T.J. Kirkpatrick – Interview

Earlier, I posted a quick note about T.J. Kirkpatrick’s “Fly Away” short. Here’s the backstory.

Q1. How did you come up with this idea?
Kirkpatrick: I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind ever since seeing one of Richard Koci Hernandez’s “On the Road” pieces a couple years ago. He’s got a short section in that video where a cutout plane flies around his seat. So, it’s borrowed to a point, not unlike many other good ideas. I liked the thought of a plane breaking free from its confines, on a magazine page or pamphlet cover, and doing what planes are meant to do–to fly away. Going on to the flight I had an idea of finding a plane I could cut out easily, which happened to be from a magazine, and then just play around with where it went and what it encountered along the way. I’m a Monty Python fan and I like that oddball sense of humor, not to mention the stop action cut out sequences in the show itself, so that certainly helped inspire what happens in the course of the video. Everything was shot on a cross country flight between DC and Seattle last Christmas. It took the entire five hour flight to do everything, and I was actually shooting the last frames as we were preparing to land. That was probably the quickest cross-country flight I’ve ever taken.

Q2. Looks like you did props and took photos during a single flight — did you have this all planned out before boarding?
Kirkpatrick: Any props were found once I was on the plane. I had a small multi-tool on my keychain that looks like another key, but it opens up to a couple screwdrivers and tiny little knife blade (in case anyone is concerned about safety, this thing is really, really tiny: the blade is less than an inch long, and it’s all the size of an actual key. You stand a greater chance of being injured by the plastic spork that comes with a hot meal). That’s what I used to cut out the plane and everything else. I have a little bit of gaffer’s tape in all my bags (’cause you never know when you’ll need that stuff) and used it to help stick the plane to the back of the seat for those shots. There wasn’t much planning to do, since I was relying on finding a little plane I could cut out of an actual magazine on the flight. I had some ideas of what I wanted the plane to do–fly around the back of the seat, travel through the magazine itself, and ultimately fly away from the magazine. But I figured out the details as I was going along. I couldn’t have predicted getting a magazine with Shaun White to use as a monster, or an ad pitting a businessman against a sumo wrestler, but I was happy to discover them.

Q3. What equipment did you use? (Camera and software)
Kirkpatrick: Everything was shot with a Lumix LX5 (the camera that happened to be most accessible) and processed with Lightroom for basic toning, black and white conversion and output to a manageable file size. In all, there were about 500 images that went in to FCP to make the final video, though with some sections cut that total is probably closer to 350 or 400 in the final piece. Thinking back, my usual gear (Canon 5D mark II) probably would have been too cumbersome in the tight space of a coach seat to be of much use for this piece.

Q4. What’s the trick to successful time lapse photography?
Kirkpatrick: This is the first time lapse or stop motion piece I’ve brought to completion, so my advice is limited. There are some sections I wish I had shot more of, and I wish I had done a bit more planning for the transitions between sections. It might have been beneficial to have more photos for each of the sections, allowing the option for smoother motion, but I like the jumpiness of the final piece. I don’t think this piece would be improved with smoother motion, since the rest of it was done pretty roughly anyway. But the time lapse pieces that I find I like are pretty smooth, so this rough approach probably wouldn’t work so well again.

Q5. Do you find adding audio significantly adds to your work?
Kirkpatrick: Audio certainly can be beneficial to a project. Hearing the subject’s voice describing the story I’m trying to illustrate adds a very powerful layer to the storytelling. It’s allows for a very personal connection that is tough to achieve with just photos, and that helps me to convey a better story. I find it also helps me in the shooting process, because I have to be more focused to get good audio and more aware of where the story is going to be able to pair the audio with the photos or video that I’m gathering.
For this piece, the music sets the tone and does much of the heavy lifting for keeping that whimsical feeling going throughout the video. In essence, it does exactly what music can do in multimedia: directly influence the emotions of the viewer.

