Friday, January 11, 2013

Finding video with your ears

I got this comment after my last post about b-roll:

"When I'm training new photogs (or more commonly these days, MMJ's) I always tell them to shoot with their ears. Interesting sounds will always take you to interesting people and pictures."

That's from a fabulous photog named Rick Portier who used to shoot video for me and now does the same for other lucky reporters in Louisiana. Anyway, Rick raises a great point. A lot of your best b-roll comes with great nat sound, and as a result, gives you some great nat sound breaks from which to choose.

So this weekend, or on your day off, try this exercise. Take a pen and pad with you to the local mall. Walk the entire length of the mall and write down every sound you hear. Cash registers, kids riding those mechanical horses, makeup girls trying to sell you stuff, whatever. Do this until you have 100 pieces of sound.

Then take the list back and think about the video that went with each piece of sound. What would have made great b-roll? Great nat-sound breaks? Think about the writing opportunities... specifically, how could you have written into or out of these pieces of sound?

Training your ears as well as your eyes will help you take your packages to the next level and make them more interesting. For the next few weekends, try this and eventually it will become second nature.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Your best sound bite might be a piece of b-roll

Television is a visual medium, but young reporters often get preoccupied with talking heads. They sometimes focus so much on getting the perfect sound bite that they miss the obvious in the b-roll that's been shot.

If you've been taught to think of b-roll as nothing more than cover video, think again. B-roll can often contain the most import elements of the story.

It all depends on how you use it. Think of b-roll as a spice rack. You've got a dozen spices to throw into your recipe, but you don't know what you're doing, so you throw equal amounts of each spice into the mix. But a pinch of cayenne pepper is a lot stronger than an entire jar of parsley. The great chef knows this, and uses the spices accordingly.

Some pieces of b-roll are much stronger than others. And the strongest ones are the ones you can play with to make your packages stronger and more interesting.

Example: Let's say you've been sent to the airport since there's a winter storm on the way and flights are about to get disrupted. While you're shooting b-roll a gate agent picks up the microphone and says, "Flight 112 has been cancelled due to weather." This is followed by an audible groan from the passengers.

The average reporter simply keeps the audio low and voices over this piece of b-roll. The reporter who knows how to use b-roll sees this as an opening sound bite, and follows it with this: "That scene was a common occurrence today, as mother nature played havoc with airline schedules." In this case the b-roll was more effective than talking to a ticked off passenger who is now stuck in the airport. You're also "writing out" of your b-roll, making your script flow naturally with the video that the viewer has just seen. You could also "write in" to your b-roll, like this: "This is not what you want to hear while waiting to board a flight." Then follow that with your b-roll.

Another example: You're covering a political rally and figure you need a few soundbites from the speech. While shooting the candidate heading up the stairs to the podium, your microphone catches him whispering to a supporter, "We just got some serious dirt on our opponent. Tell you later."

But you didn't hear this, which is why it is crucial that you review your video when you get back to the station before you write your story. Now, all of a sudden, you've got something the other stations don't have. Instead of the typical pre-packaged sound bites, you've got some actual news. Now you have to follow up, get more info. But you've got a great sound bite and a money shot to start your package... or your newscast. All because you reviewed your b-roll before writing your package.

Everyone shoots b-roll. What makes reporters different is how they use it. The best ones find the hidden gems in the b-roll and run with them.

And remember, not every package requires a sound bite. Sometimes the b-roll gives you all you need.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

The daily backup plan

If you've been a reporter for any length of time and worked for different News Directors, you know the story assignment process is never the same. In some stations you're required to bring two or three story ideas to the morning meeting, in others you're simply handed your assignment by a ND who is channeling a dictator.

But regardless, at some point you'll get an assignment that you simply don't want to do. It might be impossible to get video, ridiculously hard to set up, something with no news value, or something you find personally distasteful.

So you either complain or ask for something else.

And chances are you'll hear this. "You got something better?"

And if you don't, you're stuck with that loser of a story.

I've been on both sides of this argument. As a reporter, I learned real quick that I needed to have a bunch of story ideas in my pocket for days when I got handed an assignment that was a real dog. As a manager, I was always amazed that when I asked for "something better" I ususally heard, "I can find something."

Sorry, no time. So out you go to walk your dog.

Remember, the Assignment Editor is not your mother. In a perfect world, the AE is simply a logistical magician, one who pairs crews who like each other and makes sure they're not driving an hour out of their way for a v/o. But too many reporters rely on the desk to hand out assignments.

You're a reporter, so it's your job to find stories. The more you find, the easier your job will be. And the more you have in your back pocket, the less chance you'll get stuck walking the dog in tonight's newscast.

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