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April 15 2013

00:08

Hints for news(film) cameramen…

…it never changes.  The process of creating a visual story that is.  Larry Nance and I are merrily working on our tome, The Basics of Videojournalism when what should appear online but some helpful hints for visual shooters.

Trouble is – they’re more than ninety years out of date.

Or are they?

Thanks to Amanda Emily, here is a list of hints written by Pathe’ News editor Paul Hugon in 1916 – during the birth of the movement of newsreel shooters. Let’s see how those tips stack up.

Right off there’s this advice. Still applicable today.

The object of motion pictures is to show motion. Only things in which there is motion are worthy of the cameraman’s attention.

Then there’s the highly technical advice on exposure using a hand cranked camera.

For each turn of the handle, eight pictures are exposed. The handle is turned twice in one second. Therefore 16 pictures are exposed in one second.

Translated to today’s terminology, most cameras set on auto expose approximately 30 pictures per second. And you don’t have to keep turning the crank to keep exposing new pictures.

And some advice we’re giving in the book. Use a tripod (dammit).

It is essential, to preserve the illusion which is the basis of the film business, that the pictures should be absolutely steady.

We’re in agreement on tilts and pans too! It is better by far to visualize and shoot what you see in several strong shots rather than taking the lazy route and panning or spraying the scene.

There should never be a panoram, either vertical or horizontal, unless it is absolutely essential to obtain a photographic effect, and in any case the panoram should be, not from the main subject to others, but from others to the main subject, where theattention will finally rest. It is very much better to take two scenes than one panorammed scene. Panoraming is the lazy man’s remedy.

There’s a lot more there and most of it pretty darn good. Shoot pretty subjects, striking effects of light and shade. A hefty dose of technical advice on iris and shutter. Ummmm…you can skip the sections on protecting the negative and shipping (by slow boat to China in those days).

And the conclusion is his Golden Rule…

Make as good a picture for others as you would like others to make for you.
Nothing but the very best is good enough. Think, and think hard, how you can make the best picture. Put it all down in writing; plan your scenes…
There is plenty of room at the top of your profession, but you will not get there by standing about or just grinding away. Brain work is ultimately the only way to big money. And the money is there waiting for you.

(well maybe those last few lines don’t apply anymore…)
For full text, go to the original article on Amanda Emily’s site.


September 05 2012

01:56

The decade of the VJ has begun…

…and it caught me off guard.

Here’s the scoop. The traditional model of TV news is a building with employees who scatter like ants every day in search of news. They are given assignments by the assignment desk or take off running at the sound of a breaker. In the past these jobs were well-paid, stable employment. The public saw those who worked in the biz are part of the glamour industry.

Trouble is the word “glamour” has two meanings. Compelling charm/beauty or enchantment. Trickery.

That “glamour” is only surface deep. But enough of that. Back on track.

The new paradigm revealed itself beginning last week, picked up speed, and slapped me in the face. And it’s right in character for these times.

I’ve run across or been made aware of at least four new businesses that are seeking videojournalists to either contract with them to sell already produced stories or to pitch stories for production. All of these companies host the videos, seek out buyers, take their percentage, and then pass a payment on to the VJ. Sometimes substantial, sometimes not. (I’m guessing more of the latter than the former.)

Another thing all four have in common is a requirement to sign a contract with clauses mandating ethical behavior.

The types of stories being solicited range from international breaking news to entertainment to features.

I tell you…at this point in time at this time in my life this seems heaven sent.
Too old to get a job at the traditional station (old ugly and cantankerous) but too young to curl up, retire and die (inside and out). Working on my own on stories I want to produce.

Maybe I’ll curtail the curtness and try the sweet ole lady act.
Nah.

Don’t think so.


August 15 2012

07:58

Two views (or more) of VJs…

Newsreel Man (Charles Peden in front with sound equipment)

In the beginning there was the Newsreel Cameraman. Hauling around more gear than a pack mule, he (no shes back then) covered the news and view of the nine-teens and twenties, joined by an Audio Man in 1927.

That was the original VJ. Rough and tumble, but always got the story.

These NR guys held on tenaciously through the birth of television, only getting phased out in the 1960s when the majority of the public chose the boob-tube over the big screen for their daily dose of what’s happening.

In the meantime a new term sprang up on the broadcast side of news: OMB. One man band. A reinvention of the NRC, they (once again) hauled around a camera, audio gear and enough love of news and what’s happening to gather the news in their markets for a hungry audience. I’m guesstimating maybe late 1950s with film and optical audio through…hmmm, today’s digital workflow.

And now we have divergence.

Sometime in the 1990s print photographers discovered an entirely new unheard of medium. They called it multimedia. It was all new – if you could actually believe editing sound with your still photos and then playing it back. Wow.

Then these brave pioneers moved on to an even greater discovery. Something they called video. Imagine, if you can, moving images with audio embedded! Why the world had never seen the likes of it before. But what were they going to call themselves if they no longer shot stills?