Q6. What type of equipment do you use? (Audio recording gear and software)
Kirkpatrick: I’ve used different gear for different projects, mostly depending on what I have available at the time. I’ve had a handful of little flash audio recorders, used some of the bigger Marantz gear, or just recorded with a mic straight into a 5D mark II (praying the whole time that the audio is actually useable). I’m in the market for a new recorder and I’ve liked the Marantz 661 that I’ve borrowed from friends a few times. As for software, I’ve used FCP and Soundtrack Pro for most projects, though neither of these are great for interview audio. In the past I’ve used Audacity, but lately I’ve been testing Hindenburg (http://hindenburgsystems.com/) and am liking how the software works.

Q7. I see some images in your stills section that area also incorporated in your multimedia slideshows. Do you shoot a project with the intention to images as both stand-alone items as well as parts of a larger project? Does working this way create any issues/problems?
Kirkpatrick: I work on projects as a whole, and the images that exist in both the still and multimedia sections on my site are the best images from a project that may have been developed as a multimedia piece. My hope would be that people see some of the still images, get curious and head over to the multimedia piece. Since a bulk of the assignment work that I do is solely still images, I need to have a representation of my projects in both a multimedia and still image gallery format. If an image, or a series, is good enough, I think it can certainly exist outside of the multimedia presentation. But beyond just happening to make good images, if I’m shooting a big project with a multimedia end in mind I still need to approach it like I would a story with no multimedia component. The multimedia side requires some more work and more material, but I still need to have the variety of images, key moments, and sense of vision that I would be trying to make for a project that consists of only still images. So, chances are I’m going to have work that I can present outside of the multimedia package. I’ve encountered problems in not doing enough work on the multimedia end, getting too caught up in the still photo side and neglecting to get enough b-roll audio or video, or shooting enough variety of still images to cover all the audio. And that goes back to what I mentioned earlier about just being aware of where the story is going to ensure you’re covered for stills as well as meeting any multimedia needs before you move on to the next part of a project.

Q8. Do you have any additional multimedia projects planned?
Kirkpatrick: I’m developing a multimedia project to go with the Tea Party work I started in 2011 (link: http://tjkphoto.com/#/Essays/Tea%20Party:%20the%20Movement/1/), and I’m creating some more of the fun little pieces like “Fly Away”.

Q9. Are you finding a lot of interest in multimedia work amongst your clients?
Kirkpatrick: I’ve been hired for a bit of multimedia and video work, but on the whole my clients are from the still photo world. What I find though is that my still photo clients are really interested in seeing the multimedia work that I do. It may just be a place to start a conversation about storytelling and some of my personal work, and it may be a spark for a new project or collaboration. Wherever the conversation goes, clients are always interested in seeing a project that goes beyond the still photos.

Mission Guatemala’s Use of Multimedia

Mission Guatemala is a nonprofit United Methodist organization helping the poor of Guatemala. I noticed that they are incorporating some photography and video on their website, so I asked Tom Heaton, who founded Mission Guatemala in 2009, for some background information on how they’re working with multimedia to communicate information about their operations.

Q1. You have a “featured video” posted on your website. Did you create that yourselves or did you work with an external videographer/photographer?

Heaton: The featured videos change. Some of the videos were produced by a friend who has some professional skills using an hd camera and I-movie. Sometimes we do simple home videos with people sharing about their mission trips here. They too are edited with I-movie. Finally, we sometimes produce slideshow type videos using a service called ANIMOTO.

Q2. If you worked with a external videographer/photographer, how did you go about defining the project?

Heaton: The more professional looking videos were shot using an HD camera. The person who shot the video was told that we wanted to convey a positive hopeful image about the work we are doing in Guatemala. We had seen too many videos of ministries working in developing countries that seemed to make the situation seem hopeless. They felt a little manipulative. We did want that. We wanted to create a positive and hopeful image of our work in hopes that people would want to be a part of that work. Many of the videos were actually edited by a University of Evansville senior majoring in radio-tv.

Q3. Were you actively involved in the production of the video?

Heaton: Yes, we were with the person who shot the video and suggested people to interview and B roll.

Q4. What prompted you to create the video?

Heaton: Well… nothing is really more powerful than telling a positive story with video.

Q5. What did you hope to achieve with the video? (And did that happen?)

