Phone-ography…

A paradigm (para-dime) is typical pattern or model of something.

One of the paradigms of visual storytelling has been a certain type of camera. For years these cameras were the domain of professionals…large, extremely expensive, totally amazing pieces of technology. It took big bucks to get one and you made big bucks if you had not only the technical knowledge but the aesthetic sense and storytelling ability to use one.

Then…the paradigm shifted in the early 2000s. The big boys still made big bucks with big gear…but suddenly there was a new class of camera…halfway between the little consumer cams and the big professional guns. The pro-sumer camcorder. It had many of the nifty features of the pro cams, such as good glass and three chips and professional audio inputs. Manual controls. Good stuff all around, although noticeably not really up to pro standards.

And these little baby-cams began to gain in popularity as more and more people began to use them for an audience who demanded more and more video. The digital explosion send shock waves across the planet with the better quality cameras and affordable non-linear editing programs brought a new technology into the hands of the citizenry.

Another paradigm shift is going on right now and we see it every day and don’t even think about it. Cell phones began sprouting up in the 1990s…then morphed into phones that could take pretty lousy still shots…then not-so-bad stills. Then by leaps and bounds these little wonders turned into do-it-all mobile devices. Talk. Text. Surf the ‘Net. Shoot stills – and video. Not just plain ole video and stills, but high def stuff.

And they are taking over. Some years back when I began this blog I did a posting on Dinosaurs Fighting or Survival. Times had changed and if the pros who shot news (both still and video) didn’t change with them, they were out a job.

But back then the pros were either flocking over to the new technology or resisting mightily. It was a threat to their way of life – what they knew and could do.

Then technology ramped up its game and the gear got so good that the definition of “professional” took on a whole new meaning as more and more folks acquired the new smaller cameras. It quickly became apparent that the size of the lens and the heft of the camera had little to do with the ability to communicate. What mattered (and still very much matters) is a sense of aesthetics and storytelling. AND knowing how to make the gear you are working with work with you to tell the most powerful story possible.

But even the pro-sumer cameras (and many consumer cams too) had the familiar look to them. Lens in front, kinda boxy and rectangular. LCD on the side. It still looked like a real camcorder.

Enter the new mobile devices…thin, flat and less than the size of the palm of your hand. No optical zoom and minimal digital zoom. A new style of shooting and storytelling came with these new devices.

No longer able to pull in a far-away shot, you now had to zoom with your feet (or arms) to get in closer. The camera is no longer part of your body (hold it close to keep it steady…tripod it, cradle it). The camera is now an extension of your arm…your hand. In order to get a variety of shots you really need to get intimate with your subject. As in, arms-length close. Or closer.

And the storytelling end has had to change too. Rather than full-blown packages (including interviews, variety of shots, lotsa b-roll) stories are simpler. One long shot of an event such as a parade or riot. An interview covered with b-roll of an event or meeting. Impressions rather than full explanation. These “impressions” are often paired on the Internet with text and more information, which together tell a full story. The audience can choose to view the video and get the background from the other resources available or just read the information or just view the video to get a sense of what happened.

I doubt very much that mobile devices are going to take over the visual storytelling world any more than consumer or prosumer camcorders took over from professional gear. What they do is open up an entirely new way and new possibilities in visual storytelling to even more storytellers.

Yeah – it’s nice to belong to an exclusive club. Been there. Done that. But the new wave of stories coming at us will open our eyes and the world even more. And can that be a bad thing?

Transparency: Co-author Larry Nance and I have been discussing how to include all levels of gear in our pending textbook,The Basics of Videojournalism. He is a big proponent of technology and not only keeping up with the latest, but staying on the cresting wave as it thunders across the ocean. So expect full inclusion of not only prosumer and consumer and DSLR…but also mobile devices in the book.

Update – forgot that an earlier posting has a number of examples of mobile storytelling (using a Kodak Playtouch). Check it out.

Getting my sea legs…

USS Makin Island (courtesy US Navy)

…took about the time it took to walk up the ramp and board the USS Makin Island at her berth in Pearl Harbor.

Now here is where I should insert swashbuckling tales of past experiences on the ocean and all of my adventures.  Um…no.  Embarrassing as it is to admit, all of my time in the past asea, with few exceptions, was spent occupying a three foot section of rail and feeding the fish my breakfast or lunch.  Whichever I ate last.

But this was a new day and a very new adventure.

Middle daughter Pearl’s ship was returning from deployment in the Middle East when she sent word that I could join something called a “Tiger Cruise” once the ship hit a safe harbor.  That would be Pearl.  Harbor.

Tiger Cruises are the Navy’s way of saying thanks for loaning us your (son, daughter, father, husband, etc) and letting us send them in harm’s way.  Here – you can hop on board and ride the final (safe) leg of the trip to home port with them.

So here’s my story, written as I rode the high seas.  Enjoy.

6.14.12

Thursday, June 14 began early when I rolled out of bed at five am.  Literally.  My bunk, at 8 feet long and about 2-1/2 feet wide was generous in every way except height.  If I’d tried sitting up, it would have been an awakening jolt, since I had less than a foot of headroom.  And since I was “ground floor” or bottom bunk, I rolled right onto the deck, about a foot below my mattress.

