Story Tellers, an excellent resource for video storytelling

If you want to learn to be a better video storyteller, check out Story Tellers: Tips Stories and Resources for video storytelling. It is geared for TV news shooters, but the fundamentals are there for all kinds of video stories. This week, Darren Durlach, a former TV news shooter, now with the Boston Globe, gives great tips for gather audio.

Story Tellers Tips , Stories and Resources

 

Know your story

A friend of mine asked me to read the first 200 pages of a novel he is writing and give him some feedback. I’m not a wordsmith (as you can tell) but I gave it a shot.

On critique day, I took a big sigh and gave him the bad news.

“I have no idea what your story is, nor do I care about your main character,” I told him. “You’ve written in so many dead ends into the plot that I’m not emotionally invested in the storytelling. I don’t think you know the story you want to tell,” I said.

Several weeks later we got together for breakfast and he told me my advice of know your story changed everything in how he approached writing his novel. He admitted that he was creating the plot as he was putting pen to paper. This, he realized, produced a lot of dead ends for the characters’ and storyline.

Know your story is fundamental to video storytelling too. Yet, time after time, video stories I review or judge in contests (and some of my own) are filled with meandering plotlines, too many characters, and failed endings.

Know your story

Before you shoot, it is important to have in your head, a solid framework of the story you want to tell.  Identify what the conflict in your story is,  then shoot it. Ask yourself: What is my opener? What do I need to shoot for the guts of my story? What’s my ender or resolution? You might not have all these worked out before shooting, but you better have by the time you finish pushing the record button. Few great stories are found in the edit afterwards.

Editing

Know your story. It will make editing a breeze. Focus on telling a story where you set up questions for the viewer, but then make sure you answer them. Intimacy and emotion rules with video, so edit those in not out. Keep focused. Tangents and redundancy are death in a short video.

It’s easy to get lost in all the small edits on the timeline. Make sure you always have a big picture of how your story is unfolding on the timeline.  When you’re done, ask several people to watch your video and tell them to be honest as to whether it holds their interest.  If your story does not work for them, then it probably won’t work for most viewers.

Feedback website “Finding the Frame” launches

Finding the Frame, a website dedicated to giving feedback to newspaper multimedia producers and video journalists has launched.

My post in Mastering Multimedia last month,  “Video at newspapers needs to improve,” resonated with many people. I received lots emails from producers who vented their frustration at not being able to get feedback on their multimedia stories.

After a brainstorming session over a few beers, Brian Immel, a former multimedia producer and programmer at The Spokesman-Review, graciously agreed to build a website for the sole purpose of connecting those who need feedback on their multimedia, to professionals willing to share some time and knowledge.

Here’s how it works

The plan is to have onboard as many “expert” volunteers as possible that have solid foundations in video storytelling, audio slide shows or Flash projects. This pool of reviewers will peruse the submitted links of multimedia in the “Story Pool”. If they decide to comment on a story, it will then become public on the Finding the Frame home page where anyone else is free to give added feedback.

So why do this?

While most publications have driven head first into the online world, multimedia storytelling is still in its infancy at many newspapers. Unfortunately, not all people tasked with producing multimedia received adequate training or had the financial ability to attend a multimedia storytelling workshop. Many multimedia producers are self-taught, having picked up bit and pieces of knowledge along the way.

When I judge a multimedia contest, I often get frustrated at seeing the same problems in the execution of basic video and audio production fundamentals. Many photojournalists are struggling with how to tell an effective video or audio slideshow story that is different from the traditional still picture story.

Our hope is that Finding the Frame will begin to address the need for feedback and in turn, help multimedia producers improve their storytelling. Just read some of the comments by reviewers so far–you’ll be impressed. The professionals that have signed on as reviewers are the some of the top in the industry. If they critique your story, please thank them for giving up some of their precious time to help out a fellow visual journalist.

What we need

What we need is for enough producers, multimedia editors and photojournalists who have a solid experience with multimedia storytelling to step forward and share some of their knowledge with those that are looking for constructive, honest feedback.

So if you feel you have something to offer, we would really like you to join the pool of reviewers on Finding the Frame.

