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.


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


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.



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.