Monthly Archives: February 2009

‘The Lens’ Montreal Gazette Photo Blog.

The Lens



Video Stories Major Metro Newspapers Can And Should Do

This is a simple but effective video story by photojournalist Brent Foster for Time Magazine.
The Real Slum of \'Slumdog\'
Another example of what newspaper photoJOURNALISTS can and should be doing.

Chuck Fadley makes a similar point, using a PBS documentary as an example. This is what he says:
“I just watched Frontline’s “Inside the Meltdown” on PBS. Watch it. Frontline\'s \"Inside the Meltdown\" It’s a graduate course in storytelling; it’s an incredibly powerful story; it’s timely; and has incredible production values. (And it uses stills to great effect.)

“This is an absolutely gripping doc on the financial crisis, put together by producer Michael Kirk. You can watch it online. There’s also a ‘behind the scenes’ clip with Kirk here: \"Inside Frontline: The Making of…\"

Kirk put this hour together in 20 weeks. It uses material from the backyards of NYTimes, the WSJ, and the Post, any one of which could have done this story. In fact, the backbone of the narrative is structured on interviews with reporters from the Times and WSJ.

This is the kind of story telling that major metro papers could and should be doing, but are not.

Folks, we need to step up to the plate.”


The Story Behind “First Crush”, An Interview With Kids and Their Romantic Love

The video First Crush was done as a story for Valentine’s Day. I approached the assistant managing editor with the idea of doing a video where I’d interview fifty 6-year-olds by asking them one question about love, and reveal the question at the end of the video after the kids had given their answers. I figured it’d be interesting to see what kids had to say about love. They were bound to have surprising stories, especially since many parents don’t expect kids that age to be thinking about things like this. (Click on the image to watch the video).

PC09 0210 CRUSH03

My challenge was how to make it work for the paper since I wanted to keep the question secret. I also wanted to make it into a package from which people could learn something. So after some research I figured the story in the paper should be about exploring first crushes, and that would point to the video online. A writer volunteered to do that portion of the story, and the editor gave the green light. The writer’s story was about whether as people, we are wired for love.
The principal at Dante elementary school in St Leonard agreed to help; she found the kids (ages 6-8). The parents had already given consent at the beginning of the year for the kids to be interviewed by the media for stories. It was difficult to find fifty children since there simply wasn’t enough time, and in retrospect I think it would’ve been too many. I got what I was expecting: some really amusing stories in response to the one question I asked.
Post production was simple; the biggest challenge was finding the music. I settled on an instrumental piece by Montreal band Plants and Animals ( and they kindly gave permission to use it. Then I had to decide if I should use the names of the kids. After consulting some colleagues and editors, I decided not to show their names in the video for their own protection.
Lessons learned. Pick the music beforehand – finding something appropriate and getting rights can take a long time.

Newspaper Misidentifies Journalist as Terror Suspect

A local French-language Montreal paper today on their website apparently misidentified a Canadian Press reporter, and buddy of mine Sidhartha Banerjee as a terror suspect.   Apparently the page wasn’t up for very long.  What the hell!!


Gazette 3-part Online Documentary: History of Quebec Anglo Exodus.

After four months I finally finished post-production of this short doc, the biggest project I’ve ever worked on in my 14 years in the business. It’s about the history f the Quebec Anglophone exodus from the province, seen through the eyes of 9 people who left Montreal for Western Canada.

The story was generated by writer David Johnstone, and last October The Gazette sent us out west to track down these nine people: Vancouver Island, Vancouver and Calgary. Then we went to Aylmer, Quebec for one other person who moved there after leaving Calgary.


ED Rene.hrAs the photojournalist on this project, my job was to pruduce the visiual part of the story, including the video. When I was briefed on the story, I decided right away that it had to be a documentary, not just a simple video report. There were so many layers to the story and the historicl significance was to important not to delve into it deeply. Having decided that, I had to decide how to structure it, what elements I would need, what information I needed to get from the “subjects,” what questions to ask them. The writer had his own needs for the written portion of the story, and ahd his own set of questions for the interview.

Because of what I needed, I had to call the “subjects” before leaving Montreal, to do pre-interviews to A: help prep them for what I would need, B: get ideas for anything else I could use, and C: get ideas for other questions we could ask during the interview. I even watched a few documentaries to get ideas of what could work.



On the ground, I also had to shoot b-roll, tons of it given that we had nine people to interview. During the interviews, having informed the writer what I needed, I had to pay close attention to the questions. The writer could easily forget questions that I need asked since he is busy dealing with his own questions and his own needs. Also, the answers give me ideas for b-roll, (including archival pictures or old family pictures) and other questions that might suit the needs of the documentary. So after every interview the reporter wold ask if I had other questions or if I needed anything. I can’t afford to forget to ask something. If the writer does he can always make a phone call later. If I forget, I can’t fly back from Montreal to ask the question on camera, so It could create serios problems.

All this to say that team work on projects like this is VITAL. Whenever he had ideas he’d ask my advice or opinion, and vices versa.

For stills I decided to shoot mainly portraits o the subjects, and if editors needed other images I decided to use stills puled from the video. The gear I brought with me: 2 Canon 1D Mk111 still bodies; 1 Canon XHA1 vid cam; 1 tota lamp; 2 umbrellas; 2 Canon 580EX speedlights; 1 Canon 70-200 2.8 lens; 1 Canon 17-35 2.8 lens; lights stands and infra red transmitters, loads of batteries, tapes, extensions cords and a small video tripod.

Then it was time for post production. I shot close to 6 hours of tape, and I certainly had enough material to make an hour-long documentary, but for online purposes I decided to make it half that, chopped into 3 episodes. For editing I had to decide on scoring, find archival images, etc. After some reseach I decided on two Bowser and Blue songs, which they kindly gave me permission to use. Total post-production time was about 1 solid month, spread out over 4 months.

TS Fete 10.jpg

Lessons learnt: plan everything down to the last detail BEFORE shooting (I could’ve planned better). Be thorough during pre-interviews so the people understand what you need; plan shots carefully so you don’t end up with too much tape; BRING A HEAVY TRIPOD, no matter how much gear you have (had so many problems with the small one I brought; VERY jerky); shoot deails for b-roll (you can’t have too many); don’t forget to manual focus during interviews; PLAN EVERYTHING.

I loved every minte of this project in spite of the many, many frustrations. Would love your critique so I can get better. Thanks.