A shot visit to my roots…

…as a teacher. I never actually left the land of video but have been retired from teaching for some three plus years now.

Last month I returned to Middle College High School where I went through the horror of learning how to teach. That was a truly tumultuous journey…from a single Digital Video Production class to English and AVID (the college prep course, not the editing program) and more. Former co-worker Michael Kennedy honored me by asking me to take over his workload for a few weeks.

Now the English 12 classes went well since he laid the groundwork and made lesson plans. He’s also got AVID 12 in hand…all I had to do was follow his notes – which meant I let the kiddos research colleges and complete applications.

The fun stuff was his other classes. AVID 10. Journalism. The former went from kinda chaotic to totally out of my hands when the AVID tutors arrived. Talk about discipline…they entered the room and took over. My job went from teaching to taking roll.

And…journalism. A small class…minuscule by the standards of a comprehensive high school. Eight – yeah right, count ’em – 8 students. All mine to toy with and teach. And Michael let me have my way with them so I began with having them read the Five Pillars of Islam, the Ten Commandments, and the Eight Fold Path (of Buddha)…and then both the JEA and NPPA Ethics Codes. Final product – a compare and contrast paper which was supposed to lead them into understanding how the Mind of Man works. Why do all societies…all cultures…have similar principles?

20131014_134954Had them write what they wanted to learn from me on the board – and it was all good. Our Editor-In-Chief wanted to learn how to run the school website effectively. And the rest dovetailed into my plans – shooting and editing and writing visual stories.

Problem was that the computer lab the class was taught in was a terror. Every day everything they worked on disappeared – total erasure. And all they had to work with was Moviemaker. And one student’s personal video camera. So I brought in my arsenal of el cheapo cameras – from two Kodak Playtouches to a low end Samsung camcorder and my NX1000 and put them to work shooting the Seven Basic Shots. Then editing it.

How to deal with the problem of gear? Lucky find – a Flip camera in a second-hand store for $9. I guess the owner got rid of it because it wouldn’t allow any video to be recorded. Here’s the solution – plug into a computer and reformat it. Totally cleared up all of the gunk and it worked just like new. And while it shoots SD, that’s a good thing considering the computer situation. SD is oh so much easier to upload and edit than HD.

Next – how to handle the erasure of all projects. A simple solution, one that cost a few more bucks. I donated a 500gb portable hard drive. All raw media is loaded onto it and students were instructed to start a Moviemaker project then immediately save it on the hard drive and close and reopen it from the hard drive. That way all files they imported were linked to the hard drive copy. Kind of weird but a working workaround.

Final project (we were running out of time here) was a group shoot. They needed to learn how to shoot, log, write, and edit a real story. So off we went to the freshman AVID class where students were getting their Secret Penpal letters for the first time (written to them by the sophomores). Each of my J-kids was told to pick a freshman and shoot them as they got and reacted to their letters. Then we snagged a few and took them outside where each J-student had the opportunity to run my good camera and to hold the mike and get an interview. The next class meeting we logged the interviews and wrote the script as a class. My videots did the edit on my laptop and the E-I-C posted it. So now they had a foundation…and it will be interesting to see where they take it.

(I did check up on them a week or so later and the quiet junior girls had done some MOS interviews (man on the street) which nearly floored me. Perfect composition…good light…good quality audio. Fast learners all.)

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From dogs and ponies to dogtags and a doc…

There are some meaty stories out there…and producer John Goheen began stalking them more than a year ago.

A unique alignment of numbers occurred last year. November 11, 2011. 11.11.11…and a tie-in with “on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” which marked the war to end all wars. WWII. Sadly this was a great misstatement.

Goheen put out the call for volunteers to each document the day of a veteran in their area for his vision of a documentary honoring our service men and women, both active and retired. Thirty-seven photogs responded and came through with stories ranging from Veteran’s Day ceremonies to features on individual veterans.

Although only 15 videos were included in the final documentary, the rest are available on the V-Day 11.11.11 website under the link to “Stories.”

And the range of stories is as remarkable as the men and women who sacrifice daily to keep our country’s freedoms safe. I was lucky enough to follow Stockton WWII ace pilot Bill Behrns around on that day…with some unexpected results.

