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Thursday
Mar252010

Keeping long TV packages interesting

Here is a story I just completed on the end of the Space Shuttle program at the Kennedy Space Center:

For this story you will see I shot several elements to keep the item moving along at a good pace. The package was to be approximately three to four minutes in duration. In TV news terms that is an eternity.

To get a piece of this length done effectively, you need multiple "nuggets". Take the three distinct segments in this story:

1) The NASA workers' protest
2) The restaurant sequence
3) The space summit

Each of these elements on its own doesn't make for an interesting visual story. But combined, they help keep the package fresh.

A very loose rule of thumb for me is to try to include a different element for each minute the story lasts. In this instance, three elements for a piece of between three and four minutes in length. Staying in one location for too long is not going to get it done, especially if what you're showing is people sitting/standing around.

Of course, because this is a story about the space shuttle, I needed to include pictures of the space shuttle and its potential successor. Space-related pictures are invariably  compelling, so I was helped here by having a naturally interesting subject in terms of visuals.

Thursday
Mar042010

Covering breaking news as a solo V.J.

There is no doubt that it's much easier to produce finished packages when you don't have a tight deadline to meet. This is especially true for one-man-band reporters who are responsible for every element of making the piece.

Moreover, when you also have to shoot and edit a story, it's particularly tough to actually do any original reporting in a breaking news situation.

One good way to buy yourself some time - assuming the broadcaster you are working for allows it - is to produce an as-live simsat, or extended standup first. A simsat is where you shoot yourself answering questions. The recording is then fed to your station where the anchor questions are inserted. The result is what looks like a live satellite cross.

Below is an example of a report I produced for Times Now, a national TV news network from The Times of India.

Here I have produced an extended as-live standup. You will notice the footage which is being rolled in the background - that is b-roll that I shot quickly and fed raw to Times Now via ftp along with my standup. Editors where then able to cut it together to produce what you see above.

This turned out to be a great way to get material to air quickly.

 

Tuesday
Mar022010

Grabbing footage and sound in scrums

Sometimes it's necessary to shoot in gaggles and scrums. I find that as a one-man-band, you are at an advantage in this kind of situation, even though the circumstances can be challenging.

Here is an example of a gaggle I shot recently with Florida Governor Charlie Crist:

I have a couple of tips for getting successful footage in these situations.

1) If you use a small camera, it can be tricky to get a steady shot in a scrum. Keep your camera steady by pushing it against your shoulder, or steadying it against your cheek.

2) You'll often end up in a less than ideal position in the scrum. You often have to live with the angle you end up with. In this instance, I was shooting Crist with a large window in the background letting in a lot of light. In these situations, it's better to underexpose your shot to tame the light, rather than overexpose to bring out the face. Color correction is much easier in the former case than the latter. In the example above, I underexposed the shot, then reduced the whites, raised the mids, and added a little saturation in post-production - a very quick fix.

3) You will often not be able to hold the camera steady and thrust a mic under your subject's nose at the same time. Use a good, sensitive, directional shotgun microphone to pick up the sound of the speaker without too much background noise. While there is background sound in the example above, it is very easy to hear what Crist is saying.

 

Monday
Mar012010

ABC News moving to one-man-band model

This report comes from the Los Angeles Times today:

"ABC News President David Westin confirmed in an interview Friday that the network's ranks of bureau correspondents, which currently number several dozen, would be cut in half and be replaced with "digital" journalists who would be expected to shoot and edit their own stories."

The full story can be seen here.

Sunday
Feb142010

Shooting stories in elements and sequences

When shooting a story in which you are also the reporter, it's sometimes easy to forget that you need to tell and illustrate the story with the pictures you shoot.

You may think this sounds obvious, but many solo video journalists fall into the trap of shooting footage with a view to it simply being wallpaper to cover whatever they're planning to say in their script. Indeed, it is important to have a rough sketch of what you want to say ahead of time so you know what b-roll to gather. However - and this begins in the producing stage of the story - you need to be careful to make sure the pictures you are gathering make coherent television.

Here is a good example of a story I shot, along with Emmy Award winning shooter Denis Lefkovich, for Margaret Warner of the PBS Newshour:

You'll see that this piece utilizes several distinct elements and shot sequences - the kinds of segments you need to gather when shooting your stories.

The elements include:
- Wootton Bassett
- Reading war memorial
- Petticoat Lane market
- London Commuters
- New Statesman columnist at King's Cross

Each of these elements - or individual story nuggets that go towards explaining the broader story - has an associated sequence of shots which tell the story. There are also sequences of shots to cover narration, including footage from Afghanistan and London GVs.

This piece illustrates the way you should think about getting your pictures. You need to make sure you have several elements, the number depending on the length of your story. Each element brings an up-close example of something that helps tell your broader story. It helps make a story digestible, and not a long academic explainer.

In a very short story you can use just one element like this, but you still need to make sure you think about shooting pictures that will make for sequences when you edit. It is no good to grab one shot of something you want to show. You need several shots - wide, mid and tight - and moves in order to build a sequence that makes sense to the viewer.

Now here is an example of a story I shot and reported solo:

You'll see here that I use several elements:
- Food pantry
- A haitian in Florida
- The Haitian Consulate
- Stranded missionaries

There is also a sequence of shots from Haiti. Staying with the Haiti pictures and building a sequence with them makes it less jarring to see pictures of Haiti in the middle of a piece from Florida. It gives the viewer time to adjust to what they're seeing.

It's just another example of how videographers who are also journalists need to be mindful, not just of how they're shooting, but of what they're shooting.

 

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