Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The three-Flipcam experiment

Political Reporter Charles Crumm
We've been doing a lot of work at JRC to improve the quality of our videos lately — we've actually just kicked off a company-wide training program that I'm proud to be a part of.

It's definitely something the staff here at The Oakland Press has been craving, as exemplified by Political Reporter Charles Crumm's efforts to make his weekly video series with our colorful County Executive L. Brooks Patterson more pleasing to watch.

Crumm was one of many on our staff to receive training from a local public access consortium called CMNtv and has pitched in to help the filming of many Oakland Press-related segments we've done with CMNtv at their studio.

I'm thinking it's this experience — particularly the knowledge of how TV work is generally done with multiple cameras — that hatched his idea to use multiple Flipcams to film his weekly interviews with Brooks.

For the first time around, it's certainly not perfect. In fact, backlighting on the Flipcam set up to shoot the close-up on Crumm made the footage unusable, so he wound up with only two angles rather than the three he was aiming for.

As one of the trainers for our new video program, I suggested to him that the close-ups could have been closer and a little more off-center, and the video could've been tighter in terms of time too. But all things considered, it's much more pleasing to the eye to watch this conversation from two angles (did you know you're naturally inclined to focus on something — anything — for a mere four seconds before turning your eyes in a different direction?) than just a talking-head style video. I'd also like to see Crumm do a reporter intro — and maybe he did, but couldn't use it because the camera set to him had lighting issues.

The neat thing is that Charlie — after borrowing a Flipcam from me and a third from another coworker — did this all on his own. I think it's a good model for improving Tier 1 videos (talking heads) when applicable.

Here's the video, and below, read what Charlie had to say about this experiment:

"Overlooking the fact that you have two old guys on camera with faces made for radio and voices made for print, here is the background and some observations:

I showed up a half-hour early for the 9:30 a.m. appointment so I would have time to position the cameras, one pointed at each of us and a third for a broader establishing shot, and enlisted Patterson's secretary to help me frame the camera positions. I also wrote out the questions in advance with the goal of keeping the final result to 5 minutes.

I wound up using mostly two angles because I inadvertently pointed one camera right at the window. I left a frame or two in the final video to illustrate the undesirable result.

While flipcams have great audio, the audio volume varies with distance. You'll have to beef up the audio during editing for the shots from the cameras furthest from whoever is speaking.

Editing is a bit more time-consuming since you're jumping sequentially from three different angles.

In short, it's a bit more complicated and best planned out in advance, but not right in all situations.

But it's doable and I plan on doing it again, based on availability of flipcams, subject matter and subjects to interview." — Charles Crumm

See the full story, Patterson: GOP presidential nomination a two-person race

Monday, September 12, 2011

A hyperlocal multimedia approach on the 10th anniversary of 9/11

Associated Press file photo
When my assignment for our coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 was doled out, I couldn't help but think, "There's got to be a more powerful way to tell this story."

My assignment was to gather "Where were you" stories from our readers.

I thought about getting people on video. Sure seemed like a whole lot of work and in the end, a well done video would have only sound bytes from a wide variety of people. Maybe photos as B-roll. A lot of shooting. A lot of editing. And the finished product, would it be worth it? Would people want to watch a bunch of people they don't know talking about where they were when the planes crashed? I wasn't sure that video was the best fit for this project.

So I turned to audio instead. Voices can be so powerful.

Here's what I did:
1) I read tips on using Google Voice from Michelle Rogers, an ideaLab member from our Heritage newspapers group.
2) I set up a Google Voice account and left it unattached to any other phones.
3) I set up my Google Voice message to say, "Thank you for taking part in The Oakland Press' coverage of the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. You will have 2 minutes to leave a message with your memory of day. Please also leave your name and the community you reside in."
4) I wrote a brief for print asking people to contribute and gave them directions on how to do so. I put the same instructions on Facebook, put an item on our website and Tweeted the link to it.
5) I got a total of about 15 messages.
6) I downloaded the messages (sometimes, tears welling up just listening to them) to my desktop, imported them to garageband and shared them to my iTunes library. From there, I opened iMovie and began plunking down AP photos (from with different chunks of the messages.
7) When I was done, I shared it with a group of video trainers here at JRC and got an excellent tip on slowing down the time & movement of the photos.
8) Here's the final product:

Some of the audio stories couldn't be broken down for this video. Some just needed to stand alone. This took my story in a very cool direction.

Basically, the text article included a graf or two about someone's experience. In the online version, I made a link that said, Listen to so-and-so recall the story of ...

Clicking the link brought you to a different story box. For text, I just re-used the couple grafs used in the master version of the story. The nice part, though, is that as soon as the page loads, the audio begins playing. So it truly was a click to listen — not a click, then another click ...

Why didn't I just include each audio piece by the relevant text, you ask? Good question. It can't be done with our current CMS. Only one audio piece can be uploaded with each story and it automatically goes to the top of the story box. So this was a workaround, and it was a good one — it aided SEO because of the quality hyperlinks, it broke up the story content to make it easier on the eyes, and it was good for pageviews too.

For those who actually plan to click the link and check out the story, please note that the first video box is a video of a guy talking about where he was — exactly what I said in the beginning of this post was not a good fit for this story. To be clear, he was the lede to my story. I sat down with him for an interview and felt video, just of him, was appropriate and worth the time and effort.

The story: County residents recall terrifying moments of 9-11 attacks