Welcome to life on board the U.S.S. Makin Island – the newest hybrid ship in the United States Navy.  For the nine days I will be answering reveille’s call each morning, reporting to duty stations, eating meals with sailors and Marines, and bedding down every night in my metal coffin as the ship makes its way across the Pacific, returning from a seven month tour of duty in the Middle East.

I’m on a Tiger Cruise, sponsored by my daughter, Pearl Green.  There are 264 other Tigers on board for this cruise.  Tiger Cruises began decades ago by the Navy as a way to welcome families on board ships and allow them to experience first-hand the life of military personnel at sea.

DC2(SW) Green is a Petty Officer 2nd Class (Surface Warfare) and has been with the Makin Island since before its commissioning in October 2010.  She has already sailed around the Straits of Magellan at the tip of South America on the Makin Island’s maiden voyage from Mississippi to home port in San Diego in the summer of 2009.

And I’m her 62-year-old mother, on board to observe both my daughter and my Navy at work.

The Makin Island is a monster of a ship, one size smaller than an aircraft carrier.  At 847 feet long and 118 feet at her widest, she measures almost the length of three football fields. Standing, the ship is taller  fifteen stories high.

The Makin Island is a bustling city afloat, with everything from a TV station to barber shop, to airstrip/flight deck, restaurant/mess deck and more.  The 1100 sailors who run and maintain the ship are joined by a contingent of around 1700 Marines.  Its mission is peacekeeping…to tour foreign ports and oceans, maintaining a presence…a position of strength, both for show and as a detriment to possible hostile action.  And ready to act, if need be.  (Unlike a cruise ship, this little lady comes loaded with weapons.)

First impressions were that functionality rules over aesthetics.  The driving force behind the design of the ship seems to be a melding of efficiency and tradition.  Electrical wires, gas lines, pipes run along walls and ceilings.  There are few square doors…they are mostly oblong.  And thankfully, as a concession to the many Tigers on board, the portholes leading between decks have been opened up so we can traverse the stairs with less effort.  Without the Tiger mix, ranging in age from eight years old to seventy-four, personnel would disappear through holes in the floor to access the stairs.

These “stairs” are more akin to ladders on land, tilted at close to 75 degrees.  “Ladders” are straight up or down, at 90 degrees.  Probably 95% of the human traffic I see each day sprints up and down the stairs…at times backing up three or more deep to wait their turn. 

There are several large ramps to accommodate moving large loads on carts and forklifts and elevators to move large loads from the main deck to the flight deck. 


Extremely heavy loads include jets and helicopters, which ride on two enormous external elevators.

Lines form, predictably, three times a day leading into the mess deck.  Breakfast was manageable – we were in early and sitting within five minutes.  Lunch was a long line snaking back at least fifty people, but moved quickly and had us seated in 30 minutes.  The CS/Culinary Specialist crew feeds the entire crew three times a day in a buffet line offering simple choices of main dish, sides, and drinks.

Life on board a Navy ship is built on routine…with bells and whistles announcing wake-up, meals, the hour, and musters.   Drills and true emergencies can shatter this routine. 

A “man overboard” announcement had all hands and Tigers scrambling to report to their respective shops for a head count.  


Even though this was a drill, it was taken very seriously.  Two members of the Engineering crew who were stationed elsewhere were tracked down and accounted for before a final all hands accounted for report could be filed.

I was introduced to the location and use of the EEBD/Emergency Escape Breathing Device built in to my bunk right after I stowed my personal belongings in a locker. 
In the event of a gas leak or smoke I’m to don it and make my way topside.  The EEBD gives me 10 minutes of oxygen to make good my escape. 

It’s things like this that remind me that I’m not really on a cruise…but cruising on a military vessel.  There are few comforts…other than seeing a daughter whose voice and emails have been our only contact for the past seven months.  And we’re heading home.  The countdown on board has begun and you can feel the excitement and see it in the smiles of crew, anticipating leave with loved ones. 

6.15.12

By day three on the U.S.S. Makin Island everyone had slipped back into their regular routine.  Today the reveille bell didn’t ring as softly, the wake-up music blared, and fewer sailors rose and dressed as urgently.  It appears that reveille at this stage of deployment is more a suggestion to get moving…and some sailors use the surplus time for sleep rather than eating breakfast.

That made life for us Tigers easier with fewer crowds in the showers and bathroom, not to mention the breakfast chow line.  After waiting in the long snaking lines for lunch yesterday, my daughter and I gave up on eating dinner in the mess hall, opting for some of her squirreled away stash of microwavable soup.

Once again we mustered in the Engineering Department where the First Officer gave the orders of the day.  While I waited my seatmates, Pam and George Carter from Colorado, told me a bit about their experiences on board and their son.  John Carter, I discovered, was the young blond sailor who was checking names off during the man overboard drill yesterday.

Pearl and I joined other Tigers and sponsors on the main deck, which had been set up as a giant show-and-tell display by many of the ship’s departments. 


