The blog has been feeling neglected these days. It seems like I am lucky to get one post a month in. It’s not because there hasn’t been anything happening…on the contrary, I’ve been extremely busy! So, I am going to make an honest effort to keep up with the blog this summer and try to catch up on all the great stuff we’ve been doing.
One of the coolest things I have done this year happened last month. I was a participant in the 2013 NPPA Multimedia Immersion Workshop! I have had an interesting relationship with shooting video. I just keep buying the gear, a Z-finder, a handy recorder, a microphone, video tripod heads… hell, I even bought a small jib! I would get all excited about something I read or about some cool thing I saw on kickstarter (hence, the jib!), I would order it, it would come and I would open the package, look at it , maybe even try it out. Then I would freak out and put it away because I thought I had no idea what to do with it! I started to look at some workshops, and none of them seemed quite right. Someone suggested I look at the NPPA one, they recommended it highly. I checked it out, and it looked really great. A 2:1 student to coach ratio, an immersion format (reminded me of the Eddie Adams Workshop!), it was held at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications (which is headed by an old college buddy, Bruce Strong!), and the roster of coaches read like a who’s who in the story telling business. What was there not to like? I signed up in Feb. It was a long 4 months waiting for May to roll around.
The final list of coaches was announced, and I was excited and a bit nervous. I knew many of the coaches from my news/sports era of my career – others, I had no idea who they were. I spent a whole night googling and reading about them. That is one rabbit hole I highly suggest you go down. You can get lost for days watching the work of Brad Horn, Wes Pope, Curt Chandler, Evan Vucci, Chuck Fadley, Eric Seals, Nyier Abdou or McKenna Ewen.
Walking into the lobby the first day was very nerve-wracking. Who are all these people? Do I know that guy? Isn’t that so and so from that paper? The range of students at the workshop was amazing. There were directors of photography from major newspapers, one of the editors of PDN was there, some students were professors, some were editors at place like USA Today or Getty Images, others worked at small and large papers, there was one college student. Some had never even touched a DSLR before! After some opening remarks, the teams were announced. My team consisted of John Gastaldo of the San Diego Union Tribune, Alexa Mills, Patricia Swann and myself. Our coaches for the next 5 days were Steve Elfers, Video Director at USA Today, and Andrew Hida, a freelance visual journalist and multimedia producer in NYC. John and I ended up working with Andrew for most of the workshop, but Steve never left us alone for too long! We all said our hellos and then drew our stories out of the hat. I drew a slip of paper that read ‘Owera Vineyrads’ and had some contact info. I couldn’t have been happier, this fit right into my interests. Then the workshop started!
Bruce Strong gets up on stage and says he is going to talk about story telling. Oh, ok. I know story telling Bruce, heck, we even learned from the same people at RIT. Then he says, I thought I knew story telling, here are my 12 photos, some close up, some wide and some mediums and I got a photo story. Right, Bruce, that is what we do. Then he says, but I didn’t know multimedia storytelling. Um, what? And then he schooled us all on what we don’t know. The rest of the workshop was all about learning those things we didn’t know. Bruce was the perfect opener for this workshop, and without him showing me that I didn’t know these things I would not have gotten as much out this workshop! (Thanks Bruce!) All the students took a break to make some calls to their story subjects, and after talking to Peter and Nancy from Owera, I knew I had a good story. I just needed to figure out how to tell it. We finished off the first day with some incredible speakers giving out some great information. Darren Durlach’s talk about sequencing was mind-blowing to me, and without it many of us would have fallen flat with our videos. Then we had some practice with our coaches. Andrew, John and I found a quiet place and then learned about interviewing, watching sound levels, what a ‘reporter sandwich is’ and we practiced our sequencing.
We actually started shooting our stories the second day after a great Final Cut X tutorial. My story was about 40 minutes outside of Syracuse and when I got there, I freaked out, the vineyard was still under construction. I called Andrew and only slightly babbled before I caught myself and decided to find the story. I spent the afternoon just talking with Peter and Nancy and looking around. I shot some b-roll, an interview and headed back to the workshop. We had a talk about lighting and one about legal and ethical stuff.
Day 3 was spent shooting our stories. I spent the whole day at the vineyard. After dinner we had a talk about using music in your videos and where to source that from and a panel discussion about freelancing.
Day 4 is listed on the workshop schedule as ‘Hardcore Editing’. That is an understatement! We started at 8am and I think I finished my project about 2am! I had a lot of footage to go thru, a lot of footage. Steve called it an embarrassment of riches. I had some beautiful interviews shot in the barrel room of the vineyard, lots of b-roll, some funny and touching moments with Peter and Nancy, a walking interview with Peter in the grapes, and on and on. I also had about 3 story directions I could go. I had absolutely no idea where to start! Andrew to the rescue! He had me start to load all of my best moments, shots and story points onto the timeline. This helped to lay it all out. From here we just started moving clips around. And cutting. Cut, cut, cut and cut some more. Then cut again. And then once more. Kill the babies as they say. Once I started to let go of parts of the story (Bruce called it ‘the curse of knowledge, being too close), the story just fell together. It all sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Let me tell you, editing this was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my career! But, once it was done, I was pretty proud of it. No idea what other people would think, but I was happy. I hit send and wandered back to my room leaving about a dozen folks still working on their projects.
The 5th and last day we all showed up about 9, and there were still a couple of people putting the finishing touches on their videos! We spent the morning cleaning up and hanging out, finally a little down time to get to know everyone. It didn’t last long! After a group lunch sponsored by Canon, we all filed into a classroom to watch everyone’s projects. There were some GREAT projects shown, I mean really great. ( see all of the videos here ) Mine was shown near the end, it was great to see it shown so big. After watching all 40 videos there was a graduation ceremony. Nothing formal, just calling each of us up to receive our ‘Multimedia Ninja’ certificates and a chance to high five each coach! There were also some awards given out. Some were for accomplishments like, last one to turn in a video or most gear broken. I received an award for the best use of light! I was so surprised, there were some beautiful videos shown. The award was a F & V Lighting R-300 LED Ring Light! It was the perfect award as Eric Seals had shown us his during the workshop and I was going to order one!
After the ceremony, that was it! We did all meet up that evening at the Varsity and had a great after party which migrated to another bar when the Varsity closed! It was a well deserved release after 5 days of Immersion.
My workshop experience wouldn’t have been nearly as awesome as it was without the help of our incredible coaches Andrew and Steve. They (as did all the other coaches) worked tirelessly with us, sharing their knowledge freely, and working the same or longer hours than we did. And they did it as volunteers! All of the coaches are volunteers! Here is what Andrew had to say about the workshop
Some of the things I learned that I will always keep with me – sequencing, sequence the shit out of that story! 5 point pre shoot check list: 1-mic on? 2-camera on? 3-recorder on? 4-reciever and pack on? 5-push the mic into the camera, again. Show me, don’t tell me. Be willing to stand in the darkness, to be uncomfortable. The reporter sandwich. Evan Vucci’s ‘Dumb Dog’ look. Don’t sweat the evil bunny. And be willing to kill your babies, let them go…
If you’ve read this far, here is my video again! I hope you enjoy it.