Also, check out these cool examples of professional demo reels on Vimeo.
As the recession ambles along and my ability to do sustained video storytelling slows, I think it is time for me to start broadening my visual horizons. A couple of weeks ago I was asked to sit on a panel discussion with local Spokane filmmakers. It is a newly formed organization that plans to gather monthly to share ideas and work of people invested in the art of documentary filmmaking.
Talk about a domestic duck trapped in a sea of wild mallards. Here I sat with folks whose medium is film– the 16 mm kind. We had an interesting conversation and I really enjoyed the evening. The filmmakers discussed the challenges of finding funding and distribution for their documentary work. I learned many spend years writing grants to raise the money to buy film stock, processing and to fund post-production costs.
Ok, I admit I am totally out of my league here. Documentary filmmakers are a passionate, diverse group. Anyone who can stay invested in telling a story, which can take years to see a final project projected at a film festival or ultimately broadcast to a wide audience on PBS, is all right by me.
Still I had to wonder why so many filmmakers stick to using film when high def video is available for next to nothing. When I asked: “Why not chuck expensive film stock and just go video?” The response was almost universally: “Its the look we like, its the tradition.” Funny, that’s the same thing I heard when still photographers were transitioning to digital. I can honestly say now that my images look way better than anything I shot in my early years shooting Tri-X black and white film or, God forbid, Kodak high-speed 400 iso negative film.
A good many filmmakers have already made the transition from film to video. High definition video is opening up new opportunities for documentary filmmakers that would otherwise be missed if someone were waiting years to get grant funding to produce it on film. I understand there are still costs, but wow, what one person with decent video camera skills, a laptop and Final Cut Pro can do now. When I look at all the credits on a documentary film, I have to wonder if three fourths of the names are really needed. Who needs a colorist when Final Cut Pro’s “Color” program will give you the look you want with just few mouse clicks.” And what about having to hire an editor and cameraperson to shoot and stitch your story together? I would rather be in control of all the elements of my story. I realize the big projects are best made with a dedicated team of editors, producers and camera people. But what if the team was smaller and everyone had more than one skill?
As newspapers shed their talented visual staffs, one must wonder what all the folks with video storytelling training are going to do with their new skills? These are creative people trained to shoot, edit, and produce quality storytelling on a deadline. One must wonder if a new wave of documentary filmmakers, freed from the legacy of film and film schools, will focus their small video cameras on stories deemed too risky financially for traditional documentary producers to bother with. I think the film festival circuit is about to get a fresh shot of creativity from a growing legion of former newspapers video journalists.
This month’s issue of The Digital Journalist is dedicated to newspaper video journalism. Publisher Dirck Halstead called me a month ago and asked me to write a story about how I transitioned from being a still photographer to becoming a multimedia producer at my newspaper. Writing about my journey, I’ve found, has been mildly therapeutic. My last five years as a visual journalist have been an intense and challenging. Through it all, I remain confident that video storytelling at newspapers will survive and flourish.
This issue was guest edited by Ken Kobre and Jerry Lazar, who did fantastic job of touching on all the video journalism bases. Stories include: “How to Build an Emmy-Winning Videojournalism Department” by Kathy Kieliszewski of the Detroit Free Press, to a look at how Erik Olsen, a former ABC TV cameraman, transitioned to being a one-man band video journalist for The New York Times. Also check out “Ken Kobre’s 10 Tips for Dramatically Improving Your Videojournalism Stories.” Halstead also wanted me to upload about 30 of my favorite still photos I’ve taken over my career. You can check out that gallery here. This is one Digital Journalist issue you won’t want to miss.
The other day I found out I’d won second place in the News Video category in the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism contest. My excitement at winning was tempered in that a third place was not awarded in my category. This left me befuddled. Judges twitters’ and Facebook posts had trickled out over the week saying they were not impressed by what had been entered. Having judged a lot of multimedia contests, I felt their pain. Weak stories dominate most multimedia contests. The cream rises fast. But for BOP judges to feel there was not enough cream to award a third place in the news video category just makes me sad. Sad because it simply says we need to do a better job with our video storytelling.
I think there are several reasons in play for all this weak newspaper video being produced:
Not enough training.
Too many newspapers, chasing a trend, handed out video cameras like candy to photojournalists and reporters. With little training, the results have been cringe-worthy. Many of these new video producers do not understand even the basic fundamentals of video storytelling and editing. They are flailing around in the dark trying to make it work. One-day training seminars just don’t cut it. Unfortunately, most newspapers are too cheap to actually send their people to real video training workshops like the nine-day Platypus or the NPPA’s five-day Multimedia Immersion workshop.
Lack of mentors
There are not enough mentors and coaches to help people improve. Most newspapers started from scratch when it came to video production. Unlike TV news, which mastered the art of video storytelling over decades, newspapers had no institutional knowledge when it came to video production. There are few video-masters in place at newspapers that can help train and mentor video storytellers.
Video storytelling basics
Many newspaper videographers are struggling with the medium. So much of what I see entered in contests are void of any storytelling arc. The videos meander along, failing to define early to the viewer what the story is about. What’s the conflict? Where’s the resolution? Why no surprises built in to keep viewers engaged in the story? Too many newspaper-produced videos are just plain boring and uninspiring.
I am hoping these early growing pains will work themselves out. In the meantime, I hope successful video producers will continue to share their knowledge with others that are learning. If we work together, we can all improve our video storytelling. Maybe then, the BOP judges will feel comfortable enough to give out third place awards.
While most still photojournalists are fawning over the wonderful DSLR/video hybrid Canon 5D Mk. II, JVC quietly unveiled a new tapeless ProHD camcorder that shakes things up a bit in the news-video world. The soon to be released (April 2009) JVC GY-HM100U has some killer features that I have been waiting years for.
First and foremost, JVC built this camera to record in native Final Cut Pro’s QuickTime file format. Its files need no ingesting/transcoding like an AVCHD files do. Nor does it re-wrap the file to an editable format like my Sony XDCAM EX-1. What this means is you can start editing video from the camera immediately. The GY-HM100U is built to work seamlessly with Final Cut Pro 6. I’m not sure if Final Cut Express 4 is supported with this camera yet.
Second, it records to cheap SDHC media cards. Instead of having to buy Sony $800 dollar 16 gig SxS cards or Panasonic’s P2 media, 40 bucks will get you a 16 gig SDHC card for the GY-HM100. It has two card slots for a combined total 64 gigs of storage space.
Third, the GY-HM100U has a small form factor. It weighs just three pounds. My wrist sometimes hurts when I shoot with my much heavier Sony XDCAM EX-1, so this full-featured, but light weight camera would be a welcome relief.
The GY-HM100U seems to have all the bells and whistles I’d expect from a pro camera: A decent HD lens, dual channel balanced audio inputs, full manual controls, for focus, white balance, shutter, iris etc.
Finally cost. JVC says it will be priced below $4000.00. That is right in the price point of the popular tape-based Canon XH A1.
High fives to the JVC engineering team for listening to their customers. This is a shot fired over the bow of Canon who has yet to produce a tapeless pro camcorder. Codec’s like AVCHD are fine for consumers who have the time wait for the files to be converted, but not so in deadline environments newspapers work in. Lets hope this is the beginning of a new generation of video cameras that will make transcoding and file rewrapping a thing of the past.
Here a couple of links for more info on the JVC GY-HM100U:
Here’s a first edit of a video shot with the new 5DMKII DSLR from Canon. It was a good test – crappy, low light, wireless mic. Mostly handheld (but tripod on the interviews) and shot all with the kit lens, 24-105mm f/4 IS. I’m sold. Goodbye XH-A1.
What I want know David is how easy was it to edit the files? Was framing and handling easy? How about focusing? I really like the shallow depth-of-field–it gives the video a film-like feel. Nice work! Also kudos to the narrator Amy Wilson.
I recently ran across this blog by multimedia journalist Peter Huoppi who works at the newspaper The Day in New London, Connecticut. Two of Huoppi’s more recent video stories show where I believe the best in newspaper video storytelling is heading. The videos “Vampires in Connecticut” and “Mystic Pizza” are based in solid journalism and feature a strong use of voice-overs. The video editing is well-paced and you can tell the b-roll was shot by someone with a photographer’s eye.
What I like best about these two stories is that they are told well. Both are a bit long by newspaper website standards, but I found I watched them to the end because they were compelling. I think what works best in both of these pieces is the use of voice-overs that help move the story along. This is where I feel newspaper videographers need to start developing more.
Last week, a post in the B-roll.net forum, showcased my last blog post about the video meltdown at my newspaper. The tone of some of the comments said basically that newspapers shouldn’t do video because we suck at it. All I have to say to that is look at what Peter Huoppi is producing. His stories are better produced than most of the ambulance chasing stories I see on my local TV news each day. And he didn’t need a fleet of reporters, producers, video editors and engineers to publish it. Newspaper video storytelling on the web will only improve with time. Having video storytellers like Peter Huoppi to inspire us will only make us better.
OK, it is time to move on…
I survived the last round of layoffs, but I will have to leave behind my grand vision and fancy job title—at least for now. I have been reassigned back to The Spokesman-Review photo department as a staff photographer. That department took a torpedo hit with two super-talented shooters being shown the door.
It’s time to get back to my roots. I was a still shooter for 18 years, so the transition will be fine. I am a bit rusty on the shutter, but I will get my rhythm back. But what of all the video and multimedia that was beginning to be unleashed at the S-R? Well, seven of the 12 people I trained to shoot and edit are gone now. The reality is three people, myself and staff photographers Dan Pelle, and Jesse Tinsley will pick up the video slack. Heaven knows there is enough gear to fill a camera store lining the supply closet shelves.