So go check it out and give Brian and me some feedback. Create an account. Upload a link to a video, audio slide show or Flash project. Be patient, as it might take some time for your story to get reviewed

I am not sure how many people will upload stories, so let’s take this slow at first. It would also be helpful if non-reviewers could give some feedback to others by commenting on their work.

If you would like to be added to the reviewer pool, register your account, making sure you create a profile and upload a photo of yourself or avatar, then email me at cmulvany@findingtheframe.com with the request.

This website is for you. We would really appreciate your support and feedback.

Peter Huoppi video’s are a slice of heaven

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.

RIP Multimedia Shooter.com

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 Richard Koci Hernandez who created and maintained Multimediashooter.com has announced that someone has hacked his site. Richard writes:

I write this with a very heavy heart:

I am sorry to report that this website is down for the count. The site was recently hacked several times this weekend and severe damage was done. I do not have the time or resources at this time to

continue. I wish you all the best. I only wish this hadn’t happened.

[To the ‘hacker’ I hope it makes you happy to destroy something that people put their heart and soul into for years, for the sole purpose of learning and creating a small community

on the web. Just to have you destroy it for no reason. You win. There is a special place in hell for you.]

To those of you who supported the site over the years, THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

I don’t know what more to say, except, remember, it’s all about the STORY, not the TOOLS.

-r

Richard, my jaw dropped to the floor after reading the above. Multimedia Shooter has been a constant inspiration to me a countless other newspaper photojournalists turned videographers. I know it took way too much of your time busy schedule to produce. Yet you did, and you shared what you learned with everyone. So thank you. The entire multimedia community mourns Multimedia Shooter’s loss with you. I am hoping, in time, you will rebuild.

And to the hacker… A curse upon your house…  

  

Team Multimedia

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 One thing I’ve learned from my early forays into video journalism is that there are a lot of talented writers in my newsroom that can help make my videos more compelling than if I produced them alone.

Some of my first videos I shot included Spokesman-Review police reporter Thomas Clouse doing stand-ups from the scenes of breaking news events. Yes, they were rough. I hadn’t quite figured out that I didn’t need to be like TV and show the reporter on camera. Clouse would be the first to admit he didn’t have that certain blow-dry helmet hair look that is needed to be considered in same league as our TV reporter comrades. 

Voice-over work scared me early on. Like most people, I hated the sound of my recorded voice ( I got over that quickly). Writing a script was also unfamiliar to me, so I turned to people who could help me out. I was amazed at how open print reporters were to doing voice-over and script writing for a video or audio slideshow that I was working on. Only a few times did I have to twist an arm gently.

Everyone in the Spokesman-Review newsroom knows they need to eventually have multimedia skills. Most reporters are most open to the idea of doing multimedia, yet they seem lost as to what skills they should be acquiring.

When I look at the big picture, I see that multimedia production doesn’t have to be an island unto itself. We can use the traditional newsroom structure of: A reporter writes and photographer handles the visuals. Except now it is: The reporter writes scripts and does voiceovers, and photographer (or multimedia producer) shoots and edits the video. In the end, the production has more depth because it plays to the strengths of each person’s talent.

I watch a lot of newspaper-produced video from around the country. I’m surprised how few people use the writing talents of their newsrooms to add objective narration in their videos.

I have my favorite writer in the S-R newsroom. Kevin Graman is the most open to working with me as team. He can bang out a script in a short amount of time. Best of all, he has a killer low voice that resonates confidence and truthfulness. Over time, we have worked on a half dozen or so videos, many of which I consider my best work.

We go to a story together, like a traditional reporter/photographer would. He gathers information like normal for the story he’ll write for the newspaper. I do my thing, interviewing subjects, gathering b-roll. We talk a lot about defining the video story so that it does not go off on a tangent.

Back at the office, Graman takes the time in his normal story writing workflow to come and see how my video edit is shaping up. We have a conversation about the voice-overs I need and what they should say. Usually it is something to the effect of: “I need a 20 second opener that defines what this story is about. And, “I need a lead-in to this subject’s interview.” Or my favorite: “Get me out of this video. I need an ender that sums up the story.” About twenty to thirty minutes later, with a well-written script in hand, Graman is ready to record his voiceover. It usually takes about three or four takes for him to get his cadence right. When I drop the recorded voice-overs onto the timeline in Final Cut , my video just comes to life.

