Kelly Creedon: We Shall Not Be Moved

Kelly Creedon is a documentary storyteller based in the Boston area. She has a strong interest in community organizations and has combined that interest with photography. Examples of her work can be found at We Shall Not Be Moved, a multimedia collaboration with City Life/Vida Urbana, a community group that helps people organize and fight back against banks when their houses are in or nearing foreclosure. One of Creedon’s stories on the site profiles Marshall Cooper, a 75-year-old man facing eviction from his home after falling behind on mortgage payments after paying the medical expenses of his aging parents.

Kelly agreed to provide some background information about her work on We Shall Not Be Moved.

Q1. Tell me about the documentary projects that you’re doing for nonprofits.

Creedon: I studied print journalism as an undergraduate, but spent a lot of time during college learning about issues of social justice, privilege, and inequality. When I graduated, I was more interested in community organizing and grassroots movements than straight journalism, so I started working in community media, organizing, and education. I’ve always felt drawn to photography and am always captured by the human stories behind any issue, so I ultimately went back to school at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in 2008 to study documentary photography and become a better storyteller.

Now, I’m focusing on using my skills as a visual storyteller in support of organizations and movements doing important work for social justice. My projects range from straight still photography to audio slideshows and, more recently, multimedia work that incorporates some video as well. I work with my nonprofit and grassroots clients and partners to develop stories that will help their audiences connect on a human level to the issues and projects they’re working on. My goal is to strike the balance between being a sustainable small business owner and making this kind of work available and accessible to organizations with limited means.

Q2. What’s the origin of your project entitled We Shall Not Be Moved?

Creedon: I began the We Shall Not Be Moved project in early 2009. I had collaborated on a story about a man who was facing eviction after being foreclosed on when his wife died of cancer and he could no longer keep up with the mortgage. He was part of a group called City Life/Vida Urbana that was helping people organize and fight back against the banks. After the story was done, I approached them to learn more about their work and was really moved by some of the stories of people within the movement. I asked the organization if they would be open to me doing some sort of more in-depth project that really told the stories of some of their members as they unfolded over time, and we developed a partnership that has evolved over the past two and a half years.

When I began the project, I spent a lot of time just showing up to meetings, listening, and talking to people. I needed to educate myself about the situation and to gain people’s trust. Foreclosure is an issue that brings with it a lot of guilt and shame, so it was challenging to find people who were willing to share their story so publicly. But most of the people I’ve interviewed over the course of the project have become leaders within this movement, and that process became the part of the story that was most interesting to me. I find it really fascinating and inspiring to see how people, through the act of confronting a devastating moment like foreclosure, find the courage to speak out, tell their story, and become advocates for themselves and their communities.

This project is a partnership with the nonprofit group, City Life/Vida Urbana, but I’ve been fortunate to be able to fund it primarily through grants from Mass Humanities and the Puffin Foundation. In that way, it’s more of an independent project than many of my collaborations with nonprofit clients. City Life/Vida Urbana has been a great and supportive project partner, but I’ve made all of the editorial decisions on the project.

Q3. How did your connection with PBS happen? What was that experience like?

Creedon: PBS Newshour was doing a piece on City Life/Vida Urbana and came to film at one of the weekly member meetings. I introduced myself and told them about my project, and we exchanged contact information. They reviewed my work and decided to run some of it on the web as a complement to their TV broadcast piece. I was glad to have that kind of national exposure from such a well-respected outlet.

Q4. On a technical front – what type of gear do you use? Are there any tools that you regard as absolutely essential to your type of work? What do you rely on the most for your productions?

Creedon: Currently I shoot a Nikon D90 with a few different lenses, mostly in the wide to normal range. I like to be in the middle of whatever is going on and shoot up close whenever I can. For audio, I use a Marantz PMD660 recorder, with either a standard omni microphone or a shotgun, depending on the situation. For software, I do audio editing in the free Audacity program, and most of my audio slideshows are done in Soundslides. I’ve been transitioning to Final Cut Pro recently, which opens up a lot of different options, but I still think Soundslides is a great piece of software and really lowers the learning curve for people who are new to this kind of work.

In general, I try to keep things technically pretty simple. Because I focus on working with nonprofits and grassroots organizations, I don’t have much of a budget to be upgrading my gear and software. But I also believe that good work can be produced with minimal equipment, so I try to focus on creating the best work I can with the limited gear I have, rather than relying on new gear to solve my technical and creative problems.

SoundWorks

Okay, granted this SoundWorks website is over-the-top for my purposes, but I just stumbled into a VERY cool website on Foley sound used in movies. Take a few minutes to browse through behind-the-scenes “film sound profiles” of various films. The profiles illustrate how sound is created for Hollywood films.

Andrew Hida: The Dividing Line

Andrew Hida’s multimedia story “The Dividing Line” delves into the life experience of a traumatic brain injury victim. It is definitely worth watching.

Hida clearly spent a lot of time with the subject and his family members in this intense setting, gaining access to the participants, their relationships and feelings, and their inner-most confidences.

Hida’s style includes revealing close-ups of details and gestures that visually communicate the emotional elements of this story. For example, Hida includes a detail shot of his protagonist drinking from a coffee mug – and by focusing in on the trembling cup illustrates with imagery the extent of this man’s injury. The injury impacts every gesture and action he takes. That little section of footage demonstrates how powerfully visual clues can communicate emotional information to enrich a storyline.

Hida offers good backstory – e.g., shots and discussion of Michael’s interest in punk rock and how his injury changed his life. I found it especially poignant to see Michael at a drumset – again another visual demonstration of the long-term impact this accident.

Hida sets up a quiet audio transition (“…I’m not the same…”) between Michael’s narrative about liking girls and living a life of rock and roll to information that he’d been charged with sexual assualt.

This story is very interesting – not soppy, doesn’t dodge some nasty facts associated with this man’s life. It shows how real people deal with real problems.

David Aldrich

David Aldrich is a new media producer, director, cinematographer, editor, and information technologist known professionally for his involvement in the development and promotion of new media technology in a university setting.

In 2008, David started producing Peckhammer TV, a web TV documentary series about people who ride and race motorcycles. David wanted to fill a programming void in television. Through 42 episodes, he learned to interview, host, shoot, edit and direct on the fly.

After finishing the last episode of Peckhammer TV in 2010, David turned his attention to documentary filmmaking. One of his favorite films was “It Might Get Loud,” which featured three of his favorite guitarists: Jimmy Page, Jack White and the Edge. In a few scenes of the film, Jack White referred to his luthier in Seattle. That luthier was Randy Parsons, whose shop was less than a mile away from David’s home. David dropped by and said, “I’d like to make documentary short about you.” Parsons agreed, and filming began in January, 2010. David shot the film using his Canon XH-A1 and the Canon T2i. In 2011, David released Randy Parsons: American Luthier, which will be shown at the ITSA Film Festival at the end of September.

David Aldrich's Randy Parsons American Luthier

Q1: You say you used the Canon T2i for a good portion of the Randy Parsons short. Was that because certain features of the T2i were better suited for the project than the Canon XH-A1? Or was it just to test out the T2i’s capabilities?

Aldrich: I have been a photographer all my life, and when I started shooting video, I thought the results made everything look like ‘70s television. You know, flat, lifeless, cheap, and boring. Definitely not like film-like. I really missed playing with DOF to emphasis something in-frame, and I missed the freedom that you have when working with a camera that fits in your hand. Putting a letus adaptor on a video camera could give you a cinematic look, but now you were wielding a substantial apparatus around that could be intimidating to people in front of the camera.

When I started shooting the Randy Parsons documentary short, we started out using my trusty XH-A1. Parson’s shop is small, so even a bare-bones XH-A1 feels big. I picked up a Canon T2i, as well as 17-55mm f/2.8 lens so I could get in close to the guitars. Wow! It was liberating, and it allowed us to get on top of the fine details we were trying to capture. Once I started using that camera, it was hard to put it down. It ended up being the primary camera – especially after I went on an eBay shopping spree, picking up a half-dozen vintage Nikkor primes.

Q2: Did you find any significant limitations with the T2i for this short — such as excess vibration, uncomfortable/awkward form factor, limited recording time?

Aldrich: Most of the limitations that people speak about when using DSLRs are genuine concerns, in my experience. Some I can live with, some I can’t.

The 17-55mm f/2.8 lens did a pretty good job of image stabilization, but the Nikkor primes were impossible to use unless the camera was on a good set of sticks. I shot a fair amount of footage using a Kessler CineSlider, mounted on their combat-ready tripod which will hold up to 500 pounds. I have a ball head mounted on the CineSlider, which allows me to get moving/tracking shots at interesting angles, and my camera assistant can work the fluid head of the tripod at the same time, so I can achieve compound movements. This allowed me to get stable, fluid shots without much in the way of vibration. That’s fine in a controlled environment, but out in the field, that would be impossible to pull off.

I purposely wanted to keep things simple, so when doing handheld shots, I used the T2i just as it came out of the box; no rails, rig or follow focus. This was not a problem during the Parsons shoot because I always had a bench to lean on. But I do think you’d need to fully accessorize your DSLR, and get a really good monitor if you were shooting somewhere other than a very controlled environment. That’s a serious investment that quickly adds to the relatively inexpensive price of a camera body.