Heaton: We are still in the process of editing the videos. We were hoping that it would encourage more churches to support our work. We also hoped that they could be used within congregations to share the story of the work they are helping support. We are in the process of trying to compress the videos to actually make them downloadable from our website. That would make it easier to share within the local church.

Q6. Have you seen much interest in the video? Has it sparked better understanding or increased fundraising or anything like that?

Heaton: Yes, we put them on You Tube and on our Facebook page. People love them. They help tell our story well.

Q7. Do you have plans to add additional multimedia pieces (combined photos, videos, audio and/or web graphics) to your website?

Heaton: The animoto videos I mentioned above.

Q8. In an ideal world, what would you like multimedia to be able to do for your organization?

Heaton: Help us tell our story and our work in a compelling way.

Ami Vitale Interview

Ami Vitale’s journey as a photojournalist has taken her to more than 75 countries. She has witnessed civil unrest, poverty, destruction oflife, and unspeakable violence. But she has also experienced surreal beauty and the enduring power of the human spirit, and she is committed to highlighting the surprising and subtle similarities between cultures. I would characterize her emphasis as “covering communities that are under-reported in the mainstream press.”

Starting in 2000, she has lived in and documented life and conflict in West Africa, India, Czech Republic and Kosovo. As quoted in a 2003 interview by Susan Markisz for the Digital Journalist, Vitale’s process of living with the people she documents allows her to delve beneath the surface story. “You have to get into a culture to actually live there to understand things aren’t as sensational when you understand them in their context. I’ve jumped in, parachuted into a few places before and I didn’t like it. It’s very dangerous and I’ve felt like I wasn’t portraying things truthfully, or it was a different truth.”


Ami has recently devoted a fair amount of time to integrating video into her stories. She was kind enough to field some questions about her recent multimedia work.

Q1. Somewhere I read that you’re devoting time to develop your video skills. Almost all of your Mamtaz story is video, whereas some of your earlier multimedia work combined more stills with a bit of video. Are you moving toward video on your own, or are your clients requesting more/all video?

Vitale: The medium I work in is changing and video is now playing a much bigger role in what we do. Cameras like the one I carry can shoot HD video and it can enhance our abilities as storytellers. This is already playing a big role in my future but I don’t think I would have had the courage to take the leap into shooting video without one small exaggeration, to Nikon, when they called and asked if I knew anything about making videos. “Yes of course”, I replied instantly, knowing nothing about moving images or how to even operate the camera. I assumed I’d have time to learn before the shoot but was surprised when they sent the D300s camera only the night before my trip to India began. I frantically studied the manual on the 28 hour long journey and arrived terrified and wondering if I had just made the biggest mistake of my life. The following is the film I made there, an homage to India.

If I had not had the opportunity, I probably never would have made the leap but I’m so grateful I did. In a time when media is struggling and searching for a new path, I’m finding that I am busier than ever telling meaningful stories in new ways for a variety of outlets. Last year, I went back to school to study film and created my first documentary film which just premeired at the Jackson Hole Film Festival. I also am doing a variety of short films for new clients. It’s an exciting time to be a photographer and journalist and this new skill can create more opportunity for all of us. The old models of business are in crisis, but opportunities lie ahead. We must redefine ourselves as technolgies create more opportunities. I’ve moved into video on my own and my clients are definitely excited when I can offer this. I shoot both stills and videos on most assignments.

Q2. What type of gear are you using to capture video and audio in the field?

Vitale: Nikon D7000, a couple of lenses, the 24-70 and sometimes the 24mm tilt and shift perspective lens, I use a preamp made by Juicedlink, a Rodemic and lavs for interviews. I also use a tripod and sometimes take Goalzero Solar panels since I’m often in remote places without electricity.

Q3. How rigidly are you planning out your pieces? (For example, do you map out all the stills, video & audio you need and then methodically work off this “shot list”? Or do you collect images & sounds first, and then compose them into a story based on what you’ve collected? Or some combination of both?)

Vitale: I do create a story board and make a shot list but its not rigid. If I see something in the field I had not thought of, I’ll shoot it and make changes to the final script. Its very important to know what and why you are shooting. If you approach film making like a stills photographer, it does not work.

