Journalist + video camera = movie

The Guardian has published a new guide to video, and this article follows a newbie videographer step by step through his quest to make his first video.

The initial plan behind my film was as follows: to use my journalistic wherewithal to arrange access to an event that might provide suitable footage for a short film; to record said event using techniques cribbed from experts and how-to guides; to not accidentally delete said footage; and, finally, to edit the footage into a short film which we could then put on the internet for the viewing pleasure of all and sundry.

Sounds easy, yes?

“The worst thing you can do is try to get everything on camera,” said John Domokos, a video producer at the Guardian and the first individual to offer me advice on how to film the world around me. “If you try to get everything in, you’ll miss everything. And don’t zoom much either, that’s another sure-fire miss. Don’t be afraid to hold the camera still, to look at the same thing for 8-10 seconds. It may feel like an eternity, but it’s worth it.”

See, I’m not the only one spewing out that advice. I don’t make this stuff up!

I haven’t shown you the tripods yet, but here’s a preview:

… when I spoke to Emmy award-winning film-maker Ben Summers, a theme of stillness began to emerge. “If you’re by yourself, get a tripod,” said Ben … “The reason that so much amateur footage is rubbish is because they have no tripod, they’re zooming in all the time and everything is shaky. The more zoom, the more any shakes are brought out. A tripod helps to eliminate that. So get a tripod, find one position where you get a good view, get a wideshot and establish all the action. Make life easy, make the camera still and steady and let the action unfold in front of you.”

Hold still. Do not zoom.

Next, the cutaway shot. What is that? Remember my short video of the Sunday painter? Remember her palette on the grass at her feet? She’s painting, she leans down to the right, her head is in the center of the image forever, and then she comes back up to paint some more. That’s my raw footage. The cutaway is the closeup of her palette. I cut where she leans to the right. I inserted the palette and her brush swirling the blobs of paint. Then cut to her coming back up.

Cut-away is a term I now like to use a lot because it sounds very TV, even though it simply means a shot of something other than the subject of your film, which can serve as an interlude when you’re jumping between clips. The idea, as I understand it, is to pick cut-aways that fit within the logic of the film (i.e., there’s no point splicing a pre-gig interview together with shots of the band on stage) and offer some element of detail. I squeezed in on a pair of toe-tapping feet and the flashing diodes of the bassist’s pre-amp to help later with the edit.

Have a read. The author has a few things to say about editing too. You can see his video (it won’t be winning any awards, and it’s much too long).

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Notes about Chapter 12

For this week (Jan. 24 class), you were assigned to read the chapter about shooting in the Bernard textbook (pp. 177-192). We didn’t talk about it in class, but here are a few points to keep in mind:

Visual thinking: Think about the most interesting visuals when you are thinking about the story. The structure of the final, edited story will come from the images. Consider “Red Hot Rails”: Which came first, the images … or the script?

Crew size: It would be great to have a two-person crew (and you will for your final project), but a lot of newspaper video is shot solo.

Story and approach: These are not the same as having a final script or a final written text story. When you go out to shoot, you should be clear in your mind about what your story probably is and what approach you think will work best. If you’re not clear about these, you will probably shoot a bunch of unusable junk and cry in the editing room.

Knowing where to stand, and thinking on your feet: Read page 180.

Editing while shooting: I cannot emphasize this enough (page 181). You will start to understand it as you learn how to edit. The general idea is that the more you edit while shooting, the easier it will be to do the final edit. This means leaving stuff out — not shooting it! The worst thing you could do? Shoot everything. Disaster.

Demonstrations (page 183): This is a useful technique. Think of it as a video illustration. For some stories, you might legitimately ask a subject, “Please show me how you …” This might be for something like training a dolphin at SeaWorld (“How do you teach them to jump through the hoop?”) or subduing an arrested suspect (“How do you restrain a guy without Tasering him?”). Your subject might not show you (demonstrate) using a dolphin or a real crime suspect but rather using a colleague as a stand-in. It will be obvious to the viewers that they are watching a demonstration, but it will be a more visual way of absorbing the information than just listening to someone talking.

Lipstick camera (p. 183): See this link if you are curious.

Cardinal rule of documentary video: “A powerful story, told well, can overcome some cinematic rough edges. [But] a weak story shot spectacularly well is still a weak story” (p. 186; my italics).

Interviews (pp. 187-192): More about this later! You will shoot an interview (with a tripod) for Shooting 2!

Online syllabus updates

On the Week 3 page, you’ll find a link to the video we saw in class yesterday.

On the Shooting 1 and 2 assignment page, you’ll see a clarification about how to turn in your work. Make sure you read and understand the full assignment before you go out and shoot.

Don’t worry about sound at all. We’ll do sound for the second shooting assignment. (Your microphones arrived yesterday! They are nice!)

The edited example I showed you yesterday, of the woman painting, is linked to the Editing 1 assignment. Remember, that is an edited version — your raw tape will not look like that.

If you have any questions about the HV20 camera, feel free to e-mail me immediately. Also, the complete manual is a PDF file inside the Handouts folder on the L: drive. You can access our class L: drive from any computer in Weimer Hall if you log in with your class login name and password.

Neglecting your blogs

I know you all have lots of stuff to do (the life of a grad student), but I must remind you, your blog is more than a class exercise.

Read this if you doubt me.

More and more today, the hiring editor is going to look at you a little funny if you say, “I want to be a journalist, but I just can’t find time to blog regularly.” The hiring editor is going to wonder how on earth you will ever survive in a real newsroom if you can’t even get off your butt to write a few little blog posts every week. What, you say you don’t know what to write about? Another bad sign! A journalist who can’t think of anything to write about? What the — ?

You see what I’m saying?

First shooting exercise (Jan. 17 class)

I have blogged about the first shooting exercise here.

You students did a great job. I think the previous work with still photography and shooting stills for Soundslides (Toolkit 1) has really prepared all of you well for shooting video.

This is going to be fun!

Take the time that’s needed

Read this blog post: What comes in = What goes out.

… if you don’t take the time to be inspired, if you don’t take the time to look up from the grind of daily slaving at the same old tasks, you’ll end up, well, doing the same old tasks.

It has much to say about the mind-set for shooting video. It comes from the blog of a photojournalist, CS Stanley.

Diving into video

Welcome back! Apart from the video links on the Week 1 syllabus page, I wanted to give you a link to the post from Angela Grant’s blog, News Videographer:

How do you choose stories for video?

This is the post that suggests three attributes that make a story well suited for video:

  • Lots of movement and action
  • Something people just want to see
  • Emotion

Why not add News Videographer to your RSS reader today?

For a roundup of blog posts about video, see Online Video: An Essential Tool for Journalists.