I never minded the limited memory problem that people mention. I like to shoot on 8 GB cards, and they are not very expensive. I know that people complain that you can only get 20 minutes or so on a card, but seriously, how long is a single shot going to last? I am not Stanley Kubrick. I rarely shoot more than a minute at a time, unless it’s an interview. And I like to swap out a full card and hand it off to a production assistant. If a card gets lost, I’m missing 20 minutes of footage. If a tape gets lost, that might be an hour of footage. With the cards, the footage can be transferred to a hard drive and I can get it back into the camera in no time. Can’t do that with a tape…

And then there is the crappy audio people speak of. Again, that’s not a deal-breaker for me because I only use the on-board sound as reference audio. I always have a second camera, or audio recorder rolling, which I think I would do even if I am using a camera with excellent sound recording ability.

I‘ll add one thing that people might not think of: You often have to be on top of your subject when using a DSLR. This changes the dynamics of shooting, and in the case of the Parsons documentary short, this was a good thing. Parsons is comfortable in front of a camera, and the shoots were very intimate. I could see that working against you in other circumstances, though.

Everything I said so far probably makes it seem like my preference is a DSLR. It is not. If my XH-A1 had interchangeable lenses with nice fat apertures (f/1.4, for example), and if I could use my Nikkor primes on it, I’d never use a DSLR again. Some manufacturers are making that happen on cameras with reasonable price points. However, a DSLR is a relatively cheap acquisition, and it puts a powerful film making tool in the hands of someone who may not have a budget. That is awesome. That said, if I were going out into the field and I could only take one camera, I would always choose my XH-A1. It’s got XLR inputs, excellent auto-focus, zebra lines, and a viewfinder that works even when the sun is out. For documentary work – especially field work — it’s the better choice, in my opinion. Sure, I’d like to have something newer, but the XH-A1 still works.

Q3: In comparison with the XH-A1, do you feel there are things the T2i are better/worse suited for?

Aldrich: Yes. When I was shooting my web series, I would rig cars and motorcycles with cameras. I sort of treated the T2i as a disposable item, and I had no problem mounting it in places where it might get destroyed. Of course, when I did that, I always used the cheap 18-55mm lens it came with, rather than my expensive glass. The T2i is also a little more low-key. If you are trying to capture something and not make it obvious, the T2i is a great way to do it. People act a lot different when they know they are being recorded, and there is no way to “get away with it” when you’ve got a big, purposeful-looking video camera in your hands.

If you were a field reporter or photojournalist, I think the DSLR has a big advantage over a full on-video rig. First, you can’t beat the still image quality that a DSLR produces. Second, news is being produced differently these days, with reporters working independently and having to produce complete pieces out in the field. Writing/narrating a story that can be paired with some good photographs or a couple short video clips makes a DSLR the better choice. And it’s small and packs easy.

Q4: How would you rate the image quality between the XH-A1 and the T2i?

Aldrich: That’s a great question. I didn’t give it much thought until I was in post-production, and using shots from both cameras in the same scene. The XH-A1 seems to make a substantially sharper image than the T2i. So I had to sharpen the T2i footage, and play with the contrast curve and color to make the difference between the two cameras less noticeable. Maybe the 5D would have produced a sharper image, but I have no direct experience with that camera.

Q5: What did you use for audio capture on the Randy Parsons short?

Aldrich: Parsons’ shop is next door to Guitar Center, which has thousands of guitar amps connected to the building power supply. There is so much interference being generated that I could not use any of my wireless equipment. So, much the environmental sound was recorded on my XH-A1, which was always rolling as the B camera during the shoots. I also had an H4N recorder running as a backup, but I never used any of the sound from it. However, there is quite a bit of Foley work in the documentary. In the second scene, where Parsons puts the soldering iron back in the spring holder, well that’s a Weller soldering iron in my studio. Same for the screw-driver being used on that red bass – that me in the studio.

I had originally shot the interview portion of the documentary with Parsons at his shop, but I had to scrap it because of all the noise and interference. So I did the interview again in my studio. I used a nice microphone, a pre-amp, a compressor, and I recorded everything on a Mac Mini. To play it safe, I also used a SM58 hooked up to my XH-A1. And in the end, I chose the audio recorded on the video camera because it sounded more natural. It’s just another example of how flexible that camera is, and how much utility it offers.

Dreams of American Healthcare – Jessey Dearing

Dreams of American Healthcare - Jessey Dearing

Jessy Dearing’s “Dreams of American Healthcare” Covers the debate that continues after passage of the Obama health care reform act. Good coverage of various perspectives, using audio, stills and video. And this by an undergraduate student at UNC Chapel Hill.

