Sunday, February 28, 2010

Street Life Moscow story - Africa in Russia

Congrats to the Post. I really like this story and told Mark Scheffler on Facebook, adding this was one of those subject areas so anemic to the media body-politik that I don't doubt if there was more viewers would watch.

I certainly have done, 2x, and would like to see more.

Structurally its use of narrative and expositions until the character appears in vision mimics flashback (Cinema). In broadcast terms known as the oov - out of vision shot in which you hear your subject, but very rarely see synch (talking to camera)

But it's how you use it in a cinematographic frame work that separates the two.

The temporality and duration of shots contribute to an aesthetic more along the lines of direct cinema - the observational doc, rather than any videojournalism semiotic we could posit - and believe me they exist.

But this is a moot point between the two genres as there are significant differences in intention when film makers of the two set out to work. And the effect is accomplished in the state of being (dasein) immersed in this episodic narrative - a day in the life of...

As often in films of this kind there is no definitive conclusion to the arc, though here the characters mournful state of not wanting to go back and door exiting is a good anchor to close on. That said the words "I don't want to go back home" constitute a hanging shot.

You can almost hear the D minor chords and the slow zoom.

There's a lot of credible 'vantage camera work'. The train scenes takes a lot of steely work from the film makers to maintain composure and tone to affect the viewer.

The shots, while some may have been directed, they are unconstrained enough to attract the trademark, realism e.g. being sandwiched in the train, then isolated, yet with a camera running with only a few commuters enquiring along the lines of who is this man.

Subject- driven narratives
This in part comes from the subject, but it's also thumbs up towards the film makers. Your success is your subject's success at telling a story.

Most difficult bit about film maker is often the thick skin to knowingly invade others' space that they may question. In the UK you'd need unknown number of permits, and then release forms for those who believe their inclusion is more than decorative.

Equally the arc seamlessly compressed time. You shouldn't notice it and you don't, unless you consider the non-diegetic slates, which are organically used very well. Often a flaw in VJ pieces done not so well is the inability to play with psychological time.

Its affective enough as a stand alone, but I'd hedge network TV would equally find this strong yet also seek to claim some of the threads mentioned. e.g. living in a room with others. That is the dark side is alluded to, the exploitative circumstances they (other nationalities) live under asks to be followed up.

Yes, this was NOT produced for network TV - an other (sic) semiotic medium.

And therein is the window for a more expansive piece. This is a rich seam which deserves a wider canvas. That said on its own it ticks a number of considerable boxes.

As such, this manner of deconstruction becomes an exercise in film discourse for the viewer - as they'll simply enjoy it, sod whatever I say.

But like some stuffed up suit, to understand VJ it doesn't go amiss if you can make some sense of the visual language. Remember there is a fundamental difference between cinematography and a strictly event-driven news piece.

Last moth I was a juror for the UK's highest awards for television; the year before a judge of the International VideoJournalism Awards in Berlin. We don't see enough personalised stories which tackle anguish, displacement, etc within the innovation of news (RTS) / videojournalism

In 1997 I lead as series producer and director a team from Ghana to South Africa executive produced by CNN's head of Africa, Edward Boateng, called the United States of Africa. In 6 days we put together 6 one hour programmes. One of the issues we came by was Ghanaians, some grads, with PhDs living rough in Hillbrow - 15 to a room.

They eked a living selling produce. We followed them from 4.30 in the morning from within their rooms to Soweto to film them and then back on their stalls. It was pretty disheartening. It was filmed as a straight linear narrative. I then sent a VJ team to town to ask how endemic this was and how indigenous South Africans felt.

Though we filmed on DSR200s we dumped all the tape on D6s, so apart from that which I digitised at the time, I'll have to investigate how to pull of the data. Because it's worth a follow up some time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

UK TV news Awards - a juror perspective

The biggest cheers of the night went to: Television journalist of the year, the contribution Gaza's TV team had made to recording events during Israel's campaign incurring huge risks and the lifetime achievement award to Breakfast TV's Peter Mchugh.

