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May 04 2010

11:15

April 14 2010

10:14

Is there a professional camera in the House?

Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, with Canon EF 50m...

Image via Wikipedia

News reached me (via the excellent Newspaper video group) that the season end for House was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II. According to the petapixel blog Greg Yaitanes, the director of the show answered questions on twitter about the show. Most surprising for me was the suggestion that he didn’t use any special lenses or rigging.

When I posted a link to twitter, video whirlwind David Dynkley Gyimah commented:

Arun Marsh commented:

My reply.

It’s not the only show that has used the video side of DLSR’s as part of their shooting kit. Sci-fi series Caprica sneaked in a few shots taken using a DLSR.  Notes on video waded through a number of the shows podcasts to confirm the process and highlighted a nice exchange between the shows exec-producer David Eick and director Jonas Pate:

Pate: This opening sequence was not shot in [the] three camera style, it was actually shot with a [SLR]. And we put a funky little lens on the front of it called a Lensbaby and we shot the whole thing incredibly quickly in probably…I dunno, 30 minutes. Increasingly the digital technologies are allowing camera guys to work quicker.

Eick: Well yeah, what it does is it strips any of the mystique of the so-called art of film making, which is to say that anyone listening to this could probably make their own episode of Caprica if you study these podcasts long enough. The technology really has simplified and shrunk.

I heard a little of Dave’s response in that “…strips any of the mystique of the so-called art of film making”. And it’s a familiar refrain.

The idea that low-pro/pro-sumer equipment can push out pro-quality content is an argument we are more than used to in the world of videojournalism. Give anyone a camera and they are a film maker right?

Maybe not. It still takes a story and people passionate about telling that story to make great video whether it’s House or Video journalism. Kit like the Canon makes it easier for the ‘pros’ to do their job for less and (if you delve in to the caprica podcasts) what they feel is a more liberating and creative way.

In terms of video journalism, the canon may not be the piece of kit that opens the floodgates to the amateurs. But it does show that the walls are coming down.

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April 04 2010

05:24

Video at newspapers needs to improve

I was disappointed after this year’s NPPA Best of Photojournalism Multimedia Contest results were posted . In the News Video category, I won an honorable mention. Great! That’s until I realized  my video was the only award given in the category. What gives? This is the second year in a row I’ve placed in this News Video category. Last year I received a 2nd place, , but no third was given.  This troubles  me. Not because I didn’t place higher, but because the judges didn’t see a video that reached a high enough level of excellence to place.

During an online chat on the Poynter Institute’s website, I asked the judges:

“Why didn’t you award first through third in news video?”

The Response:

1:27 theresa: @colin – this was a real struggle for us. Many were full of technical errors and ignored the basic principles of photojournalism. We saw lots of evidence of urgency, however we really couldn’t award anything that had technical or fundamental errors.

I stewed about this for a time. Then after helping judge the NPPA’s Monthly Multimedia Contest last week, I began to understand the BOP judge’s dilemma.

Bottom line: Video at newspapers needs to improve. Dramatically.

The problems I continually see:

Storytelling

Many still photographers have not transitioned their storytelling skills effectively to video. Editing a video story is different from editing still photos for a newspaper picture story. With video, you have to master the fundamentals of sequencing and audio before you can tell an effective story in video. Too many still photojournalists have dipped their toes in the video world with limited training and it shows.

Bland Videos

Many newspaper-produced video stories are boring. The best stories have surprises sprinkled throughout the timeline, which helps keep the viewer engaged. This is mature storytelling that most newspaper video producers have failed to master.

Structure

A great video story is one that pulls you in from the opening sequence and never let’s go of your attention until it fades out at the end. Weak video jars you out of the moment, whether it’s from a technical issue like distorted audio, or from a narrative that fails to captivate the viewer. So many things can go wrong with a video story. Understanding these pitfalls is the first step to avoiding them.

Editing

You can have great raw video, but fail miserably in the edit. Pacing, narration, use of transitions, sequencing, layering and mixing audio all have to come together like a well–oiled orchestra to make a  video story work. Fail at anyone of these and your house of cards comes a tumblin’ down.

Journalism

Lots of newspaper-produced video is weak in basic journalism. Many videos I’ve watched have only one person as the subject. How many print news stories would get past an editor with only one source?

Narration

For the longest time I told myself that I didn’t want my videos to be like TV. I worked hard at telling a story by using only the subjects as my narrative spine. What you risk, doing it this way, is a story that rambles along and is not defined until long after the viewer has hit the back button. Get past the idea that narration is a bad thing. Good scripting moves a story along and serves as an objective voice for facts.

Collaboration

So you say you hate the sound of your voice and you don’t feel comfortable writing a script. Then get out into your newsroom and find a writer with a great voice and collaborate. I like to voice my own videos, but I also know my limitations. Some of my best work has been when I’ve worked with a reporter on a video story. I shoot and edit the story; he or she scripts and does the voiceover. We play to each other strengths. The final product, in the end, is better than if I tried to do it all myself.

Solutions?

When I started this blog, I wrote a post called “Can’t we all just get along?.” The crux of that post : TV news shooters have done video storytelling decades longer than us newbie’s in the newspaper biz, and we can learn a lot from their successes. If you are lucky enough to go to a TV video workshop, you’ll get the fundamentals drilled into your head–Shoot wide, medium tight, super tight. Shoot action, then reaction. Get that camera on sticks! Use a wireless mic. Gather natural sound. What’s your opener? Closer? And, for Christ sake, white balance your video!

These are the just the basics of video news production. Yet many newspaper video producers are still unaware of these fundamentals.

If you can, my advise is enroll in a video production workshop like the Platypus, or the NPPA’s Multimedia Immersion Workshop that is coming in May. Until you know what you are doing wrong you can’t improve your video storytelling.


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