Invisible work…

Videojournalism or reporting visually can make you highly visible.  There ya are:  camera in hand, mike out.  You’re gathering news to put up…somewhere.  On the web, on TV, whatever.

So folks see you with that gear and think, “Hey, I can do THAT!”  Piece of cake.

That’s the visible part of your job.

The invisible part, kind of like an iceberg, is 80 or 90 percent submerged where no one can see it.

Like:  how do you choose a story, an angle, which questions to ask/which to keep and consider asking.  Which shots to get.  What you DON’T shoot.


The invisible part of the job.

From what I’ve experienced, shooting can be the flashy easy part.  And for every hour put in shooting, you may have another hour (or more) piecing together those random clips into something cohesive.

And (to the uninitiated) there are more layers.

Typical assignment.

  1. Get assignment and figure out your angle
  2. Make calls/email and set up interviews/b-roll
  3. Shoot
  4. Log – transcribe NATs and interviews
  5. Write script
  6. Edit

1-2-3 might take three or four or more hours.  Four and five maybe another hour.  And poor old editing gets whatever is left.  If you’re working with a reporter, pray that they remember to toss you enough time to edit the story together properly.  If you’re a one man band, don’t box yourself in.  Allow time to edit.

And for those who think it all comes together miraculously…think again.  An iceberg is a pretty thing, but can be deadly.  Especially come deadline time.


Paying it forward…and back…

…to the next generation. Truth is I’m nearing the end of my career. Went from shooting production stills to news film and video to teaching broadcasting to retired and working part time with high school students and freelancing as a camera/shooter/videojournalist. Within the next year all of this will slow down…but never really stop. (I view doing nothing as the beginning of death.)

A friend and I did a presentation some months ago for the the local community college video production class. Now this is the place I graduated from decades ago when it had one of the best photography departments in the state. Sometime (I’m guessing in the 80s) it developed an RTV (radio TV) department that never quite got off the ground. Classes were offered and yes students learned but it always seemed to lag somehow. I know it wasn’t for lack of instructors trying…could have been lack of support from the admin or a plethora of other issues. But it seemed more like a holding cell than a jumping off point.

In the last year things started clicking though.

There’s been a move to regain the license for the radio station…adjuncts were brought in with a wide variety of skills and experience. And the student showcase “TV” program went from zero to a kazillion in the past semester.

All of this piqued my interest.

So I went back a second and then a third time to check things out. And may have found a new retirement gig. Mentoring the up and coming video-gen. Specifically those interested in news shooting and editing.

What is making this extra-enticing is that not all of the youngsters fit the suit and tie Ken and Barbie mold of the past. They remind me of the Viet-Nam era gang on campus back in the late sixties. Everything from quiet and middle class to bright and bold to right off the street and gangbusters going forward.

I’m heading out in a week with the latter…a musician with a personality too big to fit in a suit with a flair for what is important in his world and his city and his people and a vision to open people’s eyes up. We shall see where this takes us…whether he can tame his inner beast and funnel it through into a viable version of storytelling that has the potential to explode and open up news to an entirely new style. Or not. I’m hoping for the former.

Ingrained knowledge can be a b****…

Life is full of patterns…we live by them and a good videojournalist sees and uses them. It’s all good. Positive. Um…not always.

Part of patterning is doing stuff in a certain way – a set way. Do it often enough and your body can go through the motions without the brain having to actively participate. Like driving a car – your foot finds the brake without you having to think it through. And eating…the fork finds its way to the mouth without the brain actively telling the hand to grasp the fork, the arm to extend to the plate, etc.

Right now my brain is attempting to break out of more than ten years of patterning created by using Final Cut Pro and Express. And those have been a good ten years…when the brain is freed from the nitty gritty of how to do tasks, it can focus on the story and thinking ahead to the next one or twenty edits.