I will tell you that the only thing scarier than the ride in an aging and very rattly WWII plane was the trip to the airport with Bill driving. And yes – he still drives a mini-van with the same style and speed that he took to the air in during WWII.

BTW – if you know a veteran’s group or are interested, the film will be made available for educational purposed.

Managing media…

(look at bottom of post for updates)

This past Monday Stockton Record photographer Clifford Oto created a field of dreams of sorts in a sorry part of town.

The location: Stockton Family Shelter. A lot of folks who could have lost hope live there, struggling day to day and hoping for the best for themselves and their families.

On Monday, December 6, a little more hope seeped in with the sunshine outside as dozens of volunteers answered Clifford’s call for help, setting up four mini-portrait studios and dozens of hair and make-up stations.

The event: Help-Portrait.

Their mission: To give back to the community…to serve those in need. To provide professional individual and family portraits to folks who may never have been able to have a formal sitting and memory.

So how is this about managing media? Well – three of my (former) students and I went down to observe and help out. Our assignment was to document the event and turn a video. The students (Gabe, Tim, and Tou) shot about half an hour of tape and quite a few stills. I shot another 50 minutes or so – but wasn’t able to shot many stills because (ahem) certain students were gripping the camera too tightly.

Now here it is – six days later – and I’ve got to get the video edited. There are several hundred clips, shot from when preparations began through the day until gear was broken down and put away hours later.

Step number one in media management. Create bins (Final Cut Express), which are kind of like file folders, for the main categories of your project. In this case, I created the following bins.
Then I looked at each clip quickly and placed it into the appropriate bin. It really helps to have these categories when you’re searching for a specific clip. If you have the time, you can even label each clip.

BYW, the Oto SH Video is the main project – the sequence I will be editing.

I generally begin a project by listening to interviews and taking notes. Notes will include which clip and time in clip for significant sound bites. Otherwise I may just jot something down to use in my narration.

But if possible, I’m going to try to avoid any narration with this video and do it all with interviews and natural sound.

So stand by…I’ll be posting and updating as I edit.

12/19/10
So I let this go for a while…it is, after all, a busy time of year. When last I posted, I had just sorted all of the clips into four main bins or categories.

Today I came back and revisited them…cruised through the preparation clips, looking and listening. Especially the latter, because I want to recreate the chaos of the event…the many sounds, hustle, bustle, and apparent disorganization…

So I grabbed some SOTs (sound on tapes) and arranged them…nice. Wanted info in there too but really didn’t want my voice interfering with the story, so chose to use titling.

And so it goes…NATS, NATS, NATS, interview. Repeat.

The interview with Clifford is my mainstay…my theme, which will weave throughout the story. I’m about one minute in right now (and two hours of editing) and the pace is picking up. I’m remembering sound and pulling it in…the interview of Jennifer Howe segues right in after Clifford talking about giving back. She takes that and contributes and then we’re off again…into the shelter for more portraits and interviews with residents.

More in a bit…

…and here it is a bit later. The edit is complete and the story is below.

TRT: 2:31
Edit time: about six hours.

Am I happy – yes and no. In my years of shooting I’ve had only a handful of stories I could walk away from, truly happy I had done everything I could to make them good. So this does show the event…and kind of captures the spirit. I could have done a better job shooting the clients and gotten more shots of the photographers shooting. But that would have been at the sacrifice of my students getting their time with the gear.

So…yes, happy.

The battle is complete…

The bboyz battle, that is.

About four years ago some of my broadcasting boys asked to use my classroom during lunch to practice dancing. That’s when I discovered the bboyz culture. Highly energized contortionists who threw themselve into dance with wild abandon. Turns out I love both the music and the movement.

After my husband’s near termination due to an accident, his first real smiles and laughter came at a bboyz battle at my high school. He, too, was captured by their love of life and energy.

So it’s no surprise that even though I’ve retired, I still keep an eye on the club and jumped at the opportunity to haul them to south Stockton on a field trip to battle another high school.

Tech stuff: used my HV20, handheld. Shot maybe twenty-five minutes of tape. Interviews done with a Radio Shack lav mike. It shorted out on two of my interviews…so, goodbye to that mike. I was able to pull off the edit over two days…with another day to upload.