Well there were a number of options. Out of the nation’s capitol came the term Backpack Journalist. Made sense because (theoretically) you could fit camera, computer…your entire office into a backpack. Visual Storyteller was another one. Multimedia Journalist or Storyteller was another choice. But most of them went for Video Journalist. And so they laid claim to this new territory as original and new and totally theirs.

Um…but what about those broadcast folks? Weren’t they shooting video too?

Not they way we are, chimed the (print) VJs. Our style of storytelling is unique. We’re not TV.

Looking at it from afar (and for a while from the middle of it) I’d say the two are pretty much doing the same thing.
Similarities?

1) Both use cameras
2) Both gather sound
3) Both work alone to gather and disseminate visuals stories to their audiences

Differences?

1) Broadcast VJs tend to use cameras meant for “run and gun” shooting with easy to access exterior controls, professional audio connectors, and good zoom lenses.
Print VJs opt for hybrid DSLRs that shoot both stills and video. While they have more control over depth of field with a wide variety of interchangeable lenses, they must also add-on audio accessories and other gadgets.
2) BVJs generally run on a tighter schedule with more packed into a day and more expected of them. Anything from a single package to a few VOs and VOSOTS to a combination of all of the above.
PVJs may have to shoot multiple stories daily also, but often seem to use video for more long form stories or VO/VOSOTS.
3) A good BJV can turn an exquisite daily story using a variety of options from a NATS pkg to pkg complete with narration and stand-up. Day after day, week after week.
A good PVJ can turn an exquisite story in a few days (from what I hear and see on the professional boards) generally a NATS pkg using the voice of the interview subject rather than narration.

You may have guessed two things by now. I tend to favor the BVJ…but there are some equally damned good PVJs out there. The good ones have more in common than not. They live and breathe visual storytelling. They see the kernels of truth, the compelling images, and understand the flow of time and words well enough to go beyond the basics. And more importantly, they learn from everything…from each other, from their subjects…each story is an opportunity to get better.

Why this posting? Just had to get it out of my system. Don’t want history written up improperly with the lineage of VJs lost to the most vocal shooters. Those quiet guys behind behemoth hand-cranked cameras deserve their place in the books too. (And don’t forget…many of them were former still photogs.)


July 27 2012

15:35

Phone-ography…

A paradigm (para-dime) is typical pattern or model of something.

One of the paradigms of visual storytelling has been a certain type of camera. For years these cameras were the domain of professionals…large, extremely expensive, totally amazing pieces of technology. It took big bucks to get one and you made big bucks if you had not only the technical knowledge but the aesthetic sense and storytelling ability to use one.

Then…the paradigm shifted in the early 2000s. The big boys still made big bucks with big gear…but suddenly there was a new class of camera…halfway between the little consumer cams and the big professional guns. The pro-sumer camcorder. It had many of the nifty features of the pro cams, such as good glass and three chips and professional audio inputs. Manual controls. Good stuff all around, although noticeably not really up to pro standards.

And these little baby-cams began to gain in popularity as more and more people began to use them for an audience who demanded more and more video. The digital explosion send shock waves across the planet with the better quality cameras and affordable non-linear editing programs brought a new technology into the hands of the citizenry.

Another paradigm shift is going on right now and we see it every day and don’t even think about it. Cell phones began sprouting up in the 1990s…then morphed into phones that could take pretty lousy still shots…then not-so-bad stills. Then by leaps and bounds these little wonders turned into do-it-all mobile devices. Talk. Text. Surf the ‘Net. Shoot stills – and video. Not just plain ole video and stills, but high def stuff.

And they are taking over. Some years back when I began this blog I did a posting on Dinosaurs Fighting or Survival. Times had changed and if the pros who shot news (both still and video) didn’t change with them, they were out a job.

But back then the pros were either flocking over to the new technology or resisting mightily. It was a treat to their way of life – what they knew and could do.

Then technology ramped up its game and the gear got so good that the definition of “professional” took on a whole new meaning as more and more folks acquired the new smaller cameras. It quickly became apparent that the size of the lens and the heft of the camera had little to do with the ability to communicate. What mattered (and still very much matters) is a sense of aesthetics and storytelling. AND knowing how to make the gear you are working with work with you to tell the most powerful story possible.

But even the pro-sumer cameras (and many consumer cams too) had the familiar look to them. Lens in front, kinda boxy and rectangular. LCD on the side. It still looked like a real camcorder.

Enter the new mobile devices…thin, flat and less than the size of the palm of your hand. No optical zoom and minimal digital zoom. A new style of shooting and storytelling came with these new devices.

No longer able to pull in a far-away shot, you now had to zoom with your feet (or arms) to get in closer. The camera is no longer part of your body (hold it close to keep it steady…tripod it, cradle it). The camera is now an extension of your arm…your hand. In order to get a variety of shots you really need to get intimate with your subject. As in, arms-length close. Or closer.

