Archives for April 2013

Andrew Norton – Interview

I noticed Andrew Norton back in February after viewing his website featuring photography, video, and audio stories. It’s well worth a visit as Andrew has a light, engaging style that’s very entertaining. I was interested in his background in photography and radio production, and when I saw that he’d participated in a Transom workshop I contacted him for some additional information about that experience.

As a legit radio guy, Andrew suggested that we conduct an interview over Skype. He offered to record his end. I haven’t done this type of interview before so I bit at the chance. Unfortunately, it’s taken me forever to turn this around, even though I had the recording quickly transcribed through Elance – a web service I use to outsource some of my back office work.

Q1: Andrew, can you give me some background about yourself?

Norton: I originally started as a photographer and actually, the way I started photography was through shooting skateboarding. I was interning with a skateboard magazine while I was in school for photography. They offered me a job so I started as a staff photographer. Eventually I became the Managing Editor and all the while I was still shooting photos for them and going on trips, and also acting kind of as a Photo Editor, thanks to my background in Photography.

Q2: What pulled you into radio and multimedia?

Norton: At the magazine our Copy Editor recommended some podcasts and things like This American Life, Radio Lab, American Media. I started listening to those religiously and it got me interested in storytelling. It kind of opened my eyes to a new form of storytelling and when I was writing for the magazine I adopted a writing style very similar to the radio style of writing: very short sentences and very frank, but adding some humor and person touches to it. I would get people on the phone and do strange interview, little personal stories – that was kind of my outlet. So I learned to write from radio people and I became obsessed with listening to radio & podcasts.

At some point, I got a new D3S camera and it had a video function on it. So I started messing around digital video. The first video I did was me telling a story about a friend of mine who owns a hamburger shop. He makes his own ketchup – it’s like a 12-hour process and the recipe dates from the 1800s. So I brought my DSLR and a wireless mic and we spent a couple of hours together. I interviewed him and shot some B-roll (I didn’t know it was called B-roll at the time). I just asked him to walk me through the process and I made a short little video about him making ketchup.

Q3: How did that lead to Transom?

Norton: About the same time my wife and I got married. For our honeymoon we basically just took off in a car. The whole time we were on this road trip we listened to podcast after podcast. I saw This American Life’s Facebook page with information about Transom. My wife coaxed me to go, so I applied and got in. Transom is a two-month intensive radio-making boot camp. You eat, sleep and breathe radio, going from zero to sixty in two months. At the end of it you have two radio stories. I went into it wanting to learn how to formally interview someone, what makes a good story, and what kind of stuff do you need to collect audio.

I’d never thought about making a radio story. Transom selects people that want to tell stories but from various backgrounds from newspaper writing to someone in our group who was a nurse. Transom is really good at getting you into shape and within the first couple of days you have a recorder in your hand and you’re out there, breaking the ice, talking to people. I think that’s a testament to how good they are, and it’s also a testament to how small the technical barriers are when it comes to radio.

Q4: Which medium do you prefer?

Norton: I just call myself a storyteller. That story can be told through photos, through video, through audio. There are pros and cons to each outlet. It kind of depends on the story. The big pro of radio is that it’s just so much easier to do sometimes. It gives you more freedom because there are fewer technical limitations. It’s quicker. And it’s a lot more personal. Radio set-up time is five minutes. To do video you have to set up two video cameras, you set up your lights, you set up your audio – the set-up time is so long. And once you set everything up, your subject is hyper-aware that you’re recording them. It just takes away a bit of intimacy. People let their guard drop quicker with audio because you’re just there and yeah there’s a microphone in their face but they get over it quickly. It takes less time to go over a barrier.

One advantage of video, though, is that people are much more likely to watch it online. If I put a 5-minute radio story online, only people who are radio nerds are going to listen to it. But if I put a 5-minute video online, more people are going to sit at their computers and watch it. And even though it’s easier to get your audio stories out there now, if you’re not already established the odds of people seeing your video is higher than audio because video has virality built into it. If you do a 50-minute radio story and put it on PRX you hope people hear it; but the pass-around rate is way less. If your goal is to get as many ears or eyes on your work, and your means is just self-publishing, the best way to go is video.

Also, I think video is a lot easier to sell to people. If I approach a local brewery and say, “I’m going to do a 5-minute audio piece on you”, I’m not sure they’d be interested. Whereas with video, you can make more money on that and it’s an easier sell to people.

But for me, the best, the most innovative storytelling is on radio. All you have is the story – just the audio. So you really have to have your storytelling chops honed.

Q5: What equipment do you use for audio recording?

Norton: It’s pretty simple: a Sony M10. It’s just a little handheld recorder. I also use an Electro-Voice RE50 mic, which is just a standard microphone with a little windscreen on it. Finally, I use a pair of headphones. So it’s pretty small for radio standards. And very non-invasive.

Stillmotion: Visual Storytelling Instruction

Stillmotion recently came out with the first 2 of 4 instructional videos on visual storytelling:

1. The Four P’s of Storytelling
2. How to Use Keywords to Pick the Perfect People, Places & Plot

I highly recommend these short, 10-12 minute instructional videos. They present worthwhile information in an engaging, easy-to-understand style. In addition, they preview an upcoming competition where budding filmmakers can employ some of the presented techniques in a short film.

Tascom iM2 mic for iPhone

I recently purchased the Tascom iM2 stereo microphone for iPhones. The product cost me a whopping $29.27, and after struggling with the Tascom software app, I spent an additional $5.99 to purchase the Rode Rec app from iTunes. (One note: I think Rode lists their app at $4.99, but I was charged $5.99.)

Bingo! For about $35, I now have an easy-to-use portable field recorder mic that I’ll always have with me because it’s so light and small. It’s that latter point that motivated me: “always with me.” The recording quality is solid — Tascam iM2 Sample (.wav) — and easily executed. Just clip the Tascom iM2 into the 32-pin port of your iPhone, open the Rode recorder app, click “Record” and you’re running. Even better, short recorded files are easily sent via email directly from the iPhone.

The Tascam iM2 is available at Amazon.

My advice: don’t horse around with the Tascam recording app. Just go for the Rode Rec app. It’s intuitive and it works.

Story in an Image

My son asked me for a photograph to use in a campaign to run for his high school student council. Rather than using a run-of-the-mill headshot, I asked him how he’d like to portray himself. “Rather not look like a nerd or egghead,” he said. So we came up with this idea:

The concept: late in the afternoon, even as the light fades and storm clouds pile up, there’s a guy out there practicing his hurdling form. That’s the guy you want working for you as your student council rep. The space below is reserved for text.