This is true storytelling on the run. I went in with an idea of what I was going to see and a few ideas about how I’d shoot it. I knew (for my own safety) I couldn’t get too close and it was better to stay wide because the dancers are all over the place.. And I also knew that the audience would be just as jazzed as the dancers…so for a few minutes I would have to turn my back on the main event to capture the reactions. Summarized:

1. When in doubt, stay wide
2. Move in closer as you get to know the event
3. Get reaction in addition to action
4. Always keep your own safety in mind (and the safety of those around you)
5. Think about how you are going to edit…to tell the story

Regarding point number five, once I got the rhythm of the event…the dancers and hooting and hollering by the audience, I considered who to interview for the thread that would bind the story together. They included:

McNair club advisor – her view of the battle
Edison club advisor – ditto/unfortunately this was one of the interviews with problems and no time to go back and redo
A school administrator – official sanction of teen activities
McNair alumni – long time bboy and dancer who could give an overview of the battle

So check it out (above) and enjoy. And see what sparks the energy of young people in your area. Might surprise you.

Civil disobedience…

Took a day off from retirement to be a substitute teacher at my first school – Middle College High School at Delta College in Stockton, California. The name’s a mouthfull, so we just call it MCHS or Middle College.

I was subbing for an AVID 12/English 11 teacher. And no – for the nonlinear crowd, AVID in this case is NOT a software program, but a class which focuses students on getting into college.

Both English classes are studying Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.” Now I’ve read excerpts in the (distant) past and have a fair grasp of the intent of the essay and today listened to student presentations and led discussions with students on the topic.

Civil disobedience: dissent without violence. The song of my generation (which did turn ugly at times). Basically outright refusing to acknowledge what one might consider unjust laws. War. Segregation.

And today? The lone voices of the past have exploded into a crescendoing calliope, a mountainous roar of masses crying out, “Unfair!”

Think John Tyner protecting his “assets” from what he viewed as overzealous airport security earlier this week. He refused to submit to a personal body search and chose not to fly when told he had to submit. Civil disobedience in action.

So after the presentations (excellent both of you!) and the class discussion of homework, we did a bit of role playing in MY areas of expertise. How does the media use civil disobedience.

Actor #1 – a simple yet honest cop protecting a crime scene
Actor #2 – a simple yet honest TV cameraman covering the crime
Action – Cop standing casually on scene. Photog walks up, says hi, and starts to shoot scene. Cop block Photog and says not photography. Discussion between the two ensues.

OK…so in the class this erupted into a shouting match and nearly had the cop drawing his (finger) gun and taking out the “shooter.” We walked it through a second time and I got to be the cameraman. No acting necessary.

Action: Cop standing…I walk up and say hi and aim camera…Cop says no photography. In real life that body ain’t gonna move. So this time, a calmer discussion.
Him: No photography.
Me: I’m with Channel 10 covering this story.
Him: I can’t allow any pictures to be taken. Now go away.
Me: You know, there’s a section of the California Penal Code that actually allows the media access to crime scenes.
Him: Really…no photos
Me: It’s PC409.5. Look – why don’t you call your superior officer. I’ll put the camera down and wait until you get clarification.
End of discussion, assuming the superior knows the law.
And a practical application of civil disobedience.

Time for a short rant for the pros out there.
This scenario is repeated WAY too often. The line cops…the guys who are on the streets every day and every night…are not always informed of or knowledgeable about media rights. They learn, but too often the hard way – in confrontations in the field under stress dealing with equally stressed news crews. Like many of you, I’ve pleaded and shouted to get access. I’ve ignored orders from law enforcement when I knew they were wrong and risked arrest just to get the picture…the story…for the public.

And in these uncertain times, when security is rampant and civil rights are being locked up in the name of safety, even photography is considered a crime – a potential terrorist plot. You want examples? Check out Carlos Miller’s Photography Is Not a Crime site.

Oh – and don’t do this for amusement folks. Every act of civil disobedience has consequences. Some minor – some not so. Think first – act second. Be prepared to explain and defend your thinking and your actions. Be prepared to suffer the consequences and please do NOT say, it ain’t fair. It isn’t. That’s why you’re disobeying. Civilly, of course.

Note to students: word choice is critical to good writing. I took a fifteen or twenty minute break to hunt down two words: crescendo and calliope. Crescendo (thank you Roget’s) means “increase” and calliope is a very noisy carnival music maker, rather outlandish. Both were buried in my brain, but each has the exact nuance…targeted meaning I wanted. Plus they add a bit of alliteration of what could otherwise be a dull piece of work.