And the storytelling end has had to change too. Rather than full-blown packages (including interviews, variety of shots, lotsa b-roll) stories are simpler. One long shot of an event such as a parade or riot. An interview covered with b-roll of an event or meeting. Impressions rather than full explanation. These “impressions” are often paired on the Internet with text and more information, which together tell a full story. The audience can choose to view the video and get the background from the other resources available or just read the information or just view the video to get a sense of what happened.

I doubt very much that mobile devices are going to take over the visual storytelling world any more than consumer or prosumer camcorders took over from professional gear. What they do is open up an entirely new way and new possibilities in visual storytelling to even more storytellers.

Yeah – it’s nice to belong to an exclusive club. Been there. Done that. But the new wave of stories coming at us will open our eyes and the world even more. And can that be a bad thing?

Transparency: Co-author Larry Nance and I have been discussing how to include all levels of gear in our pending textbook,The Basics of Videojournalism. He is a big proponent of technology and not only keeping up with the latest, but staying on the cresting wave as it thunders across the ocean. So expect full inclusion of not only prosumer and consumer and DSLR…but also mobile devices in the book.


May 05 2012

16:45

Game changer…

Every now and then something comes along and the reaction is, “COOL!  Why didn’t I think of that?”  (or…”I thought of that years ago and it’s FINALLY come out.)

Back in the early 2000s JVC had something called the GY-DV300u aka the Streamcorder. That little gem was way ahead of its time. I grabbed one because after some pretty heavy duty research I found it had all the gizmos I wanted and needed to have a life after a multi-decade career as a broadcast news cameraman. But it had that little extra “umph” in the background that intrigued me – the ability to stream live to the web. And for some reason it never really took off. And the camera and it’s revolutionary potential kind of faded away…

Until this year when the 300u’s great granddaughter returned. And with a vengeance.

Meet the ! To me it’s an old friend gussied up and modernized. But it is a game changer and this time the time is ripe for it to reach the heights it missed last time around.

What’s new? Okay, so I admit I’m addicted to glass. A 23x zoom. Something that can reach out and pull you (and your audience) in close to situations you don’t even WANT to get close to. Most prosumer cameras in this price range only have a 10x or 14x zoom, leaving you miles short of the shot you really want.

Dual slot recording…the less expensive version of this camera, the has two slots for continuous recording too, but lacks the ability to record in HD in one slot and SD in the other. That ability allows you to shoot HD for the main event but SD to stream back quickly to the station for on-air. Wow.

I don’t even need to get into real manual controls, XLR inputs, three chips (1/3 CMOS)…the usual suspects in a pro’s array of necessary tools.

What happened in the past ten years that makes this new again?

Well, this time news is READY for a camera like this. In 2002 (when I got my JVC 300u) going live on the web was something entertaining…fun. But nobody in real news considered it seriously. After all, it wasn’t really professional – was it? Tiny little camera, poor quality…and there were live trucks and microwave trucks to handle important stories.

Times change…and now cell phones and Skype can put out decent enough (okay, so even I debate that one) images for news. Plus, reality has set in – financial reality. With the competition out there, lean and fast may make the difference between survival and death to cost conscious news organizations.

And while I absolutely love those good ole days, I’m a realist. What I see is a camera that may mean survival.


April 12 2012

07:19

Do. It. Yourself.

We all have those little tricks up our sleeves…the tricks we use to fix it, shortcut it, or make it easy for ourselves.

Some years back I posted a quick little emergency “fixit” for those days when your last miniscule lav windscreen disappears. At the time I was experimenting with using my computer with a camcorder plugged in to see if I could record “live” into iMovie.

It worked. The way I shot the video I mean. And the trick works pretty well too. All you’re doing is creating a dead zone above the mike head that keeps wind from hitting the head.

Fast forward six years to today…or rather earlier this year. I needed a way to fix my Lectrosonics wireless receiver to my Panasonic HMC150. The body is so compact and nearly every surface has dials or gizmos that I couldn’t figure out where to put it. Out of desperation I would use the hand grip…or pocket it tethered to a long enough XLR cable. Awkward.

Looked around on the Internet, but most of the fixes either didn’t look like they’d work with my camera or were way too expensive. So I did what any sane person with too much time on their hands would do…I diddled and daddled and did some thinking to boot and came up with my own gizmo.

The solution was both effective and affordable. One two by four inch piece of plastic, about 3/5 inch thick. One cold shoe attachment. Industrial strength Velcro.

I’ll make a video later on…but here’s the drill. Countersink a threaded hold into the plastic. Fill said hole with super glue and screw in the cold shoe. Wait for it to dry. Attach Velcro to fit. Put mated piece of Velcro onto your receiver (or whatever else you want to attach to the camera).

Cost: assuming I could have bought just enough for this one holder, probably less than $10. As it was, I bought enough plastic for four holders (around $14), five of the cold shoes at around three and a half bucks each, and the Velcro roll ran nearly $15. The super glue I had lying around the workshop.

