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.

hostwriterWhile the following site is not a job site per se, it is an important tool for VJs and other journos.  hostwriter is a site for collaboration and sharing and helping each other.  Plus, it has a Code of Ethics you must abide by in order to be a member…to both protect yourself as well as those you collaborate with.

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.

The lies you tell yourself…they lies they tell themselves…

As House infamously says, “Everybody lies.”

One of the “lies” of journalism is that journos are neutral – they don’t take sides.  They are objective.

Realistically objectivity is bullshit.

The difference between a professional journalist and a crazed blogger on a rant is a sense of their own weaknesses and an attempt to be fair.  

Think about it – when you tell a story.  When you delve deep into an interview to discover your character’s thoughts…you are doing it from the template of your own experiences and life.  So your questions are pre-formulated, based on your life experience and what you think your audience wants to or needs to hear.

And from the other side – if you let THEM control the story, you will get their personal take on who they are and what they do – and all the lies they tell themselves.

So a person you see as quiet and mature, may think that they are timid and inept.  Or someone you look up to as forceful and decisive may be brutally sadistic, but hide it. And others may see you as what you know you are not…it swings both ways.

Something to mull over as you head out on that next political story or while you’re shooting a rally. How much do you impose your will on reality…

Slowing down and speeding up…

Kind of contradictory terms up there. But such is life. While the metamorphosis of all things journalistic continues at a hippedy hop pace, I’ve pulled back into blissful retirement.

Too many years of wandering, searching, seeking and pushing…now is the time to take off and enjoy traveling the open roads with my life partner and love…my husband Ron.

And as we travel I’ll continue posting from time to time about our journeys or about whatever catches my interest. Life is too short to spend on a keyboard.

The importance of a presence…

20141213_094518…on the web, that is.

Lately I’ve been mentoring students and a few newbies to both videojournalism and video production.  Frankly they’re all pretty much rank beginners with the basics and a dream of getting better.  And of course, they all have a website showcasing their work.

But.

The websites are pretty much shotgun, not sharpshooter and well-aimed and focused.  They’re tossing it all out there without filtering.  The good, the bad, and the ugly are all on their sites.

Anything.

They’ve.

Ever.

Done.

Please spare me.  I don’t want to see it all – that is not only boring and a complete turn-off, but also not good for your odds of impressing a potential employer or client.  Those last two only want to see your best – what makes you stand out above the herd. What makes you the one they want to hire.

So winnow through your work.  Filter it down to your best one or two or at the most three pieces of work.  Label each story (or video) clearly, with information about your role in creating it…as well as whether it was a school project, a volunteer effort, or a paid gig.  Don’t be overly wordy (a sin I commit frequently).  Just a simple caption for each.

And speaking of writing…please remember basic English when writing.  Keep it simple, making sure your grammar and punctuation and spelling are spot-on.

Remember you are striving to work in a visual medium and everything about your site will be judged in an instant and will either attract or repel.  So stuff like color schemes and font choices do matter.  Photos do matter.  Words. Do matter.  Don’t post photos and words that are in conflict.  In other words (you know who you are) don’t say you are a journo and post a duckface and photos that imply you’d rather be in Tinseltown. Do not try to create an image that is not you…be real.  And please post your work – not just photos o you working. I honestly don’t care how you look. I want to see what you can do for me. Be who you are…a newbie with dreams.

And.

Again.

Keep it simple.

A few more items.  Don’t post your resume or all the world to see.  If asked for your resume, DO include references.  NEVER state that they are “available on request.”  Really?  So you want me to take extra steps to check you out before hiring you?

On that note – do this now, while you’re still in the prof’s mind.  Ask for (1) a recommendation letter based on what they know about you now as a student and (b) permission to use them as a reference for future gigs or employment.  If you wait two or three or more years, you’ll just be another ghostly body in their memories.  Unless you really really stood out (for good or bad reasons).  And choose who you ask to be a reference.  I gladly told all of my students I would recommend them – but they had to carefully consider what I would say about them.  Because I will not lie.  A number of kiddos really did think and back off from asking…they knew exactly how they had behaved and how much work they had done (or not).

