Friday, June 22, 2007

What is video journalism?

Q: Is video journalism a journalist with a camera ?
Q Is video journalism TV news online produced by one person?
Q Is video journalism, none of the above.

Mostly anyone can tell a story with a video camera. You do it all the time at weddings, parties etc. You just point and shoot. In the same way mostly ( a generalisation of a fairly media literate populace) everyone knows how to take a picture. You've done in with friends, at the drunken party and so on. But you'd openely confess they're good photos for what they're worth but not ground breaking.

Then there are amateur photographers with an appreciation of light, composition, rule of thirds etc. Great photos on occasions, some have won awards. Then there are professionals. What might that mean today? In this case they earn a living from what they do.

They are professional rule breakers. Instinct and guile play along side experience and risk. Will that picture work when it breaks every convention?

As cinematography goes there's a scene in the Godfather where Al Pacino's character is about to bump his brother. It's back lit and breaks all the pro rules, but the DOP Gordon Willis knew what his eyes were telling him.

On Homicide Life on the Street, just as in 24 they regularly "cross the line", but the director relies on a hunch, instinct that is borne of practice, allowed to germinate from the years of experimenting with type and form.

The directors of Noir painted with negative light. The shadows became the primary source.

Video journalism is everything you want it to be, but when I take a class or consult for a group, I want it to be about pushing on the aesthetic of video film. It won't always work. But like the print journalist, the commentator I'm hoping to engage at a level where there is a reaction.

My own style of vjism as emphasised by ITV journalist and former press Gazette media writer Zoe Smith is how to control hand held. Can I begin to mimic the eye, even sometimes caricature it? That's the route I went down in 8 Days.

I'm looking for my first unrehearsed ( it always is) VJ shoot of 10 mins where there is no break in filming, but should push the visuals. I'm experimenting more with colour and of course sound. 40 percent and more is the sound. For that I have some wonderful people in local BBC Radio and Radio 4 to be thankful towards. Joy Haywood - Radio 4, Barbara Myers - "I want to be Normal", Fergal Keane who paints pictures with his voice, Victor Lewis Smith on Loose Ends circa 1988 with a bullet comical genius style of production

Painting with sound, designing with it remember Walter Murche's Apolocolypse Now - the fan mimicing the rotor blades of the helicopter.

So what is video journalism? Truth it's news film making dangerously placed in the hands of one person. Dangerously because News has grown up to be a collaborative factual beast, handworked into form and shape by an Editor, Sub, Director, Sound camera man., producer and some.

And now, now you're trying to tell me many of those people are redundant. With parachute journalism, you're in and you're out and your base is telling you what they want and how. Difference with VJism is you're on he ground, you know the conditions and should be able to eke out a story.

There is a scene in a Red Cross Film on Human Rights, which I was asked to provide a voice over. It was Vjed by a friend which explains this fundamental craft of film making.

The former Rwandan commander he interviewed spoke in the third person about the atrocities committed during the bloody war. Thirty minutes passed and then they wrapped up. In the car, silence until the commader just opened up. "It was me.. me.. I did those things.. I'm sorry for what I did".

By the time he'd reached the end of the sentence a camera the size of your palm was trained on him. The lighting was all wrong so my friend shifted his stance. As the commander paused, a question was thrown his way. The question was long enough for the VJ to take out his monopod. The man would start to tug his fingers. It was significant, so in one action observing that the facial expressions and interview would not be compromised, he performed a smooth pan. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1 seconds later.. enough in the can to go back to the framed interview. Wait a minute, the answers within the orginal environment have changed. So he alters the focal length and composition so you can use the reponse elsewhere in the report. Transitions alter time, move the report along. He did everything I would have done and without really thinking. In a VJ environment you're tuned to visuals, sound, mis en scene, the next shot, what questions you intend to ask....

In TV, video on line, this possibly wound not have happended. TV want's the set piece. Stop the car so we can ask the questions again and then, then lo and behold mood is lost.

Small wonder that when vjism was launched in 94, every conceivable editor I can think off shrugged their shoulders and said: "It'll compromise TV with its quality. There's no way on person could do all that".

What the editors didn't realise they were saying was there's no way I could do all that.

What is Video journalism? It is in the eyes and knowledge economy of your editor. If they've never free dived before, they'll ask you to take a snorkel, even a tank.

The construct of news is not a scared stone handed down by Moses but it is a form refinned over the years to tell stories, but that was at a time when the paradigm of news was different. In film language, it's like talking something from the 70s. Competent, good, gets the job done, but you're facing a far more televisual literate viewer, who wants the skinny, the inside of the story.

One of the least debates we've had with news has been its mode, and where we take it. Invariably when the subject of news and its outmodishness comes up, it's the studio and its graphics which recieves most of the attention.

What is video journalism? It's one of the most powerful and underused forms of story telling in contemporary times.

What is it again? It's a style which is only now beginning to mature and that it will until its critical mass makes it one of the obvious choices for the way we'd like to inform and interact with you

More here on what is video journalism

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