one man band) working in a bureau and overloaded with film or tape camera, sending in their raw media via bus or driving it up to the main station for editing…to the first intrepid souls who ventured out with a laptop and dinky handycam…to today’s full blown VJs working in markets from miniscule to major.

What was once a necessity to get news from far flung regions has become a staple part of the news scene. You can argue the good, bad and ugly of the model…and trust me there are good VJs, really really bad VJs and downright don’t wanna look at their stuff ugly ones. But you can’t push back the tide. And VJs being lighter and faster are riding the waves into the future.

So this is a kind of warm farewell. I’ve said about everything I need to…although it is possible from time to time another posting may appear. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Take care.

If I were teaching the basics…

…these days, I’d change out my old lessons plans a bit.

Used to be I’d review the camera, assign the seven basic shots, move on to a short stop action assignment, then an autobiography.  Each of these took the beginning student from nowhere through working with the camera and editing program on to more complex assignments (full bio included interviews, narration, on-camera segment, mixing music with narration).

There were mini-lessons between each of these assignments…lectures and demonstrations to edge the students towards good habits.  And I turned out some pretty darn good shooters and editors.

But now I’m out of the education game and back to working the occasional gig, in talking to producers and others on the pro side, I’m hearing (as discussed in past posts) some talk about a lack of knowledge of some of the other basics.  Plus I’m seeing an awful lot of folks searching this site for some help…it appears they know they need to learn more but aren’t sure what it is.  So here’s the new game plan…were I to be fool enough to go back to work.

One.  Always review gear before allowing students to use it.  Review and test.  What is aperture?  Where’s the lockdown on the tripod plate and how do you release it?  What’s the difference between optical and digital zoom?   Point to and name each of the manual controls on the camera.

Two.  The seven basic shots (wide, medium, close-up, extreme close-up, pan, tilt, zoom) with a kick:  require that these shots be done to create a sequence.  A sequence is a series of shots that creates a mini-scene or action in a movie or news story.  So the sequence might work like this:

  • Wide shot of students sitting in a classroom
  • Medium shot as one student stands up
  • Pan following student walking to the door
  • Extreme close-up of hand grasping doorknob
  • Shot from outside of door – close-up of student’s head as door opens and reveals him
  • Zoom out from inside classroom showing student exiting and door closing
  • Tilt down from open sky to student walking away

As with the original seven basic shots, when edited the assignment must have a title, each shot must be labelled with a short description, and there must be closing credits.

Sequencing is a critical skill…one that should be early embedded and always with the student for all future shoots.

Animation would be skipped entirely or left as an extra credit assignment once all others are done.

Three.  Now I’d add in a combination audio/lighting assignment.  Again, these were included as mini-lessons in my original teaching scheme…but again, I’m finding out that they are skills that are not always present in the newly emerging group of wanna-be videographers.  The light shots are pulled from a photography class I taught after retiring – but they apply to video as well.

  • Two shots from what I call The Hand Tip, which shows how to find the best light.
  • Then shoot ten seconds of each of the following:
    • Subject with full sun on face
    • Subject with sun coming over back (backlit)
    • Subject backlit with fill from a reflector (or white board)
    • Subject in open shade
    • Bad lighting (flare, exposure issues, whatever)
  • Test your camera for audio, as follows.  In each shot, have your subject count to five in an even, clear voice.  You can either do this outside or inside, preferably in a quiet environment.
    • Reach out and touch subject on shoulder – that is how close you will stand to them.  Shoot head shot with audio.
    • Walk back two paces or to around six feet and shoot countdown again.
    • Walk back two paces to around ten feet and shoot countdown again.
    • Finally, walk back to around 15 feet and shoot countdown.
    • Now attach a mike to subject and shoot from 15 feet.
  • Edit as follows:
    • Title page:  Light and Audio Assignment
    • Shot of hand as it reflects the sun.  When the two best lighting points are hit, put up a title that indicates the sweet spots.
    • Shot of person walking around camera, showing light changes.  When the two best lighting points hit, put up a quick title indicating sweet spots.
    • Label and place the five shots of subject in different lighting situations.  Choose one and place title explaining why you think it is best.
    • Label and place five shots with audio test.  Label with distance for each shot, then choose one and place title explaining why you choose it.
    • Closing credits

I’ve found with students that I can lecture and lecture and talk til I’m purple…but if I let THEM make all of the mistakes I made years ago, then they can see for themselves the difference between the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Where would I go next?  Well, that all  depends on where they want to do or what you’re teaching.  Production, videojournalism, filmmaking…they all begin with the same foundation and then take divergent paths.

Four.  Sticking with videojournalism, I’d assign as follows:

  1. VO – the everyday “voice over” video story.  Cover an event such as a parade or street fair and shoot and edit a thirty-second video that allows the audience to get a feel for the sights and sounds.
  2. SOT – sound on tap.  This can either be an interview or a NATS (natural sound) story.  Keep it to a minute or less with the driving force the sound.  If an interview, it must have two segments with a cutaway shot to cover the jump cut.  NATS could be a band, ducks in a pond…an so on.
  3. VOTSOT – combines the two.  Use a combination of visuals and either an interview or NATS.  Ten seconds of VO, fifteen or twenty of SOT and another twenty of VO.
  4. PKG – the whole enchillada…the full scale package with narration, interviews, stand-up (piece to the camera), and NATS.  Telling a story in a precise and clear manner.

Students would have to adhere to the requirement of NOT directing action or characters at all.  In news you shoot what’s there and don’t direct people.  It’s real life.

I’m not getting into the details of each of the above much at this point…but if you’ve watched enough news or taken a basic class or two, you know what these are.  Maybe at some point in the future if I slow down enough to write another post there’ll be more.

And with that, I’m back into retirement and back on the road.

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