Category Archives: Interesting Videos

Focus Statements, Characters and Advanced Storytelling

Hello all. Just some updates since my last full post last spring. Again sorry for being missing in action but things have been quite hectic since my last post.

First, I attended the NPPA’s (National Pres Photographers’ Association) Advanced Storytelling Workshop at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas in March. Originally called the “Advanced Team Storytelling Workshop” it was geared towards TV crews with a certain number of years experience. Now with the recognition that many of us work solo as vj’s or “one-man-bands” the word “team” was dropped from the title. Itw as also opened to print photographers like myself who are increasingly doing video for our newspaper and magazine websites. Again a certain degree of experience was required. Myself and a shooter from USA Today were the only 2 newspaper photographers.

The course was a week long and we hit the ground running. Our first assignment had been mailed to us weeks earlier, and it was to edit and form a story from the raw footage of a tornado. We were also expected to arrive with story ideas because the course was treated like a full time working news room. We had story meetings were we had to pitch, defend, shoot and edit our own stories for deadline. Needless to say there wasn’t much sleep.

This is my first assignment, shot, written and edited by me on the NPPA’s Advanced Storytelling Workshop held in San Marcos, Texas in March ’09. A little rough around the edges but it’s still a nice little story.

The staff was dedicated (more than a few Emmy award winners) and talented. The candidates were from as far away Europe, but I was the only Canadian.
I learned much. I had to unlearn many bad habits that I had picked up over the years but I came a long way on that course. They even pushed me to track my own voice on one of my stories.

It is so hard to apply the things you learn on a course, after the couse because part of the process is still to unlearn some of the crap you practiced before. That’s why they warned us at graduation that for the first few months, the stories we shoot would be the worse in our career. They were right. I am proud of almost NOTHING I’ve shot since March. But I’m getting better. The two biggest things I came away from the course are: how hard, and how important focus statements are; and how important it is to spend time capturing good sound. I also learned how to write to pictures and improve my skills enterprising stories. Oh. And how bad so much of TV news is!!!!

Since I graduated the best story I’ve shot is about stories of Mohawk peacekeeprs. It’s still rough, but i’m still working on focus statements, and unlearning bad habits is still hard. But I’m getting better;-)



The Cello Suites: A Story About Music

VIDEO: The Cello Suites: A Story About Music

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Photo: THE GAZETTE/Pierre Obendrauf

When I got this video assignment I was really doubtful that it’d be suitable as a video story. I’d been to a number of book launches that, though they could be interesting by virtue of the reading itself, it’s rare that there is anything of visual interest. And so after cussing for a second or two, I decided to look into it a little deeper to see what I could scrounge from it.

The assignment had said a “book reading” at this launch, with live music played on a cello, but when I called the author he said that there was to be no reading at all. Just a guy playing the cello and him signing copies of the book, with a short introduction. Ok.

I decided that to make this thing work he HAD to read, and for people interested in buying his book it would be nice to hear him say something about what motivated him. So I inquired whether he’d be willing to get to the venue a little early so I could get him to talk about his book on camera, and read something. Being a journalist and former colleague he was quite accommodating and understanding, and agreed to do so.

This was my plan then: A-Roll: him talking about why he wrote the book, reading excerpts from it;
B-Roll: people milling about, him signing, people reading the book, tons of closeups of the book etc, the cello, etc
Use the cello music as background.

Got to the event. Interview went fine; reading went ok, then found out that the cellist was expected to play 1/2hr later than I expected. Ah well. All things considered the shooting went ok.

I managed to complete post production in about 3 hrs and, except for a few things I kinda liked the end result.

1. I need to get to interviews with about 15mins to spare, even for simple sit-down interviews. Usually if I’m using lights and such I give myself 1/2hr, but for this I gave myself 10 mins since I had no plans to use lights. Maybe I’m a perfectionist but I wasn’t happy with the framing and lighting of the interview at all. In fact it sucks.

2. As much as the assignment might look like crap at first, give it time. I’m finding out that if there is enough advance time, a little planning might help you save it.

Bear with me y’all; I’m getting there. CRITIQUES PLEASE. Thanks a lot.

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.

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.

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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.

Destination Inauguration: short video doc on Montrealers who went to see Obama


Thirst In The Mojave

Thirst In The Mojave, a new Multimedia piece from the Las Vegas Sun. CLICK ON IMAGE TO START. Great combination of video, stills and graphics. Even though there are technical problems like out of focus shots, the editing and the pacing makes it work. Maybe more b-roll shots to cover some of the technical problems would have worked better. Also credits at the end would have been nice. Multimedia projects like this seem to be increasing on newspaper websites as we get better and faster at doing it, despite shrinking staff everywhere. For this piece, according to the producer, ” about 20 hours of footage were shot and edited down to 22 minutes for the main narrative. “The piece was also edited for TV…” something I think newspapers have to consider more and more for some projects of this scale. What do you guys think?

Devil's Golf Course