Monday, April 5, 2010

How to Turn a Blah Event into a Video Story

Here's a simple technique for turning a bland video report about an event into a compelling video story.

Instead of simply shooting the event itself,  capture footage of the story's subject before and after the event -- preferably at a variety of locales.

That way, viewers get a fuller perspective of the central protagonist of the story, and are also more likely to experience an emotionally charged transition or change created by the event.

Too often, videojournalists treat an assignment like a photojournalist would -- they show up and shoot.  But whereas a still photographer needs to only capture a critical moment (e.g. receiving an award), it's the videojournalist's job to create a dramatic narrative by showing a sequence of activities (e.g. events leading up to and following the award.)

Too many attempts at videojournalism fail because they incorporate only one time and place setting -- the here and now.  What they desperately need is "before" and "after" coverage, and a variety of venues.

Obviously, that makes for a more time-consuming assignment, and requires more planning. But the results will be worth it.  Rather than just show the ending of the story, you show events that build to the climactic action, instilling anticipation and suspense into your storytelling.

KobreGuide to the Web's Best Videojournalism is filled with excellent examples of stories whose narrative arc is improved simply by getting the camera to the action before and after the central activity -- and following the central character to his other habitats.


Here are three stories about performers that would have been OK if all we had seen was their performance. But in all three instances, we're treated to scenes leading up to and following their performances that not only exponentially enhance the story's entertainment value, but also  add up to an infinitely better understanding and appreciation of the artists themselves.

Start with  Day With a Tap Legend -- imagine how much less satisfying it would have been if the day began with the school performance. Instead, we get to meet the "legend" at home, with his protege, as they prepare for their show. And we follow them after the show, to catch their revealing post-performance banter.

Similarly, whereas most videojournalists would have been content to shoot the iconic Naked Cowboy performing in Times Square,  what makes One Man Brand stand out is how cleverly the narrative builds to that performance, and also how the camera follows him home to reveal previously unknown dimensions  of his life and personality.

Think how pedestrian An Apollo Legend (pictured) would have been if all we had seen was the climactic audition, and not the contestants' preparation before and their reactions afterwards.

The next time you go on assignment, ask yourself, "What footage can I capture before and after the main event? Where else can I observe my subject in action, and interacting with other people in his life?"

Check out KobreGuide's "Hall of Fame" for more examples of videojournalism that benefits from following a subject over a period of time,  in a variety of settings.

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