Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why I love Video - a journey through network to personal broadcasting

A scene still from 8 Days.
Question are these men i) Reporters discussing how well they've done ii) Policemen anxious about something iii) criminals anxious about something. Answer below

One of the most challenging, yet ultimately rewarding times I've had working daily in the media was at Worldwide Television News in Camden, which would ultimately be enveloped into becoming Associated Press TV.

The first few weeks were a revelation: video feeds, Sat 42 permanently feeding from the Middle East, telephones constantly ringing, editing-on-the-fly as feeds were coming in and broadcasters at the end of a phone demanded access and inserts for their national news.

At the same time you needed to collate information from various wire sources and present a bullet-proof script; six writers at a desk, with a chief writer overseeing final scripts.

What you wrote was often the crib sheet for other broadcasters to forge their packages.

One of the writers, beautiful writer, just beautiful, used to write for the ABC New anchor Peter Jennings....

Middle note
[in writing this post I went over to you tube to watch Peter Jenning's final on air broadcast and in that unforgettable honesty of his, he said something:

"And I hope it goes without saying that a journalist who doesn't value deeply the audience's loyalty should be in another line of work."

I never knew Mr Jennings but I was introduced to him and shook his hand, when I was an ABC News Associate Producer in Johannesburg during South Africa's 94 election]

Real Time News
By the day's end at WTN we'd package two reports, which would be sat'd over to CNN, WS and a host of international broadcasters.

It really was something to finally get home after a shift, tune into CNN to find your package being played.

I even kept one of mine, because WTN and supposedly other agencies made a science or art of packaging pictures and words:

  • Short cuts, intro often not more than 15 seconds, and always, mostly always, you'd be searching for the strongest pictures to catapult the package.

    On any one day, two phones on both left and right ear, with three feeds coming in and fielding phone calls from crews, you'd be scribbling time code ready to hand over to an editor.

    You quickly implemented a version of Gestalt's theory about grouping and associations.

    Pictures were swiftly arranged into sequences, variety spawned different patterns of sequences; varying patterns of sequences broadened the visual consumption of the video.

    Often a 1.20 package felt like 30 seconds.

    I loved WTN

    WTN has lent me many things, which cusp around videojournalism

    1. The Visual Stockbroker - developing an urgency, a sense about the turn of speed of news and how to make rational judgements.
    2. Visual acrobatics - developing a secondary sense of filtering news - a sort of muscle memory to handle what's necessary and isn't.
    3. And a strong sense of story telling driven by pictures, pictures, pictures.
    To recoin a phrase: It's the pictures stoopid!

    Johannesburg 94 and a right wing terrorist bomb devastates downtown Joburg. This picture was taken about 15-30 mins after the attack, whilst I was working as an AP for ABC News (SA). I lived nearby and my house shook. Later I would report for one of the news channels of the BBC World Service. I'll post that soon.

    A year on or so, I left WTN.

    I spoke to my manager back then, Guy ker, about doing some creative work.

    Agency work is not creative, capital "C", and the itch to get into the field again was strong.

    I left, but would re-acquaint myself with Guy at ITN and Channel 4 ( who said some nice things about me) and for four years regularly freelanced as a producer.

    Before C4, I had shifts at a number of networks including BBC Breakfast and it's this journey that videojournalism begun to really make sense.

    You can rarely tell how cold a hot bath is if you've been sitting in it for long.

    Though I'd worked for a number of outfits before Channel One TV -which pioneered VJism in the UK in 93+, now the pieces were beginning to fit.

    I love video

    I love video

    I love video for its interpretations, it's elasticity.

    I love film for the same reason, though I think I can rub video in my hands and gesticulate more.

    I love video for it is a living moving fluid canvas,for anyone thinking themselves an artist to brush stroke and eventually look for their master piece.

    I love video because of its draw. It isn't just pictures. It's tone, tonality, balance, perspective, colour, texture, composition, can make you do things. It can make people do things.

    I love video because it's flexible. It will share a stage with others e.g. music or make do on its own. It is, and someone else probably Mchulan said it better, there is no medium like it.

    I love video because it doesn't have a square root, a pi, an exact answer. Just an approach, close, even body-odour close, to the author's wishes. When we talk to the old masters e.g. Charles Wheeler about their story experiences, we get a rich tapestry of "how, and why"; their conveyance of ideas.

    What do you see?

    What would be your reaction to this event if you witnessed it live?

    News has defined qualities, what the camera sees cannot and should not be manipulated, however the true camera (the eye) records and interprets emotion and feeling by sending signals to the brain.

    Go on, next time you witness a carnage, accident, an unexpected event with a friend watch as their eyes, the iris size changes.

    They might squint, they might look sideways, they might manoeuvre themselves into a position that better suits the interpretation of that event.

    If you witnessed an accident at that moment a child rides by on a bike, you'll track the kid, probably, momentarily re-interpreting: "Oh my God, what if...."

    These are relationship issues, contextual, but they help to make sense of the event.

    Video Futures

    Video News which aims for a neutral density shies away from those cinematic micro-psychological-inner meanings.

    Filmmaking does not, which is why great cinematographers can make you weep (yes news can as well) get you high with excitement, and get you angry just perhaps by using colour.

    For that I loved watching the odd NFL film made of Super Bowl final game.

    Visceral, in your face, every crunch a cringe, and loud thud - this is not as nearly matched by watching it televised on the day.

    Getting into the trenches, getting eye level amongst the pack gives off a different vibe entirely - something the videojournalism I have come to know attempts to ape.

    Somewhere, somehow, we can experiment with form, function, trust the authors or not to give us their interpretations which may be universal or not.

    Videojournalism combining a wide gamut of things already discussed may move towards this, particularly for newspapers with points of view.

    Videojournalism here by the way doesn't exclusively mean one-person camera for anyone familiar with the British national press.

    It may well be that these news organisations delivering on the nuances and emotional persuasions we learn to know, will be the winners in the new Video news war.

    It may well be (wishful thinking) that someone creates a video which acts more intuitively and closer to the eye; it already does in some regard with white balancing and you only need to look at some of the still camera lens technology to see what I'm alluding to.

    And Finally

    One of my last big foreign assignments was a story about a village boy in Ghana who would benefit from the skills of an internationally recognised plastic surgeon; he was to have a new face rebuilt after a flesh -eating virus had ravaged his features.

    It's a story that had so many emotional strands, not least the family had no way of paying for the operation and matters were really coming to a head.

    On the day we played it to on Ghana's national TV station, the TV audience flooded the decrepit phone lines wanting to see the piece again.

    And in the end, the hospital waved its fee of a two hundred dollars which the family could not pay.

    That's why I love video.....

    .... And lest we forget

    "And I hope it goes without saying that a journalist who doesn't value deeply the audience's loyalty should be in another line of work."



    Answer: Policemen. We're now so visually literate that the cold - blue tones are often associated with police, plus the masking closes the shot given the impression of anxiety.

    I achieved this through after effects, but could have achieved, though not as good, the effect I was looking for by mis-white balancing ie white balancing against an environment with a different colour temperature, say indoors.
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