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.