We wandered from the Engineering display of paraphernalia used as part of their firefighting duties over to one of the open bays where Tigers were learning how to patch a broken water pipe, but more fun, getting a chance to go hands-on with a water hose.  


As luck would have it, the Carters wandered by and I got to watch Pearl walk Pamela through how to hold a fully charged fire hose while George snapped photos. 

We were out on one of the massive elevators, used to lift aircraft to the flight deck…suspended perhaps a hundred feet over the Pacific Ocean under a bright blue sky.  It was surreal.  The ocean this far out to sea is a totally amazing shade of blue, which I’d never seen before.  A pure blue, almost translucent, stretching to meet a paler blue sky with clouds far on the horizon. 

After the fire hose demonstration we continued to watch Tigers, both young and old, learning how to handle firearms under the watchful eyes of Marines.

Further back on the main deck mats were laid out and a dozen sailors were practicing martial arts.  I learned from Master of Arms First Class Lorenzo Garcia of Stockton that their duties include law enforcement and defense of the ship using small arms and hands-on combat.

Still full from breakfast, we grabbed fruit from the lunch line.  Pearl explained that often the fruit was whatever could be obtained locally…so today we had Asian pears, mangos, grapefruit, and blueberries.  At other times they had more exotic fruit such as dragonfruit, guavas, and starfruit.

While she sat handing out assignments to her crew, I worked on some videos and then headed up to Vulture’s Row to watch Flight Ops rev up the engines on some of the helicopters on the flight deck.  One chopper took off and passed by the ship several times before relighting on the deck.  

Every vantage point was crowded with Tigers and sponsors, enjoying another clear windy day upside.  Marines in brown camouflage and sailors in blue camouflage explaining the scene below or just relaxing in the sun together…an interesting juxtaposition of peaceful family life on a warship.

Pearl finally finished her duties and caught up with me and once again we headed into the bowels of the Makin Island. 

I was finding that there was a real mix of hard work and relaxation as the ship headed across the Pacific towards its homeport.  While the morning muster was formal, interchanges between supervisors and the work force were friendlier, to the point of banter.  Work was assigned, reports handed in, and occasionally a serious undertone would score the importance of certain assignments.  The mission at this point was to make certain all duties were completed before touching home base…otherwise leave might be endangered.

6.16.12

Navy time is sometimes confusing. 


The Tiger handout I received on boarding showed a 5K walk/run this morning at 8am…however times change daily and we didn’t check the announcements the night before, so we nearly missed the 7am gathering time to sign in along with dozens of other sponsors and Tigers.

Already on deck were a handful of Marines and sailors doing their PT (physical training).  The Navy has strict weight and body fat requirements and will crack down on individuals who do not stay within required parameters.

By 8am everyone had signed in and the event began with half of the runners heading towards the bow and the other half towards the fantail.  A brisk wind I’d estimate at 20-25 miles an hour slowed progress forwards but made walking to the back of the ship easy.

Events such as this one really highlight the purpose of the Tiger Cruise.  Fathers with daughters, mothers with sons, generations sprinting together or ambling side by side just enjoying some time together after a long separation.  

You could see the pride of Marine dads as they allowed their daughters to keep up with them…and Navy sons slowing down to let fathers keep up.  Or the young boy who used the heavy wind to fly past his Marine mother.

Once back at Pearl’s station one of Pearl’s officers told her to check the news because he’d heard of a fire between Stockton and Lodi. 

The Navy takes care of its own – and part of this is a system to enroll family members into their system so that the military umbrella reaches out to ensure family is safe.  This means checking in on family if there are floods, fires, or over events and if necessary, making sure they are evacuated.

After a tense fifteen minutes to enroll my husband into the system (he is still back home in the Lodi area) we learned that the fire was actually 35 miles east in the foothills.  A false alarm, but it was gratifying to know there was a system in place to give service members some peace of mind about their families.

The bond between the sailors in Pearl’s department is a big part of the support system that makes life bearable during extended deployments.  The Makin Island left back in November, just before Thanksgiving.  During the past six months former strangers have become friends and family.  Everywhere I go on this ship young people step aside or offer a hand.  They wait patiently when I have at times struggled with the steep descents and ascents.  Chairs are pulled out in offices.  My title is either Ma’am to people who don’t know me or “Mom” to the young people in Pearl’s office.

I came on board three days ago…and already I feel as if I’m home.

6.18.12

Sunday we began rocking and rolling as the Makin Island hit weather on the way home.  Most of the time the only movement has been a gentle tilting, barely noticeable.  Today it became very evident, with the tilt becoming at times a lurch. 

Sunday is the only day of the week when reveille is not sounded and sailors take advantage to sleep in late (or all day).  A “steel beach picnic” had been planned for the Flight Deck, but due to inclement weather it was held on the main deck.  Four long lines between two buffet tables with hot dogs, hamburgers, barbequed chicken, and spare ribs and all the sides.  A game of basketball went on to there rear of the deck.  Music blared.

Pearl and I chose to sit in the mess, which was only slightly quieter and then decided on an early bedtime. 

