Looking for stories…

images …is the name of a site I was directed to this week.  While the concept may not be original (one story a week) the execution is amazing.  Joan Planas and Ana Salva’ have a vision of producing a story a week focusing on people. Plain people who have stories to tell that educate and inform the audience about their community and country.

I like that they spend the time to get to know their subjects over a day or week and the entire story is told in the subject’s own words (with subtitles as necessary).  

But what I like even more is their artistry…their use of motion and exposure and music to make each story unique and real.

So check it out at HERE and let me know what you think.


Storytelling and storytellers…

Although there are many resources on the web to watch great videos, there’s one outstanding one if you are primarily interested in visual storytelling news style.

TV News Storytellers on facebook has daily posts from cameramen all around the country soliciting input on how to become better or posts from experts in the field demonstrating best practices.

So hop on over and take a look…and enjoy.

Old dog…new tricks…

Life is change…sometimes we seek it, but sometimes it thrusts itself upon us.

What’s up?

In recent months I’ve made a difficult decision – to shift from thirty years working with Apple computers to PCs. The point of no return was Wednesday when my new Dell laptop arrived. With the help of friends (both nearby and online) the computer has been updated and I’ve learned my way around the desktop and innards.

Now PCs are not totally foreign to me. I can use them and find the necessary programs and even dive into the system a bit. But this is not the everyday “breath in breath out” type of familiarity I have with my Mac. So I’m in for a bit of a ride here.

That ride will get even more intense next week once I’ve downloaded the free trials of PC based nonlinear editing programs. MovieMaker yesterday. Pinnacle today. Over the weekend will be AVID, Edius, Premiere Pro, and Vegas.

All of this part of the final big decision – which program to make my primary editing choice. I lean towards Premiere personally because it seems to have what I want – the ability to do basic edits, motion, create movie files, and burn DVDs. I lean towards AVID and Edius because they are news industry standards.

But the bottom line, as with many of you, is the bottom line. What can my budget handle.

And the bottom-bottom line is that how stories are told varies. It’s not about the camera, editing program, or even the storyteller. So while I want to keep to professional editing software, I will use what works for each situation. (When I first tried digital editing, my station was unknowingly airing stories edited in iMovie.)

If you have suggestions or ideas, go ahead and comment below.

Four levels of storytelling…

Thanks to teachj for this link to the four levels of storytelling.

Most high school journalists are on level one, with a few managing to get to level two.

Most broadcast journalists are on level three, with some still struggling at level two.

Level four is for the masters…the names you remember. Charles Kuralt is probably the best known of these. Steve Hartman is another. They weave their magic with words…with interviews…nats…visuals.

Level four is the golden standard we should all strive for.

Editing is akin to weaving…

…especially when you use something like Final Cut. Me, I use FC Express. Most of the goodies at a fraction of the cost.

Right now I’m working on a battle – good ole bboyz in each others’ faces, )break) dancing their hearts out.

Done it before, but this time I wanted to shove the dancers from each team at each other…so I’m spinning boxes, sliding images…and rendering like crazy.

If you take a gander at the timeline above, you’ll see that I’m up to four video and six audio tracks. And keeping track of what is where and what I’m placing next can be a nightmare.

See…I have a vision. My goal is to recreate the mood of a bboyz battle. And that requires clashing images and discordant sound. As with weaving, there are many threads – and not just audio and video. There’s the continuum of the timeline/story…there’s what’s there and what’s implied. There’s memories of past battles and future battles. Weaving all of those thread together into something coherent is gonna be a battle unto itself.

Below is a hour’s worth of work. Thirty-three seconds done. Gonna be a long weekend, but I know the final effort will be worth watching.

Appealing to the audience…


This posting comes to you courtesy of a confused mind. A combination of blog-hopping, too much time gardening in the sun, and physically and mentally wrapping up a contest my students entered.

So Mindy McAdams had a great blog and link to a Christian Science Monitor article by Robert G. Picard (any relation to THE Picard I wonder). That stewed around in my sizzling brain as I hemmed and hoed in the garden mulling over why my clan of volunteer videots had so much difficulty with climax and resolution in writing their script for the 48 Hour Film Project.