What would I do differently? I got the cold shoes cheap on Amazon.comAmazon. If I do it again, I’d probably go for more heavy duty shoes…I can tell the ones I got are not sturdy enough for long term use.

Oh – and once I went to all of this trouble, I found exactly what I needed (same basic design, but metal) over at B&H.

So – two of my tricks are out of the bag…and my partner in crime, Larry Nance, is working on more fixits, make-its, and shortcuts for our book, The Basics Of Videojournalism. The OMB, VJ – the current day Jack (and Jill) of all trades.


March 29 2012

16:39

What’s new is old is new again…

I remember when CNN started up in the 70s. Friend of mine (a camerawoman) came up to me one day and said, “There’s this guy from CNN who said he’d make me a star!” She was smiling and I laughed. A cameraman a star? Seemed like a podunk idea…going nowhere fast. But THAT sure didn’t happen. CNN went on to become a worldwide organization.

Well what’s old is new again. Michael Rosenblum, the alleged “father of videojournalism”, is starting up a new network. (I say “alleged” in a friendly spirit…although he didn’t create the role or coin the term, he has most definitely promoted the concept.)

Here’s what’s out: it look as if this dream of his will be based in Nashville, where he is looking for staff. It appears contributors will be based on the VJ model. Beyond that…well we all get to wait together. Been having fun speculating with friends about where this is headed (and where it might head), and while ideas about, real facts are kind of hard to nail down.

What I will say is, I hope it breathes some fresh air into a career that is sadly lacking at times. While there are some truly great cameramen and VJs out there and some stations and organizations that truly support them, they are in the minority. If Rosenblum is willing to pay a living wage to get the best, I wish him and his cause the best. If he is willing to support quality and ethical storytelling, go for it! There is a need for something beyond the bland flash that passes for news and visual storytelling today…dare we hope this is it?

(Transparency: along with probably thousands of others, I’ve tossed my resume into the pile headed Rosenblum’s way. With caveats of course. He has his standards and may reject me. Ditto my side re my requirements. Being retired does have its perks.)


March 18 2012

15:42

Reinvention…

It’s a fact of life. If you can’t keep shifting with the shifting sands, you can’t stay in the business. Yesterday’s skills are so … yesterday. Griping and complaining don’t cut it. So shrug off that load of history and grab the best of what you are and move on…

The din from the “good ole days” group is getting louder. Haven’t heard it this bad since around 2005-ish. The complaint? The usual.

They’re hiring kids with no experience for cheap.
No one wants quality anymore.
Why I can remember…

Well, I can remember too. Remember graduating from college and not being able to get a job in my chosen career because I was (oh no) female. And I have friends from that era who were not part of the mainstream culture who were in the same position, if not worse. African American. Hispanic. Asian. One of them confided to me recently that he had to hire a white friend to front for him on initial contract negotiations so he could just get his foot in the door.

I can remember what you had to learn to get your foot in the door of a broadcast newsroom. You had to know everything about photography and shooting film. Aperture, shutter speed, light meters, how to light with proper filters, sequencing, how to mix chemicals, run the processor, work any shift, take any story, get to a story using only a Thomas Brothers map book in the middle of a cold dark winter.

Things have changed – the gear now is so…well, simple. Turn it on and (all too often) keep it on automatic. The worst digital camera image today is better than the first video camera images. Yes, it seems as if anyone can get hired. I hate to ask, it that YOUR decision? Are YOU the one calling the shots? Second guessing the decision makers will not change the course they are on…if you want to change things, you know where to go.

(pause for reflection)

Sigh. I feel for those who are hurting and passionate about visual storytelling who cannot find work. Went through the same thing myself after my first pregnancy. Had the skills, the experience, but wasn’t…what is that word? I didn’t “fit the profile” of what stations or news directors wanted. (Even heard through the grapevine that one chief photog said I didn’t “look” like a cameraman.)

Many of the current “used to be/wanna be’s” are in the same boat I was in once. Out of nowhere there was a paradigm shift and no one was looking. Carefully enough.

All I can say is – keep on plugging. Learn those new skills. Reinvent yourself. Really really look at what is going on in the media and see if you can fit the model. Maybe you want to make a living wage. Maybe then you’d better reconsider or being willing to work the bottom rung long enough to begin moving up again. Find that small market who will give you a shot. Or grow up and find a real job. The news business has never been one for softies. Remember – we eat our young.

And if you make it to the top of the scrum…remember. Don’t bite the head off the next down and outer who asks if you’ve heard of an opening. Look around, try to help. At the very least, give a word of encouragement, a cup of coffee, and advice. You owe it to them. And yourself.

(wishing you all the best in your efforts….)


January 08 2012

22:14

So why won’t you cover MY story?

Used to hear versions of this every day when I was still working the field. How come you’re covering THAT story? Why don’t you do some GOOD news? I called your station and they won’t cover (insert grand opening of brother’s store, daughter’s ballet recital, whatever…here).