Reveille sounded loud and clear Monday morning and Pearl rushed through breakfast while I met a new Tiger – a retired Sacramento police lieutenant, now living in Arizona.  It seems every new Tiger I meet is from another state, so it was nice to talk with someone who actually knew where Lodi was.  So far I’ve met Tigers from Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Arizona, Texas, Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.

When I caught up with Pearl at her muster, she was telling her DCPOs (Damage Control Petty Officers) that there’d be extra clean up tonight unless someone confessed to trashing their working area the night before.  (She and another team member had swept and cleaned up before leaving and someone had messed up overnight.)

I then got a personal grand tour of the ship; from Medical (where I got some naproxen for my hip and knee pain) and then down six decks to the Central Control System where all ship systems are monitored.  This is how the Damage Control crew keeps an eye out for potential problems and monitor emergencies as they occur.  They can see and control everything from the septic system to water pressure in fire mains to hot spots on board.

Then it was up five decks to the access ladders to get four decks down to the main engine room, where I got to see both the gas and diesel systems and the main drive shafts for the propellers.  These are the only areas on board I’ve been that were not chilly…but comfortably warm. 

Back on the main deck Pearl perked up when she learned the ship’s mess was putting out free cases of water and Diet Coke for the taking.  Sailors from different departments were grabbing cases and heading down to their shops, so she grabbed two cases of water and handed me two cases of soda – the reaction down below was upbeat when the free supplies arrived.

So here we sit…with a happy crew around us awaiting their assignments for the day.  We are more than halfway home at this point and I’m ready to see land myself.  The thought of working on this ship for as long as these young people have – more than seven months – and for some, days without seeing the sky, is more than I can imagine.   What I can imagine is the explosion of bodies once the ship hits port and the crew is heading down the ramps to family and home.

6.20.12

Along about Day 8 the adventure began to become old.  The constant movement of the ship…the engine and ventilation noise…the bone-piercing cold and metal walls penetrated and made real what our sailors and Marines live with for months on end.  This is not a fun cruise, but day to day existence in a metal hull…with each individual performing their duties as part of a whole.

It is only now that I realize the yearning for solid land and home that our service men and women have and why with each wave we pass over and every minute that passes their smiles are broader and their steps lighter.

Along with the endless duties to keep the ship in perfect working condition and shipshape, aka clean, much is done to keep spirits up.  From Monday’s lobster tail dinner to Sumo wrestling to last night’s Bingo game…from the library and college classes available…there always seems to be an event or opportunity to forget for a few minutes where you are.

But only for a few minutes.

One thing I do know.  I will NOT be standing between any sailors on board when the gangplank is lowered and leave begins.  And not just because they deserve an unfettered leave, but also for my own safety.  I foresee a stampede to dry land in the near future.

6.22.12

I missed reveille for the first time this morning…or so I thought.  In reality Pearl and most of the other females I was bunking with had been up for an hour or more, ironing their dress whites, applying make-up and helping each other with their hair. 

Today is homecoming.

All of the sailors mustered on the hanger deck in their dress whites and then marched up the ramp to the flight deck.  It was time to “man the rails.”  Sailors marched around the edge of the flight deck until they were spread out within arms reach of each other, totally encircling the deck.  More sailors were stationed below on the catwalk and above in Vulture’s Row. 

It was cold and blustery and many of the young “tars” were shivering.  But everyone was breaking into smiles as we made our way through the channel and past the Naval Air Station.

We passed the U.S.S. Midway, now on display in downtown San Diego – with its Welcome Home sign.  Under the Coronado Bridge and towards Naval Base San Diego, and finally we were pushed up against Pier 13 by massive tugboats.

Below hundreds of family and friends waited and cheered.  Everyone broke for below deck once the formalities were over, quickly packing and grabbing bags and heading back to the hanger deck to get into one last line. 


The line out the door to freedom.

Being inside we missed another Navy tradition:  first hug, first kiss, and new dad. 

120622-N-FH966-180 SAN DIEGO, Calif. (June 22, 2012) Damage Controlman 2nd Class Jordan Bailey, who serves aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), greets his son after returning from the ship’s seven month maiden deployment. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David McKee)

Drawings were held for the first two, with two random sailors allowed off the ship before anyone else to greet their loved ones.  All new dads were next…getting first glimpses of children born while they were at sea.

Then it was time for the rest of us.

Out the hanger doors, down three flights of stairs and onto solid ground for the first time in ten days.  We passed through a guard gate and all around us sailors were greeting loved ones…and beyond the crowd was Pearl’s little sister Alexis, who grabbed and hugged her tight.

All that is left is the trip home for a relaxing night together.

Tomorrow is another day.  Pearl has a 24 hour duty starting early in the morning, so her true freedom does not begin until Sunday.  An interesting thought – that our soldiers and sailors live apart from family and friends, treasuring moments off ship and off base so that the rest of us are protected and can lead our lives free – often totally unaware of their service and sacrifice.

Yep.  It WAS an experience.  And what I experienced was just a moment in time compared to what our troops experience daily.

