Friday, December 24, 2010

The one-man-band's Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas,
and all thru the station,
the photogs were gone,
on permanent vacation.

Reporters all stared
at the equipment with fear,
and hoped a new job offer
soon would be near.

When out from the scanner
there arose such a clatter.
It was a big story,
one that truly would matter.

The reporter then loaded
the car she would drive.
The gear weighed one fifty,
she was just a buck-five.

She drove to the story,
and hoped things would jell,
one hand on the steering wheel,
the other on her cell.

It took her four trips
to set up the gear,
then she turned on her camera,
and cranked up the fear.

Was the video in focus?
Was the audio clear?
The interview subject
soon would be here.

Would her standup look good,
and the shot be in frame?
She did not want
to return looking lame.

The man started talking,
she pressed the red button.
The lights started flashing,
but then she got nothin'.

The levels weren't moving,
her camera stopped rolling,
the battery was dead,
the producer was calling.

"No Video! No Audio!
No B-Roll! No Nats!
This technical garbage
is driving me bats!"

She swapped out the battery
and answered the call.
Her mike gave out feedback,
her mike flag would fall.

She started to feel all stressed out and bitter,
as the producer reminded her about Facebook and Twitter.
Her camera was dead, her mike was still screaming,
she hoped against hope that she was just dreaming.

She started to tremble and kept on trying,
a photog looked over and thought she'd start crying.
He reached for her camera, and flipped just one switch,
then everything worked, without nary a hitch.

She smiled at the photog,
turned back to the story.
She'd ask a great question,
go home with some glory.

But the man had stopped talking,
he was no longer there.
She'd missed the whole story,
the cupboard was bare.

The photog came over,
gave her shoulders a rub.
He said, "Don't worry, kid,
I'll make you a dub."

"One person cannot
do the job of two.
It isn't your fault,
shooting is what I do."

He handed her the tape,
and wished her the best.
She gave him a hug,
felt a tug in her chest.

On that Christmas Eve,
as she watched the yule log,
the one gift she wanted
was a job with a photog.


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.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Mailbag: What are NDs looking for?


I'm totally puzzled. I've been looking for a job for nine months and have seen others move on, some with more talent than me, others with less. Sometimes the people who seem totally clueless get great jobs, and yet here I sit, still shopping. Can you tell me what in the world News Directors are looking for, because I can't figure it out?

Well, you're not alone in your confusion. I remember years ago the entire newsroom's jaw dropping when our weakest reporter scored a great job.

There's no common denominator. Over the years I've seen incredibly talented people go nowhere and others who are just ordinary zoom up the ladder. I know, it's not fair.

Every ND has personal preferences. Some want take no prisoners reporters, others want storytellers. Some want perfect looking people, others go for credibility. Some value great writing, others want pure personality. It's all a matter of taste, and there is no formula.

But keep pitching, and eventually you'll connect with the ND who is looking for what you've got. As long as you strive to improve and do a solid job, you'll improve your chances.

Hey Grape,

I know you're a sports fan, but please, enough of the sports metaphors, okay? I hate sports and every time you do this I have to look up stuff to know what you're talking about.

Sorry. I didn't mean to pull an end run on you.