Skillset for success…

cropped-200-seamore-bear-intvw-2.jpgBeen doing some gigs with a local producer and on the road we often discuss the woes of the world with slant on video production. She tries to hire local and has worked with seasoned pros and local university students and has seen large gaps in what said students don’t know. So here’s a quick primer on the skillset you need to get started in video…be it production or news.

Attitude. This is one of the top concerns…the know-it-all newbie who has just acquired thousands of dollars worth of book learning but is lacking sadly in essential areas. Coming in to a job with attitude is a killer for the employer. Courteous and humble works oh so much better and will get you a return gig more than likely.

Speaking of schooling…all too often colleges are heavy on theory and light on reality. Skills such as shooting and editing can be taught but they must be fully assimilated in order for them to do any good. What that means is daily use of said skills…not a story or two in a semester. One skims the surface while the other drives knowledge into the very physical core of the student.

And shooting – please don’t go all artsy fartsey and say that you actually wanted the shots to be wavering and shaky because you “don’t do” tripods. Use. A. Tripod. For Every Shot. Until you learn how to glide like an eagle or use a steadicam, stick to the sticks.

Please understand how light works and how to work with light. Know the basic rules of composition…and when to break them. What else? Well – sharp focus and proper exposure.

Audio – just because you THINK you can hear it doesn’t mean it’s good. Use a real plug-in microphone. Not the on-cam mike. Use a headset to make sure you hear good audio. Then play it back as a final assurance you got it clean.

Sequencing. The crown jewel of video. How to tell a story in a series of connected shots…shots that segue and flow into each other when edited.

I can’t believe I’m writing this…everything thus far is so far down the food chain in what a shooter needs to know…but all of these were discussed while heading to a gig earlier today as the producer lamented the lack of skills she is seeing.

Oh – and final word of advice. When you put up your demo reel, keep it short and focused. Three or four minutes at most. (My current demo reel is 3:05.) If you’re bad that will be obvious seconds into the reel – and no producer is gonna sit thru bad for longer than that. If you’re good it takes just the same few seconds…so why ruin it and take the chance the producer may back away. Make sure you show the basics mentioned above: exposure, steady shooting, composition, lighting…

And about your attitude. You are being offered an opportunity when you get a job. Don’t make the person who hires you regret it by treating them poorly.

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Immersed in a frozen world…

…the world of digital still photography.

Got called back to teach as a stand-in for a former fellow teacher out on maternity leave. The class: P-H-O-T-O-G-R-A-P-H-Y.

Aka painting with light.

Wow…talk about reliving the past. The class has me riding the Way-Back Machine to the sixties and early seventies as I began my journey as a visual storyteller, learning how to shoot and process film.

This can only get better.

Last week I jump-started the classes on color. Let’s harken back to kindergarten and remember what it was like squishing those bright finger paints between our chubby little fingers, making the blue run into yellow to make green, red into yellow to make orange and everything together to make a muddy black.

Lesson number one. Primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Black and white tones. Tints. Shades.

Lesson number two. Colors evoke emotions – the language of the many moods of color.

And this week…composition.

Ahhhhhh. The basics.

All of this, of course, is part of video. But it is a part I touch on briefly due to the many other essentials I need to cram into my students’ heads. For once it is fun to wallow in the simpler times and take the time to teach it right.

I only wish that photography were a pre-requisite for broadcasting.

Rethinking my position…

We are now officially three weeks into the new school year and I’m looking over the changes I made in how I teach – and rethinking whether I should have done them.

Originally I always started students off with Basic Shots – got the cameras into their hands and them out in the field to shoot seven shots using video. Then they came back and edited using iMovie.

This year I had them shoot some basic composition using stills and then brought into the computer using iPhoto; then pulled into iMovie and edited.

What I’m seeing is that learning two (albeit very basic) programs at the same time has slowed things down immensely. Of course having two classes with forty students each may have something to do with that. Everyone finished the composition assignment – they’ve all moved on to Basic Shots and are having fun with their first real video assignment.

If they retain what they learned about iMovie, they should be able to speed through BS and on to Animation within the week…and then maybe things will be back on a normal schedule. I am seeing better shooting in the Basic Shots assignments…which was my intent when I shoveled composition in front of it.