And now for the link to Videojournalism.  The story of what I did and why.   Some of the resulting videos are linked above…what you may not have realized is about 95 percent of what I shot on this trip was done on a Kodak Playtouch z10.  Yep – a point and shoot.

The book I’m co-authoring with Larry Nance will cover all bases/all gear from P&S through consumer and prosumer with a dash of DSLR thrown in.  While I’ve used the last three, I only had a passing nod to the P&S gear.

Until now.

And I will tell you that with all of the climbing up and down ladders ( I refuse to believe anything that steep is a staircase…sorry) having a camera I could shove into my pocket was a real savior.

In fact – here’s my gear kit for most of the shooting I did.   One small camera bag.  One Playtouch.  One mini-jack lav mike.   An extra battery.  And two teensy tiny super-cute lens adapters (wide angle and tele).  I took along a tripod but only used it once – and because the wind very nearly swept it away on the flight deck along with the camera, I returned to hand-holding the camera for security.

Shooting was a real lesson.  Cameras at this level are pretty basic – fixed lens with digital zoom.  So I had to zoom with my arms and legs.  No manual control.  Goodbye aperture control, while balance, focus.  Oh wait – there was a switch topside so I could take (mountain icon) kind of infinite focus shots or (flower) close-ups.  Not enough heft to help me balance it properly…I had to learn the correct way to hold it, all the while avoiding touching the touchscreen (which was very sensitive).

And my shooting style changed and along with it, my editing style.  While you can tell a full story with a variety of angles and shots and you can (thanks to the mike input) do interviews with good sound, you have to think it through and plan accordingly.  

My plan was to shoot a series of short nats videos to post quickly and have enough back-up video to eventually produce two more longer videos.  One on the trip itself and the other on how I used the camera on the trip.  And that’s where I pulled in my Canon HV30…to shoot some standups with me explaining the Playtouch and to get some shots the Playtouch couldn’t – good telephoto shots of aircraft flying by and LPACs coming and going.

By way of closing, I’d like to recognize PAO (public affairs officer) MCCS Donnie Ryan for tolerating my pleas for help and helping post videos and send postings while underway.  He struggled mightily with the ship’s balky Internet until he saw success.  Thank you for your efforts.

Summer somnolence…

Just as summer is heating up and it is time to slow down, my life is heating up and I can’t slow down.

Larry Nance, my co-author and buddy, is setting up the website for The Basics of Videojournalism while I keep hacking away at the keyboard, one chapter at a time. We’re on a deadline and can’t hit the brakes til we’re done. We meet weekly to keep each other updated and on track. His wonderful wife (a veteran educator) has taken on the duties of proofreading (thank you!!!).

My garden (gotta have some kind of personal life here) is growing. An experiment in recycling in turquoise, I went with raised beds made of commercial size pipes. We’re talking big suckers here – about two feet across and three feet long. Cut from the ends of pipes at a south Stockton company putting in water mains somewhere. Dig into the ground a foot or so, add some hardware fabric at the bottom to frustrate the gophers, a line for drip irrigation and tadah! A nice easy to keep up garden with seven plus types of tomatoes, two types of eggplants, four types of squash…and more.

Working on a couple of videos…my second for Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra’s program plus a new client who wants some sizzle for her website. And there’s more in the works – a trip planned with accompanying video and articles for my local rag, the Lodi News Sentinel

Why this posting though? Who knows – a reality check for myself perhaps? This blog is what got me going, made me dive into myself and get out of some pretty deep ruts…at times I thought I’d abandon it, but it kept calling me back. Blogging makes me view the world in a different light – thru the eyes of a lifelong newsie with a love of all things visual. My visual world has been rocked and torn apart as technology has outpaced the media’s ability to keep control of who it is. Journalists and photographers are trying to hold on to their livelihood and the ability to control and funnel the news as they see fit, refusing to allow the evolution of the revolution of communication.

I’ve been watching a thread on the NPPA facebook page, with the usual chatter about citizen journalists. How bad they are. How cheap newspapers (and TV stations) are for using their stuff. How the industry is suffering (from both a lack of quality photography and ethics and/more important to some – paying jobs). And somewhere in there the notion that journalism owns news began to disintegrate. The media doesn’t “own” news or even the right to cover or determine what is or is not news. News just is. It exists. And more importantly, it belongs to the audience.

Think about it – what would have happened on 911 if the broadcast media had charged people to see the attacks? And think now – how is that different from newspapers charging folks to buy their news?

Another angle – journalists boast that they cover both sides of issues. Truth be told – most issues have a plethora or sides.

So here I sit…dancing an intricate tap dance on a tall fence, trying to figure out what’s gonna happen next. I know all of the arguments on both sides, and agree with some of each side’s arguments. Honesty and ethics – yep. The tendency of big media to dictate news and, by choosing what to cover, to determine what people should hear/know/see – um, no. Concise beautifully written factual articles by BOTH pro and citizen journalists – yep. Slanted articles written with venom and malice – by both pros and citizens – never.

All I know is, I want my news and I don’t want to it to be entertainment, slipshod, biased, or too tightly controlled. And I’m willing to pay a reasonable price for it.