Enter Adobe Production Pro with Premeire Pro. Just close enough in many ways so that I was able to do basic drag and drop edting on day one. But now I’m trying to play catch-up and do some REAL editing. Motion, fades, superfine detailed stuff. And while my body is aching to follow the old patterns, I’m attempting to teach it some new patterns. For starters, I’ve had to go from touchpad to mouse…needed some way to break loose because the touchpad on the new laptop is smaller and off center and I KEPT MISSING IT WHEN I TRIED TO USE IT. Wow…something as basic as that. My old patterns were aiming at a MacBook touchpad that wasn’t there.

I guess it’s like a phantom limb…when you lose an arm or leg, but still (in your mind) try to use it. Oh well…could be worse. I could be trying to walk through walls…

Voices that inspire me…

…to get back to blogging.

Did a (fairly basic) lighting workshop yesterday for Voices of the Earth, a Bay area non-profit. They’re a bit out of the ordinary…a small group of passionate folks who have taught themselves an awful lot about video production and who want to move on to what they call “the next level.” For them, this meant learning how to use light properly, plus a bit about audio and sundry other items.

I say they are out of the ordinary because they learned and gave themselves feedback properly…before we even met up they knew to use a tripod, frame properly, and (wow!!!) get good solid audio with shotgun and clip-on mikes. Made my job awfully easy.

The end result is that their inspiration has now re-inspired me to write the occasional blog posting. So this will become an on-again/off-again thought-of-the-moment series of postings with tips. Until I’m enticed away to the next bright and shiny vision.

Today’s tip is tripods.

I noticed that both of VotE’s shooters had tripods – a good thing. What they need to do now is move up to video tripods that can handle the weight of their gear and allow them to do smooth camera movements. “V” was using a Canon Vixia and his tripod was okay for the weight of the camera…but for shooting video it was too light and shaky. “J’s” tripod was definitely way too light to hold her Panasonic three-chipper. Great little camera, but we had one near-disaster when it tipped forward due to weight.

Lesson #1 – there are two main parts to all tripods. The legs/sticks and the head. The latter would be the part you attach your camera to. Most low end tripods come with the two attached as one unit. As you move up the food chain you can purchase the legs and head separately, allowing you to choose specific qualities you want. (see this old posting for more details)

Lesson #2 – make sure your camera is rated for what you plan to load on it. And that would be more than just the camera. If you ever plan to add an on-camera light, shotgun mike or other accessories, the tripod has to bear that weight too.

Lesson #3 – there IS a difference between still and video tripods. A still tripod is mean to hold the camera steady while you take ONE shot or a series of shots. It is a platform to hold your gear and let you keep your hands free.
A video camera should have a fluid head…meaning you should be able to pan side to side and up and down evenly without any jerkiness. It should be heavy/solid enough so it doesn’t shake when someone walks by or if you’re out in the weather. AND if you can spring for the money, a ball head would be nice…allows you to level your camera without having to fiddle with the legs.

Thanks again VotE.

Choosing the right nonlinear editing program…

…is a headache. Kinda like driving the same old rattrap car forever…when it dies there are way too many bright shiny new choices you’ve heard about but honestly really don’t know anything about.

So I’ve dumped Apple computers for a PC – a Dell. And I’ve been slowly trying to wean myself away from the white keyboard over to the dark and mysterious black keyboard. I’ve done some research and have narrowed the programs realistically down to AVID studio, Adobe Production CS5.5, and Edius. I also looked at Sony Vegas Pro and toyed with the idea of Pinnacle, but that was too many to review. The last two are good from what I’ve seen and heard, but as a friend (yeah, you Larry) told me – Cyndy, you seem to be stuck on the “pro” label. All too true…and not just for the label, but also the fact they are proven industry standards.