My advice is to find your own Kevin Graman in your newsroom. It will instantly raise the bar in your video storytelling. Just remember, newsroom reporters don’t need to be in front of your camera. We’ll save that spot for the pretty people of broadcast news. 

Good video should connect emotionally to your viewer

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 In order for video storytelling to be effective, I believe it has to connect with viewers on an emotional level. The hardest part about my job as multimedia editor is that I have to be the “no” man.  I get lots of requests from reporters  to shoot video to go with their stories. Many of these requests are turned away because they don’t meet a threshold for good visual storytelling.

I come from a still background and have lots of experience shooting picture stories. Because of that, I am able to quickly identify whether video would work as a story. Word people don’t always approach video the same way I do. They see the sum of all the facts they’ve gathered as being the story. What they fail to understand is without strong visual components, you can’t tell a video story very well. I tell them: “If there is nothing to show, it is not a video.”

As I think about some of videos that my visual co-workers and I have produced, the most successful of these have always been the ones that connected to viewers emotionally rather than on just the facts. Don’t get me wrong; fact videos do have their place. We do a lot of breaking news videos based mostly on what the police or fire public information officers say. Those videos serve their purpose—to disseminate information quickly.

When I cruise through the story budgets, I’m always searching for that elusive emotional gem. When we package a daily video with a print story, I look for ways to tell the story a little differently then what the reporter is doing. Instead of thinking broad, I think defined. That can mean focusing on just one or two subjects out six the reporter might have talked to.

I have a self imposed “No Epics” rule. That means when I am out shooting, I try not to go off on tangents. I force myself to define my story by distilling it down to its simplest form. At the Platypus Video Workshop, before we could start shooting our final projects, we were forced to state what our story was in one sentence. It is an exercise I use to this day.

With a short focused story, it’s important to have something that people will care about as they watch. Asking the right questions of subjects becomes incredibly important. One of our MoJo reporters was jesting the other day that TV news reporters always ask the “How do you feel question?” I now understand why. When people share their feelings, it can paint a stronger picture than with words alone.

One of the greatest benefits that newspapers online sites have over TV news is that we have the ability to go deep with the facts with our writing, then give viewers a different approach to the same story with video. When the stories, photos and video are combined in to one neat package, no other media can match us for depth of information. 

The Lemonade Kid is found!

In my  “What can we learn from TV news shooter’s” post, I asked if anybody had a link to The Lemonade Kid nat sound piece I’d seen years ago. Thankfully “Thom4″ came through for me and found it, other classic videos shot by master video storyteller John Goheen.  The Lemonade Kid really peaked my interest in video storytelling early in my still photojournalism career.  I believe I saw it at a NPPA Flying Short Course way back in the early 90’s. It just blew me away. Watching the Nat sound package back then, I had no concept of how it was edited together. All I knew was that it just worked brilliantly as a story. I watched it again today for the first time since I gained some video editing knowledge. What I saw was a master class in video sequencing. This is not a hard news story, or some barnburner with action. It is just a slice-of-life story, with a precocious kid as the star attraction of a street corner lemonade stand. “Thom4″ writes:

 “Thanks for the respect and a chance to provide you with the link to one of my favorite TV nat sound packages “The Lemonade Kid.” It was shot by photographer John C.P. Goheen and you can watch it by going to Terranova Pictures under the television projects tab. I heard John speak and show his work at a seminar more than 12 years ago in Atlanta. I had never seen this type non-narrated story before. John does some of the most amazing television photography I’ve ever seen. I would jump at a chance to spend more time learning from him. I steal all my best ideas. By the way, I’m a TV news photographer working in Orlando, FL. I’ve been shooting video for 13 years now.”  

 Play it through once and just enjoy it. Then play it again and watch the edits carefully. Look at how they flow. Watch how effectively Goheen uses his detail shots and the sequencing of wide, medium and tight shots. The other thing that works in the piece the way the narrative is gathered. A wireless mic was all that was needed to capture the sound of the kid and the customers. This allowed Goheen to pull back and get nice long shots without missing a beat in the audio. After checking out The Lemonade Kid, click on Keith’s Lunchyet another Goheen classic. I wish the compressions on both were better, but I am just grateful as hell to see these stories again. Truly inspirational.