Now back to work on the book. I’m guessing both citizen (video)journalists and (wanna-be) professional videojournalists can benefit from it.

Do. It. Yourself.

We all have those little tricks up our sleeves…the tricks we use to fix it, shortcut it, or make it easy for ourselves.

Some years back I posted a quick little emergency “fixit” for those days when your last miniscule lav windscreen disappears. At the time I was experimenting with using my computer with a camcorder plugged in to see if I could record “live” into iMovie.

It worked. The way I shot the video I mean. And the trick works pretty well too. All you’re doing is creating a dead zone above the mike head that keeps wind from hitting the head.

Fast forward six years to today…or rather earlier this year. I needed a way to fix my Lectrosonics wireless receiver to my Panasonic HMC150. The body is so compact and nearly every surface has dials or gizmos that I couldn’t figure out where to attach the reciever. Out of desperation I would stick it in the hand grip…or pocket it tethered to a long enough XLR cable. Awkward.

Looked around on the Internet, but most of the fixes either didn’t look like they’d work with my camera or were way too expensive. So I did what any sane person with too much time on their hands would do…I diddled and daddled and did some thinking to boot and came up with my own gizmo.

The solution was both effective and affordable. One two by four inch piece of plastic, about 3/8 inch thick. One cold shoe attachment. Industrial strength Velcro.

I’ll make a video later on…but here’s the drill. Countersink a threaded hole into the plastic. Fill said hole with super glue and screw in the cold shoe. Wait for it to dry. Attach Velcro to fit. Put mated piece of Velcro onto your receiver (or whatever else you want to attach to the camera).

Cost: assuming I could have bought just enough for this one holder, probably less than $10. As it was, I bought enough plastic for four holders (around $14), five of the cold shoes at around three and a half bucks each, and the Velcro roll ran nearly $15. The super glue I had lying around the workshop.

What would I do differently? I got the cold shoes cheap on Amazon.com. If I do it again, I’d probably go for more heavy duty shoes…I can tell the ones I got are not sturdy enough for long term use.

Oh – and once I went to all of this trouble, I found exactly what I needed (same basic design, but metal) over at B&H.

So – two of my tricks are out of the bag…and my partner in crime, Larry Nance, is working on more fixits, make-its, and shortcuts for our book, The Basics Of Videojournalism. The OMB, VJ – the current day Jack (and Jill) of all trades.

Reeling ‘em in…

Talk about time travel. Ten years ago I hung it up (or so I thought) and moved from lugging a camera and all that entails to running a zoo…oops, I mean teaching. No more violent winters or simmering summers…wading hip deep in flood waters…chasing crafty politicians. I was set. Complete climate control and lots of eager young minds to imprint.

That too became history when I retired in 2010. Then (after a callback) again in 2011. Um…maybe this year I’ll get it right. But I AM retired. Got that?

I sure didn’t. It seems I can’t sit still. Sure, I garden. Do the occasional volunteer gig. But just plain life seems to bore me. (Which may explain why I’m sitting at the kitchen table at 3am.)

So over the past few months I’ve been plotting my reincarnation, bringing in the best of both of my former lives. LOOK! Faster than a granny in a wheelchair! Able to carry heavy thoughts and run with them! Wilier than even Wiley Coyete himself! It’s … well, it appears to be an old lady with a camera.

But old is only old when you feel it.

I’m forever young in mind and spirit and to prove it, I’ve (finally) got a demo reel together. In this biz you can’t prove anything unless you show it. So here’s my show and tell for 2012. May do some tweaking…may not.

2012 Cyndy Green Demo Reel

Now if you’ll get out of my way, I’m heading for the high hills to see if I can keep up with a group of disabled skiers…

Add-on
The lesson here for all of you aspiring VJs? You can’t get a job unless you can prove that not only you can do it, but you’ve done it. The “getaway” reel has been a standard in news since I first set my sights on a job in broadcasting. My internship at KFSN/Fresno lead to a weekend stint at KXTV/Sacramento, which in turn lead me all over the place. Yeah, I got hired a couple of times based on attitude and rep – but I had the reel to back me up. The trick is to keep it short ad sweet and keep it compelling and moving. This is my first demo reel in – oh heck – 15 or 20 years. And yeah – that first short fire clip WAS shot on Beta last century. But I haven’t been out on a breaker in a while…see?

Final note – I’d like to credit Kathleen Newell with some shots I didn’t shoot: that absolutely spectacular wide shot of the mountain with the snow reaching to the lake, the group of kayakers passing by, and the lone kayak in the middle of the lake. We were working together on this gig/she had the shore and I was on a boat…but she has the eye!

Whither to aim…

…high?  Low?  In between?

Like I used to tell my students, you gotta know your target audience before you even think about creating a visual story.  Well, the same thing applies to writing a book.  In this case, The Basics of Videojournalism.

Our original demographic was high schools…then we realized there was a wider potential audience, so we have adapted to that.  And we’ve also finally settled on some of the finer points about our audience, including what level of gear they need.

Roughly we’ve broken gear into four basic groups.

