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The second day of shooting

Day 3 of the Travel Channel Academy video boot camp: This was Saturday; I just couldn’t write a post until now (no time!).

Rosenblum exhorted us to have a story in our heads before we began to shoot. He also encouraged us to aim for a very low shooting ratio. (I was successful at that: For the first one-minute story, I shot less than 10 minutes of tape. For the second, even though I felt like I was shooting forever, I still had less than 11 minutes.)

If you think before you turn on the camera, you’ll always be okay, he said. “Shoot for the cut.”

As one of my readers pointed out in the comments, this is hardly earth-shattering wisdom. But it is important stuff, and people who are self-taught don’t always get all of this.

Rosenblum talked more about narration in this lecture. Get rid of the “broadcast talk,” and just speak naturally through your script. Imagine how you would tell it to friends or family members at home. Then tell it that way.

He urged us to find a compelling character and make that person become the story. Figure out what your character’s quest is (which will be pretty darned simple in a one-minute story). If you deliver a killer opening shot, a clear opening narration that establishes what the story is, and show what the character’s going after (or what her dilemma is, etc.), then you have established the arc of the story. Rosenblum loves this; he said “arc of story” many, many, many times.

And of course, it’s nice to have a conclusion too.

When can you move the camera?

If the movement replaces the edit between two shots, it’s okay to move the camera. Just don’t do it often. Hold the first shot steady for 10 seconds. Move quickly and decisively to the second shot. Do not make any adjustments after you stop moving. Hold the second shot for 10 seconds. If you can’t move it cleanly, just don’t move it.

When people are moving around a lot, if their movements are repeated, figure out where they will end up. Then point the camera there and hold the shot. Wait for them to come to that place. Don’t chase them around. We had a good example of what not to do in one student’s first story. A cook in a diner made a grilled cheese sandwich, and the student moved the camera to every place the sandwich went — over to a plate, up to the steel shelf where the waiter picks it up. We kept hearing, “Don’t chase the grilled cheese!”

When the camera is moving, you get a lot of shots that you can’t cut. If you hold it still and stop recording (push the red button!) after you get the shot, you have stuff you can cut together easily. This was the best thing I learned, because I’ve been very frustrated when trying to edit video I shot in the past. Now I know this was exactly my problem. The stuff I shot during this workshop was so easy to put together, I could scarcely believe it.

Interviews

I’m going to skip most of what Rosenblum said about interviews because all you journalists know most of that already. The thing you might not know is this: Do not videotape an entire interview. You’ll have too much tape to log. (Remember what I just said about the shooting ratio?) So the trick is to gather your sound bites at the end, after you have shot everything else. But don’t just get random meaningless junk like so many TV reporters — ask the people about the stuff you know is going to be in your story.

To me, this is counter-intuitive. Every bone in my body wants to go and do the interview first, and get it all on tape so I don’t miss anything. But I have logged those awful two-hour-long interviews, and I know perfectly well that it’s a terrible waste of time. You’re making a really short video! Even if you have somebody on tape talking for two minutes, you have more than you are going to use! So — fight your instincts!

It doesn’t mean you have to avoid a proper interview. Just don’t do it first. And when you do a long interview, don’t tape it! After the person is finished, then heave up the camera and ask him/her your two or three questions. You know, the ones that really need to be in the final story. Genius!

More from the Travel Channel

Sue Norton, a senior executive producer for the Travel Channel, was with us throughout the four days of the boot camp. She talked to us on Saturday about her job, her various past jobs in the Discovery network system, and her professional life before that. Now she’s in charge of user-generated content (UGC) for the Travel Channel, which they see as an urgently important new revenue area.

Sue just moved over to the Travel Channel about 18 months ago. She was assigned to develop and produce a new series that would take advantage of the “preditor” model, which she said was born out of the need to quickly shoot, write, edit and transmit back to base from news locations such as Iraq (e.g., Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone). That series was “Not Your Average Travel Guide.” Sue described the hosts on the show using a star-shaped diagram, with the five points of the star labeled producer, writer, shooter, editor and host. Yup, all-in-one.

The model was this: The host would upload a rough cut for a 30-minute episode, get suggestions online, revise, upload a fine cut, and that’s it. The show was aimed at an 18- to 34-year-old demographic. The average Travel Channel viewer is a 50-year-old woman, and that’s got to change (because advertisers want someone else). NYATG wasn’t as successful as had been hoped, but with some tweaks and a slight title change (“Your Travel Guide”), it will get another chance later this summer.

My favorite quote from Sue (who was a great presenter): “It [NYATG] was always meant to be harvested for multi-platform.” Something like grave-robbing in that? Well, not exactly, but it did give me goosebumps.

“The short segments play beautifully by themselves,” she added. Follow the link above and see for yourself. The Travel Channel gets 250 short segments out of the 50 half-hour episodes. These appear on the Web site and on iTunes. They can also be downloaded from a video-on-demand system.

More tomorrow, when I’ll wrap up with my Day 4 report.


Categories: training, video


2 Comments

  1. Sean Blanda says:

    Great wrap up. The “moving the camera” bug gets me sometimes too. I’d say the main thing to remember when shooting is have half a mind on the editing process.

  2. [...] The second day of shooting. Mindy McAdams continues her report from video storytelling boot camp and includes much more practical advice. [...]

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