Category Archives: eartquake

Examples of video principles

Nacho and I have been doing a fair amount of teaching/coaching over the past few months. We spent the summer coaching UNC’s News21 contribution, Powering a Nation. Upon return to Chile, I accompanied and assisted Nacho teaching multimedia (audiovisual) techniques to the faculty of the Department of Communications, Universidad de Montevideo. The first week of October, I coached a group of 15 students from the Universidad Desarrollo of Concepción and Santiago in Concepción, Chile to tell the stories of people recovering from or leaving with the aftermath of the Feb. 27 mega-earthquake in Chile. (See the project blog.) Next month, I will be giving my first webinar for the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa.

When teaching, it is vital to have videos and presentations that show the concepts you want to convey or bear similarities to the projects the students are trying to create. This was particularly true of the students in Universidad Desarrollo. While they knew the basics of editing and camera operation, the storytelling format was completely new to them. They came into the week expecting to use voiceovers and music. We used neither and they succeeded brilliantly.

I prefer to use videos/presentations in the native language of the group. It’s easier to comprehend what is happening technically in the video when you can understand or don’t have to think about the language. This can present a challenge because the multimedia format is newer in Latin America (with the exception of join UAndes/UNC projects, like South of Here) and I’m less aware of those making multimedia in Spain or Latin America. Suggestions welcome.

Here are some of the videos I used to illustrate concepts or served as inspiration.

Ambient audio

One of the reasons I didn’t want my students from Universidad Desarrollo to use music is I wanted them to work with and understand the importance ambient audio. (The other reason being it’s still controversial nature and the potential to editorialize.)

I used Radio Lab’s Words to demonstrate the idea of ambient audio to the students of Universidad Desarrollo and Nacho used it to explain the same to the professors of Universidad de Montevideo. Although it has music, it conveys perfectly the idea that every action has its sound, and good video uses it.

Pacing

The idea of pacing can be hard to understand or implement. It’s allowing your piece to breath. It’s giving the viewer a moment to absorb and contemplate what has happened or has been said. We don’t speak in huge chunks of text. We pause, breath, recap and interact. A way to begin thinking about it is to look at your own script. If you left a space between sentences, that likely means you need to put a pause in the interview and put in some ambient audio. Nacho is a master of pacing and taught me the concept.

I used many videos to demonstrate this idea. Most prominently, I used Taken by the Ocean by Nacho and myself, and The Lost Generation by Nacho and Nick Scott.


last generation

Movement

To me, video is about movement. If nothing is moving, then you should be shooting stills. (Aside, more than stillness, to me photos are about capturing moments. That’s what they do best.) A number of my students had stories where much of the material was static. One team was focusing on the destruction the earthquake caused to the historic architecture of Concepción. Lots of monuments and graves, little activity.

Another group was telling the story of a elderly man who had to move out of his apartment although it was structurally sound to another because a skyscraper in the same block was badly damaged and could fall at any moment. In the second instance, the elderly man did not want them to record him at any point except when he was in the apartment or just leaving. They could not show the social circle he missed nor his wife in their new, rented home who was deeply saddened by the move. Too, they needed to show area and the buildings.

In instances like this, one has to seek out the movement, and always something is moving. The first example I showed was Last of the Yagánes, by Courtney Potter. Courtney essencially denied access to photograph the last wholly Yagán person in the world and the last person speaking the Yagán language. The family charged for accessed to the woman, and as it is unethical to pay subjects for access, Courtney could not do this. So she snuck portraits of the woman when the family wasn’t looking or around, and she focused on the things outside the house the symbolized what was going on, grasses blowing, clouds moving, and used timelapses to capture this moment.

The story is in the origins section of South of Here.
last of the yaganes

We used the Big Vinny story in every teaching situation to explain the use of movement and how to shoot in constricted areas where nothing seems to be happening. Everything is shot in almost exactly the same place – a big empty lot. The film makers manage to find every single thing that moved to create a compelling, visually interesting video.

bigvinny

Sequences

I find this the toughest to explain. I tried to explain it as shooting whatever is happening from at least the three different shots (wide, medium & tight) from three different positions – although one should shoot more – and then cutting it together. I urge people to pay more attention to the television programs they watch. They cut just about every two seconds to a new angle. I have screen shots from Glee that I will be using in my webinar. Nacho explains it as showing the progress of the action.

Nacho likes to use video from Snatch, specifically how it explains a flight to London in roughly 5 seconds.

He also likes to use this stock shot of coffee being made.
Screen shot 2010-10-20 at 11.15.42 AM

To me, these don’t quite capture what you are doing to create a sequence for a news video/multimedia piece. Plus there are not enough humans. I remember Nacho once praising Nick Scott, of the above Last Generation for being a master of sequencing. You can watch the video again. In particular, look for the scene of the sheep leaving the truck or the man lighting the stove and making mate.

If you have any good sequencing examples, please do send them along.

Naturally, we showed more videos.

On music and fonts

The above photos are from a project I did about the beginning of school in Santiago – how both children and parents are coping. It has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but is fulfilling our always visuals rule. The post itself talks about an unpublished piece, which will not appear in the blog until the publishing. The only hint on the visuals of that piece is the thumbnail.

So the other night, it was getting late and I was needing some music for a piece. I was working on a story about the damage to the Chile’s cultural heritage by the earthquake that occurred Feb. 27.

Music creates an internal conflict for me. I have been trying to steer away from music, as I tend to collect an abundance of ambient audio, and it makes me feel like less of a journalist to use music. I have heard that its use is forbidden in serious papers like the Washington Post and maybe even the New York Times. On the other hand, music can be wonderful. It’s nice to watch things with music. We’re accustomed to seeing it in television and movies. On the other, other hand, in Chile, they even play it in their broadcast news. I heard Sarah McLachlan playing during the reporting of the death and funeral of a young boy who had rejected a heart transplant. As well, the early entries to this year’s Project Report nearly all had heavy, narrative drowning emotional music. Blah. I don’t want to be a music user like that.

But, this piece needed it. I was using a combination of images from my own shooting, the work of other staff photographers at La Tercera and the Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales. I was the only one who recorded any ambient. Plus, the piece was long. These days, I don’t like to go over 2, 2 and a half minutes. I feel like it’s discourteous to the viewer. I dislike being bored. I don’t want to do the same to others. Additionally, the piece was full of buildings. It’s hard to connect with a building, even if it is pretty and old.

As I said, it was late. Or maybe early. I’ve been trading in my late nights for early mornings. It’s arguably more productive. My interview track was set. Nearly all of the images were in place. I went to the free soundtrackpro first but I couldn’t commit to it as I feel that as a source, it’s kind of tapped. I moved to Jamendo. I like the site because although the search isn’t super, it’s inexpensive, you don’t have to deal with a customer rep, and you can download and try all of their music free in the normal (as opposed to pro) section.

The story was for the Bicentenario (200th anniversary of Chile’s independence or declaration of independence more accurately). I felt like I should use something traditional, but I don’t know very much about traditional Chilean music. There is the cueca, a large, kind of complex, percussion heavy music. There were a number of reasons not to use the cueca. Firstly, it would have dominated my piece. Secondly, I was looking for something with the precise mixture of sadness and hopefulness – building were destroyed, but Chile’s strength is in her people. I doubted I would be able to find such a cueca. Finally, even if I did find the cueca that could convey these things, it was not going to be on Jamendo. Licensing some obscure cueca band would provide a whole new series of challenges.

It came to four songs. I found a song with something of a folk sounding theme, done by a Chilean group, although to my ear, it sounded more Caribbean than Chilean (Catalina Parra). Other searches gave me: one very bold, march sounding tune by a Spanish group (Quisiera ser Sol para iluminar) one simple, quasi classical piano tune, and finally (Hope), one electronic song, that captured the emotion but I was doubtful it would fit with the theme of bicentenario that my editors sought (Exponential Tears).

The Spanish, with their big, 18th century military march type song, was ruled out quickly, as it was the Spanish the Chileans were fighting. Although I might be the only one who would know, it still seemed inappropriate.

With the last three I struggled. Hope was what you expect to hear in a multimedia piece – simple piano playing. Catalina Parra hinted at the folk past of Chile. Exponential Tears, I just liked. It was edgier, more modern. It did not hint at the past, but emotionally, it conveyed what I was looking for without being heavy handed.

So, struggling, and struggling, I listened to the songs over and over again. Each time I heard a particular song, I thought, “this one, definitely this one.” Then I’d return to listen to another, with a repeat of “this one, definitely this one.”

And then, inspiration. It began with Papyrus. I thought, if the folksy song were to be any font, it would be Papyrus – very obvious, and not necessarily speaking to the actual moment. Then, bam, if Catalina Parra is the Papyrus choice for this project, Hope would be Times New Roman. Just blah. Functional and not in your face, but nothing that will spark anything up. OK, so then, Exponential Tears would have to be Interstate – modern and sleek, but no so much so that it is irritating. A font elegant for it’s simplicity, but beyond the basic Helvetica. A font, were this video to be a website, I’d be proud to use. And so, I chose Interstate, ie Exponential Tears.

Some links, for exploration…

On fonts – Nacho found this really fun chart the other day. Each time I look at it, I find something new to make me chuckle.

On music – MediaStorm has written a guide to choosing and working with music.

Chile Earthquake 4 – what the ocean took

This is the video that breaks my heart. This was the most destruction I saw of all the earthquake. The earthquake left much standing. The ocean was merciless. And these people, in this secluded town, did not receive any governmental help until Thursday – a load of clothing and food. They had 5 days of questioning why no one came.

This is the video that makes me curse the 24-hour news cycle. I understand the cycle. I understand the attention span. We want to know now what is happening, and once we’ve gathered sufficient information, we move onto another theme. I do it. I am incredibly and shamefully decisive with my attention span. I couldn’t tell you how much time I spent on the Haiti earthquake, which in terms of loss of life and, likely, destruction, was far graver. I don’t remember reading more then one story about the earthquake last year in China.

That said, that this video’s viewership will be appallingly low as here and on Nacho’s website are the only places it is published, this breaks my heart. The reason for this is that by the time the video was done and seen, nearly a week had passed since the earthquake. We shot it on Tuesday and Wednesday after the quake. It was an incredible turnaround. Nevertheless, the public’s appetite had been sated by the instant broadcast world.

Photojournalism, documentary photojournalism, visual journalism, is an incredibly invasive form of journalism. It requires absolute entrance into another’s life. If I don’t have something on tape or compact flash, it doesn’t exist. In general, I am surpassingly respectful of other people’s privacy. For me, the reason I am able and willing to intrude upon another’s life, so to speak, is that the topic matter is that important. Their story needs to be seen. People are willing to let us journalists into their lives, because the idea is that telling their story will help change the situation. In a situation like this, it may help bring aid. These people very much need aid. In not getting their story told, I feel I am betraying my part of the bargain.

But you are seeing it. That is a start. You will know that among the large cities that the earthquake brought low, too, there was a tiny seaside hamlet by the name of Perales that the ocean came and washed away. You will witness one man’s grief as he sees his destroyed house for the very first time. You will see the woman who fled from the waves without shoes. And you will meet the old man who calls his survival the greatest miracle of his life.

About the video, it was shot and edited by both Nacho and I, Eileen.

Chile Earthquake, 3 – Day 2

We finished editing, as I noted in my previous post, at 7am. We returned to the wireless point Nacho had found at 3am. It no longer existed. We drove around a little looking for wireless, and, not finding any, we went to Radio Paloma – the only radio station in Talca. Radio Paloma was Talca’s sole communication point. People waited around its gates to pass messages to let their loved ones know that they were safe, or to ask their loved ones to try to contact them.

After this, we went to various places in Talca to try to understand what the residents were experiencing. We began at a large empty plot near central Talca where people afraid to return to their homes founded a campamento. We went to the center of the city, where the destruction was the worst. We found vast lines of people for every open service – gas, water, pharmacy. Piñera, then the president elect, passed by in his motorcade. For the residents of Talca, the hardest part may have been having no communication with the outside world. They knew they had survived, but had no knowledge of their relatives. Following this concern, there was a great neat for everything for which people formed lines – water, pharmacies, and gas.

Reporting in disaster zones – Part 2

When communications fail it’s really hard to deliver your material to your contractors. Yes, digital media helps in capturing and editing material far faster than traditional media, but also consumes an enormous amount of power (laptop and camera batteries) and requires a steady data connection in order to transmit, which was non-existent at the time.

Power, if you need it, beg for it.
There’s always someone who’s been cautious enough to have a generator.
Just look for the only light on in town, head that way and explain them. Here’s why they will let you, probably no one has been able to send info or material to their editors, because no one in the rest of the country knows how that area is doing, and so getting that info ASAP could mean faster help to that town.
Power, saving battery life while editing
I love my Macbook Pro. It’s not the latest model, but the battery is supposed to last for 3 hours.  You probably know that’s not true, especially when editing video.
So, a few tips:
- Turn off your Wi-fi (if on, it looks for connection, wasting a lot of battery), dim the screen light, remove any peripherals you don’t need, turn off keyboard lights and make your fans go off when your computer really needs them (using Fan Control)
- When editing your interviews, turn off the video layer, just listen to it, since your shot is on a tripod, you don’t need that. When editing B-roll, don’t play it, just scroll through your material or hit on different spots of the timeline, you’ll get enough info to do the cuts.
- Rendering. It’s a bitch. Avoid any effects or multilayering to avoid it. If you have to render, turn off your screen to save some juice, same as when exporting. Just listen to your computer, you’ll hear your fans slow down when done exporting or rendering.
Photos (I love my Iphone, Part 1)
As I said before, having no cellphone coverage sucks. But here’s the thing. When coverage fails, sometimes data still works. Don’t know the reason, but sometimes it does. Also, looking for high spots, might give you a bit of coverage, enough to do the following:
- Ingest your photos in your computer, process them and save them in your pictures folder. Plug in your Iphone, open Itunes and turn off all syncing options BUT the picture folder. Sync it and you’ll have the photos in your phone, Itunes optimizes them and makes them 640X480. I know, small, but you know what? Files are really small and your editors will have those photos before anyone else.
Once done, select them all and email them. The minute you get some sort of reception, your files will be sent.  I spent almost 3 hours in Talca and surroundings looking for coverage until I got EDGE network at around 4am.
Remember that cellphones use radio waves so, a clear night and no interference can help those waves get further. I went to the same spot later that day and got nothing.
Be sure to have your Iphone configured to send BCC to your email, that way you’ll know if it arrived to its destination
Audio (I love my Iphone, Part 2)
I’m fully surprised. The iphone mic rules. Quality is superb even for getting ambient audio. Conduct your interviews, spell the subject names and that’s it. Just be sure to look at the timer, because the phone has a 2 minutes maximum per clip to be sent over cellphone. When done, email it or ingest to your computer, edit the material and follow the instructions for the photos and voilá. The minute you get coverage, your email will go on its way.
NOTE: Be sure to keep your phone in airplane mode when doing this, just turn it on
when looking for coverage or in a point where you know there’s coverage.
Data
Graphics people need it. So gather as much as you can, streets, exact addresses, area affected, length of , for example, the earthquake, how far did the wave reached, how tall it was, etc. This would be enough for them in order to create a map. Google maps can be used to look for the addresses and find exact places.
Again, write an email with all of it, when you get coverage, it’ll be sent.
Free Wi-Fi
One night I was lucky enough someone had set up a free antenna. Ask the Police, Fire Station or Radios, even people in the street.
But remember, what once worked, doesn’t mean it will be there again.
Ethics
Please, please, please, follow the rules. Respect people above all. Believe me, they will cooperate, they want their story told. The faster and better it reaches the media, the more help they’ll receive because eyes will be on that community.
Toning Images: I got disgusted when coming back home and seeing over-toned photos, for example, bringing earth tones up and removing shadows and adding light. Really, your job is to report and submit ASAP in order to inform about the situation. Be fair with the people. It’s already dramatic to lose your belongings and sometimes lives of people you love, believe me, you don’t need to add “drama” to your photos.
Report accurately: You owe it to the people. Don’t over dramatize. Just heard in a video a reporter say that “the smell of death” was starting to be felt underneath the rubble in Talca downtown. I was there, in the exact same street where he did his report and no one died. In fact, no one died in several streets around. I’m not completely certain, but I’m almost sure no one did in Talca’s downtown.
So please, don’t exaggerate and report properly. Can you imagine having your family living in the area and watching a video that mentions that “you can smell decomposing flesh in the air”?

(Photos at the end of the post)

When communications fail it’s really hard to deliver your material to your contractors. Yes, digital media helps in capturing and editing material far faster than traditional media, but also consumes an enormous amount of power (laptop and camera batteries) and requires a steady data connection in order to transmit, which was non-existent at the time.

