Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sound bites

One of the biggest rookie mistakes is the use of a "single source sound bite" in a package. That means taking one interview and chopping it up into several parts; the reporter goes back to the same person over and over again.

Sometimes when you're doing a piece profiling a single person you'll need more than one sound bite. But it's the way veteran reporters use those bites that can set them apart.

Instead of going back and forth between voice track and sounds bites, you have two options.

-The easiest (and one that takes the least effort) is to simply cover all the sound bites after the first one with b-roll. What, you didn't know you could do that? Well, if the viewer has already met your interview subject earlier in the story, there's no reason to see the talking head again. And we all know there's nothing duller than a talking head. So if you've got that same face popping up over and over, cover it.

-The best (and one that takes real style and effort) is to chop up one sound bite and break it up with nat sound, voice track, or both. The best storytellers do this with regularity.

Let me give you an example. Let's say we have a sound bite about a man who sells Christmas trees for a living. You're profiling this guy who is out in the cold all day on a tree lot but loves his job anyway. Here's a sound bite:

"I love the sent of spruce. I'm not stuck in an office, people who come to see me are happy, and I send them home with the Christmas spirit.'

Okay, so if you're a rookie reporter, your package might look like this:

"Joe Holiday has a unique job every time December rolls around. He runs the local Christmas tree lot, and says it's a great gig."

Sound bite

Nothing wrong with that, but if you want to stand out from other reporters, let's take that bite and have some fun with it:

"This time of year, Joe Holliday isn't pining for another job, because..."

Sound bite: "I love the scent of spruce."

"He's the tree lot guy. Out in the bitter cold..."

Sound bite: "I'm not stuck in an office."

"Collecting smiles..."

nat sound child looking at trees "I want this one"

Sound bite: "People are happy to see me."

"And passing out holiday cheer."

nat sound: putting tree on car roof

Sound bite: "I send them home with the Christmas spirit."

In this case we've taken the same ten second sound bite and chopped it up. Using nat sound and writing to both our video and sound bites, we've taken what could have been a slow moving package and picked up the pace. Instead of two edits in the first 20 seconds or so, we have ten. The package will now move quicker, look and sound more interesting. And, for the job hunters out there, his technique will make you more marketable as you show off your writing and editing skills.

You can do this with most any story. When you review your sound bites, don't just look at them as complete sentences or thoughts. Look for opportunities to break them up with copy or nat sound. It will force you to think more creatively and take your work to another level.


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