Archives for November 2012

A Future Reset

James Dao and Todd Heisler at the NYTimes created a 3-minute multimedia piece covering difficulties faced by a war vet who lost a limb in combat.

Some observations:

  • Dao & Heisler split their start: audio is strong out of the shoots with the narrator Cpl. Sebastian Gallegos telling us that he lived but someone else died. But the imagery starts slow with scenes of suburban America. I’m not sure why Dao & Heisler send these mixed messages.
  • Character: Dao & Heisler introduce us to Gallegos, a character with a physical disabilities who is struggling to adjust to his disfigurment. I see Gallego’s pain, but I guess I don’t know enough about him to get emotionally invested. Maybe that’s unrealistic in a 3 minute short, but I think the reporters could have given us a little more info about the main character. At apx. 1:00, Gallegos remarks that his war injury “has changed they way way I think; it cuts me off from conversations.” Wow, how ’bout some more on that? That clip hints at Gallego’s internal needs for human contact and acceptance – but I don’t hear more about it. Later, Gallego’s wife is shown in the background. How about a 10-sec soundbite from her, reflecting on her husband’s character or emotional state?
  • Structure: Gallegos struggles to adjust to his artificial arm, but it’s not clear is whether he has changed (positively or negatively) through the course of that struggle. Personally, I want to know about Gallegos’ transformation: what’s happened (past tense), not what’s happening (present tense). I’m not sure this story was ripe enough for documentation.
  • Information: Dao & Heisler show information about Gallego’s prosethetic arm, but I don’t have the sense that this visual information is necessary. It seems extra. Interesting, but disconnected from the narration.

Kate Holt: Effective Audio Slideshows

In an earlier post I wrote about Soundslides, a software package that helps photographers move into multimedia by automating slideshow transitions and incorporating sound. Soundslides also has a blog, and I found this recent post entitled “Kate Holt’s Digital Storytelling Insights – Part 1“.

This is the first of several Soundslide blog posts, each covering Holt’s storytelling process. Holt prefers audio slideshows because of their simplicity. But she describes her not-so-simple preparation and workflow in putting an audio slideshow together.

Kate Holt is a freelance journalist based in the Nairobe. After spending time with the BBC, Holt undertook a project to document refugees fleeing from Bosnia into Albania in 1999. Following that endeavor, Holt spent several years documenting human sex-trafficing in Romania, Moldova and the Ukraine, followed by a similar expose in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003. Holt has been nominated 3 times for the Amnesty Award for Humanitarian reporting; she’s also been nominated for the Prix Pictet Photographic Award.

Click image below to view an example of one of Holt’s audio slideshows:

Philip Bloom’s Advice

Philip Bloom, a filmmaker who has been extensively involved in the DLSR-as-filmmaking-tool world, has some interesting advice. Keep it simple. Work hard. Perfect your craft and learn what you can on simple gear. And don’t let gear selection be your sole focus.

Here’s a short film Bloom posted on his blog. He made the film with simple gear (NEX 5n). He says it remains one of his favorite projects.

I found the film simple but well-crafted. I’m pulled through the story and not overwhelmed by glitzy angles or technique. The surprise information about his character that Bloom drops in toward the end of the film gave me just the right boost to keep going through the 9 minute film.

Not to minimize Philip Bloom’s expertise, but this is a very do-able style of film that inspires and motivates me to carry on.

Storytelling Comparisons

Here’s an interesting question that Bob Sacha raised: what is the best way to communicate a story? Print, multimedia, TV broadcast or radio? Bob noted that in December 2011, four media outlets (NYTimes – print, NYTimes – multimedia, NPR – radio and Buffalo TV News – TV) ran the same story about an 82-year-old jazz pianist from Buffalo, NY. Bob provides links in his blog post. He also asks the questions:

  • Which worked well?
  • What did each version leave out?
  • How did each version start and finish?

But, ahem, Bob didn’t answer his own questions. So here’s my take on the strengths of two of the four forms:


  • Imagination and visualization: because you don’t have images, you form (mental) images. I can picture a young, lythe Adelaide down in North Carolina…
  • Information and backstory: Print can easily include tid-bits about Mr. Dunlop’s arrival at the nursing home 4 years ago, how he played in the Army and at nightclubs, etc.


  • Slow to get through. This is particularly a problem on the web. I do a lot of my web reading when I’m in front of a screen, like, for instance when I’m (ahem) at work. Can’t dilly-dally too long there.


  • Audio – both narration and ambient sound enrich the experience. Hearing Mr. Dunlop’s voice adds character, richness and a closeness you just don’t pick up in the print version.
  • Visuals – same. Well-crafted images here are a joy to behold. Warm colors. Great lighting. Wow.
  • Information and backstory: I also pick up information about Mr. Dunlop, particularly throught some images of him getting medical attention from a nurse and the sound of his voice. It’s not as “factual”, but it is backstory and information about the qualities of this man.


  • Slow to get through. This may be even a bigger a problem than print. People do a lot of browsing at work, and it’s probably easier to explain reading a story than watching a slideshow if the boss walks up. Makes me kinda’ nervous as I watch it.

Multimedia as Grant Documentation

Chance Multimedia, a denver-based multimedia firm, produces videos and photography for foundations, nonprofit organizations and businesses. Here, Chance did a video highlighting a non-profit organization to communicate the group’s message, document the group’s activities and (presumably) bolster the group’s image for future grants.



My initial reaction is that despite some distractions (e.g., lip synch problems, background noise in some portions), the piece works to communicate the group’s message and impact in the community. Emotionally it’s neutral, but I get information. I contrast that with another multimedia piece (shown below) covering the work of MAG, a non-profit organization dedicated to removal of landmines in former conflict areas, done by MediaStorm in 2011. The Chance documentary communicates information; the MediaStorm piece connects emotionally. You judge: which makes a greater impact?

Surviving the Peace takes an intimate look at the impact of unexploded bombs left over from the Vietnam war in Laos and profiles the dangerous, yet life saving work, that MAG has undertaken in the country. See the project at