September 11th in Multimedia

In remembrance of the 9/11/01 tragedy, here are a few resources reflecting that experience in imagery and sound.

Sonic Memorial Project

The Sonic Memorial Project is an online archive of audio recordings commemorating the World Trade Center, organized by NPR’s Lost and Found Sound. More than 50 independent radio and new media producers have contributed more than 1,000 audio pieces to this ongoing project. You can hear some sample story recordings at http://www.sonicmemorial.org/sonic/public/stories.html

The September 11 Digital Archive

The September 11 Digital Archive preserves the history of 9/11 digitally, with email, stories, digital images and audio recordings.

The New York Historical Society: Remembering 9/11

NYHS’s Remembering 9/11 exhibit offers some online videos of people recalling this event. Additional video remembrances are located at Voices of 9.11 Here Is New York.

Living Galapagos

Living Galapagos multimedia project

Here’s a well-crafted multimedia project about the people living on the Galapagos Islands – and how the influx of tourism has created issues for them.

The introductory “splash screen” provides a blend of video, audio and still photography. Despite dual languages, the creators make an effort to capture good, crisp audio. The main multimedia page displays an interactive map of the Galapagos Islands, with links to individual stories and data. Each story is, in itself, a blend of video, audio and still photography, each done by different authors.

This is an example of how multimedia was originaly designed for the web: interactive graphics providing links to data, accented by imagery and audio stories that “brought to life” the factual information. Major newspapers were building things like this as they introduced digital versions of their papers. These types of large-scale interactive multimedia projects on the web have faded. They’re too expensive and too slow to produce.

Book Review: Rebel Without A Crew

I recently read Robert Rodriguez’s 1995 book “Rebel Without A Crew” which chronicles how as a 23-year old struggling student Rodriguez raised $7,000 and made a Hollywood film called “El Mariachi.” The story traces how Rodriguez financed the project (selling himself into a month-long pharmaceutical research project), wrote the script, lined up his gear and crew, shot and edited the video, and navigated the worlds of film distribution, Hollywood agents, and the independent film festival circuit.

Rodriguez brings us into his world of making videos as a kid, and how with very inexpensive gear and existing props he honed his storytelling and technical skills. Using simple video gear taught Rodriguez to plan his shots and shoot as little footage as possible — skills he employed in his first feature “El Mariachi.” “Learning how to make films this way for ten years trained me to see the movie edited in my head beforehand…. That kind of previsualization skill came in extremely useful on my later films. These are skills they could never teach you in film school…” he says. Rodriguez leveraged his earlier experiences making short videos to tackle a full-length action film, ignoring all film school advice that such things were not possible without large crews and big budgets.

This book is inspiring – even if you’re not a filmmaker. Rodriguez takes his idea and pushes into reality, overcoming obstacles with creativity, tenacity and hard work.

Lauren Greenfield – Thin

 

Lauren Greenfield Thin

Although this is just a preview of a film by Lauren Greenfield, it’s great treatment by an excellent photographer. The story sets quickly: within 10 seconds you know the story thesis. Greenfield packs in a lot of energy, with cuts every 3-5 seconds. She bakes in some shock value images (tubes in stomach, skinny arms) and emotion (crying girl begging, “I want to be thin”). Most importantly, Greenfield REALLY CARES about this topic. You want to know more.

Greenfield started as a stil photographer and much of her work is still in slideshow sequences. Check out a few of her photographic slide shows, “UT Football” for a taste. Caution – You can spend some time here…

Edward Lachman, Cinematographer

I recently listened to American Cinematographer’s Podcast interview of Edward Lachman. His perspective on changes in film technology which “democratize” filmmaking, should encourage each of us to push forward with whatever medium we’re currently working. It’s an exciting time to create and distribute multimedia work. Lachman’s words are worth quoting here:

“…It comes down to this – economics. People want stories. They need stories to understand their own lives. And it’s expensive to make a film. Because of the expense of it, no one is going to give you money to make a personal statement about how you feel about your story. So you have to subterfuge that into, let’s say, a more mainstream way of making a film. I think there’s always been films, through history, that have done
‘something else.’ They’re just fewer and far between because it’s much harder to make a film like that. ‘Howl’ [Lachman’s recent film] was independently financed, but the means of production have become less and less expensive. I mean, anyone can pick up a digital camera today and tell a story. That’s what we have to do. It’s a much more democratic process now to make film. And through the digital world people are much more open to new ways of telling stories. It isn’t that there isn’t an audience for it.”