Yeah, that’s me. Ever the English teacher. With a trigger finger on the record button.

On the hunt for the wildly elusive affordable camcorder…

In the beginning I had ten Canon Elura 100s to run my broadcast program at Ronald E. McNair High School. Two were heisted over the past few years. Of the eight remaining, two have tape carriage problems and three (not the same ones of course) had the threads stripped in the tripod holes. The latter is fixable…just drill out and insert a slightly larger bushing with the correct diameter threads for the tripod (thanks to Larry Nance for his suggestions and a couple of samples).

Now…I have to make a rather quick decision about whether to fix the cameras with carriage problems or purchase new. Now these cameras can still be used for still photos (I do have a couple of assignments that require stills only)…so what to do?

The cost of a Canon fixit via mail runs around $160 including shipping. Been there done that and they do a good basic job. Pretty quickly too – in time for school in a few weeks.

Now for the hard part (oh I dread this) – checking out what is on the market. Used to be simple.

But there’s more out there and many more formats. Mini DV, flash cards, hard drives, DVD. Personally I reject the hard drive and DVD camcorders. The latter is a gimmick – the only real use I would have for them is shooting sports when I need to do a quick turnaround and get copies out for other teams. Camcorders that record to hard drive would cause issues in determining who shot what – I will have two periods of about 36 students each this coming term (July-December and then a second batch of 72 in the spring). Tapes and flash cards allow the media to be labeled with student names and removed from the camera.

So here goes. My dream camera would have the following:
Removable media
Manual iris/aperature, focus, white balance
Mike input (and I think this will be the issue this time out)
Decent zoom (15x or more)
Headset out to monitor sound
Variable shutter speed
Top loaded (if tape)

I’m not concerned about the CCD/CMOS size…they’ve gotten better over the past few years. I am very concerned about the non-tape cameras being compatible with my antiquated eMacs.

So now on to my favorite photo site in the whole universe – B&H Photo Video to check the specs.

So here goes…first choose “Camcorders,” then “Standard Def,” cause I don’t think our eMacs can handle high def. I’m checking out both Mini DV and Flash formats. “Standard” camcorders (we can’t afford even Prosumer). I’m not choosing an optical zoom…want to see pricing first. LCD size is not an issue. And I’m not choosing a price range…want to see what you get for the bottom/top ends.

My choices are two Aipteks ($59 and $89), eleven Canons ranging from around $219 to $599, six DXGs from $79 to $89, six JVCs from $179 to $269, ten Panasonics from $149 to $359, nine Samsungs from $149 to $299, four Sanyos from $174 to $219, and eight Sonys from $229 to $329. Fifty two possible candidates.

Now to choose which features I have to have. Manual controls and mike input/headset out. Let’s see what makes the cut this time.

1:07pm
All Sonys eliminated. The flash card versions have virtually no manual control and no mike input. The mini dv version has the manual control, but no mike input.
1:09pm
All Sanyos off the list – minimal anything I need.
1:18pm
Samsungs eliminated
This is getting frustrating…I’ve made note of some models that almost have what I want in both mini dv and flash card…but no mike inputs so far.
1:24pm
Panasonics and JVCs eliminated. Interesting to note that many of the flash camcorders have few if any manual controls.
1:25pm
Not even going to consider the DXGs…all they have are 4x digital zooms.
1:26pm
Success – of sorts. The Canon ZR930 has a mike input, but no still ability. Its says no headset input, but I’ve found in the past that the AV port takes a headset (no guarantees). Manual focus and exposure…not white balance. Cost is around $199.00.
1:30pm
More success, but at a price. The Canon FS22 flash camcorder has it all for $599. Let’s see – one of these or three of the 930s?
1:33pm
The Canon ZR960 has nearly everything – lacking still capability – $244.
The ZR950 does stills, but has no mike input – $219.
1:38pm
A few more – FS21 has what I want at $499, as does the FS200 for $319, and the FS11 for $349.
Kind of glad to see Canon still makes cameras with options…and I’m hoping the chargers and batteries can cross over. I try to keep everything the same brand because if I lose something or something goes down, chargers and batteries and remotes (etc) can be substituted.
On to the final brand.
1:41pm
That was quick – Aiptek eliminated due to digital only zooms.
(CORRECTION JULY 12) There are several models with 3x and 5x zooms. I was only looking at standard def models. See first comment below.