Stories. Storytelling. What does the audience really want – do you give them what you think they want? Do you re-hash the same old/same old? That was a big part of my students’ dilema as they brainstormed and came up with plot after plot for a movie script. The deadline was for real – 48 hours to write a script, shoot and edit a movie and hand it over before the ticking clock cut them off.

The headline over Picard’s article pissed me off at first: “Why journalists deserve low pay.” Like a momma pitbull, I protect my craft. But before I could attack and sink my teeth in, his argument reached my logic center. Dammit.

Wages are compensation for value creation. And journalists simply aren’t creating much value these days.

Summarized: In the past there were not a lot of content providers. Only one or two newspapers and three or four TV and radio stations per market. So what was produced had value – the audience wanted it; craved it. The providers could get their asking price from both audience and advertiser.

This scarcity raised the economic value of content. That additional value is gone today because a far wider range of sources of news and information exist.

Not only are there more providers…there isn’t much enterprise to make up for the glut of information, so there is a lot of duplication. Tune into any TV news program, newspaper (virtual or on paperstock), radio station, website – however you get your daily fix – and it’s just one big story chasing its own tail. I love Picard’s assessment – basically that journalists today are experts at sifting through and finding information – but not at creating new, original content that will satisfy their specific audience.

…the real measure of journalistic value is value created by serving readers.

He sums it up in three words: ADAPT OR DIE.

Read the entire article – concisely written and worth both the read and the time spent mulling and then returning for a second read. Picard is pointing us in the right direction – and it isn’t looking backwards, but honestly talking with the audience, getting to know them, and keeping up this conversation as we cover OUR community.

So what does this have to do with my movie-making moguls? Lots. After hours of plotting, they began to realize they were just re-hashing every bad (or good) movie they had ever seen. They realized they had to break away from the trite, the predictable and not be plot plagiarists, but take a risk and be original.

The result is a simple short story that has all of the elements of plot (forgive the English teacher for reiterating: exposition, conflict/rising action, climax, resolution/falling action) AND is delightfully original and unexpected. I’ll post a link to my VJ Classroom after Tuesday night when we see the screening of the movie in San Francisco.

Oh – and yeah, bloggers (my guilty hand is in the air) are often the worst when it comes to original content. Too often we take other’s ideas and (as in this posting) review and present to our own audience. Although I do like to think (1) spreading information is not a bad thing and (2) most of my postings are my own demented creations.

Part Two: a theory of storytelling…

Part One of this series delved into the elements of visual storytelling. Today we’ll check out different styles of telling the story and how to determine what might work best for your story.

The beauty of storytelling is you can choose which elements to use or not use – and also which elements to lead with and which to use as background noise/information. So you can go with a slide show, an audio/video clip, a narrative….it all depends on what you have to work with.

First ask, “What drives this story?” Is it the interview, the facts, the video or audio (natural sound or music from the scene), or the event itself?

Next ask, “What can I use to hook my audience?” Look at the same elements mentioned above.

Generally I begin asking these questions when I first start considering or shooting a story…and focus on the strengths of the story as I shoot. Before heading down that path, let’s consider the options for styles or formats.

Stories that are driven by information. City council meetings, legislative hearings, medical reports and updates.

The easy choice – breaking and general news. Fires. Crime. Parades. Sports.

When audio rules. Parades (again). Breakers (again). Interviews (character stories included). Musical events (profile of a musician). Barking dogs. Demonstrations.

When visuals tell the story. Repeat the first two above (breakers, events with something happening). The money shot. The perfect sunrise, scenic, decisive moment.

I’ve included this because it is the classic. “Once upon a time…” Telling the story for the sheer joy of sticking with a classic form and walking the audience through the details.

Let’s take a look at a couple of stories and how they developed and how the decision was made to go with a certain format.

Yosemite Demograpics/visual, sound (natural or ambient sound), and fact driven

Sometimes the scenery makes the story. You can’t go wrong in Yosemite National Park. This story began as a fact-driven look at how the economy has effected tourism in the park…but the natural beauty of the park was a natural way to get the story going. The sounds of nature also help pull the audience in…and as they enjoy the scenery and sounds, they are also picking up information.

