Monday, May 05, 2008

There will be blood - A Video journalism short story response

A wee story if I may - a post in response to There will be blood on News Videographer

Video journalism as a tag is something of a misnomer. A blessing to some and achilles heel to others. In essence it's digital film making [with a news bent], though news organisations might tell you to try the big auditorium at the end of the road, if you approached them as a film maker.

For as long technology has helped resize film and audio equipment we've worked together, alone, and together with new permutations. And the ethical and social debate about our working practice has never gone away, as it shouldn't.

I was reading over some of the press reports in the UK from 1994 when me and 29 others jumped in head first to become VJs and the comments were hard core from all sides.

There was already a huge bun-fight going on in the networks about becoming bi-media savvy( TV and Radio). Becoming a VJ was asking for it.

The BBC didn't much like it at the time, though six years on it would take the plunge, whilst some three decades earlier it was brandishing its own form of "man with a movie camera" with its current affairs progs.

Back then the Bolex ruled. In radio, the suitcase-sized Nagra, downsized to the UHER and handheld Sony followed.

In effect, the VJ has come to mirror the RJ, radio journalist. From the townships of Soweto and Katlehong circa 1992-94 me and indeed many others, stringers and freelancers, worked solo before filing our packages to outfits such as the BBC World Service.

The editor trusted you and you repaid them with the integrity of the highest level of journalism: tell the story and tell the truth.

At about the same time, I also had a Hi-8, though I didn't call myself a VJ and DP/AP'ed for a number of indies and the odd big boy e.g. ABC News.

At at a prior job at BBC Network in London, Reportage, the Hi-8 was used as an aesthetic film camera for dramatic motion graphic shots (we loved the graininess :)).

And even though in 1993 I never shot whole films, that would come a year later, it was the glue that helped working with camera and editors. Now, for once, I could speak their language and appreciate their craft better without saying: "Can we do that thingy?/*%$@ - You know that thing!!!!".

It was this that enabled the swift turn around of a the pilot series of "Through the Eyes of a Child", which I'm still drawn to today.

Back in London and as Channel One took off Messr. Burn Out was waiting at every corner. Worse for us, we used Vinten tripods and Beta cams BVWs/UVWs. Here's a pic of Rachel Ellison, now knighted an MBE [Order of the British Empire] whom at a little over 5 feet and slight build must have exhibited herculean powers to carry one of these.

Not really solo reporting gear, but you did get your head around things like back focus, white balance to using interchangeable lens. At the end of the year many of us averaged between 400-500 stories; two a day.

The station had its own osteopath and management in an attempt to stem the tide of discontent and give the VJs some freedom came up with shooting rotas called 'The gang of four".

Four Vjs would leave the news desk and work a 7 day fortnight and were required to produce three films. A luxury.

From C1 have come some of the UK industry's talented broadcasters whom will probably say that regime and other programme making skills set them up.

Nick Pollard who would later become head of Sky News had made it worth our while.

I can't think of many other managers with his track record from ITN whom during our three months training, would go out and shoot a piece.

He returned with admiration for us, which was reciprocated.

There's a sense of deja vu at what's going on now. Equally intriguing, you might think, that the first VJ outfit in the UK was owned by a newspaper outfit, Associated Newspapers publishers of the Evening Standard and Daily Mail.

Our intrigue, wonderment, pessimism, fears will never go away; extracts from another profession altogether Modernist Painters ( a 100 years ago) moving away from a tradition (500 years) painting style, could transfer to today's VJ-TV debate.

But I guess in the end it's all about telling stories; stories that you know of that I may never come across until its made.

Benjamin Franklin said: "I haven't failed, I've had 10,000 ideas that didn't work" We can't get better at this by not making mistakes and by making mistakes and pushing on, we build upon these news skills. That much the indie film makers have shown us.

Cheers david

And to the "solo" VJ paradigm, we (at our university) discovered "swarming", VJs working together during Nato War exercises was more beneficial for the reportage. What is going on?


Cliff said...

Well, Stewart does have his opinions, mate. He comes from the old school paradigm of shooting and anyone who sees differently from his tends to have to endure a verbal slapping around (He stated I should lay off the caffeine - LOL).

It's difficult to find the perfect way of doing this paradigm of VJ'ism. The old school detractors are fighting tooth and nail to keep their precious way of doing things intact. It seems they are exhibiting a scarcity mentality about shooting video and are clinging to what they know like a life preserver.It's all good - the changes are occurring and the laws of attrition are already taking place. It's sad to see it, but I think this is a major wake up call for visual content creators to quit sitting on their proverbial laurels and to start creating content that is informational and entertaining.

Wished I could have come to Chicago to the VizEd's workshop - got hired to shoot a couple of small commercial projects that actually pay (know how that goes I'm sure). Needless to say, am having to forgo the Chicago trip to build my business.

Be well and say hi to Angela and Robb. Hopefully you'll be doing another workshop with him and hopefully it will be here on the West Coast.

Cheers mate.

Cliff Etzel - Solo Video Journalist

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah said...

Keep doing what you're doing, and YOU will be richer for it. In the end we are all creatures of comfort and the debate today is the same one I had and actually fought a bit some 14 years ago.

My sister is the coolest person I know who says things like: Let them fight their own battles and I'll conserve my getting to my goal.

She was referring to her own profession as a teacher. It didn't mean she would not fight her corner if she had to, but she will expend her energy on the things she can manage.

Sage words.

You're shooting commercial projects? Exactly. Good on yer. And yes we will mix it up soon