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April 15 2013


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Trouble is – they’re more than ninety years out of date.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

January 08 2012


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.

February 07 2011


Rules to write by…

Thanks to Advancing the Story for the 25 Commandments For Journalists.

Tim Radford of the guardian.co.uk newspaer came up with this list when in a panic:

…15 or more years ago to an invitation to do some media training for a group of Elsevier editors. I began compiling them because I had just asked myself what was the most important thing to remember about writing a story, and the answer came back loud and clear: “To make somebody read it.”

My two favorites:

5. Here is a thing to carve in pokerwork and hang over your typewriter. “No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.”

6. And here is another thing to remember every time you sit down at the keyboard: a little sign that says “Nobody has to read this crap.”

February 05 2011


Four levels of storytelling…

Thanks to teachj for this link to the four levels of storytelling.

Most high school journalists are on level one, with a few managing to get to level two.

Most broadcast journalists are on level three, with some still struggling at level two.

Level four is for the masters…the names you remember. Charles Kuralt is probably the best known of these. Steve Hartman is another. They weave their magic with words…with interviews…nats…visuals.

Level four is the golden standard we should all strive for.

December 27 2010


Story Idea 12.26.2010

…and the last one on a regular basis. In one week I’m back behind the teacher’s desk, whipping my minions into shape. This time as a long-term sub for an about-to-be-mom teacher. In photography – the art of freezing time.

So what’s in store for this week?

How bout something near and dear to home? Jobs.

I have students who graduated this past June who are still looking for a job. Heck, I have a few who graduated in 2009 in the same boat. And it’s not for not trying and it’s not for lack of the qualities that employers are looking for.

It’s for lack of jobs.

A universal problem.

Story idea: what is the average wait time for teens (or pick any age group) in your area to get a job?

Track a few teens. Keep an eye on them as they write their resumes (required in English 9 in my area) and send them out. Listen in as they ask teachers to be their references – and find out why said teachers agree. (I tell my students I will act as a reference for ALL of them…but I will tell the truth. It is up to THEM to decide if they want to use me as a reference.)

Make a list of places your trackable teens send their applications. Tag along for job interviews. Talk with (potential) employers about what they are looking for in an employee and why your teens do or don’t make the grade. You may be surprised to learn the teen is wonderfully qualified…but there are just too many choices out there for employers.

Oh…don’t forget up front to get permission from your subjects and their parents (if under 18).


December 11 2010


Managing media…

This past Monday Stockton Record photographer Clifford Oto created a field of dreams of sorts in a sorry part of town.

The location: Stockton Family Shelter. A lot of folks who could have lost hope live there, struggling day to day and hoping for the best for themselves and their families.

On Monday, December 6, a little more hope seeped in with the sunshine outside as dozens of volunteers answered Clifford’s call for help, setting up four mini-portrait studios and dozens of hair and make-up stations.

The event: Help-Portrait.

Their mission: To give back to the community…to serve those in need. To provide professional individual and family portraits to folks who may never have been able to have a formal sitting and memory.

So how is this about managing media? Well – three of my (former) students and I went down to observe and help out. Our assignment was to document the event and turn a video. The students (Gabe, Tim, and Tou) shot about half an hour of tape and quite a few stills. I shot another 50 minutes or so – but wasn’t able to shot many stills because (ahem) certain students were gripping the camera too tightly.

Now here it is – six days later – and I’ve got to get the video edited. There are several hundred clips, shot from when preparations began through the day until gear was broken down and put away hours later.

Step number one in media management. Create bins (Final Cut Express), which are kind of like file folders, for the main categories of your project. In this case, I created the following bins.
Then I looked at each clip quickly and placed it into the appropriate bin. It really helps to have these categories when you’re searching for a specific clip. If you have the time, you can even label each clip.

BYW, the Oto SH Video is the main project – the sequence I will be editing.

I generally begin a project by listening to interviews and taking notes. Notes will include which clip and time in clip for significant sound bites. Otherwise I may just jot something down to use in my narration.

But if possible, I’m going to try to avoid any narration with this video and do it all with interviews and natural sound.

So stand by…I’ll be posting and updating as I edit.


What is a “Controlled Shoot”…

You’re never too old to learn…and I picked up a new term this week, thanks to a request for a critique onb-roll. I’m not gonna post the comments made – you can look them up yourself.

Courtesy Okinawa Soba through Creative Commons

But the new term is “controlled shoot.” Or as the camera (one-man) band says, aka “staging.”


And as if that weren’t bad enough…it was followed a few days later by a posting titled “Fun staging.”

The CS/controlled shoot video was something I would imagine a lot of camerafolk get trapped into in some way or another. Short on time…there is NOTHING happening visual, and somehow a visual story has to be turned.

