Creatures from the Heart


I posted this project in Video Journal  called Creatures from the Heart. It is about sculpture artist Bill Sanders whose failing heart is preventing him from doing his art. During the interview, I asked the question, “Is it hard for you to not to be able to do your art?” He paused; his chin started to quiver and then he abruptly ended the interview. “I have to go lie down,” said Sanders.

Bill Sanders is somewhat of a recluse who has not granted many interviews. He had a heart transplant 10 years ago, which has progressively slowed him down. Realizing that Sanders may not be around much longer, a friend talked him into letting the newspaper come and interview him about his art. I usually schedule a video interview separate from the print interview, but because of the nature of the story, reporter Paula Davenport and I teamed up. Everything during the 40-minute interview was fine until I asked the “how do you feel?” question.

I hung around Sander’s farm for a while taking b-roll of the dozens of animal sculptures displayed in his yard. Back at the paper, I downloaded my clips thinking I had enough to put something together. In the end, I just didn’t have it. I went home that night depressed about how I made Sanders feel. That question weighed heavily in my thoughts. I also wondered how I could tell this story better. What I had was video of a 40 minute interview and a bunch of disconnected b-roll shots of sculptures in a farmyard.

The next morning I made a call to see If Sanders wouldn’t mind me coming back for a few minutes to get a still photo of him for the print story. What I was really hoping is that he would take me on a tour of his art. He agreed to let me come over.

When I met him on his porch, he looked better than the day before. We walked the farm field, stopping for me to get cutaways and mini interviews of him with sculptures he was most proud of. In the barn, he showed me his final large sculpture, a 500 pound silverback gorilla, which he was putting the finishing touches on. He worked on it with a grinder that threw a cascade of sparks into my lens. After I said goodby, I spent another hour shooting everything I could think of that Sanders had mentioned in the interview or showed me on our tour. As I shot, I repeated in my head, “wide, medium, tight.” I used my tripod on almost everything I shot ( thanks Lenslinger). I was driven to do this shoot right. I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed to assemble a video that was complete.

I spent Thursday doing the edit and voiceover work. I am not one that feels comfortable writing a script yet. I would much rather edit sections of the video first, then write and record narrative bridges. I’m sure there is a better way to do this, but when I’m producing something on such a tight deadline, I do what works for me.

When I viewed the almost finished piece, I felt something was missing. I rarely use music in any of my feature pieces. My newspaper recently bought the entire 25-volume Digital Juice music library. I found several tracks that I ended up editing into my timeline. I was shocked at how it changed the feel of my video. Having decent music that doesn’t sound like a cheesy Garage Band loop, makes all the difference. When I watch other newspaper producer’s videos, I rarely like how the music is used. Many times the soundtrack overpowers the narrative. For my video, I tried to keep the music levels as low as possible. I found when I listened to my timeline in headphones the music seemed louder, but not so when played on my reference speakers. Hopefully I set the levels correctly.

There is a lot of discussion about the role of music soundtracks in news video. Some call it manipulating the viewer by enhancing the drama when none is present. In this case, I felt the music made my video livelier and helped me tell a better story. What do you think?


3 thoughts on “Creatures from the Heart

  1. Thanks for telling this story, Colin. I agree with you, the music in this case does not sound cheesy. I hardly noticed it. So I can guess that if it were not there, maybe the story would not hang together as well.

    This is a great example of why we do the main interview separately. That moment you have near the end, when he chokes up, teaches us something, I think, about becoming old and infirm and dying.

    I also like how you explained that when you didn’t have a story, you went back and tried to get one.

    I think too many online videos are the result of the videographer just “settling” for something inferior. “Oh, well, I didn’t get a story, but I’ll post it on the Web site anyway.” Of course this reflects a reality of newsrooms. But I worry that there is too much bad video on newspaper Web sites, and people are going to give up on watching it.

    What do you think of the idea of shooting the B roll first?

    In this case, for example, I think it might have helped you get the story the first time. If he walked you around and talked to you first, and after that, you did the sit-down interview, you would have known the story more intimately befor you asked the questions.

  2. Hi Mindy,

    I agree with you about getting the b-roll first. I’m not blaming the reporter here, but I’d rather work alone. I like to ask my own questions to build a connection with my subject. When I go on an interview with a print reporter I understand their needs. I just have to be patient.

    I find interviewing subjects for video is totally different then how you interview for print. The print interview, which I videotaped, was over 40 minutes. It was filled with a ton of stuff I never use in the final product. This slowed my edit down later. The story the reporter wrote was great, but totally different. She only touched on the heart condition. I pretty much knew that my theme was going to be: Bill Sander’s heart is giving out, yet he still wants to continue creating his sculptures. In a earlier post, I talked about how video connects best emotionally and that words create a story from the sum of all the facts. I think for this story, it is the emotion that carries it.

    As for why we didn’t do the b-roll first? We met him on his porch where he was already sitting. We weren’t sure how infirm he was, so it just seemed natural to interview him then. Rolled the dice here and lost. But you know what? I think my story is better because I went back alone the next day.

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