The victor for journalist will be talked about for a while. For she, yes, she now occupies a status in that rarefied space of foreign correspondents which until now, if I heard correctly from the host, has gone to men.

Sky New's Alex Crawford joked about why perhaps it had taken her so long to be recognised. Not using contraception drew raucous laughter. Mums rarely get to report from the battle lines. Bosses see a liability. Womens' lib movements can loosen their belts one more notch.

She was in strong company. The BBC's Ian Pannel whose fearless reports from Iraq have earned him enormous respect from his peers looked a shoe-in. My career started off at the same station, Radio Leicester, where I recall Ian doing the bulletins.

There are wider implications for this year's awards. I'll come to those in later post and a more personal look at the night.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

RTS Awards - Television still the place to go

Tomorrow by this time, we'll know who the best news broadcaster in the UK is, with regard to innovation.

In fact I have a strong hunch who it is as one of the juror and the debate we had, but that wouldn't be cricket, so you'll get nowt from me.

But as awards go from the UK's most prestigious: the RTS, what does this tell us, at a time when media is generally having its legs hacksawed.

TV is in great shape!

Well like most things there's always a caveat. TV has turned the corner and the imminent threat has been obtusely exaggerated.

So what of all the new media buffs, chomping to elbow TV aside?

The catch!

It's not the programmes per se, but the device of a mini cinema screen in your living room that looks set to continue to death do you part.

Truth it was never under threat, only the poor substitute for programmes that wash across the screen.

Online video has eaten into some of that market, and TV has itself learned that its virtual upstart is now a partner, like it or leave it.

The fact that the RTS honors the excellence of broadcasters engaging in innovation illustrates how TV has changed in our times and from the two years I have been involved that they (broadcasters) are attempting many ingenius ways at attracting eyeballs.

And that's where if you're a student of news' new media there's comfort. The misnomer with multiskilling was always a dilution of skills. Not so!

At the interstice of videojournalism ( programme making by one person) and Net semiotics is the power of the future broadcaster.

only first generation yet, but the trend sees the emergence of a new generation of TV person who straddles the old ( traditionalist) and particularly the new.

Who can find fresh ways of telling that story, while seeking the idea platform. Who isn't just a processor, but leads in the evangelism of story telling that stays longer than the assumed fleeting flashes ascribed by Baudrillard's Ecstasy of Communications

Tomorrow's RTS awards then should be viewed as not just a celebration of television, but for the television new mediast who's more loudly being recognised.

If you're joining TV's la la land, you may want to take stock with your new "jack of all traders, master of all". Your name could well be written on the next award

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Youth Angst - Videojournalism behind scene

Youth Angst, Gun Crime, Bullying - Videojournalism behind the scene. I'll write more about Rob Chiu's shoot soonish. This was the last thing I created on the A1

Friday, February 19, 2010

Videojournalism- Behind the scenes film making

Rob Chiu, arguably one of the UK and Europe's young directors.

One of the least publicised uses for videojournalism has been its ability to capture behind the scenes.

It's not a novel idea. Truth or Dare or In bed with Madonna and Gerri Halliwell to name but two have all been covered by soloists. In the latter case, the highly acclaimed doc maker Molly Dinnen.

In fact you can't sniff a DVD extra today without a behind the scene, shot by a DV camer.

Often though their contact cards tend to say, "film maker". But frankly, capturing behind the scenes, asking the right questions, and being able to read situations is a job made for a videojournalist.

You could argue the closeness of docs and videojournalists, however often there's a fundamental difference in turn over time, and the obvious disadvantage for a rookie videojournalists is confidently staying the course.

Rob Chiu's film Fear and Love - a scene.

There is a different skill between the sprinter and the long distance runner, also reflected in the videojournalist and doc producer.

But it needn't be so.

At the Southbank's recent gathering of high profile names in the Arts, it took a lot of trust and a shooting taxonony that was un-doc like to engage the participants.

That same approach was used on this sizeable budget film by Rob Chiu, arguably one of the UK and Europe's young directors - known as the Ronin.

I got asked along to his debut commercial shoot and two days ago, Rob emailed to ask if I could produce the behind the scenes for a Dazed and Confused interview.