So I’m about to give away some dirty little secrets and (if you listen carefully) some pretty solid tips on how to get a bit of broadcast news coverage. All of the following is pretty much verbatim in answer to a request from a member of my husband’s church. She had a friend who was opening a fitness center. From any angle (except a few of mine) a non-news story. One word. Boring. But here’s what I suggested.

If I knew how to make the media do anything, I would. But there are ways to get to the top of the pile for consideration. Realize that every day every media outlet has hundreds if not thousands of requests to cover events. The trick is to make it topical – current and of interest to a wider audience. Make the media WANT to come.

My first thought was…oh no (remember, I’m a slug) not another fitness center. THEN I saw it was located right next to Donut King and got a chuckle out of that. Also…seeing that one of the classes has already been featured on ABC (nationally or locally????) is a plus. There is interest in anything new and unusual.

So…you need to plan your strategy, remembering even then that it is hit or miss. And even if you do get a call saying they may come to do the story…a breaking news story will cancel any plans.

Do NOT push this as a grand opening. The interest is more in what is new and different. I don’t know the hours for your grand opening or if they would allow media in before (a day or two)…but you might consider aiming at the morning shows. There isn’t a lot of news happening at 5am most days, so if you offer a live crew an opportunity to send the reporter in to sweat it out and learn how to use the new gear or learn a new movement (reporter participation is good), then you may get a crew down. If you contact the Record you should have the same pitch…although they are more likely to cover a class after the fact than a grand opening. The business of news media is to provide information and to some extent entertainment…which is why I recommend selling the story in some way other than “a store is opening up.”

Send your first release out about two weeks before the event (email or snail mail). Follow up a few days later with a short phone call – “Hi, just checking to see if you got the information on the fitness center and their new (equipment) and (whatever the class is). If you’re interested in doing an early live shot, we’d be glad to have your crew test out the (class and/or equpment). Keep it short…and the best times to call are 5:30am-8:30am, then 9:30 to 11am, then 1pm to 4pm. Why? If you call during or near the time a show begins (with the exception of daybreak news) they won’t really be listening to you. If they are abrupt it may mean they are dealing with a lot of pressure due to breaking news or changes in the schedule. Yeah…lotsa stress in a broadcast newsroom.

Whatever you send out – KEEP IT SIMPLE. The “5 Ws.” Who, What, When, Where, Why. Plus a SHORT graph with your pitch.

All it took was a bit of planning…and the daybreak “happy talk” news show in the area bit – hook and line – and her friend’s store was a star for a brief moment in the market.

Lesson to remember: news departments don’t have to come to your event. Their job is to provide a service to a wider community…in the case of TV stations is is generally regional. Their job is to provide news and information that are meaningful to the lives of their audience. Your little store opening or dancing daughter only has meaning to a small group of people. In order to get your story to the top of the food chain you have to provide an angle that will make it more palatable to the assignment editor and of interest to a larger audience. Good luck with that.


January 07 2012

16:17

…and so it began…

Back in the beginning it appears newreel cameramen evolved from newspaper still guys…later moving into a new medium (TV). They are converging again (on the Internet).

Always wondered where the scuffle between brothers began.

(Thanks Amanda Emily.)


January 06 2012

21:34

Did we create the monster…

…or is the monster re-creating us?

Hopping around to various newsie sites, I see a lot of moaning, groaning, and bitching about the state of broadcast journalism today. How the ethics are shot…the stories are more entertainment than news…how Barbie and Ken are running rampant in the studio. Where to lay the blame? Well favorites are consultants. Management. News directors. The new crop of (you name it: reporters, producers, crew).

But we’re leaving out the most critical factor. The elephant in the newsroom discussion: the audience.

THAT my friends is the monster that is forcing change as much as anything. And it IS a MONSTER. It wants entertainment…excitement…it is a voyeur demanding the reality it can never live…but wants to emulate.

OUR audience.

Oh, where to begin? How did this all start? Examine it enough and you end up staring at the lint in your belly button (or the toe-jelly…um, never mind…).

Back in the 90s I worked for a station who demographic (we used to jokingly say) was “Trailer Trash Barbie.” The only person at home during our noon and early news shows. Um…and the only one who wasn’t watching some of the other stations with well let’s say a little more of what we like to think of as “news”. Little TTB has been very busy pro-creating with lots of “Gangsta Kens” and other unnamed low-lifes, raising up an entire new crop of young ‘uns.

These mini-(couch)taters are generally overfed, undereducated (trust me – the students who walked into my classes firmly stating, “I don’t read.”), with little or no motivation to become…anything. They just want their “stuff” and an Idol to clone themselves after.

Our new audience. They spend more time in front of a screen than any other generation. The virtual world is more real than the couch they kick back in. The stars they watch wallow, not twinkle. They don’t watch news…well, because it’s boring…doesn’t relate to who they are.

The result is broadcast news has changed to meet the demands of a generation who can choose exactly what they want to see and hear…and it does not seem to fit the traditional definition of news: information that informs and educates people about their community and world.

sigh…end of rant.