In closing.  Have friends, mentors, teachers all check out your site and pick it apart.  Put on your rhino skin suit and take their advice as help, not hate.  While your besties might say it’s all good, they might be lying or just buying into your lies to yourself.  Listen to those who’ve been out in the big bad world and use what they tell you to fine-tune your web site.

So good luck with it and all.  And review and update your site as your skillset and experience improve.

Tah!

Addendum 3.08.2015
Wow – and just when I thought I’d seen it all – I haven’t. A local “producer” OMB (one man band) who has a great gimmick called “A Dolla for a Holla” where he pays passers-by a buck to say something in front of the camera…something positive for a program he is working on. Gets them to sign off on a model release so he can use their comments in said program. We had a discussion and I asked for his card with the intention of checking him out via his website. Um…no. No website. In fact – no web presence at all. No facebook. Googling his name, his show name, anything and he is invisible. I gotta tell ya, that if this is the new Marketing 101, then I’m clueless. As is his potential audience. (Oh – and no phone number either…apparently the ONLY way to track this enterprising young man down is through his email.)

Bite me…

So being the expert VJ and teacher, I never thought my words would come back to bite me. As in, “the only way to get good is to practice, practice, practice.”

SAMSUNG CSCIt has been a lifelong goal of mine to someday learn how to strum a guitar without scaring the livestock. My husband of many years has made that possible with a gift card – and I’m into month two of weekly lessons. It’s wonderful! I get the theory, love listening to the instructor (henceforth and in reality called Tommy) explain and expound and strum his guitar. It looks oh so very easy to do.

The truth is I’m so horrible now I’m not even good enough to be bad.

Looking back, I did a blog posting\ several years ago about keeping up with the changes in technology in visual storytelling…and the feeling you get when you can’t do something you know you can. That’s me right now with the six stringed instrument…my fingers either miss the strings or decide to take them all in. Working two hands in two directions trying to control which finger hits which string on the neck of the guitar with my left hand all the while the right hand is attempting to pick out a tune.

So I guess the advice today is to go out and challenge yourself to try something you have no clue about and see how frustrating it can be…makes me look more kindly on newbies and students who are learning how to hold the camera, manually ride focus and iris, get the sequence, correct exposure and good light and clear audio. Piece of cake for me…wish I could say the same for making music with a guitar…

Crushing dreams for being realistic?

We all have dreams. A better life. Being thinner, richer. Sometimes material things. Sometimes something else. Hopefully though we all have a way to balance our dreams with the real world and not spend life wallowing in regrets.

When I look back at my life I see that many of my dreams never materialized through either my own poor judgement or circumstances, but I don’t let it bother me. Much more than a twinge…and then I move on. I’ve been lucky enough to have two careers that totally absorbed me. Three girls who have grown into women I could never have imagined…like me they forged their own paths. And a husband who is so much a part of me that I can’t imagine life without him.

Enough about me though…here’s the rub. How do you explain to the upcoming generation how to balance reality with dreams?

I’m a cheerleader for our young people. Volunteer with high school and college age students, nudging them to excel. Mentoring more young people via the Internet, again nudging them to think about their choices. And I like to think I’ve never told a young person that they can’t do something. All things are possible. If they prepare themselves.

Now in the case of the high school students my advice is primarily take the right courses and focus on passing with a good enough grade they can move on to college and a career. In some cases I’ve actually told students they can flunk. Harsh? If you take a student who has flunked English or math or science from middle school forward pep talks don’t work. Tutoring can help but not with every student, especially if their life and home situations place barriers to becoming better. So I give them permission to flunk with the following advice.

Sure – flunk English. But you want to be an auto mechanic (or warehouseman…or beautician)? Then learn how to write a solid resume, learn how to write a business letter. Pick up a good solid workplace vocabulary…know the language of the career path you have chosen.

