Introduction to using video Building Blocks: Story, Setting and Structure Intrroduction While there are many kinds of video programme, we are concentrating on factual material, and on events where people and their experiences are a central issue. It may be helpful to understand some basic ‘building blocks’ for composing programmes of this sort, in order to help us think through the process and gather the material we need. One way of doing this is to think of Stories, Settings and Structure. By this I mean that we need to discover and record peoples’ Stories – often through research and interview. We need to help the viewer understand the stories and get a sense of the situation by depicting the Settings – showing the subjects of the stories in their ordinary lives, showing their settings and communities, and showing (where possible) the events and activities they talk about. Then we need to select from our stock of stories and edit them within a Structure for the whole programme which makes sense to the viewer and takes them on a journey – and this will require a ‘storyboard; and often some narration to complete the structure and link the stories. Stories Stories connect with viewers when they are engaging; and this means having a ring of truth, a sense of being personal, and some variety, drama and even humour. Therefore the research phase needs to start by identifying people who have relevant stories to tell. It also means finding people who can communicate their stories through intervew effectively. It means selecting a diverse range of interviewees who will give different perspectives – for example older people, younger people, men, women, community leaders and community members. There may be people with particular, and very striking experiences. Interviewing needs to paint a full picture of the person and their story – so it should allow the interviewee to become comfortable with the interview situation, and allow them to talk around the subject and make it ‘real’. Often the interviewee will become more comfortable during the interview, and it may be necessary to return to the initial questions at the end – to get fuller answers. The interviewer should try and avoid pre-conceptions about what the interviewee will want to say, and be open to the course of the interview being changed by the information they discover. Interviewing for video depends primarily on effective interviewing skills, and as long as the ‘rules’ are followed, ensuring a well framed shot and good sound, the video quality should be fine. As a footnote to this, I believe the way that interview material is presented to viewers who need to hear a translation is important. If the voice is dubbed with a different voice this can push the interviewee away from the viewer, and seems to take their voice away. Either keeping the voice, and using subtitles, or the translation at the time by a local person fluent in the relevant language has a greater ‘ring of truth’ about it. Settings The effectiveness of video is to do with the fact that it is much more than a verbal medium. Why take the trouble to provide anything other than a printed transcript or an audio cassette of the interviews? The answer is partly to do with the power of the visual material to communicate the story. For example If we see a Bangladeshi woman producing sweets as a micro-business, with her family involved with her, this tells us much more about that activity than just being told by her that that is what she does. If we see the effects of a mudslide we understand much more about its significance and impact than if we are just told about it. If we see the face of a mother talking about trying to secure accommodation and food for herself and her family, while surrounded by young children, in the wake of a typhoon or flood this tells us much more about her experience than just listening to her. There is another aspect to this too. It is important, in my view, for viewers to understand communities and their stories and needs as being people who have lives and hopes in exactly the same way as the viewers do; so it is important to depict people as more than just ‘icons’ of need or suffering. There is good news as well as bad news, humour and happiness as well as sorrow, beauty as well as devastation. Life is never black and white. Capturing this material requires a certain standard of camera skills. Often this is to do with patience, and with following rules about what not to do. It is also a creative process. The cameraperson needs to think about the images, and the composition of those images, which will be most effective for the viewer. Gathering this material will probably be a partnership between the team members recording material, and the input of other camerapersons. Structure The final programme will be effective if the material which is gathered is composed into a coherent and watchable story, combining interest, variation of pace, drama, and a careful flow of information. This structure will often require a narrator as a guide to the viewer, and a careful balance should be struck between a very minimal narration at one extreme, depending on interview – where the viewer may ‘lose the plot’ – and a programme in which the dominant voice is a didactic narrator, preventing the viewer really hearing what the people and the communities have to say. As a final point, when people sit down in front of a television they expect to be entertained. The programmes which are most effective will not only communicate the experiences, stories and information, but will do so in a way which engages and absorbs the viewer. Telling tales Ten rules for telling stories Change of pace A good film has slow bits and fast bits to match dense information with some light relief The order for telling the story It doesn’t necessarily have a beginning a middle and an end – if the plot is predictable it’s boring. Intrigue the viewer by starting at the end, for example. Drawing in the viewer Build up the story piece by piece, so that the viewer gets involved. Don’t assume they know everything, or try to tell them everything at once. Atmosphere One strength of video is it is more