Power, if you need it, beg for it.
There’s always someone who’s been cautious enough to have a generator.

Just look for the only light on in town, head that way and explain them. Here’s why they will let you, probably no one has been able to send info or material to their editors, because no one in the rest of the country knows how that area is doing, and so getting that info ASAP could mean faster help to that town.

Power, saving battery life while editing
I love my Macbook Pro. It’s not the latest model, but the battery is supposed to last for 3 hours.  You probably know that’s not true, especially when editing video.

So, a few tips:
- Turn off your Wi-fi (if on, it looks for connection, wasting a lot of battery), dim the screen light, remove any peripherals you don’t need, turn off keyboard lights and make your fans go off when your computer really needs them (using Fan Control)

- When editing your interviews, turn off the video layer, just listen to it, since your shot is on a tripod, you don’t need that. When editing B-roll, don’t play it, just scroll through your material or hit on different spots of the timeline, you’ll get enough info to do the cuts.

- Rendering. It’s a bitch. Avoid any effects or multilayering to avoid it. If you have to render, turn off your screen to save some juice, same as when exporting. Just listen to your computer, you’ll hear your fans slow down when done exporting or rendering.

Photos (I love my Iphone, Part 1)
As I said before, having no cellphone coverage sucks. But here’s the thing. When coverage fails, sometimes data still works. Don’t know the reason, but sometimes it does. Also, looking for high spots, might give you a bit of coverage, enough to do the following:

- Ingest your photos in your computer, process them and save them in your pictures folder. Plug in your Iphone, open Itunes and turn off all syncing options BUT the picture folder. Sync it and you’ll have the photos in your phone, Itunes optimizes them and makes them 640X480. I know, small, but you know what? Files are really small and your editors will have those photos before anyone else.

Once done, select them all and email them. The minute you get some sort of reception, your files will be sent.  I spent almost 3 hours in Talca and surroundings looking for coverage until I got EDGE network at around 4am.

Remember that cellphones use radio waves so, a clear night and no interference can help those waves get further. I went to the same spot later that day and got nothing.

Be sure to have your Iphone configured to send BCC to your email, that way you’ll know if it arrived to its destination

Audio (I love my Iphone, Part 2)

I’m fully surprised. The iphone mic rules. Quality is superb even for getting ambient audio. Conduct your interviews, spell the subject names and that’s it. Just be sure to look at the timer, because the phone has a 2 minutes maximum per clip to be sent over cellphone. When done, email it or ingest to your computer, edit the material and follow the instructions for the photos and voilá. The minute you get coverage, your email will go on its way.

NOTE: Be sure to keep your phone in airplane mode when doing this, just turn it on when looking for coverage or in a point where you know there’s coverage.

Data

Graphics people need it. So gather as much as you can, streets, exact addresses, area affected, length of , for example, the earthquake, how far did the wave reached, how tall it was, etc. This would be enough for them in order to create a map. Google maps can be used to look for the addresses and find exact places.

Again, write an email with all of it, when you get coverage, it’ll be sent.

Free Wi-Fi

One night I was lucky enough someone had set up a free antenna. Ask the Police, Fire Station or Radios, even people in the street.

But remember, what once worked, doesn’t mean it will be there again.

Ethics

Please, please, please, follow the rules. Respect people above all. Believe me, they will cooperate, they want their story told. The faster and better it reaches the media, the more help they’ll receive because eyes will be on that community.

Toning Images: I got disgusted when coming back home and seeing over-toned photos, for example, bringing earth tones up and removing shadows and adding light. Really, your job is to report and submit ASAP in order to inform about the situation. Be fair with the people. It’s already dramatic to lose your belongings and sometimes lives of people you love, believe me, you don’t need to add “drama” to your photos.

Report accurately: You owe it to the people. Don’t over dramatize. Just heard in a video a reporter say that “the smell of death” was starting to be felt underneath the rubble in Talca downtown. I was there, in the exact same street where he did his report and no one died. In fact, no one died in several streets around. I’m not completely certain, but I’m almost sure no one did in Talca’s downtown.

So please, don’t exaggerate and report properly. Can you imagine having your family living in the area and watching a video that mentions that “you can smell decomposing flesh in the air”?