Fancy that. There was a time when pics and text would have sufficed. Not any more.

Coming back to the footage after a long absence made it interesting. Often I turn over films in the moment. The camera in shot, used on the production was The Red, which made my A1 look weedy.
Red Camera

But that's the point, "weedy" gets me into those small tight areas. And since acquring a JVC with shallow depth of field lens, I'm able to push the visuals to something approaching a cine-state.

I'll post Rob's film tomorrow, but the point with all this is to draw focus to the invisibility of behind the scenes film making

Monday, February 15, 2010

The joys of failing - Fail sooner rather later

It runs counter intuitive to what we know, to our sense of achievement and why we are programmed to be embarrassed from childhood at coming last.

Structuralist Rudolph Arnheim made the observation regarding the way we're taught art at school.

First we're allowed to explore; our hands and bodies become brushes for canvas, but by the time we've reached teenhood, any form of experimenting is usurped for classical methodological teachings. This is art and this isn't.

Thank God for the impressionist.

The joys of failing - a segment of an upcoming videojournalism book illustrates, more so than now what should be a penchant for failing. And the limits for failing should always be measured to bring out the best in us - to fail spectacularly.

Fail and fail again and then fail no more
Failure yields two broadly different reactions: resignation and determination.

So there is an art to failing that allows one to go from zero to hero in a short amount of time.
The skill from the trainer is to know where the student has touched the void, exasperated and can ill afford to fail any further.

But we are a resilient kind and where we are able to fail spectacularly, there is often no where else to go but to slowly climb and seek success.

Some cultures are perceived to reward spectacular failures. Note the difference between the dotcom entrepreneur who blew loads of money on a great idea and became contrite, knowing where it went wrong.

The entrepreneur is either eminently hireable as the manager with great wisdom that they won't repeat the mistake, or a dud who should be shunned for ever.

In 2001 this scenario was rife, and many dotcomers now with established companies will admit to "getting it horribly wrong", "wrestling within the pit of their stomach" and then the eureka moment.

In many ways they themselves understood the value of the turnaround. When you fail greatly, you want to succeed in kind.

We're all products of this mantra, which can also be translated as "there's no gain without pain" or "how low can you go".

Our postmodern attitude to teaching reflects this. We're supposed to offer, and offer is the operative word, students pearls of wisdom. Quite. But that should not negate the one thing they and we all should manage. How to overcome failure.

I've said over the years, make that mistake here now and cataclysmically so in industry you
  • don't make the same mistake
  • you know how to manage failure.

Failure must nor be feared, for it really is the Ying within the equation of unity and will be balanced out.

The fear of failing is a tonic, but it should be managed from the beginning Fail sooner rather than later. Some of my biggest failures was never settling in any of the broadcast outfits I worked for: radio, TV, agency, advertising etc.

The onset of that was having to learn the technologies and semiotics of the different media I worked for and I count the individual failures as key. e.g. deleting the rich contents of a web site from the server because I didn't know what I was doing and failed to ask the right question. Believe me, its never happened since.

  • NB: In computer hardware testing, the job was to see how swiftly you could crash your computer. How soon could you get it to fail.
  • Everything fails, everything needs a contingency.
  • Admitting something is failing e.g. present news discourse is the first step to addressing what we do next.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Videojournalism - a brief visual history - the future

A brief visual history of videojournalism from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

David Dunkley Gyimah provides a visual journey of videojournalism starting from 1995, a year after the web became a feature for UK newspapers to the present and cinematic praxis.
Includes the influence of BBC Radio and TV e.g. Reportage - the BBC's 80s current affairs series, the, of the 90s and then to the UK's first regional newspapers turned vjs.

Interview clips include CIA former boss, Quincy Jones and Chatham House. Videojournalism's aesthetic is mentioned, as well as new techniques - all wrapped together across continents, Chicago, Cairo and South Africa - explains the z principle of video film making. Shot on sony cams vx1000, digi-beta and Ah1. Watch out for the uber talented Rob Chiu.

