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Trouble is – they’re more than ninety years out of date.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


March 30 2013

09:47

b-roll hack

Cameragod down under came up with a novel concept to booster the rep of one of my favorite sites – b-roll. (b-roll is the go-to site for broadcast news cameramen to discuss gear, gossip and more.)

Here is his tip – and a great one it is. I would never have thought of this.

And here is my tip – and oldie but goodie. Especially if you’re fairly new to the biz.

I look forward to more of these and hope to learn from an amazing group of peers.


08:36

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.


September 04 2012

23:38

September 01 2012

22:12

Business…

Photo courtesy Kathleen Newell (http://www.kathleennewell.com)

Heads up – this is a “shameless self-promotion” posting. My visual storytelling business is up and running.

While small (with intentions to stay that way), I have plans to make it big – in quality. Although I’ve dabbled a bit with video production and its many challenges, I find my love of news and storytelling is leading me back into news – both feature and general.

So…if you want to keep up, check me out at the following sites:
http://thinknews.wordpress.com/ – my biz site
https://www.facebook.com/thinknews – facebook
https://twitter.com/thinknews – twitter
https://vimeo.com/cyndygreen – videos on Vimeo

Just FYI: work in progressing on The Basics of Videojournalism, although life is getting in the way some days.

And I will continue to post from time to time here on this blog – my first and favorite. Thanks for dropping by.


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.


May 04 2012

22:14

May 03 2012

19:50

April 22 2012

17:31

April 18 2012

14:18

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….)


February 09 2012

15:14

January 19 2012

07:33

January 11 2012

21:53

January 09 2012

01:27

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.)


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