Dog and pony shows…(oops) I mean generic boring stories…

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.

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