Monday, June 13, 2011

So many sound bites, so little time

There is a disturbing trend I'm seeing these days. No, I'm not talking about one-man-bands or the fact that there are more news directors than ever who have never been out on a story.

The problem lies with sound bites. In particular, talking heads.

If you look at last week's posts about being a storyteller, you'll see there are different kinds of sound bites. There's the traditional, stand-here-and-look-at-me-not-the-camera version. That's a talking head. And then there's the "nat sound bite" which entails interviewing somebody while they're doing something. That's not a talking head.

The problem is packages are being crammed with too many talking heads. Not enough b-roll, not enough nat sound breaks, not enough reporter voiceover. It's almost like half the reporters out there want to delegate the storytelling duties to the talking heads.

And don't get me started on single-source sound bites, where reporters interview only one person and chop up the interview into half a dozen talking heads.

When you're interviewing someone, the most boring way to do it is to have the person stand there and do nothing. What you want is a walk-and-talk.

So clip a mike on your subject, and have the person do something that relates to the story. Are you talking to a farmer about his fields being flooded? Don't stand in front of the barn, walk with him out in the field and show how close the water isyou interview him. Are you asking a doctor about the latest virus sweeping through town? Talk to him while he's examining a patient. Are you needing a bite with a teacher who does something unique in the classroom? Put your camera over her shoulder and talk to her while she does that special something.

Most of you only have ninety seconds to tell a story. You don't want to waste any of those precious seconds on talking heads if you can avoid them.

It's your story. Don't give it to someone else. The people you interview can help you tell that story, but the principles of show-and-tell apply to people, not just b-roll.



turdpolisher said...

Gotta disagree with you on this one, Grape . . . Well, sort of.

I see my job as helping people tell their own story. The less I gotta talk, the better. It's my job to get out of their way.

How do I do that? Well, it's the little things. Sure, I do the talking head thing. But I also leave the mic on while I'm getting b-roll. Shoot a question or two while they're doing what they do.

Then when it's time to edit, I chop it up and cover whatever doesn't get to the heart of the story.

Sure, I come back with a little more to log than most, and my interviews are a little, and it takes a little longer to edit . . . but the story usually stands out in the newscast.

Less reporter . . . more people.

-The Grape said...

Since you've shot many stories for me personally, I know your style. And leaving the mic on while getting b-roll is such an easy thing to do, I don't know why more people don't do it. Letting people tell their stories is great, just let them show the story while telling it.

I'm referring to the packages that have nothing but talking heads and static b-roll shots.

turdpolisher said...

Yep. . . knew exactly where you were going. Just feeling cranky today. Had to poke somebody with a stick.

-The Grape said...

Photogs are entitled to feel cranky.

Besides, it's part of their charm.

Anonymous said...


I hear you talk about Nat sound alot, and I'm working on incorporating it into my own packages.

However, it isn't working for me. The sound I'm getting ends up sounding muddled or something.

The most recent example I can think of is a graduation story I worked on... I had nat pops of the band playing the graduation song. However, it ended up just sounding like noise and indecipherable.

Where am I going wrong? Is it my camera's mic, the way I'm editing, what? We don't have boom mics or anything on our cameras at the small station where I work, should I leave my stick mic plugged in for b-roll?

Thanks Grape,

-The Grape said...

Yikes, no shotgun mikes?

Photogs, please chime in on how to fix this one.

turdpolisher said...

Easy. Get closer.

The closer you get, the less noise you'll get. Hell, if you have to, plop a stick mic somewhere close. It'll be cleaner than your built-in camera mic.

-The Grape said...

A single source is okay when you're profiling someone. It is not a good idea when you're trying to tell two sides of a story.