Editor’s note: Our Work the Problem series has covered story regret, with Esquire‘s Tom Junod; self-editing, with Pulitzer winner Amy Ellis Nutt; and prospecting for narrative, with Storycraft author Jack Hart. Today’s question: “What survival tips can you offer a reporter who is in charge of capturing a narrative in video, print and photography? Some days I fall into at least one medium.” Today’s guru is New York Times video journalist Sean Patrick Farrell, who writes Viewfinder, an occasional Storyboard column on video journalism:
Narrative in any medium — stills, video, print or radio — is a time commitment, and while some have the luxury of longform, many of us do not. In fact, many of us are reporting in a combination of those media all at the same time and on ever-quicker deadlines. I’ve reported a few stories as video, text and photos. It’s a challenge, but it’s not impossible.
You need to decide going into the story which medium is going to be the leader and which media will tell which part of a story best. I’m a video journalist first and foremost, so video is my primary goal, and thankfully it can be used a bit like a notebook. I’m looking for sequences and scenes that I can record that will tell my story in a narrative fashion. I can always mine my footage for quotes for a print piece later, and there’s also the phone for followup questions and quotes.
But video and photo are about being there: bringing back images of the story from where it is taking place. Let’s say you’re doing a story where you talk to folks at a local diner for a politics story. In a print piece, you can always describe the way the short-order cook flipped the burgers, but with video, if you didn’t hit “record” in the kitchen, you’ve got nothing when it comes time to cut the video.
It’s often my goal to make a video and a print piece complement each other and not simply be duplicates in different media. For a package I did a few months ago about the use of aerial drones for wildlife research, I focused the video on the work of a group of U.S. Geological Survey cartographers and Fish and Wildlife biologists working together to count sandhill cranes in Colorado. The print story is a bit broader and delves into thornier issues, like safety and expense over manned flights, which proponents of drones for biology tout. For some of those elements, I spoke with researchers in Alaska and Idaho, and with an FAA press person, to round out the reporting. I did get a bit of handout footage from some other researchers, which I used in my final video as well:
I had roughly a day and half on the ground with the researchers and spent much of it getting all of the material I knew I would need for the video: interviews, scenic shots of the area, tight shots of the drone. I waited until dusk for the cranes to roost, got up at dawn to record them flying off for the morning. Sound is a big part of video storytelling as well. I’m always listening for moments that could be used for paragraph breaks in a script, or that simply capture a place. The sound of the cranes calling, and that terrific noise that the drone makes when it starts up, all help the audience absorb the story.
Other advice: Learn how to cut video, even at the most basic level. Nothing teaches you faster to remember to get all the shots you need than sitting in front of your computer wishing you had a cutaway or a wide shot. You can’t call back for a video quote. Get it while you’re in the field.
Resources worth checking out:
—Lynda.com: very good tutorials on all of the major nonlinear editing systems. Some portions are free but to really learn a program, it’s worth doing a whole course. You’ll find the video tutorials here.—Built-in system tutorials such as iMovie, which is pretty popular in the Mac world.
—Creativecow.net: a great resource for more advanced editing but also good for newbies. I find myself there often when I’m perplexed by something in Final Cut or Adobe Premiere. Their video tutorials are here.
—Friends and colleagues: The best way to learn, I think, is to find someone who can show you how a program works. Most cities, especially college towns, have someone who teaches classes in Final Cut, Premiere, Vegas, etc. Most systems work in roughly the same way — it’s just a matter of learning the shortcuts and quirks of each.
For past installments of Work the Problem, go here.