Ahh…the supply closet–my new workspace. I took one of the empty desks in the photo dept, but I haven’t spent much time there. I swear I must have some caveman gene in me, because I seem most comfortable in dark cramped spaces. Go figure. It is actually a decent space–twice the size of my last office—and I can’t complain about the lack of shelves now.
So what happen now? I am still a little fuzzy on what my newspaper wants from me other than to shoot great still photos and produce occasional videos. My new editor-in-chief has defined my job as being 60 percent shooting stills and 40 percent doing video. We’ll see how that translates in the real world of an increased still workload.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk in multimedia circles about what the true value video holds for newspapers. Questions have been raised about whether or not we are just wasting our time leaning a new craft that seems to take more resources then it gives back in hits (see Mindy McAdams excellent post.)
I believe video is still a young medium for newspapers. We have to give the people learning to shoot and edit time to master the craft. The frustrating thing for me is that I had all the parts in place. (Great) tools, ongoing training, talented motivated staff and a brand spankin’ new multimedia centric website that was ready to launch the day before the layoff announcement. I am disheartened by what happened, but somehow I think the pendulum will swing back eventually. There is this little thing called the mobile web that is about to unleash the video gods in ways we can only imagine. On the other end the spectrum is the delivery of high-def web video to the masses. I will quietly do my duty as a still shooter, but I will find ways to work at being a better video storyteller. My new Sony XDCAM EX-1 is staring at me from the supply closet shelve. That bad boy ain’t going to be collecting dust for long.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about quality video vs. quantity. In it, I asked ten questions you should ask before your newspaper dives deeply into video storytelling. Both Rob Curley of The Las Vegas Sun/Greenspun Interactive and Angela Grant with Newsvideographer.com shared their answers.
From Curley’s post:
In regard to the “quality versus quantity” video debate (which is the whole point of his post), I think we’ve thrown our support clearly in the “quality” category … but probably in a different way than the writer of the blog above probably means – but I’m totally making assumptions there.
From Grant’s post:
I think his answers give me a working definition of the type of leadership that I’ve been craving in my own position. He has a vision and plans for higher-level strategies that I believe are necessary to enjoy a successful video endeavor.
Those strategies include:
* Deploying human resources to cover the news people want and need
* Distributing the videos on multiple platforms to reach the largest possible audience
* Advertising within / around the videos to monetize them
* Marketing the videos so people know that they are there
Check out their answers here:
Thanks Rob and Angela for helping me answer my own questions!
It has been a trying week at my newspaper The Spokesman-Review. It didn’t start out that way. Last weekend, co-worker, Multimedia Producer Brian Immel and I drove down to Portland, Oregon to give a couple of presentations on multimedia storytelling and editing at the NPPA’s Flying Short Course. On the six-hour drive home, conversation turned to innovative ideas about how we could improve our new website that was just about to launch. As the sun set in my rearview mirror, Brian said to me, “Attending a conference like the Flying Short Course makes me appreciate our situation at The Spokesman Review even more.” That workshop glow didn’t last long. By Monday there were rumors and rumors of rumors regarding layoffs.
Like every newspaper in the country, the economic fundamentals are in freefall. On Wednesday, my editor Steve Smith gathered the entire newsroom together and read off the names of twenty-one of my co-workers, which including Brian Immel, to be laid off. Audible gasps could be heard with each name called. Then Smith promptly resigned. He said he simply had had enough.
Four to six managers are also going to get the axe in the next two weeks. Until someone tells me for sure, I could be one. By my best guesstamate, we will have lost roughly 35 percent of our total newsroom staff in the last twelve months. This is the forth round of layoffs in seven years. I have to wonder if it will ever stop. I am beginning to feel like that frog in the slowly heating pot. Will I get out before boiling myself to death?
I am trying to understand the economic reasons for continued layoffs within our industry. Blame happens. That is a constant. We are one of the only industries I know that believes it can get away with giving the customers less while at the same time charging them more for a diminished product. That model, my friends, is so broken.
Most newspapers are clamoring to change their newsrooms from a print centric model to a web centric workflow. In the past year, with support of a sizable capital budget, I trained and outfitted a dozen newsroom personal with video cameras, computers and audio recorders. All learned to edit video in Final Cut. A newsroom reorganization plan was just put in place. A brand new multimedia centric website was ready to launch this week. Then the layoffs hit. A sizable portion of those new reporter/video uber journalists ended up on the layoff list. Most were twenty-somethings who had little seniority.
Now faced with this new newsroom reality, I personally plan to refocus my creative energy on what I do best. Telling compelling stories for our readers and viewers of our website and newspaper. If needed, I will train the next wave of video journalists—god knows there will be lots of spare computers and video cameras available. Still, I just have to think of the lost opportunity of what could have been. I grieve the lost of these young co-workers who were not given the chance to make a full impact with their video storytelling skills or innovative ideas. Even sadder, many say they will never return to newspapers. The bitter pill of their short newspaper experience has left such a bad taste that most have rinsed and are mentally ready to move on.