 

1. Point and shoot cameras. Flip type cameras with no zoom or a very short distance zoom (or worse yet, optical digital zoom) and no microphone input.

2. Consumer level camcorders with one smallish chip, a decent zoom and no microphone input.

3. Prosumer/low end professional level camcorders with three chips and either XLR or mini-jack mike inputs.

4. DSLRs.

So we are taking aim at a target audience who fits in levels 2 & 3 – but we don’t plan to forgot those above and below. While the bulk of the learning will cover all levels of gear, most of the technical advice will help out those in the middle. However, we plan to have specific advice targeting the P&S and DSLR crowds.

For instance if you’re doing an interview with your handy dandy three-chipper and a wireless mike, no worries. Good clean audio, on a tripod, great composition. But what if all you have is a burning desire to learn and a P&S? We got ya covered with shooting tips which will work for both you and your gear. DSLR? Different issues completely, but once again, we’ve got ya covered with workarounds to get good audio and more.

This is more than a generic how-to book – I’ve got decades of broadcast news in my past, plus a short gig shooting videos for a newspaper AND I know my way around a lesson plan pretty well. And co-author Larry Nance has the practical technical background balanced with an artist’s heart and soul (and tempered by a very hard business head). So stick with us – teachers, because we WILL have lessons to help your students learn. And students too – cause what could be MORE fun than having fun learning?

Shooting it out…

Well wasn’t THAT fun?

Louis Maratinez/photo by Larry Nance

Yesterday Larry Nance and I moseyed on over to our local community college campus in search of a good backdrop to shoot illustrations for The Basics of Videojournalism and got more than we expected. Former McNair broadcasting student Louis Martinez and Larry’s son Amani accompanied us as both models and assistants. We shot Louis shooting an interview with Amani…then shot Louis walking (very proudly) with my HMC150 and tripod. Got shots of Amani in bad and better light.

Everyone pretty much ignored us until a middle aged lady stopped, pulled out a point and shoot and started pointing and shooting. We stopped for a minute to chat and discovered we knew each other – former (Stockton) Record reporter Paula Sheil is now on staff at the college and is researching and getting ready to set up some multi-media classes. (She got shots of us because she wanted to show students who used multimedia – little realizing that, well a couple of us have out of college for a while.)

All this for the Beta test of the Shooting chapter of the book. Still aiming at late spring/early summer to finish the writing and get the rest of the visuals.

Two lessons our young charges picked up yesterday: when shooting, find a safe home for your gear. Meaning, if you are lugging a lot to a location, find a well-lit spot you can keep an eye on while you are shooting. Protect the gear. We stored excess gear behind a statue in the middle of an open grassy area. If anyone even began to walk up the rise we’d see them. Second lesson – TALK to people. We sent Louis and Amani out to do interviews…but the bigger lesson was when Paula stopped and we talked to her. With luck she can become a resource for us and maybe she’ll even consider our book for use in her classes (fingers crossed).

So what’s the trick to getting good?

Hrumph! As co-author Larry Nance and I work our way through our notes and continue with the task of writing The Basics of Videojournalism, memories of blog postings past resurface. I’ve cut and pasted the guts of one such posting, which was the result of one too many still photographers or wanna-be’s asking me for the secret of shooting great video.

Those in the know, know already. Once you have the knowledge – once you know what to do – YOU HAVE TO PRACTICE. Yeah. Right. Good old fashioned get your hands on the gear and work with it until it becomes an extension of your body. There are no secrets…there is NO other way. Somewhere between year one and year four-ish you will no longer think about anything but the story – the images – what is in front of you. The camera, tripod, lights will be ancillaries of your brain and body. Your hands will be able to see and will automatically direct the fingers how close/how far to zoom in. The tripod will magically find itself set to the precise level you need it at. Aperture…depth-of-field…shutter speed. All part of your DNA.

Initially getting it all right is going to take time. You resist using a tripod cause it takes time to set up. In the field you think audio sounds great – you can hear it okay in your headset. And you can see your subject so the light must be fine. Right? WRONG! Don’t rush through your story and cheat your audience. They (and you) deserve your best every single day…every single shot. At first you’ll feel as if you have a weight attached to you. Time…time…time…it takes time to get each of these elements done properly. Time to take out the sticks and set them up. Time to check out the light and move your sticks over a bit to get better light or pull out the stand light and umbrella and find an outlet and light your subject. Time to attach the mike and check audio levels. Time to really look at the story and get more than the obvious shots. Time to see the details that will really impact the audience. Time to think and do it right.

And it’s not over in the field. Now you’re back editing and you have more tape and more choices, cause you shot more than you did before. Your tape looks and sounds cleaner, so you aren’t straining to hear the bad audio that sounded so good in the field and sounds like crap in the quiet of the edit area. Nice. You begin editing and suddenly you realize you can really edit…you’re not just covering words with pictures or putting in a great shot just because you have it. You are creating a visual story with an establishing shot and details. You start getting excited and then look at the clock…and deadline time is coming up fast.

