Thursday, October 16, 2008

Convention breaking in Video journalism... continues

Buddy and cameraman director/ video journalist Charles Amponsah lighting England Footballer Anita Asante with a gold reflector for this story.
Just one of the many conventions to consider in TV News and video journalism.



Versatile journalist Chrys Wu posts about the rules of Video journalism on her blog Richochet.

"When it comes to video journalism, most news organizations have a rule: Do not use any sound or music that didn’t occur while you were filming the story. Audio holds powerful sway over our emotion and therefore, can distort our perception of facts and events. If you’re skeptical, check out the trailer for “Sleepless in Seattle” and this remix". More.
She asks whether motion graphics might be worth considering illustrating her point with a motion graphics video.

I posted back with the following which I've expanded here some more.

Traditionally, News, particularly if you worked at the BBC eschews music for reasons that it can embellish the story. Music conveys its own emotions and news is supposed to be objective and impartial.

A poignant example could be a distressed scene, an accident etc. The pictures and narrative should tell the story, without interference.

This also applies to the use of language. Cliches such as .. "his dream became a nightmare", and "Will her situation improve that remains to be seen?" are at best clumsy, at worst fight the story or provoke the proverbial urgghh drone.

And then there's the earnest look, which again takes away from the story itself placing the focus on the reporter.

Drop-in shots and Archive
Belatedly I hear how some advise against using drop-in shots. If it didn't happen whilst you were there, you're not allowed to use it, is the refrain.

A similar way of thinking was enforced by dogme - the movement wanting to pursue a verite position in their manifesto for film making.

Drop-in shots are a necessary part of the dialect of news. They give context where necessary and provide a line connecting the news maker's understanding of recent events. But it's how you use it?

And most certainly when you build up your stock of footage and in a time to come want to illustrate another financial meltdown, you'll be reaching for today's footage. Better still 1997 if you have it.

The aformentioned aren't rules per se, but matters of house style and what might be termed "ethical news making". Though one person's ethics is another persons, well!

Other Conventions, hidden ones
There are further hidden or often unknown subtleties which affect a story that I have come across in my reporting career:

  • Camera angle - where you place the camera denotes power or not.
  • Lighting - Now this is really intriguing, not just for the subject matter and interviewees, but the reporter.
I freelanced as a reporter for a London TV Network and the camera man, Australian, was particular at lighting me for my stand up/ piece to camera.

I was fascinated. Though I'd rarely had the time to be lit with a reflector because of pressures.

But here the camera man was insistent using a gold part of the reflector, adding the caveat, "You've got to know how to light black skin".

Wow I thought. Now I say Australian because there are many Australian news camera men in London and they've picked up reputation for truly being to use the exact word, "the business".

BTW that doesn't mean I'm saying others aren't.

  • Composition - where you're placed on the screen gives meaning. In the 90s there was a bit of a hue and cry on the Big Breakfast Show at where they always placed the male presenter.

And it's news folklore that Margaret Thatcher while Prime Minister crafted a softer side to her face -image, so would only want the camera on that specific side on sit down interviews.

I could go on here:
  • Noddies - c/a nods to the camera
  • Walkies - establishing shots, which can often look contrived.
  • Mis en scene - where you place or film. Background books says "learned", though I'm yet to understand what "the potted plant in the background look" signifies
  • Representation- Did you hear the story about a news feature film crew requesting their interviewees go home and change out of their suits into hoods before filming?

Back to the main story.
Features, bordering on mini-docs can be a different prospect to TV News relying more on the arc of film making where music and other techniques such as montage, verisimillitude [sound crafting for effect] can matter.

Video journalism follows the same line of enquiry, however there are other rules it can break that TV wouldn’t.

Motion graphics, a branch in itself which Chrys's mention could be one of them. Though if you’ve been watching British Network news interpret the financial meltdown, most of its being reported in motion graphics or vertical film making.

Digital Basin's Mike Jones in Australia [ again, LOL] is brilliant in this area. I recommend you read his posts.

Visual composition [doh! typo, grammar on Chrys's site] and mis en scene are most certainly one of the areas video journalism could use to distinguish itself from the status quo of news making.

Peter Ralph at shootingbynumbers makes some interesting observations in this area.

Ultimately in the adoption of video journalism, editorial needs to understand the 'rules' and how to break them.

Because breaking them, even the use of say, music, can turn a package around.

And it's in understanding how this affects the end film that should motivate whether a style is used, broken or not, depending on whether a film is an objective, an advocacy piece or otherwise.

But here's an interesting point.

The antecedent to today's video journalism movement circa 1990s looked to Vjims as the personalisation of news.

Call it self authorship of even auterism. Video journalism offered a hitherto intimacy and closeness to news making not known in TV News.

You could capture the elements raw without the set up shots and you could follow story lines with a great deal of flexibility. The cameras and methodology allowed for that.

It wasn't exactly new. Photojournalism went through its own shift in visual language when they became portable mid 1900s and the photographer could inject their own personalities and styles into their work.

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Breaking conventions in videojournalism is continues here

3 comments:

peter said...

I think perhaps the notion of drop-ins, cutaways and b-roll is becoming identified with an increasingly unfashionable aesthetic - which promotes "high production values" over simplicity/authenticity.

what value do they really add?

- Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light is the first full length concert film without a single audience cutaway. True or False?

David of www.viewmagazine.tv said...

Hey peter this is far too sexy to continue speaking here I'll repost as a front link. Lots to talk about

Chrys Wu said...

Thanks for reading my blog, David, and for following up with this post.

The audience for news seems to be preferring informed voices, rather than cut-and-dried information. As audience preference changes, I wonder what other "rules" of traditional reporting will change.

You thoughts?