So in this case, the photog asked the subject (a marathon runner) to take a run around for the camera. I’m not sure how much CS “controlled” that shoot – if he just shot the guy running or directed each shot. But – as CS admits – it is staging. Which is frowned upon in news because it is not what is actually happening. It is redone/rehashed/done only for the camera.

Now in the case of “Fun staging” the entire video was staged. And I don’t mean asking for something to be repeated for the camera. This was staged as in have people acting out an entire scenario for the camera…shot by shot. As if it were a movie. Not just a step beyond a controlled shoot – but an entire leap into a fantasy world that was created JUST FOR THIS STORY.

Ummmm….can I have a platter of the “good ole days” please?

December 05 2010


The battle is complete…

The bboyz battle, that is.

About four years ago some of my broadcasting boys asked to use my classroom during lunch to practice dancing. That’s when I discovered the bboyz culture. Highly energized contortionists who threw themselve into dance with wild abandon. Turns out I love the music and the movement.

After my husbands near termination by accident, his first real smiles and laughter came at a bboyz battle at my high school. He too was captured by their love of life and energy.

So it’s no surprise that even though I’ve retired, I still keep an eye on the club and jumped at the opportunity to haul them to south Stockton on a field trip to battle another high school.

Tech stuff: used my HV20, handheld. Shot maybe twenty-five minutes of tape. Interviews done with a Radio Shack lav mike. It shorted out on two of my interviews…so, goodbye to that mike. I was able to pull off the edit over two days…with another day to upload.

This is true storytelling on the run. I went in with an idea of what I was going to see and a few ideas about how I’d shoot it. I knew (for my own safety) I couldn’t get too close and it was safer to stay wide. And I also knew that the audience would be just as jazzed as the dancers…so for a few minutes I would have to turn my back on the main event to capture the reactions. Summarized:

1. When in doubt, stay wide
2. Move in closer as you get to know the event
3. Get reaction in addition to action
4. Always keep your own safety in mind
5. Think about how you are going to edit…to tell the story

Regarding point number five, once I got the rhythm of the event…the dancers and hooting and hollering by the audience, I considered who to interview for the thread that would bind the story together. They included:

McNair club advisor – her view of the battle
Edison club advisor – ditto/unfortunately this was one of the interviews with problems and no time to go back and redo
A school administrator – official sanction of teen activities
McNair alumni – long time bboy and dancer who could give an overview of the battle

So check it out (above) and enjoy. And see what sparks the energy of young people in your area. Might surprise you.

December 03 2010


Editing is akin to weaving…

…especially when you use something like Final Cut. Me, I use FC Express. Most of the goodies at a fraction of the cost.

Right now I’m working on a battle – good ole bboyz in each others’ faces, dancing their hearts out.

Done it before, but this time I wanted to shove the dancers from each team into each other…so I’m spinning boxes, sliding images…and rendering like crazy.

If you take a gander at the timeline above, you’ll see that I’m up to three video and six audio tracks. And keeping that of what is where and what I’m placing next can be a nightmare.

See…I have a vision. It involves video juxtaposed in a fight against other video and sound battling with both. My goal is to recreate the mood of a bboyz battle (aka break dancing). And that required clashing images and discordant sound. As with weaving, there are many threads. And not just audio/video. There’s the continuum of the timeline/story…there’s what’s there and what’s implied. There’s memories of past battles and future battles. Tying all of those thread together into something coherent is gonna be a battle unto itself.

Below is a hour’s worth of work. Thirty-three second done. Gonna be a long weekend, but I hope the final effort is worth watching.

October 14 2010


Kinetic typhography…

Yesterday I posted an example of kinetic typography…using words only to tell a story onscreen.

Well, today Mindy McAdams sent out a link via 10,000 Words via facebook that tells all. What is it and how to do it.

Here’s an example in of using KT for a news story.

I gotta try this!

October 05 2010


Fishing for jobs…

…is hard in these times. I have students who graduated a year ago who are still looking. My 18 year old daughter has been looking to no avail for five months.

Photo 8 Photo 9

So while waiting on the mezzanine of the Stockton Hilton today, I was nearly run over by several hundred folks who lined up to pick up applications for jobs in – Alaska. Seems an old tradition lives on. Back in the late 60′s many of my college mates did summer stints up in those northern waters, working the fishing boats and processing plants, making enough cash to tide them over through the school year.

The face of this era’s potential employees has changed – primarily Filipino, probably 70% male, young (18-30). They want jobs and are willing to travel to get them. And they’re from all over the state. Plus, a few (at least) are repeat customers who’ve already spent time up north. The others, youngsters with a sense of combined foreboding and adventure, are slowing completing their applications and turning them in.

