Friday, July 29, 2011

What you watch can shape your style

Growing up watching the New York City newscasts was a real learning experience for me. Even when I was a kid. Why? Because when you watch something, even casually, your subconscious is taking notes. The styles of anchors and reporters becomes burned into your brain, even if you've never been a reporter.

It's like a kid who has watched hundreds of baseball games and listened to the commentary, then goes out to play his first game. Everything he's learned comes into play. He knows how to run the bases and field ground balls with two hands because he's seen it a thousand times, even though he's never done it.

It's the same with fiction writers. The best writers read all the time, and they read a wide variety of writers. While doing so their subconscious picks up one thing from one writer and another from another. All those little things combine to make the writer unique.

Same with television reporters and anchors. You can go to the best broadcasting schools and read every book (and blog) on the subject, but unless you watch what the pros are doing, you're going to remain a pretty blank slate. Oh, you'll be able to knock out a decent package and have a good career, but you're not going to pick up those little things that can set you apart.

So what do you do if you didn't grow up in a major market watching the best people? Luckily we live in an age in which you have major markets at your fingertips. Pick a big market, and you'll generally find at least one station that streams its newscasts online. You can watch New York one night, Philly the next, San Diego the next.

If you're starting out, this is a must. Working in an entry level market and going home to watch the competition is fine, but you're not going to learn much from people at your own level. There are "teachers" out there in the form of major market anchors and reporters...and all you have to do is watch.

You should do this two ways. Sometimes you should takes notes. Deconstruct a great package. What did the reporter do that made the piece so compelling? Watch the story again and transcribe the script, then compare it with what you're doing.

The second method is just to watch as a viewer. No notes. Just relax and let your subconscious take in the little things. Do this enough, and soon you'll find yourself doing those same things.

You'll pick up a little here and there, and all these things add to your personal style.

Just because you're out of college doesn't mean you should stop learning. The electronic classroom is open 24 hours a day. And there's no tuition.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Personally, too much information is not a good thing

Some call it TMI.

Too much information.

Usually, it's a punch line or a conversation stopper. But in this case, it has to do with dealing with the public.

One of the downsides of this business is that there are a lot of whack jobs and creeps out there among the great unwashed masses. And every night some of those people from the shallow end of the gene pool are watching you. It's inevitable that some of these people will contact you... or worse.

I've had plenty of clients with stalkers. One had to move, another needed a restraining order. This is mostly a problem for women, especially the single ones who move to a new area and don't know anyone.

There's nothing you can do to stop people from contacting you. But there are steps you can do to discourage this. And the biggest ones are the ones most visible to the public. Put out too much information of the wrong kind and you're just asking for trouble.

I've seen station bios with stuff like this. "She loves spending her Sunday's walking on the boardwalk." Well, when you put stuff like that on the Internet, you've just told a stalker where to find you. "She's single and hoping to meet Mister Right." Yikes. I cringe when I see an anchor say stuff like, "Jennifer is on vacation this, so filling in..." You've just told the world someone is out of town, ringing the dinner bell for burglars... or a stalker who could break in to your place while you're away.

There's too much information... and then there's the right kind of information to protect yourself. Stuff that might give a stalker pause to back off.

-Keep your station bio vague, but add a scary detail or two. "When she's not working she enjoys playing with her pit bull Max."

-If you're single, you need a man in your life, even if he's an imaginary one. Several years ago I recorded an answering machine message for a female co-worker that started like this: "We're not home right now..." Any stalker who gets your phone number and calls will immediately know there's a guy in the picture.

-If you're into social networking, add a tough guy into the picture. Your significant other might be a Navy Seal, a linebacker, or a cop. If you don't want to scare the normal guys away, the person sharing your apartment could be your brother.

-Visit a pawn shop and buy a fake engagement ring. I recently had one client do just that. Problem solved. And when you're on camera, hold your mike with your left hand so viewers can see the ring.

-If you receive any emails or snail mail of a suspicious nature, tell management and file a police report. If it's snail mail you should also call the postal inspector. You'll need to nip it in the bud before things get worse.

-Take a self defense class. Pick up a can of pepper spray. Lock your doors at all times.

Remember, your privacy is your most precious asset. In a world in which everything seems to be available online, it's imperative that you not put too much information out there.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mailbox: You should think outside the box, but how do you actually get out of the box?

Okay, I got this comment after my post about point of view:

I'm a struggling, new reporter and I'm having a hard time finding those good story ideas, rather than just those different angled shots. I'm sure when I get those story ideas I can then get those cool shots... What do you think?

For most reporters, there are "ray of light" moments. You know, when the skies suddenly part, a beam of sunlight shoots down from the heavens, and the light bulb goes on over your head. It happens when all of a sudden you figure something out, like how to use nat sound or how to write into or out of a sound bite. And there are many rays of light that a reporter must experience.

In this case, we're talking both point of view and point of view. Confused? You should be. You can have two points of view from the same person. The mental and the visual. Mental is how someone feels about the subject, visual is how they see the subject.

One of the first lessons I learned was from a veteran photog (naturally) while shooting a story in a kindergarten classroom. I had set up the tripod for him at its usual height. He took one look and shook his head. "Gotta get down to the kids level," he said, then proceeded to lower the sticks till they were at the eye level of a five year old. When he went off the sticks, he took every shot from his knees. The visual point of view was that of the students. Their petite teacher looked nine feet tall. But don't they all when we're little kids?

On that story he got tight shots of tiny fingers going into a jar of finger paint. Crayons trying to stay inside the lines. A great shot of a little hand pulling the teacher's dress, and the teacher's face looking right down into the lens. Simple concept, but very effective. You can see similar stuff in the Harry Potter movies, in any scene with Hagrid, who is a giant.

Now, the mental point of view. You're covering a story and you've got plenty of sound bites from people about how they feel about a certain subject. But you have to get inside their heads, walk in their shoes. Let's take a flooding story for an example. Suppose the waters are creeping dangerously close to a family's house. You can use all the sandbag video you want, but get inside the head of the family. What do they want to really save? Is it the house, which can be rebuilt with insurance money, or the wedding pictures, which can't be replaced? Why is the mother busy putting all the refrigerator crayon drawings done by her kids into Ziploc bags instead of packing up the flat screen television? You can show feelings through video, in the same way you can illustrate how a person sees things visually.

This won't happen for many of you overnight, but when it does, that "ray of light" will take your work to the next level.

Remember, as a reporter you're a trained observer. But you have to use more than your own eyes, and those of the photographer. You have to see the world as others see it to create a clearer picture, an truly tell the story from another point of view.

Which brings us back to our young reporter's original question... how do you find those cool story ideas? Again, the answer is point of view. Not yours.

When you drive to work, see things that you see every day from a different point of view. You drive past that farm with the miniature horses every day. Did you ever stop and knock on the door to find out why these people own them? Maybe they run some sort of traveling petting zoo. You drive past the house that the old man has been refinishing forever. But did you ever stop to talk to the guy? Maybe he's restoring his childhood home.

We see hundreds of things every day, and there's an interesting story behind a whole bunch of them. But you'll never find that story until you consider another point of view, then stop and ask questions.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano