Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sports videojournalism - cult of personality

David, vjing at base camp: Lennox vs Tyson World title fight. Apparently I was one of few, if not the only journalist allowed to stay in his camp and watch, record him train. But even more significant I was then hired by the Camp.

Endless debates surrounding videojournalism invariably fall within the ecosystem of news production. Sounds tautological: video journalism, journalism dah!

But videojournalism is a style, not exclusively a genre.

"Hey you shoot like a VJ", connotes a personalised subject narrative form of story telling c.f Tom Kennedy ( fmr Washngton Post head of video).

I started a post a couple of days ago, not finished, because it dawned on me there was a wider debate, which I could fold into my thesis.

It embraces an Alice in Wonderland moment - going down the rabbit hole. More on that in time. Could it be part of a chapter for my publishers on emerging story telling?

Nervously, I hope so. Due date, fairly soon, Gulp!

So videojournalism, the stark link outside of the artificial walls of journalism is "sportsjournalism".

Lets see video-sportsjournalism? Sports-vid-journalism? V-SportJournalism?

You get my point. Not quite a beguiling axiom. Answers on a postcard please for a suitable one.

10 sporting moments
But reading The Observers Sports Monthly and Max Davidson's The 10 Most Sporting Gestures, rekindled a passion for sports story telling.

Davidson's list is truly humanising and wrenching. At the 36 Berlin Olympics German long jumper Lutz is caught offering advice to Jesse Owens who is one jump away from being disqualified. The advice to remark his run-up earns Owens the Gold, Lutz, Silver and Hitler, an almighty slap in the face.

Owens later expresses how all the medals in the world could not hold up to the friendship offered by Lutz at that moment.

My favourite, and er , woops a de facto indictment on television is Cricketer Andrew Flintoff offering a consoling handshake to Australian Brett Lee, after England narrowly clinch the Ashes- Cricket's supreme prize.

Er TV missed the magic moment. A photographer did not.

The Alice in Wonderland theme develops a notion of peripheral story telling around the principle subject. TV films the scene, photography/ VJ captures the space. The space is bigger than the scene, which is why as you read this zoned in to the screen, you notice nothing of your surroundings before something catches your eye.

Peripheral vision then comes into play and an automotive action of you turning away from what you're doing. ( long breath)

Double click to play Flash Promo
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That peripheral played a part in capturing this set of pictures whilst covering Lennox Lewis Vs Tyson for their 2002 Undisputed World title fight.

These aren't exclusives; other TV crew were shooting Tyson's departure from his weigh-in, but I held this shot for about a minute. This in VJ is the plumb line for my arc. Meaning it changes everything.

When I captured these into FCP way back in 2002, you can see from my file name what I thought about the shot. Tyson looks bothered.

Click to enlarge

Creative story telling
Sports journalism has always had a freedom that news journalism craves. Objectivity and impartiality untouched, the film making is expressive, the language is replete with idioms and the play of words.

Oddly though it has no place i.e. Sports docs on TV. You try selling one to commissioner.

For visually stunning filming, you can turn to any number of sporting events, but often it's not the scene spectacle that captures the individual triumphs as much as the space. Super bowl films are classics for this.

The touchline filming offers a POV, difficult to capture with TV's semiotics. When Dan Marino unleashed the ball and the camera tracked it; SF 49 ers Montana ran those invaluable yards, his eyes mimicking the million mile stare; or when Marcus Allen soared through the clouds to evade that defensive line, you needed to see it at field level and slow moed to feel the grace.

Documentary makers have done us a huge service.

SV journalism ( ah there!) could do as well, inconspicuously filming on the line. This shot here is me at Twickenham England Vs Rugby, shot on my A, processed as a swf file for an online promo.

In training the UK's first regional newspapers to become videojournalist's Charlie a sports journalist spoke about a scene he needed to film that evening: a swimming gala in which the main subject was an Olympiad.

He had a choice, go TV, VJ (as many of us have come to know it) or free frame filming - an advanced iteration of VJ.

You can see the opening shot now: the swimmer on their marks, arms dangling in slow mo, eyes focused down the tunnel, the start-whistle jerked backwards, everybody tense, silence, then a hard splash on the water and an explosion of sound and energy and then she speaks and when she does she's lying down in her bed looking at the ceiling. Muscle memory.

All the while the videos slightly off centered. Charlies also did a good job. Sports videojournalism - cult of personality