David is in China, Egypt and Australia later this year where among others he'll be training in video storytelling, videojournalism and the psychology of news film making.

Friday, February 12, 2010

TV News .. truth, trope and tiredness

We blithely watch the news unaware sometimes of what's being fed to us.

We might tutut - even roll out that oft-repeated phrase, "there's nothing on the News", yet we rarely if any question its convention of production, if not the content.

News - a pensioner - is still going strong. But look deeply and there are signs of the machinery at work, and like it or not, there's rust.

We've had a technological revolution, but not a social one in figuring how to bring to the viewer the era when news had us huddled in fascination, rather than derision.

A number of items caught my eye today.

Prime minister Gordon Brown's revelations on ITV was the coup for the beleaguered network and must have had BBC execs venting their spleen, for they were forced to run the other side's clip, such was the power of the PM showing a ne'er seen caring side.

The item was a stand alone one, but by the evening broadcast had transformed with a bolted on Tory leader David Cameron - showing us he too cared.

The mis en scene of his home provided a secondary level of semiotics; what you might call the an unwarranted connoted signifier. Hey people look at my crib, like it? Tory central office must have been working its socks off to get Cameron to gate crash Brown's quintessential moment.

Which is what you can't say for Labour, as within the same news bulletin, Cameron was shown in triumphant mode trying to give the SNP a kicking. We care and we'll listen...and well, A- level students probably now know how to let rhetoric work. Don't forget the pregnant pause at the end. There!

Haiti News
Matthew Price's stellar work reminds me of Fergal Keane in his challenging days. His reports from Haiti are devoid of cliche and replete with the subtleties and delicate touches of reportage that are a conversation rather than sometimes the foreign correspondents' heckle.

Elsewhere on a different channel, a young pop star, whose intentions may have been generous in flying to Haiti managed to arouse darker clouds over her visit.

There was a time when charity work could be done away from the glare of poptabulous headlights. Those days are numbered. Every pop star has a favourite charity for good or ill and airtime insidiously is now courted.

The conversation might have went something like this.
I really want to go to Haiti
manager: You can't it's too dangerous
But I'd like to help
manager:OK let me make a call
Minutes later
manager:PR says it'll handle everything
PR then rings News: If we go with a pop star will that interest you?
News: Oh yeah, when's the pop star going?
PR: I'll get back to you
News Diary pens in for future planning date of pop stars visit
News report delivers a favourable ( wouldn't have it any other way) report
Everybody is happy

As I was saying there was a time when discretion mattered. But that's not the fault of News is it? There had been a slide in TV News figures since the mid 90s which has now more or less leveled out.

Its hegemony, once within toe cap striking distance, has shown other news pretenders (web n 'all) a new set of heels.

There is a way of getting credibility in news if you're interested, but so long as alternative news source seek "get me rich (money/popularity) schemes", traditional news with its power base of contacts and brand loyalty will go on wupping online TV's ass.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Videojournalism how easy is it 2

Picture ©2010 Dominique Brewster

Some time ago in Podgorica, Montenegro, I demonstrated to newspaper execs how easy it was to conduct a "three camera" interview with one.

Journalists who've attended the Press Association's course on videojournalism will have seen me display at least five different sort of interview techniques.

They'll also laugh at my deconstruction of news I've given since 2000 and how to circumvent traditional news structure derided by Mssr Charlie Brooker

Whether it's an interview, which you could say is easier to produce than a package, you've probably at some point wrestled with this thought.

Videojournalism - how easy is it? You simply pick up a camera and shoot.

This question disguises an oversight: every one's got a stills camera; not everyone understands composition to the point it's a perception/abstraction auto event.

Everyone's spoken down a phone, but how many of us talk within the optimum tonal range and can do what the best telephone sales people do or grip you on the radio.

The voice is indeed an instrument - politicians go on training programmes to often drop octaves - c.f. Margaret Thatcher. President Obama's oratory skills come from years on the hustings.

Videojournalism Verite
Many of us have would have acted as some point - the school nativity play. Journalism's performance blends the verite and the conceived. It has to be seamless otherwise watch out Brooker has you in his sight.