January 03 2012

08:18

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…


December 30 2011

08:50

Back in biz…

I will confess – I am a videoholic. There’s no twelve step program for this ailment, so I have to feed it every day. And I’ve finally decided to both get serious and legal. Today I got my business license. And that, my friends, is a journey unto itself.

First stop was the county Registrar’s Office to file for a fictitious business name. Of course I could have used my own moniker at no cost, but hey – I’ve kind of grown to love the “thinknews” label. Twenty-six bucks. Step one of THAT process.

Then off to the Community Development department for the actual license. Had the paperwork all filled out and slapped it down on the counter and pulled out the checkbook. And casually mentioned I might in the future be hiring subcontractors for jobs if I got lucky. BIG mistake. Counter Lady very pointedly said, “Oh you can’t HAVE employees at a home business site.” “But they’re SUBCONTRACTORS” I pointed out to her. Well, you can see where this is heading. She stuck to her guns, so I asked – what’s the difference between a home business and real business license?

Home business. First off – conducted out of your HOME. Both you and the home owner (fortunately one and the same in my case) must sign off on the license. NO clients or employees allowed on site. Well – no employees AT ALL. Unless they are members of the family.

Business license. May have employees and MUST be located in a commercially zoned property. Loads more paperwork. All this for an additional seventy buckeroos. I have to PAY for an office that neither employees or clients will ever see? Hmmmmm…

I hesitated a moment and told her to continue with the home license. Honestly – it will be just me, my gear, and a lot of email and phone connections to clients I may never see. And the little matter of “employees”? Let’s just say that I spoke with a local video production business owner (retired) who said Counter Lady had it all wrong – subcontractors are NOT employees legally. Thank you. Doled out a check for $430 with a promise I’d have the paperwork in a few weeks and be legal.

Step two of Fictitious Name: visit my local newspaper office and pay over $85 to have the notice formally published.

Newspaper friends … understand that I love you dearly, but this is an archaic system. Wouldn’t a notice on a county website more than meet the need and probably for less than half the cost? So WHO reads these notices? (Guess I’m gonna be doing it for the next four weeks.)

Final step…which I’ve been working on all week…is insurance.

Liability to cover my a** should someone decide to get injured (physically or psychically) on whatever job I’m on…or should I inflict damage on persons or property. (Note to self: buy more gaffers tape and possibly a couple of rubber throw mats to go over cable runs.) Protection basically for stuff I have a bit of control over.
Gear – some solace in the event my gear gets heisted.
Errors and ommissions – protection from what is NOT in my control. A failed SDHC card. Acts of God or stuff I can’t foresee that might totally tick off the client, who either wants a reshoot or a piece of my hide.

Checked out a couple of agencies and am going with one recommended by a number of folks over on b-roll.net. Brad at Buell Insurance was helpful and direct. Waiting for the request to pay…and I’m covered as of 1/1/12. Cost? Well, you’re gonna hafta get your own quote. It all depends on YOUR gear, location, estimated income, travel expectations…let’s just say that it was a bit more than the biz license and let it go at that.

My little end-of-year adventure is (nearly) over. The loose ends?

1. Pay insurance
2. Wait for arrival of (approved) home business license
3. Fictitious business name/the final step. Once the legal publishing requirement is met, the paper will send me some official paperwork which I must then forward to the Recorder’s office along with a(nother) check for $7.00. THEN I’m finally and totally legal.

Is it worth all of this trouble? In my case, yes. While this is a part time retirement gig, I do want to bid on local and state contracts and other opportunities I can’t even consider without flying above the legal radar. Besides, when folks ask what I do, now I can say I’m businesswoman!


July 30 2011

19:18

Citizen photographers app…

Can you say “Citizen Journalist”? That phrase harkens back seven or eight years when everyone it seems wanted to become a journalist. It had its good and bad points and never really seemed to take off. Kind of floundered and dropped out of sight.

Well, now someone has developed an app titled “Tapln” that encourages citizens to shoot photos to be submitted to their local rag.

Participating newspapers would ask their readers to pull out a phone and snap pictures if they are on scene of an event…even to the point of shooting breaking news.

We all know the dangers inherent in having untrained civilians running amuck thinking they can do a pro’s job. I won’t list them. Why don’t you? Feel free to make a comment below and let the world know what YOU think of this marvelous new app.

(Thanks to Mickey Osterreicher with the NPPA facebook group.)


July 28 2011

15:07

I don’t mention Amanda Emily…

…often enough. She is my computer geek queen and a repository of news history. And she’s blogged about a fascinating behind the scenes story about how a bomber flew into the Empire State Building.

Yes, the storytelling style is hokey…that was the style in those days. But look at the quality of the film itself, listen to how they built the story. And read the back story of the cameramen who shot the film.

Technology (always) changes…style changes…but good storytelling is always compelling.