What exactly AM I looking for in an editing program? Here goes:

1. Ability to take in a wide variety of video formats into one project (AVCHD, SD, jpegs, TIFFs, etc).
2. Your basic drag and drop editing. Plus.
3. The “plus” should include filters to do color correction, audio sweetening, FX, transitions.
4. Able to take on plug-ins to add to the ability of the program to individualize projects.
5. Either have or be able to work with third-party DVD authoring and burning programs.
6. Ability to create all major video files (Quicktime, mpg, avi, wmv, flv, etc). Who knows what the client will want – I just want to be able to give it to them.
Oh – and some decent tutorials please. While I CAN and have edited my way out of some pretty deep holes, I need some technical assistance so I can find my way around the new desktop.

Stay tuned…I’ll try to keep you in the loop as I wander through the trial downloads of my prospective choices.

Done my homework and played with the programs. Almost…with a deadline fast approaching and unable to download and install Edius, I had to make a decision fast…and have gone with Adobe Production CS5.5. Avid was a breeze, but CS5.5 has all the goodies in one eacy package. And the learning curve is close to non-existent. Just need to make some fairly minor adjustments to my workflow and I should be back up to speed.

FYI – Sony Vegas did not make my cut. Too many difficulties in figuring out how to actually do an edit.

Now if I get that trial disk from Grass Valley and like the look of it, may just go for Edius as a secondary system.

Posting from Premiere workshop…

Whew…I spend way too much time in front of the class and not enough sitting and learning. This is a hoot – I’m finding out that Premiere and Final Cut and close relatives and learning new software is easy.

The brain-twisting part is the lead-in and instructor —– made me sweat but did a fantastic job explaining how interlaced/progressive, pixel ratios, frame rates v. shutter speed, lines v. pixels and oh so much more. I knew the pieces, but his take on how they all tie together really made sense.

Oh – and it’s nice to be back in The City again. Too many years in the outback of the Great Central Valley. I beat the sun into the Bay area and hopped on board BART for the (almost) final leg. Final leg was my own legs taking me about 12 blocks and up a flight of stairs.

Stay tuned and I’ll keep you up with anything new learned.

Ouch…this day is way too long. My biggest lesson seems to be that once you learn on system, you can segue to another pretty easily. Caputure…cut…paste…adjust audio…transitions (if needed).

On the way back from lunch I looked over and, by gosh, there was KQED!! My old staton moved to 18th and Mariposa about 20 years ago and this was my first sight of it.

Left a message and got a callback from former co-worker and reporter Spencer Micheals, who now works for the McNeil-Lehrer Report and got a quickie tour of the (to me) new facility.

After the layoffs in 1980 I never thought public television would be prosperous, but the place looks regal. Spencer says they very nearly went under in the 90s but recovered.

Sorry…not much left to talk about and a long(er) day tomorrow.

…signing off…

Addendum April 8: a quick look back at Premiere. The actual desktop similarities to Final Cut are location of the raw video and monitors. There are a couple of nifty shortcuts to insert or do overlays rather than dragging/dropping. Acquiring video is pretty much the same (import or drag/drop). Three finger control for forward/stop/backward and in/out is identical. There are some difference in creating motion paths (sorry, couldn’t stay for days two and three) which I will figure out on my own. And for around $700, a pretty good solution if you want a good solid program.

Relay for Life (edited)…

One to ten isn’t a bad shooting:editing ratio. My final story runs a bit over three minutes – and I shot possibly 35 minutes of tape. As usual, I keep wondering what shots I missed…what I could have gotten. More faces I know. (Everyone was at the ceremony, which I didn’t want to shoot.) The biggest problem with shooting at dusk is the light – I want that wonderful light, but it fades quickly and shooting time is limited.

Regarding the edit…not many changes. The audio flowed together smoothly. I’m still not used to hearing my voice after so many years of editing professional reporter/anchor sound. So, for your consideration….click on the link above and see how it goes.

Editing your way to a story

Editing begins the moment you decide you want to do a story. As you sift through ideas, you are constantly editing out those you don’t like. Finally, you settle on one story. Now you edit even more: you choose an angle to the story. Remember to think visually as you brainstorm.