Now as a solo videojo you don't have the benefit of the camera operator to tell you your shirt collar had birds dropping on it.

Television news taught us to write for the eye, and we're now glib with it. We know the written word doesn't cut it and that if we're to take advantage of videojournalism's intimacy, we'd do well to attenuate our script accordingly.

Like zoo TV or radio - a stalwart of the early 90s is this the point where we can speak our thoughts as opposed to just deliver the facts and thus in the process not short change the viewer in what we've seen and heard.

Consider the point in this video where mid interview Ozwald makes an alternative point. In traditional news that would have been edited: I kept it in and it's been a source of interesting discourse in the US.

If videojournalism is the blog of the visual world, then it might be worth considering this.

Is videojournalism a happy accident in how the advent of technology has spawned video making or are we daring to design something that is as much about the sign of the times?

And consider this, which in years to come will I predict normalise - that videojournalism will become the apex of the inverted triangle. Because as a more acceptable and rigorous language takes hold we'll learn that the art of voicing, directing, producing, editing and creative hypervideo linking will be something highly, prized. But then you'll be a pro by then.

By the way it's happened in the literature world!

Videojournalism - how easy is it?

David working on radio, (physically) cutting tape for a BBC broadcast circa 1988 Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert 1988 at Wembley Stadium - BBC Report with Peter Gabriel, Natalie Cole, Anita Baker, Neil Kinnock MP and Nelson Mandela.

I have spent the last few days underneath two bonnets: one for my continuing research towards my PhD and the other chapters for US publishers. I'm getting schizophrenia.

Couple of things I did notice and that is: I have all my landmark ROTs (recording of transmissions) since 1987 when I first broadcast, so if only I could indulge in a phenemological essay - which would be a study of individual broadcasters and their work since 1984, when I became interested in the media.

That journey would include working for Janet Street Porter and Reportage. Couple of weeks back I bumped into Hardeep Singh Kholi - we both worked on the show; and then hosting a show sandwiched on different days between Peter Curran, Vanessa Feltz and Chris Evans.

There are many more celeb collisions from BBC Network, ABC News meeting Peter Jennings; playing too close to the edge in South African townships and Deep Diving in Turkey.

History of broadcasting - personalised
But truthfully this would be about the epistemology of broadcasting - a bit like how I have represented videojournalism with this timeline.

Alas some other time though as the track I have taken is more in keeping with finding out about the work of structuralists and how it compares to mine.

The book I hope is a faster read, where I indulge a little speaking about the early influences of Indian films such as Seeta and Geeta, Sholay and the Burning Train. And how Chinese cinema deftly handles space.

Incidentally, the reason at least for now you're not seeing many videojournalism insider guide articles ( yes since 2004) I have written a fair few, is because of my publishers - that's my excuse anyway.

But if you go fishing on you're find more than your frees worth.

I'm in China in July and my wish outside of my work will be to meet and talk to documentarists and indeed videojournalists.

Image: Sholay, creative commons Wikipedia

Here are some of those images annotated

Training a new generation of journalists on the Daily Telegraph

Filming with friend, Riz Khan of Al Jazeera

Filming interview with uber VJ Scott Rensberger

Presenting the news at Channel One TV
Working as a producer on UK leading Politics Show, whose editor was Andrew Brown, brother of the UK Prime Minister. CV Reference here

The Russian Chess Maestro - filmed interview

A panelist (out of shot) with CNN's Christiana Amanpour as chair

Interviewing BBC Supremo Peter Horrocks

Studio work talks show on policy debate with MBAs

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A letter to myself - for future records

Wednesday: 10.00 following a telephone conversation with a PA.

I'm writing this blog really to myself, but it's also contemporaneous notes as records for the future.

I went to an osteopath last week in Dulwich South London, recommended by a friend and advisor, after a crick in my neck. The osteopath was good, thoughtful, and after feeling around my neck told me my c7 vertebra was inflamed from the way I had slept.

However his assistant, a senior woman, had an awkwardness to her mannerism that was unbearable.

And to cap it said the most bizarre thing when I asked her for an invoice:

"David", she said "We don't give invoices cuz our prices are so low".