What place does this have on a VJ blog? Well if you aren’t curious and you don’t ask questions, you will never find the story. I began grilling folks after I saw the first few dozen downstairs and continued until my curiousity was sated. If I didn’t have to watch a table full of tech gear and registration papers I’d be out wandering the crowd shooting tape (another rule of the road: never leave valuables unattended).

August 29 2010


August 29, 2010 Story Ideas…

This week we’ll call them, what aren’t kids (and adults) being taught (or are learning on their own). And no – not the moralistic preachy type of thing. Just a nuts and bolts set of ideas. Some skills I feel are essential that seem to be lacking.

We’ll start with our young folks. A few years back I had the (then) brilliant idea to have my students build a set for our upcoming daily bulletin program. I sketched out a simple desk design, complete with studs, plywood overlays and dimensions and gathered a small group of volunteers around.
The first question I asked when they joined was, “Have you ever used tools before?” Resounding YES! “How about power tools?” “SURE!”
Uh oh.
We discussed tool use and safety … primarily hammers, screwdrivers, saws plus a couple of power tools – a drill for drilling holes and setting screws.
My memories are horrendous…and fortunately short-lived. I pulled the power tools first and then the hand tools and gave up.
So MY lesson learned that week was…teenage boys know everything. They may never have done it, seen it, heard of it, but they sure KNOW it.
Story idea: what skills do you think are good ones to have even in these highly technological days and do most students or young adults in your area have them? Can they work a saw? Hammer a nail straight? Push in a power drill to set a screw? Focus really might be, can they do simple home/apartment maintenance? In questioning the guys I found that none of their families really had or used tools. And with the push for no child to be left behind and every child to go to college, hands-on classes are disappearing. No more woodshop, auto shop.

Now for the old(er) folks. An essential skill set everyone under the age of 30 has hardwired into them is social networking. The old folks have it too – but to them it is done with letters, in person. The difference is technology.
So I’m trying to work with my husband’s church as they try to build up some excitement in the community about their new home – a renovated restaurant – in a pretty spiffy part of town (yeah – that word alone dates me. Spiffy.)
A website is up and running and a facebook page too. (Transparency: while my family are members of this church, I am not…but have close ties with it.)
Snail mail invites are in the works for the dedication…and e-vites have been sent to facebook friends with little success. What’s up?
Story idea: can the older generation learn the different rules for real world and online social networking? They’re pretty much the same…there is the formal invitation and then there is the talk…soft gossip if you will. Using the rumor mill in a positive way. Getting folks to talk about you or your project to build up excitement.
Interesting to me that the two generations are doing pretty much the same thing effortlessly in their own worlds…but don’t always communicate with each other very well exactly what they are doing. The teens say they’re just talking, hanging with friends…but are accomplishing exactly what their grandmothers are with lunch dates with friends.

Until next week…

August 23 2010


August 22, 2010 Story Ideas…

Each week I hope to post a short list of ideas for stories which you can develop into something your audience can relate to. Some may be obvious and others may be a stretch. If you have ideas you’d like to contribute, send them over to me at cyndyg@mac.com.

Fresh in the garden - a pumpkin in waiting.

I will admit to frequenting farmers markets in my area. Besides the benefits of exercise (all that walking) and really really fresh veggies – there are some equally interesting folks wandering around. Both in the crowds out front and the folks behind the tables.
One of my special weaknesses is onions. Stockton reds. A large sweet onion..somewhat flat and a rich burgandy color. So last month I saw an especially mouth-watering pile, grabbed a bunch (3 large ones to the bunch) and started talking with the man behind the counter. He is the farmer and took over his dad’s place and is raising the same crops dad did. I asked if his were real “Stockton Reds,” and he replied yes. A resounding yes – he can no longer find the real “Red” seeds, so raises his own crop just for seed each year in addition to the crop he sells at the farmers markets. He says only those he raises from his own seeds have that real taste – and customers can tell the difference.
Story idea: farmers markets are a treasure trove of people who love fresh food, gardening, recipes. Don’t just buy…ask questions. I plan to track my farmer down and see if he’ll allow me to turn up to his farm from time to time over the next year to document his labor of love. Stories such as this one are not quick turnaround stories. Like the plants grown by farmers, they must be given time to grow to fullness.

Times are rough and folks are turning back to Mother Nature…raising their own backyard food, canning, making to. What year is this? Well since my childhood in the 1950s and 60s I’ve been through the 60′s Hippies Back to Earth Movement, the Eighties Back to Earth Movement, and now the 2010 Return to the Roots Back to Earth Movement. Each of these movements is a totally new concept to those who embark on them. Fueled by rejection of mainstream American to financial necessity, they seem to come, take hold, and then fade away.
Story idea: Do some research and find out why folks do this…and does it have a lasting impact on their lives or the community around them? What is the motivation for each movement? Does each movement include moving to the outback and really being a pioneer or just making do with a back yard garden and learning how to sew, buy used, and cut back to cooking real food, not just pre-packaged food.