involving than text. Use it! Create an atmosphere and a sense of place for the viewer. Surprise Most people watch TV and they are used to being stimulated and surprised. Weave in visual surprises and twists in the plot, rather than unfolding the story in a matter of fact way. Drama If there is drama or uncertainty in the situation, involve that in the storyline. People expect television to tell persuasive stories. Controlling the amount of information Don’t overload the viewer. A video is not a text book, and a book is a much better way of accessing a lot of information, a story should limit the number of places, people and facts the viewer has to retain in their memory. Characterisation Avoid presenting people as ‘flat’ and ‘two dimensional’. People are much more important to viewers than facts. Depict their lifestyle and their character rather than just the things they say Detail Good stories have detail which makes you feel really involved and that you are really there. Avoid a ‘bland’ and ‘generic’ story and look for the little details that bring the story to life. The natural length Why do novels vary so widely in length? Because a story has a natural ‘life’. Design your programme to tell the story, not just to fit a certain time slot. Ten rules for successful camerawork 1. Use a tripod where possible (wobbly shots are wearing for the viewer) 2. Use ‘wide angle’ shots rather than ‘telephoto’ shots, where the camera is hand held – as the camera movement is less apparent. 3. Use headphones to confirm that sound is on and OK. 4. Be critical of sound quality – sound is often more important in pictures in helping a programme to communicate effectively. 5. Don’t pan or zoom unnecessarily. Programmes are often edited most successfully from a range of static shots. 6. Spend long enough on each shot – it’s easy to think you are taking photographs, and to switch to the next shot. When you have framed a shot count to ten elephants at least. 7. Avoid things that don’t work! If there is wind noise then move somewhere out of the wind. If there is a strong light behind the subject, turning them into silhouette, move round til the light is better. If it’s too dark it will look horrible – go somewhere lighter. 8. Make sure that you have pressed the recording button and the camera is recording . . . it’s happened before!! 9. Look for the different shots that make up the story (see separate briefing sheet). 10. Log the material you have shot as soon as possible (same day) after you’ve shot it – while it is fresh in your mind and you have the names, places and other details. Ten rules for successful images 1. Get close to the subject and make the subject big in the shot 2. The exception is that if the subject is uncomfortable with the camera, use ‘telephoto’ with a tripod for steadiness and a separate microphone for clear sound 3. If you are recording on your own, look away from the viewfinder to see what else is going on. If you have a director, it is their responsibility to do this. 4. Allow the cameraperson time to get each shot (remember they have to count to ten elephants each time!) 5. Think of the different basic shots which make up a story – Wide shot (establishing shot) Medium shot (whole body) Medium close up (MCU) (head and shoulders) Close up (CU) (head) Big Close Up (BCU) (detail of hands for example) 6. Normally aim to get interviewees to talk to you ‘off camera’ – an ‘observational’ format. If you are behind camera and they talk direct to you and to camera they will seem to be addressing the viewer – which often seems strange. 7. Remember the ‘three for one’ rule. If you set up the camera, shoot a wide shot, then shoot a steady zoom in, then shoot a medium close up or close up you offer the editor three shots to select from for the price of one! 8. Put yourself in the mind of the viewer and look for objects, elements and events which you may take for granted but which help the viewer to engage with the situation 9. Look for imaginative shot angles – for instance through undergrowth, high shots, low shots, close up shots, which allow the editor to surprise the viewer and keep their attention. Remember that documentaries are often made from twenty or thirty times more footage than appears in the final programme – don’t be afraid to keep it rolling. Ten rules for keeping the camera rolling 1. Remember to charge your batteries and to have a separate pocket or compartment for used ones when shooting, so you don’t run out of power. 2. Be methodical. I nearly lost a master tape on the floor of a Chinese foundry through rushing off before I’d packed the bag properly. Give yourself time to put everything in its proper place. 3. Protect the camera and accessories. Make sure they are not exposed to dust, sand, water or to impact. 4. Understand the controls and how to avoid using them incorrectly – there is usually a ‘lock’ button which sets the functions on the camera to auto and prevents you changing settings accidentally. 5. Treat the tapes with extreme care. The tape is very thin and delicate. If it has been in a humid environment, or experiences sudden change in temperature, allow at least half an hour for it to acclimatize, or it may stick to the head drum and jam the camera. 6. Be very careful about playing tapes back in camera to review them. It’s easy to forget to wind forward again, and the result is you record over material you wanted. It happens! 7. Ensure that you label tapes, and click the tab on the back which prevents you over-recording them, as soon as you finish each tape. 8. Protect the lens from dirt, fingers and water. If it is marked, clean it carefully with a soft cloth, breathing on the lens first. Ensure there is no grit on the surface which could scratch it. 9. If the camera does fail or jam (which is unusual) don’t panic. Leave it in a stable environment for half an hour and try again. Try ejecting the tape. If you can eject the tape start with a fresh one. If these operations fail, return to base! 10. Continually monitor the viewfinder and the sound (on headphones) while you are recording to ensure that both are OK.
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