July 25 2011

15:59

Professional vs. pond scum…

There’ve been a few discussions (this is one) going on over at b-roll, as well as some stuff happening in my own life that gave rise to this topic.

What IS a professional (videographer). And what is pond scum (well, pond scum floats…I really mean bottomfeeders)? And can one morph into the other?

Too often those at the top of the food chain look down with distain at those trying to climb out of the bottom. And those at the bottom often desperately love what they do and would (and can) do it for free.

Free – there’s the first difference.

A professional knows their worth – that their time is measured on dollars, based on experience, talent, technical knowledge, and gear, taking into account their market and a few other variables. And they charge accordingly.

Those who are not pros work for free…for the experience…for something for their demo reel…or just for the heck of it.

Pause for a bit of explanation – pros work for free from time to time for worthy causes or marketing purposes (win a free wedding video!).

Now I’m going to split the non-pros off from the pros and get into the nitty-gritty.

You can probably categorize the non-professional videographers into several strands.
1. Hobbyist
2. Student/Beginner
3. Clueless/Wanna-Be
4. True bottomfeeder

The Hobbyist is someone who does video for the love of it…and can and does achieve professional standards often. They’re not in it for the money, but for the love of the craft. (Again, pros are in it for the money…but in most cases there is also love of the craft. They want both though…to work and get paid for something they enjoy doing.)

Student/Wanna-Be are future pros if they play it right. They have learned the basics and are working to gain experience and listen and learn. They have a goal…to become a professional.

Um…Clueless/Wanna-Be. They may look like Students but don’t have the common sense or brain matter to rise above point and shoot. They’re either so into technical standards they don’t bother with aesthetics and the craft of video or they just like to walk around with a camera to impress, but never ever ever seem to move forward. They don’t have a plan or a goal beyond today.

And now for the Bottomfeeders. They’re the ones you have to look out for. They may look like pros or something between a beginner and pro, but they are not into learning or quality or ethics – they are in it for the money (and possibly the flash). They undercut pros in their market, do a shoddy job, and give the entire industry a bad name.

Why all this ranting?

First let me admit to an addition. I love to cruise craigslist. Primarily for the antiques and farm and garden section, but I also from time to time check out the gigs. Not the jobs (TV) section – after looking in there once or twice I had to sterilize my computer. It was NASTY.

And that’s where I (and many of the folks over on b-roll) find our laughs. So many many ads for video-related jobs, all offering no pay and an “opportunity” to work for “experience.”

But I found my first example that concerned me in the photography (for sale) section. A young woman placed an ad for her services as a photographer. She admitted to being a student, but wanted to charge $100 to take a portrait. She wanted to charge clients so she could learn and get experience. No online portfolio…nothing to indicate her abilities.

After an email correspondence I got her name. Yep – a real raw naive teen (ish) girl. She put herself out online and made several huge mistakes.

First – with one email I got her name and could easily, if I wished, have tracked her down or set up an appointment. Jail bait.

Second – she wanted to charge too much for her experience and without any proof of her work or mention of equipment other than having taken an ROP photo class and knowing PhotoShop.

Third – as mentioned above, what can she do for the price she is charging? Does she have a rate sheet…what does she provide for that price? How far will she travel? Where are some examples of her work?

I’m hoping she takes the advice given and sets up a webpage with examples, looks into contracts, rate sheets and more. She is a Student/Beginner…willing to learn.

The next one is similar, involving a teenager with aspirations and no clue about professional conduct. He offered to shoot senior portraits of a friend for free…and they went out over several days to a number of locations and different times (daylight, twilight, night). He shot quite a few photos – and then told his friend she had to pay $350 for the photos because he was a professional.

Ummmm – PROFESSIONAL?

I got involved because his “friend” was also one of my photo students who listened in class, earned an A and had her own concerns about his professionalism. Plus, she was extremely upset at the bait and switch.

A moment to pause for vainglorious shameless self-promotion.

MY student, while working with the above-mentioned “pro” kept questioning him about depth of field, light, aperture – and was able to asses his total lack of knowledge in those areas. Love it when a student actually LEARNS!

In the end she was able to beat him back, give him a token payment and NOT use any of his photos (98% of them were technically poor).

This guy may or may not learn from this. The friendship was broken, but may mend. But he seems to be meandering along his own self-centered path…not willing to move forward and take the necessary steps to become a professional. A current and future Bottomfeeder.

But his problems were similar to example number one, the craigslist babe.

No proof of prior work (no examples, just his word). No professional standards, rates, or contract. Bait and switch of the worst kind.

Now I do have a couple of students involved in video in their communities who are students. One is Cambodian, the other Hispanic. They took my high school broadcasting class and eventually set up their own production companies, shooting events/weddings within their tight-knit neighborhoods. (I’ve now seen Asian and Hispanic weddings from the inside! And pretty darn good productions at that.)

These two very different young men are moving thru the early stages of professionalism. They did some work for free for family/friends…then moved on to either working with a local pro or working on small events for token pay…then bigger projects on their own…to hiring assistants. They drove themselves to learn as much as they could, and still call or email with questions. Their raw talent and drive amaze me.