Now the internal debate: what do I really need to teach properly? Do I need cheap cameras so as many students as possible can be shooting/editing? In other words just a point and shoot? Do I want more – manual controls so students can learn a bit of what the professionals do? Mike inputs?

A lesson learned during the workshop I taught at San Joaquin Delta College this summer was that using professional editing software made the difference. Students saw the power and possibilities. They didn’t have Final Cut Pro at home and would never have even guessed at what they could do without the three day exposure this workshop gave them.

It’s time to sit back and consider these things…I have my meeting with my principal tomorrow and want to be clear in my head what I am teaching and what I expect students to learn so I can make the argument for the gear that will do the job.

It’s not just a Christian thing…

A large part of my philosophy of life is to give back once you have taken. Along your road of life many people will help you. Some of you will receive more help than others, while those others may not receive much at all. But the amount isn’t what matters. What matters is passing on – giving back – giving to people you may never meet or perhaps even realize you’ve helped.

Lately at my husband’s church (we have very different, yet in some ways very entwined religious spiritual philosophies) there has been a handout in the program for something called “S-O-S.” Short for “Seek or Serve.”

There are two simple parts to the website. Are you seeking help or can you serve by giving help. And the help ranges from material things to services to visits to simple prayers.

On the printed version before me people are offering drum lessons (something they can do that no one else can), mattresses, a freezer, prayer, clothing, errands run, transportation, dog sitting, and much more.

The “want” list is surprisingly short. One urgent request for toddler bed sheets, visitation for a mother and child, help with outdoor work, transportation, bible on tape or cd, furniture.

Kind of gratifying to see that more is offered that wanted…and somehow the two come together, take a gander at each other, agree on a trade and walk away with both sides feeling as if they’ve won.

Truth be told – both sides ARE winners. The side giving wins because they have a memory they can look back at, knowing they’ve done the right thing. The side receiving wins because their life is made easier by the gift they’ve received AND they will return the gift by passing along gifts of their own to others.

Simple choices. Both right.

Oh yeah…the VJ tie-in? Journalism (to me) is more than a job. A true journalist serves their community by covering meaningful events and explaining issues so that the public/audience has a better understanding of the community. Journalists are both givers and takers. They take from individuals, organizations, everyone…and give back to everyone. If you’re in it for fame, for money…you need to rethink YOUR philosophy.

Critical mass…

Every day when I wander out into the front forty to pick up my daily dose of what’s happening, I weigh in on the future.

Each day around sunrise a small blue truck whizzes past and a small white bundle flies through the air, landing with a thud and a long slide.

The (Stockton) Record. I’ve read it since I was a youngster. Did a research paper on it in college. It’s chronicled my wedding and the births of my children. And the passing of my parents and parents-in-law. All the good and traumatic moments of life.

And now I wonder if this phoenix child – this born again daily bundle – will survive much longer. As little as a year ago I hefted its weight into the house without thinking. Nowadays I eyeball it as I approach it…gauging its size. Checking its vitals. What is the content/ad ratio?

Some days the bundle is wafer thin…aneamic…barely there. There is content, but not the life-sustaining balance of advertising. On those days I fear the worst.

Today is Sunday and i was greeted by a nearly old-fashioned log of a paper…or so it seemed. The reality is my perceptions have adjusted to the times. I know what appears to be a heathy, bouncing bundle is actually a somewhat average or less-than-average package.

Losing a friend this way hurts…there are days of hope and days of despair. You almost wish the end would come quickly, but fear that it might.

And you will be forever poorer once it is gone.

Experiment in HD…

While I’ve had the Canon HV20 for a year and played with hi-def on some projects, I posted my first hi-def video to youtube yesterday.

Went out last Friday night to cheer my break dancers (I’m the high school club advisor) on at a competition and wouldn’t you know it, had a camera in hand, so I shot the event.

They came in second (polite cheers) – even after the judges picked them as best. Something I love and respect about break dancing. The audience gets to hop in with their opinion, so when the judges pointed at my guys, both they and the audience pointed at the other team. To do anything else would have been disrespectful and dishonest.

Never tell me that youth is going bad.

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