Every summer has its share of tragedies – drowning is right up at the top. When I was a kid here in California’s Great Valley, swimming was a MANDATORY high school class. There are so many levees and rivers and lakes and resevoirs that waterproofing kids was a great idea. I continued this thought with each of the Green kids, taking them to summer swim lessons until I knew they could float long enough to be pulled out. (They also were forced by evil parents to wear life jackets to all water functions until they were fourteen.)
Story idea: what are the practices in your area? Are swim lessons mandated, left to the parents, or no big deal? What is the death rate by drowning? How many of these deaths were preventable, either by use of life jackets or by knowing how to swim?
Or does your community gasp in horror and allow this bizarre game of removal of genes from the pool to repeat it self annually?

Big Box in the Big City. Big Box Stores. Big Box Schools. Big Box Housing Developments. Big Box Churches. The more the merrier and the better a deal for everyone. Right? Buy in bulk, live in packs, life is cheap and easy.
Only part of this list is true…and even then, there is a downside.

FCC Stockton - Dedication planned for September 26, 2010

Big Box Stores – lots of stuff at reasonable prices. (Though I questions how much “stuff” we really need and how much is a good sales job.) Downside: generally it’s what the masses want…and not all brands are represented and choice is somewhat limited.
Big Box Schools. Elementary schools with 500-1,000. High schools with thousands. Big boxes holding hundreds and thousands of young minds, all being taught in lock-step. How many bodies can we cram into a classroom as we downsize staff? How can learning proceed when teachers are crushed by numbers while at the same time being pressed to make sure every student succeeds.
Big Box Development – large housing tracts, each its own community with shopping center and theme. (I swear I will never buy in a development called “Countryside” anything. Give it four or five years and that countryside view has disappeared, crowded out by the next development.
Big Box Churches – the more the merrier. Churches with congregations in the thousands. Overwhelming. Did these churches spontaneously grow or was this a studied plan?
Story idea: is there room in Big Box Development for a community church? Are these developments planning for everything but spiritual needs? I’ve watched my husband’s church struggle for the past seven or eight years, looking for a home. One of the issues they faced was the possibility of becoming a “destination” church – a church so big and with so much to offer that people would come from all over just to take part in it. I won’t say they rejected it – however, the new homesite precludes any major development. They want smart growth, not unbridled growth. Check out your local developments…see if they have in place plans for churches, mosques, synagogues, places for souls to gather and reflect.

Nothing really novel to this first list…just some stuff that’s been bouncing around in my head looking for an audience. Hope at least one takes root in your imagination and grows.

August 16 2010


Seeking story ideas…

I will now state the obvious: there are stories everywhere. Everyone has a story in them. Look out your window, in a mirror, anywhere. Turn brain on to questioning mode…step outside of your box and pretend the world is new. Now – take a hard look and see how many stories you can come up with.

In order to tell a story, you need data…a foundation. Too many (broadcast) newsrooms rely on the print media doing the footwork and they all walk the same walk. All media follows the big story, the one you can’t miss.

Real storytellers find worthy stories everywhere.

I’m sitting at my kitchen table and am giving myself the next five minutes to come up with a few ideas as a challenge.

So here goes.

Idea number one (and I’m sure this has gotten play already) – spent Saturday garage sailing with the husband. Kind of fun…and the estate sales are best because of the oddities and antiques. Pause for a moment…an estate sale is the remnants of a person’s life. What the family…friends…those who knew the person felt wasn’t worth keeping, for whatever reason. I see a slow, somber move with details…questions. Who was this person? Why did they buy this particular knick-knack? Was it passion? A trinket for a child? A gift with meaning only known to the deceased?

Idea number two…and I’m running outa time here cause I’m typing slowly (for me). I bought two magazines a few days back. Don’t laught. Chickens magazine and The Herb Quarterly. I swear twenty years ago I might never have seen these rags. And I recall something from the past month or so about how magazines are faring pretty well compared to other media. Hmmm…Are there more niche zines out there? Are the actual number of magazines increasing in these dire times? Heck, let’s even ask if in addition to more mags if the total number of magazine readers is up…maybe take a look at early mags (when exactly did this medie become mainstream?) and their evolution.

Time is up…but the lesson here is approach everything with a questioning mind. So never again will you get stuck with a half-baked potato of a concept and be expected to turn a banquet from it.

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