March 9, 2010

Day 2: How to shoot for news


We have less than a week before the JAMA Video Project embarks on its first client assignment at the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, so it was important to get the team out with the cameras to see how they perform under a bit of pressure. The assignment today was to shoot a 1-minute package about the smallpower offices. They would be permitted 1 hour to shoot and 1 hour to edit their package.

Felix editing his segment

The key principles that they had to incorporate in their packages were:

  • 80-90% of the shots MUST be on a tripod
  • Use the "5 second" rule and take longer shots of each piece of video. (see previous post for what the "5 second rule is)
  • Tell the viewer a story using the images they record. I should be able to understand what smallpower is just by watching the visuals.
  • Demonstrate understanding of wide, establishing, close and cut-away shots.

Each segment is available to view and you will notice that they definitely achieved all of the above key principles, but also revealed that some other basic concepts of news-style videography do need some work. I encourage you to watch some of the clips and follow their progress.

One of the biggest challenges for any videographer anywhere around the equator is light. The light here is so bright, it's hard to explain to someone used to the considerably less intense northern hemispheric sun. This poses distinct challenges for novice video journalists as they cannot rely on the camera's auto settings and must manually manage the iris and light controls. One of the themes you will see through most of these initial practice clips is just how hard it is to manage light.

All five did a nice job in setting up the office. It's as if you can hear the reporter saying "smallpower is located in the heart of Kinshasa's diplomatic district in Gombe and represents a distinct blend of Congolese and American..." as they show the exterior of our offices, and then take the viewer inside to see how Congolese and Americans are working side by side to produce TV shows like Rien que la Vérité. Overall, the visual narrative was done quite well. Specifically, I encouraged everyone to really consider what their first and last shots would be for their packages—so keep that in mind when you watch their work.

One of the biggest challenges of shooting news for non-journalists is getting the sense of timing. All five of the guys have quite a bit of production and shooting experience, but never under such extreme time pressures. I was very diligent in cutting them off after an hour of shooting and later, editing. I want them to understand that in a real-world situation, they will not have the luxury of time to edit/re-edit/talk to their friends on the phone/take a break/etc... It is not easy to make that transition though, coming from a production environment where shows take weeks to shoot and produce. The goal here is that each minute of video will take no more than one hour to edit. So a one minute package should take an hour to edit, two minutes two-hours to edit and so on. For the most part we did OK, but there certainly wasn't that sense of urgency that is essential to be successful in news.

At the end of the day, when everyone was done with their edits, we all sat down together to review the material and offer feedback. The idea here was to emphasize that when you shoot video for television you cannot be shy. You are shooting for a mass audience, and you had better get used to being critiqued, as that is just the nature of the business. Spirits were good and everyone responded well to the feedback. We will be training intensively over the next few days, so hopefully you will see dramatic improvements in shot selection, lighting, and overall creativity.

For a first day, I was extremely pleased and told the team that they should be very satisfied with their debut as video journalists. We will hopefully see even more dramatic improvements over the coming days and weeks.



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