Sure – flunk math. But learn how to add up services and products to write a receipt. Don’t forget to include tax (a percentage of the total). Know how to write an estimate for repairs. Understand how to read your paycheck…not just the total or amount after taxes. Have a handle on all those niggling little details like FICA and state and Medicare (how big a bite those deductions take out of your hard earned money).

And now. On to college.

There are students who you know just naturally are gonna make it. They may struggle with this course or that course but they are willing to give it their best shot. Take the core hard classes and go into class with the intent not just of passing but learning. I am very proud to be acquainted with a number of these golden youth.

And then there are … the others. Those with a dream, but unwilling to be realistic. Those who just know they are going to be great but are unwilling to put in the time and effort to pay their dues at the bottom in order to earn their way slowly up the ladder to success. (Success by the way, as defined by me, is not money…but happiness in both your career and life paths.)

I run into them both on campus and the Internet. Had a discussion with a young man from India (much) earlier this morning. He tried to join a professional site I moderate which doesn’t allow students…after explaining that to him, he told me he really wanted to learn how to be a travel journalist…and after more probing, a travel cameraman. One – he is studying to be an engineer. He has no background of any kind in any phase of journalism. Not insurmountable, but his dreams are not going to happen soon.

And then more…he desperately wants to get away from home (and possibly his down-to-earth parents), travel to a foreign county (Europe or the US) and go to journalism school. And become a glamorous travel journalist/cameraman.

The implication that all a cameraman does is point and shoot. Anyone can do it. I heard that so many times over the years from folks with a home handycam…”Hey, I’ve got a Sony too. Bet I can do your job. How to I apply?”

Not. Gonna. Happen.

So more guiding…and explaining the complexity of the job. Shooting, research, scheduling, logging, transcribing, writing, logging, editing…all with the intent to pop out a concise visual story. He is much subdued but listening to the advice to consider going into engineering and working on his passion weekends. A paying job and a dream to work towards.

Meanwhile the on-campus students. The students who don’t “do” tripods. Or want to know manual controls. Just pick up a camera and wave it. Or sit in front of said camera (maybe with a shaky friend holding it) and pretend to be a celebrity interviewer. Forget about light, audio, exposure, sequencing, framing, writing, editing. It’s all in the moment.

Unfortunately that moment isn’t even their fifteen minutes of stardom. It is a momentary flash seen only by themselves and a few friends.

Yeah…the terminal termagant is crabbing today. Again…I never tell students they can’t. But also never lie to them and say they can…

Dreams are flights of hope and passion…but making them real takes dedication and work.

Afterthoughts added later…
Getting into a job as a videojournalist takes time and talent and work and to some extent luck. My crabbiness comes from seeing and listening to young people who think “anyone can do it”. Truth be told, anyone CAN do it. But to do it professionally (for pay) and in a style that compells people to actually WANT to watch you work (meanings strangers, not just friends and those who love you) takes more than a shaky hand, a dream, and being clueless.
And the journalist part is just as challenging. Knowing and understanding your legal rights. Being able to write in clear, concise English (or whatever language you own). Knowing what facts are and not “expanding” or “enhancing” them to make the story better.
Sure, I was a dreamer once. But I sweated blood and tears some days to even get in the door (which btw was pretty much closed to women in 1972 when I forged out into the work world).
Just remember all you need to do is work until you can’t move, learn until your head hurts, and aim for perfection.
Now that’s not too hard, is it?

It’s called death watch…

…the stories you go on “just in case”…

Routine almost to the point of boring.   Hop on over to Amanda Emily’s The Dope Sheet and check it out.

Addendum April 13, 2014. Just noticed how many folks are clicking through on the link above and think I’d better explain a bit. A lot of times news crews are given routine assignments that may or may not end with something on air/published. The intent is more to be present just in case something happens. There are crews routinely assigned to follow and travel with the President and other world dignitaries. Some days the images captured never go anywhere…but the crews are still there. Just in case. Think of past attempts to take down the President…those are the times having a crew on scene paid off. Think about the Hindenburg…crews on scene captured that tragedy. It’s a bet…a gamble…one you don’t even want to come true. But. Crews are there.