Season: Autumn
* windy day (people blowing in the wind, kites, leaves and debris blowing)
* leaves (fall colors, raking leaves, problems leaves cause, children’s leaf art)
* weather (clouds, rain, change in moods)

Once you choose your final angle, start thinking about where to find your visuals. Hopefully you chose based on images you have already seen or know your can find. Let’s use leaves and the problems they cause as an example.

Grab your camera and tripod and start shooting. In this second stage, you continue to edit by only shooting shots that relate to your story.
For this story I know several places in my area where leaves block up drainage from streets and street crews or residents are out during rainstorms trying to unblock the drains. Keeping in mind the need for wide shots, medium shots, closeups and good natural sound, here is what I would shoot:
WS of streets littered with leaves and storm debris
WS of streets with flooding
MS of people working to unplug drains/natsound
CU of rain coming down in puddles/natsound
CU of leaves drifting in water
MS of leaves in piles
MS of leaves blocking drains
CU of drain as it is unblocked/natsound
CU of leaf hanging on in tree
MS of leaves in trees
MS of bare tree limbs
Long WS of sky (if not raining) to show clouds passing overhead
Low angle shot of leaves as they are blown by wind
MS of someone looking out car or house window at rain
You get the idea. As I am shooting I’d grab interviews, first asking people if I could talk with them on camera (I’ll post a videojournalist’s guide to etiquette eventually) and explaining briefly how the video would be used. Questions might include:
State your name and spell it
What is the best part of autumn?
How do you feel about fall and what it leaves?
Is there a problem with leaves?
Could you do without fall leaves? Why or why not?

Now the story is pretty much in the can (this is a reference back to the days when news was shot on film, which came in a metal can). What I have is a basic reaction story to the leaves and problems they cause. If I want this to both educate and entertain, I’d go a step further and try to interview a city worker and get some statistics: what is the leaf season; how many tons of leaves fall in this city every year, what kinds of problems do these leaves cause, how much does it cost to clean up leaves, etc.

Now the story I want IS in the can. Time to capture to the computer and log (write down) all of the information I’ve gathered.

Logging is an essential part of the editing process. During this process you will choose which information you will use in your story (editing even more). Your information must be accurate. As I log (this means playing back the video in the computer, noting the time code for shots or interview segments, and transcribing information I plan to use) I keep an eye open for catchy sound – well worded informative sound bites, funny soundbites, biting soundbites. I will use these to build my story.

Time to write – and to tell the truth, this is the hardest part for me to explain. Ernest Hemmingway once said that, “Writing can be learned, but not taught.” Wow. Let me try anyway.

When you create a visual story you need to catch and hold your viewer’s attention. Memorable sound and visuals help you do this. A good rule is to grab them with a strong visual or sound segment and leave them with a memorable shot/sound. Here is how I might put this story together (in script form, more of less):

Nats heavy rain hitting leaves floating
Nats water draining as drain is unplugged
Interview/comments about rain & leaf problems
MS leaves in trees, sound of wind or rustling leaves
Narrator: When autumn leaves combine with autumn weather, problems ensue. The canopy of bright colors that once clung to tree limbs carpets the streets and clogs storm drains.
Interview/city worker comment on current problms with leaves
Narrator: The city of —– has —– trees which provide shade in the summer. Autumn weather creates a rainbow of red, orange, and brown. When this rainbow disintegrates, leaves pile up on lawns and in streets. (Name of public works person) says that the annual cost to the city to haul off the —— tons of leaves is $—– annually.
Nats of resident raking/unplugging drain
Interview/comments from residents about how they love autumn
Narrator: But most feel this is a small price to pay for the annual beauty that marks the passage of seasons.
WS: nats of car driving down rainy street with strong forground shot of leaf floating in water

Once the script is written and tweaked (read over it a few times and reword and edit), we’re ready to edit the video. This is the final stage of editing – you may have shot as much as thirty minutes to an hour of video. Once you are through editing, you may only have a story that runs two to five minutes. Ideally this final product will have your strongest visuals and audio.

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