So – so do as I do – enjoy a good laugh from time to time online reading those trolling for free labor. But don’t get mad. This is a free market and those who don’t check out credentials before shelling over money have only themselves to blame. And don’t judge those who take the gigs too much. They may be clueless, they may be hobbyists, or bottomfeeders. Or they may be you – years ago in the same situation, but different time. Someone with a love, a passion for all things visual who just wants to (eventually) get paid to do what they love.


July 13 2011

13:13

More ethical dilemmas…

Thanks to Amanda Emily (who loves to toss stuff into the gears of both large and small minds), we have yet another tool for ethical debate. Well, not so much debate – it’s wrong in oh so many ways. But interesting nonetheless.

According to a report in newscientist.com,

AN IMAGE processing system that obscures the position from which photographs are taken could help protestors in repressive regimes escape arrest – and give journalists “plausible deniability” over the provenance of leaked photos.

Simply put, if the bad guys can figure out where you were standing when you took the photo, they might be able to identify which person with a camera took photos of protestors. Then it’s good-bye cameraman.

Noble intent…but dangerous. An artificial image is created in an arbitrary location using information from several photos taken from other locations. A pretty white lie, intended to protect the innocent whose intent is to expose corruption and abuse. But who’s to say it wasn’t taken further and more manipulation was done?

Have fun with this one kiddos!


July 09 2011

19:11

I stand corrected…

…by buddy Larry Nance. He looked at my last posting and then pointed out that perhaps I could be wrong. There’s a new technology that will forever change how photographers/videographers look at the relationship of the Exposure Triangle – the relationship between camera sensitivity to light, shutter speed, and aperture.

I’d read about it a while back, but Larry graciously provided this link.

Vastly over simplified, the incoming light is recorded as more than just a single image…all points that are in focus are recorded so you can decide AFTER the fact what you want in focus.

Is this good or bad? How does this affect the ethics of visual journalism? Personally I don’t think it means you are altering the image any more than before…it seems to allow the visual journalist a new tool to present images to the audience, letting them focus on the part of the image they feel communicates the idea best.

Of course…there is opportunity for abuse also. I shudder to think.


July 04 2011

00:34

How far should loyalty go?

To say I am a rabid Apple freak would be an understatement. My first computer (1981) was an Apple IIe…followed by a Performa, then an iMac (tear-drop), another iMac (monopod), and Macbook. And while I’m a Mac freak, I generally run my computers until the times force me to move on to a faster, sleeker, more current machine.

My love of Macs has only been rivaled by my love of Apple’s software. The OS has generally be easy to work with (one painful period during the forced switch from Classic to OS X). The video editing software – my personal weakness – is what kept me a firm supporter of the company. iMovie, Final Cut Express, Final Cut Pro. The latter always a bit out of my reach as a high school teacher (with teeth – also a three decade survivor of TV news).

You know where this is going.

My dream of a post-retirement gig has always included a good solid camera with professional controls AND a computer that could go anywhere with me with all of the features and software necessary to field produce anything from a youtube video to full production of a movie.

Until this week, that would have been a Macbook Pro and Final Cut Studio with the latest, best version of Final Cut Pro.

Last week’s unveiling of Final Cut X didn’t faze me…initially. I figured I could do as Apple recommended and run both the old FCP and new version on my screaming new Macbook Pro. But two things happened. Apple PULLED all on-shelf copies of FCS 3…effectively eliminating any possible purchase of a new copy. Then the bidding on auction sites went from three or four hundred to double that and more for used versions…even academic versions.

That’s when I began to reconsider my loyalties.

And that is why I found myself an hour ago researching Windows based laptops and appealing to friends for recommendations for a new (non-Apple) laptop that would allow me to take advantage of some pretty good discounts being offered by AVID and Adobe.

I’m not sure where this is heading…perhaps my heart will rule and I’ll remain an Apple supporter…or my head and pocketbook will turn me to what I’ve always jokingly called “the dark side.”

I do know, having used FCP, that it IS the software I want. But I don’t necessarily want to support an orphan. I want to know where Apple is going with Final Cut X – so I can make my decision easily. In lieu of that…perhaps a late life shake-up is in order.


June 26 2011

20:57

Summer doldrums…

…sometimes as the long hot summer wears on, it wears us down. We become lethargic…allowing our minds and limbs to relax and at times may just want to give up making any kind of effort.

Danger alert.

While it’s okay to relax and take it easy, the summer doldrums can be hazardous. Too much daydreaming can cause a person to lose focus of their real life dreams. Too little effort can become…too easy.

So some kind of jog to the system is good. Jump into an ice cold lake. Try to wash an uncooperative dog. Or find a fresh new face who has not lost their lust for breaking out of the box and let youth lecture age for once.

[yourtube=http://vimeo.com/19800915]

Thank you Logan for being unrealistic.


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