At some point all of this will click. Tossing up your sticks will be as effortless as turning the camera on. You’ll always keep the tripod plate attached to the bottom of your camera for quick and easy mounting. You’ll look at light as you enter a room and automaticaly set up in the best area…or put up your reflector or light/umbrella without thinking. At the same time you’ll have the mike out ready to clip on to the interview subject. While you’re shooting the interview, you’ll be visualizing your shots for cover. With time, all of this will become so natural and effortless you will forget you never did it before…and once again, you’ll be concentrating on what is most important: telling the story.

Sigh…yeah. That’s it. And now you know the secret you have a choice to make. How badly do you want it?

Going in circles, biting my…

…well, not fingers.  Work on The Basics of Videojournalism progresses.  The focus this week is to get the chapter on shooting done, complete with illustrations.  Those we take care of tomorrow with former McNair broadcasting student (and someday film cinematographer) Louis Martinez, who will be acting as our model for illustrations for the book.  Author Larry Nance’s son Amani will be helping out too, being interviewed on camera.  

All the while Larry is snapping the stills I will be shooting video.  Yeah, this is gonna be one interactive book.  We’ll not only show you with words and pictures how to do it, there will be a DVD (or two) with demonstration video and raw videos to show what you should be shooting (steady, well exposed, good light, etc).

Problem is…the more we write, the more we realize we need to write more.  

Shooting was supposed to be a pretty basic chapter that has now expanded, is growing, and is taking on its own life.  It seems to me that too many “how-to” books pretend to tell you “how-to”, but don’t really.  So when Larry and I say, “This is how to…” we plan to show the basics and then some. Read, look at the photos, view the video showing HOW to, work with raw video files to see how it should look. Interact and learn. One thing I learned in years of teaching is that there are different learning styles…and I suspect a lot of folks who want to learn video are visual and kinetic learners – they learn by seeing and doing.

Of course all of the above is creating more and more work and research. But taking into account Larry’s personal knowledge base (which is expansive) and all of my musings and blogs, we’re off to a pretty solid start.

The Zen of Editing…

I’m posting videos two and three up top here/read the backstory below. As soon as video one is cleared for public view, will put it up also.

Zero1 TechSoup
Apparently I can’t embed this one/so here’s the link: Click Here.

Zero1 Cisco

There is absolutely NOTHING like a pending deadline to get those creative juices running.

I have two videos and both are due tomorrow. Due to factors beyond my control, shooting wasn’t completed until Saturday and then life got in the way of editing. So at 6am this morning I dove into the projects.

Neither of these is scripted by the way – they’re both for an arts organization in San Jose and I have plenty of good interview sound (12+ minutes of edited-down bites) and cover shots (mine and the ahem…stuff they provided/more on that later). Plus I’ve got a whiz banger of a college student trying to prove his creds by creating a music bed for me. Oh – and I already jammed together a short demo for both them and a contest last week. But I want both of these vids to be new/different.

So how do you produce a video or two on deadline without a script? It helps that I interviewed the three main players with the organization and got not only great sound bot a sound understanding of what they’re doing. It also helps that they’ve given me a lot of freedom to pull this off (no bosses hanging over me nitpicking away at my every thought and edit).

My first goal is to lay down the audio bed for the one minute version. Plus a drifting logo. Done. That defines my time constraints – and I like to be right down to the nanosecond on that.

Right now I’m logging the sound – I already pulled the relevant bites and am transcribing and noting TRT for each. Then it’s off to the kettle for another cuppa tea while I read over the transcripts and mull over my strategy. I’ll grab a series of strong sound bites and play with them and the music bed…then slam in some strong b-roll. That should take care of v id1 in a few hours.

The longer and more challenging project has to be in storytelling mode and three to ten minutes long. More on that later…

(About the “aham” above…while the videos provided for b-roll from my arts org are okay, they are not professionally shot, although I will say one had an pretty good editor. I had no raw footage, which is my preference. Plus downloading standard def youtube videos is not my idea of image acquisition. Not to mention the issues of using hi def and standard def in the same project…but we can make this work. You do what you have to do.)

Day Two: Saved! My volunteer music creator came through early this morning (well, he emailed it last night) and I was able to drop the music bed in in place of the old one. It sings and zings! Trying to showcase a complex organization in a minute or less is a challenge, but one I’m pretty sure I pulled off. Music bed/sound bites, and b-roll and stills, all woven together into a tight little bundle. Into the Dropbox by 9am and on to video #2.

Now when I’m doing a series of related vids and know I’ll be using the same resources I take an easy shortcut. Stole the sound bites from the Artshots video and copied to video timeline #1 from yesterday. After logging new sound, I marked and popped the new bites into the same timeline and then created a new sequence for my final video project/the one I’m working on now and moved a copy of all bites over to that timeline. Saves a lot of time and grief.

Each of these videos has to be a bit difference. Artshots video had to be a 90 second sizzler. #2 video (for TechSoup) had no boundaries except it had to run about a minute. #3 video (for Cisco) can run up to ten minutes long…which is nice. I can just pick a pace and edit along until it is done – and right now I’m hanging in there at about five minutes. Just about right. Once the flurry is over (say about a month from now) I’ll link to all three so you can see how they went.