Archives for posts with tag: video storytelling

Andrew Lih of American University gave an incredibly helpful Fast-Track Video Shooting session last fall at the Online News Association’s ONA14 convention in Atlanta. Lih great advice on when video is a suitable storytelling form and showed outstanding examples of long and short documentary-style video storytelling.

When is video appropriate for a given story? Video tells great stories about people. If you have a great character who is representative of a particular issue, it works really well. One example: A New York Times video about a calculus teacher titled “Wright’s Law: A Unique Teacher Imparts Real Life Lessons.”

The kind of form we emphasize in Multimedia Journalism, the documentary-style video, works well if you have someone who is good on camera, is well-spoken, and has the knowledge to speak confidently about their subject.

Lih showed an excellent longer documentary video by Vice on the controversy surrounding the use of 3-D printers to make guns. Its title: “Click. Print. Gun.”

Another example: “Secrets from the Potato Chip Factory,” by NPR’s Planet Money team.

Lih’s advice on shooting technique was also pretty great. Highlights:

Things you DO NOT want to do:

  • Zooming a lot.
  • Talking a lot during the shoot.

Things you WANT to do:

  • Shoot 10-second clips when doing B-roll.
  • Don’t move. Use a tripod.
  • Zoom with your feet, not with the camera.
  • Listen to the audio while you shoot. This helps you recognize when something goes wrong (battery in mic dies, cable disconnects, etc.) or when you need to shoot again due to distracting background noise.
  • Remember to shoot an establishing shot before you go in for your interview. Otherwise, you are likely to forget to do it.
  • Lens position for interview shoots: At eye level. Low angle looking up makes your subject look heroic. High angle looking down diminishes your subject.
  • Position of the camera in relation to the interviewer: Two feet to your shoulder. Encourage your subject to look at you, not the camera.
  • As you interview, take notes and watch the time monitor and note the time in each of the pieces. Use these notes as a guide to where the story is going. Use them also as a “scavenger hunt” list. You can use this list to remind you to ask your subject, “Do you have any photographs of such-and-such that you mentioned in the interview?” You might be able to use them in editing the videostory.
  • If your subject looks all over the place, point at your eyes, and make eye contact. Coaching your subject how to sit is completely natural in the TV world; so it goes in online video.
  • To get your subject comfortable talking with them, a lot of TV people will start with nonsense questions like “What did you have for breakfast?” Don’t make your first question, “So, did you KILL that guy or what?”




UNC Multimedia Bootcamp is where I got my first taste of journalistic documentary video storytelling. Not that this was my first video ever; I will confess to having made some terribly sophomoric sketch comedy using a video camera rented from the local mom-and-pop equivalent of Blockbuster Video back in the day.

While it wasn’t a boot camp in the “drop your *something* and grab your socks” kind of way, it definitely was a crash course. Remember that scene in Wayne’s World 2, where they had roadie training, and the veteran roadie who had bludgeoned a sweet shop owner to death with his own shoes to get brown M&M’s in order to get a band on stage was introducing himself? And he said, “You will hurt. You will have aches and pains. But you will get good.”

We got … well, competent enough after one week.

Afterward, I got a LOT of practice shooting a road trip to ancient Navajo and Hopi ruins in the Southwest with my father, an interview with a fascinating lady who is a muzzleloader shooting champion with a passion for creating Indian beadwork, and a piece on a mixed martial artist in Syracuse. So come to think of it, given the demands of producing research for academic presses on a regular basis, I’ve gotten more experience at this game than I thought.

UNC Multimedia Bootcamp is what got me up and running.

In just a week, we learned best practices for online video shooting and editing, basic html coding, interviewing for video and audio projects, and how all the elements of soundbites, natural sound, room tone, and voiceover-less editing combine with video footage to let the characters tell the story while the reporters stayed behind the camera or off to the side while conducting the interview.

We learned to become, as I tell my Multimedia Journalism students, Men in Black.

Our only presence is the standalone answers and reactions from interview subjects that we prompted with our carefully worded questions and by biting our tongues, smiling, nodding, and using the “dumb dog” expression while keeping our mouths shut and resisting the temptation to say, “Uh-huh … interesting … go on ….”

My assignment partner Tom Salyer, a freelance photographer from Miami, and I hit up a dozen businesses in downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro, N.C., before we found someone willing to talk on camera and let us into their lives for a couple of hours of interviewing and B-roll filming.

This is the result.

Barry “Sid” Keith is just the best for letting us in. From one Tar Heel to another, thanks, Sid!

Barry "Sid" Keith's secondhand shop Sid's Surplus has been a fixture in downtown Carrboro, N.C., for decades.

Barry “Sid” Keith’s secondhand shop Sid’s Surplus has been a fixture in downtown Carrboro, N.C., for decades.

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