My two big issues – not enough tripods and ALL of the Eluras now have stripped threads, so we can’t use them with the non-existant tripods. Actually, it balances out pretty well…about seven tripods and seven (older) video cameras. The seniors have the drill – work when there’s gear and kick back and work on other class assignments or chill out or talk with the teacher about video. The freshmen are somewhat confused…they aren’t used to sitting creatively. They’ll learn.

I love my little groupies who have formed teams and sit and encourage and help each other on every assignment…they are bonding and learning more than either of the other two types of teams.

Friday was mellow…once I got the gear checked out, I had time to set up the studio gear and run each class through a quick look-see and hands on session. Monday we start for real. I’ll have a script for the directors so they will know exactly what to say (Quiet on the set! Stand by to tape. In 10-9-8….) to the floor crew. We’ll have copies of the Bulletin for the “anchors” to rehearse with. Only two anchors to start with…will add in the third in a week or so.

Everyone will be REQUIRED to learn every role on the floor crew, control room, anchor desk…and once we start for real they will be required to rotate through every position with the exception of anchor. Yeah – I want the shows to look good and flow smoothly and nothing screws things up worse than a reluctant anchor.

And counting down to September 3 in 10-19-18-17…

A whole new crop…

…of students. Man, I should NEVER have thought English was difficult compared to two sections of broadcasting and one of drama. The big difference is I live and breathe video, so I’m loving it.

Rather than putting VIDEO cameras into the paws of my eager charges, I’m handing the cameras over in still mode and having them do a run-through of composition and then manual control.

In the past my thinking was to get them out and shooting video as quickly as possible…but last term I saw a remarkable improvement in their ability to “see” after the learning comp/man controls and have decided to back into my usual assignments this year.

So they cleaned out my camera cage and have been happily trying to find relationships of thirds, leading lines, closeups, framing, etc. Then I run them through downloading into iPhoto, exporting as a movie and importing into iMovie. (This kind of paves the way for the animation assignment.)

The first student nearly got to the finish line this afternoon, with others close behind. Of course most of the class is between just finishing the shooting and still trying to download and one or two latecomers (we’re still balancing classes) are just getting started.

Monday I’ll do a thorough software review with handouts – IF the blasted copiers are working. Go figure – four copies for 70 teachers and usually at least two broken down at any one time.

But back on course…here’s my game plan thus far:
Day one – Hi and how are you and welcome to my world. Hand out syllabus, photo/video releases and camera liability forms. (I want to be able to use any student work at any time – and our district is very rigid about even using work that a student may have contributed to as a writer or editor.)
Day two – Heres a camera and review ALL of the major bells and whistles. The expectation is that they will focus each week on a review of what they already know from having used it (this week was lens, lens cap, still mode, zoom, LCD, viewfinder) and then looking at what they will need to know for the next assignment (next week is manual iris, white balance, manual focus).
Day three – Review basics of composition with lots of examples (thanks to Lori Oglesbee/I downloaded a photo composition PowerPoint she created as the basis for the lesson) and then sent the kiddos out into the field.
Day four – Today they nearly all finished shooting and came back to download into computer.

Word of advice when having multiple students in several classes use the same gear for still work: fortunately the cameras number the shots sequentially, so the solution was to have a teammate take a mug shot of a student, then that student would shoot their entire assignment and then shoot a mug of the next student, who would then shoot their assignment.

Before the next class came in, as I put cameras on to charge (thank goodness I have a prep between classes to do this), I shot a sign titled “Fourth Period” to separate the work of the two classes. And when the second period kids picked up the cameras today, I shot another sign titled “Second Period.”

For this one assignment they download each camera onto the same computer/same login and then create individual files in iPhoto and drag and drop their photos into it.

The next step is getting the movie they export into iMovie to add titles. There is to be a project title (Composition) and then a lower third title that explains why each shot fits one of the required composition elements of the assignment.

Final note: even if students don’t get this assignment (or any other project assignment), I always critique their work with suggestions for improvement. They have the option to redo their work and turn in again for a higher grade BECAUSE my philosophy is that they are there to learn, not get a grade. Strange though…only had one or two students ever take me up on this offer…on the flip side, they have rarely complained about a grade.

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