Relay for Live/visual, sound (interviews)

Images drive this story…and a theme of light. The narration works to tie the images and interviews together. This story began as the sun began to set and the theme emerged as spots of light – so I shot to the developing theme.

Absailing/sound (natural sound and narration)

The visuals are so-so, but the enthusiasm of the climbers and the interviews make this story work.

Bleacher Creatures/sound (natural) and visuals

Sometimes the clip alone is enough to tell the story. Sometimes you just need to find a single clip or series of clips and let them run without explanation.

Emergency Windscreen/fact or information driven

A basic how-to video. Simple and effective.

Wyoming Cattle Drive/visually driven

Without the visuals this story would be difficult to tell. One of the few times I’ve used music (royalty free).

You may have noticed that each story fit several formats…and this is true with most stories. You may also realize that choosing the format begins before you begin editing…also very true.

As the story reveals itself to you or as you begin to realize what the story is about, you should begin shooting to the format that plays to the strengths of the story. If there are few visuals, think of ways to enhance the story with audio, information, interviews. If you are strong on information, you will need to come up with appropriate and creative visuals and sound to make the story.

Next up…(hey I’m tap dancing through this as I rack my brain trying to explain what I do daily without thinking about it)…let’s shoot something and explain our way through it as we produce the story.

So sometime in the next week I’ll shoot something and do a walkthrough. And if you’re in my blogging audience and you have a story you can’t quite figure out how to produce, let me know and maybe we can work this out together (yeah…I love a challenge).

Part One: a theory of storytelling…


What makes a story memorable? Is it the plot; the setting; the characters; use of imagery and figurative language? Although these are standards in written stories, there are additional elements in visual storytelling that must be taken into account.

Stories originally were told orally – through words and gestures by common folk and master storytellers. The master storyteller used pacing of words and sentences, choice of words, facial expressions and gestures with arms and hands and even whole body movements to hold the audience’s attention.

But a story told by a master storyteller could be trumped by a common person with compelling news or information. Such “stories” were fact or event driven – they had information the public wanted to or needed to know.

Although master storytellers are still with us, technology has advanced how stories can be “told.” We moved from oral to written stories (newspaper/books) to visual (silent movies) to audio (radio) to audio-visual (talkies) to more audio-visual (television).

To where we are today – storytelling on the Internet using words, audio, and visuals. Although it may seem that technology has made storytelling more complex, today’s visual stories still have many of the same elements as those told the old-fashioned way.

Stories are told using sound – orally. Narration, interviews, music, natural sound are all used to “tell” or enhance stories created using technology.

Stories are told using words/print. Today’s technologically-created stories use titles, supers, pages of information, overlays to convey information. They also use graphs and artwork, maps, etc.

Body language and gestures helped the master storyteller convey information. In today’s language, that means photos and video: what the audience sees that helps them understand the story.

Let’s look at the progression of complexity in telling a story using visuals:

1. Silent still – Series of stills with no sound (also called a slide show).
2. Silent video – Clip or series of video clips with no sound. Not used much because audio and video are recorded simultaneously with most cameras.
2. Music added – Music added and visuals (still/video) are edited to match the mood of music. There are ethical questions about adding sound that was not part of the original event that must be dealt with on this type of story.
3. Natural sound – Sound recorded at the event is added and visuals are edited to follow audio/with video sound recorded with clip is played back.
4. Interviews – Interviews are edited down to include essential information and visuals are edited to follow/match information in interviews. Natural sound may also be used to help tell the story.
5. Narration – Narration is written and added with visuals edited to follow/match information in narration. Natural sound may also be used to help tell the story.
6. Full package – Natural sound, narration, and interviews are mixed together and visuals edited to follow audio.

The beauty of storytelling is you can choose which elements to use or not use – and also which elements to lead with and which to use as background noise/information.

Next we’ll look at what drives stories – which elements to choose to best tell your story. These include visuals, audio, event, fact, chronological. Stay tuned.

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