What nonsense ! I thought. It cost me 33UKP.

I tried again. I don't know when I'll be in again as I'm traveling I said.

"Well try and come back it's for your own benefit and you can pop by anytime in the evening"

Actually I needed to cancel the appointment otherwise I'd be charged.

Because of my friend I declined to tell her that I won't be using them again. But for such a professional looking outfit from what I saw, this exchange sans invoice was quite strange.

Customer care is still important.

Adam Westbrook on Charlie Brooker’s dissection of the TV news package (and what you can learn from it)

Cross Post from Adam Westbrook's post in which Charlie Brooker derides news construct. Adam points to BBC’s Matthew Price's piece below as a good story. I agree.

Here's a sample of Adams original post below:

We’ve been big fans of Charlie Brooker round these parts for some time, with at least four articles about him on this very blog since 2006. Combining an ability to conduct a withering criticism of television with a brutal and acerbic wit, Brooker has risen to become one of the BBC’s most cherished (but underexposed) properties.

His current series Newswipe on BBC Four, in the UK, is a must watch for anyone in journalism.

For more go here

Here's my response I cross posted.


Adam - superb as always.

There's all sorts of innovative reasons why this video works, As a construct it's free from the classic news template which Brooker lampoons (bout time as well. c.f The Day today Chris Morris), but still remains within the ecosystem of television news' semiotic.

Journalism's classic packaging is a mimetic truncated art of movie story telling that to a great degree takes years to master. The further we've got away from the likes of the Murrow and late Wheeler who implicitly understood the relationship between film making and news making (obviously, many others do now), the more tension there has been between narrative and visual construct form in 2 mins.

What was once fresh and uncontested now needs a face lift, but that's unlikely to happen in television for powerful reasons.

Arguably the best examples of video stories that tend to wow us are individualistic scores whereby the journalist/conductor knows when to modify any number of the different genres of storytelling or invent (small i) the wheel.

Price's piece plays towards a reversioned Romeo and Juliet, the film making is restrained and pathos of the reporter make you care about the two.

Foreign correspondents possess the rare quality of achieving this. They're intuitively joined through shared experiences to their cameraman/woman because of the time spent together and collective knowledge.

It's quite difficult to achieve this as a solo videojournalist, though Travis Fox et al have done so.

The alternative key, I think, to new video making is to look towards new visual languages, rather than hark to traditional ones. Is that at least not what indie directors do? But then if you attempted this you invite stern critique for messing with the form.

Oh incidentally, Price's piece is a feature news piece rather than on the day news, so there's more scope to play with the form in what's expected in the given time constraints.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Journalistic ideas with Bill at the American University DC

Picture copyright Dominique Brewster

Bill Gentile, a remarkable figure in independent journalism and documentary filmmaker requested whether I'd be interested in being an advisory board member at the American University for his backpack journalism programme. I am deeply humbled by his gesture.

Tom Kennedy, formerly of the New York Times, is there as well - and I am just full of huge admiration for Tom.

Here's Bill's biog. Thanks Gentlemen.

Bill Gentile is an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker at American University, where he brings 30 years of field experience and professional contacts to the next generation of communicators. In 2008, Gentile traveled with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24th MEU) in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province. The film he produced and shot, Afghanistan: The Forgotten War, was broadcast by NOW on PBS. Later in the year he shot and produced a story on America’s nursing shortage, also broadcast on PBS. In December C-SPAN broadcast, The White House: Inside America’s Most Famous Home, on which he worked as Documentary Consultant. Gentile teaches Photojournalism, Foreign Correspondence and Backpack Documentary.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The power of attraction - video storytelling

Have you got eyes to see what
you can do with videojournalism?

Will cultural institutions like the Southbank
Centre, Guggenheim and Smithsonian
become the new 21st universities?

Just two of many questions that has me realigning. You can find out more on

Qu. If we can both learn from the same manual about specific skills, what is it that differentiates our films. Our personal ability? That's too easy an answer.

Does Maslow's hierarchy of needs (1943) provide some answers?