Boot camp for VJs

I’m attending the second Travel Channel Academy, in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. It’s a four-day course in digital video: shooting, editing and storytelling. Each day will run about 10 to 11 hours; today (the first day) we went from 9 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Michael Rosenblum and associates are leading the training, and it’s being blogged over at Rosenblumtv too.

Travel Channel president Pat Younge spoke to the group of 20 trainees at the beginning of the session, repeating remarks he has made before about the future of the channel, and adding that the channel has been changing its business from tourism to travel over the past couple of years. He implored us not to imitate TV-style video.

“What you see today [on television] is the fag-end of a dying industry,” Younge said.

Then Rosenblum addressed the group. I gather that he has his detractors out there in the world of online video and online journalism, but I thought he did a very good job of explaining clearly what he wanted from the first day’s shooting.

“The first thing I ask of you is perfection,” he said. “You are in control. You push the button.” Many people think they have to shoot everything and bring back tons of tape. Rosenblum said less is more. Think more, plan more. Shoot less. I’ve been reading others who say the same thing (sorry, I can’t remember who or where) — edit in the camera. Leave things out. Don’t get stuff “just in case.” Extra stuff means extra work when you are editing.

The gist of his message was GIGO — garbage in, garbage out — the old computer programming slogan. If you shoot junk to cover your butt, that junk will end up in your final cut.

He recommended something that many still photojournalists do: When you get to the scene, walk around and look and listen — without your camera. See what people are doing. Plan your story.

In fact, he said you ought to know what your story is before you begin to shoot.

Two things he urged us not to shoot — even though you see them all the time on TV: exterior establishing shots and objects to be used as cutaways. That means if you go into a bicycle shop, do not take a shot of the outside of the store, and do not take shots of the bicycles for sale or other inanimate objects inside the shop. Why not? “Boring!” Rosenblum said.

I was glad he emphasized that we should not do interviews. We were supposed to shoot 20 to 30 minutes, and tomorrow we’ll edit a one-minute story out of that. (Each of us shot alone.) I know very well that I could have interviewed my bike shop owner for an hour (he was talkative, helpful and interesting), but then what would I have? You do not need an hour of somebody talking if you are making a 60-second video.

I’ve spent my whole career doing interviews. They’re easy for me. I can do them short or long, and I can write a story off an interview and deliver it up as fast as you need it, at any length you want. That’s what a print reporter is trained to do.

But this is not print reporting, and if I want to learn to tell a visual story, then I’ve got to check my print techniques at the door.

We also learned about releases today. We got copies of three kinds: location, appearance, and name-logo-product. I’ve never needed to ask anyone to sign a release before. I was apprehensive about it, but it turned out to be no big deal. We learned what an “on-camera release” is (the person says on camera that he or she gives permission to be taped), but the signed variety is preferred. You’ll want an appearance release from everyone you talk to and everyone you shoot, other than crowd scenes.

After we all came back with our footage, we watched everyone’s raw tape. Mostly we watched it at double speed, but nevertheless I learned a lot by seeing what 19 other people had shot.

Two more tips came out during the screening:

  1. Take people where they can’t normally go. To a large extent, that means extreme close-ups of action.
  2. “When it gets this close, it’s irresistible. You can’t help but look at it.”

Combined with a stationary camera and short takes, I can already see that what we cut together tomorrow is going to be more compelling than a lot of Web video out there.

10 Comments on “Boot camp for VJs

  1. Pingback: Academy Day 2 « Rosenblumtv

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  3. After it’s all said and done, I would love to get your opinion about whether it’s worth the $2,000 workshop cost.

  4. Mindy, Thanks! Great tips here for everyone. It’s always heartening that a lot of what we have learned as still photographers carries over into video. Have fun! Dave

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  6. Wow. What an experience, and thanks for sharing and being our eyes and ears. I look forward to reading more.

    And I, too, can’t wait to find out if you think it’s worth the cost.

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