Q4. Do you tend to work solo or collaboratively – and which do you prefer?

Vitale: I tend to work on my own but my film on climate change was a collaboration and I was grateful for it. I prefer shooting on my own to gain intimacy and trust with my subjects but I like collaborating in the editing.

Q5. What are you finding most difficult and most interesting in multimedia?

Vitale: Audio is the most difficult piece for me and the most interesting because I have a lot to learn.

Q6. How do you want to distinguish your multimedia stories from run-of-the-mill work?

Vitale: I hope there is a sensitivity and artful sensibility that will set these films apart.

Andrew Hida Interview

In an earlier post, I profiled “The Dividing Line” by Andrew Hida, a Seattle-based multimedia producer. I tracked Andrew down and asked him some questions about his origins, style and goals.

Q1. From your website it looks like you started off doing still photography, but have moved into multimedia (incorporating stills, audio and video). What’s prompting that move into audio and motion/video?

Hida: I began taking photographs about 4-5 years ago. For about a year I was shooting film as many people moved into digital. After a trip to Cuba in 2007, I met Tim Matsui, a photojournalist from Seattle, who quickly became a mentor. He forced into my hands an Edirol audio recorder and an omni microphone, and asked me why I was still shooting film. Reluctantly, I purchased a Canon 30D and forced myself to shoot digital. In the end, I made the jump into multimedia all in one plunge, incorporating digital photography and audio to create audio slideshows.

I began to realize the potential of multimedia storytelling. I was shooting a lot of sequential frames to create the illusion of video using crossfades. Paired with audio, the stories began to jump out of the screen. I had a screening of my first audio slideshow at the Center of Contemporary Art in Seattle. It left a tremendous impression on the audience. I realized that the viewers’ interaction with still photographs, complimented by audio, and incorporated into a video, produced a visceral experience for the viewer that I could not achieve through still photography. At that point that I looked to multimedia as a medium that has continued to grow in my favor.

I still struggle to capture moments and tell stories in a single frame. My eyes see the world in motion, and my brain understands the language of video much better than stills. Personally, I see more creative freedom in video than in stills. In the end, audio becomes the backbone of any great multimedia piece. Within that audio, you can bring in any captured element to create a complete experience for the viewer, whether it’s the water dripping from a coffee maker, or a quiet cry of reflection. The audio will transport them into the subject’s world creating an intense empathetic and emotional response unique from that elicited from a still image.

Q2. How has using audio and motion/video changed your work?

Hida: Audio has transformed my storytelling from, let’s say, a 2-dimensional plane to a 3-dimensional space. Audio almost creates an interactive experience for the viewer. I can construct an experiential story for the viewer and more effectively tap into a universal emotional response.

Through video and audio I can essentially tell two stories at the same time: one through the video, and another through the audio. The audio is the backbone of any compelling multimedia story. However, as taught to me by Bruce Strong, professor at Syracuse University, the audio can take you from point A to point B, similar to that of the path of a road. However, the visuals can take a meandering path as long as it leaves from point A and ends at point B, similar to that of a winding river. Maybe that sounds new age or too abstract, though this metaphor itself has helped me tremendously in multimedia production. Multiple mediums, controlled well, can tell a multi-layered, 3-dimensional story providing visual and aural cues to the viewer otherwise absent through a still image.

Q3. Coming from a still photography background, what multimedia capabilities have you found most interesting & powerful? And what has given you the most trouble?

Hida: I find sequencing and non-linear editing as the most interesting elements of multimedia storytelling. Sequencing is a concept that I think many still photographers struggle with when they start to shoot video. As still photographers we are trained to look for single moments, and have a tendency to shoot video the same way. We have a tremendous advantage as photographers when composing, organizing, and exposing a frame for video. However, we have a tendency to hold that frame, and hold it, and keep holding it. It becomes visually boring. Photographers need to change their thought process when approaching video, and look for sequencing. Wes Pope pounded into my head the jingle, “Wide. Medium. Tight. Shoot. Move. Shoot. Move. Wide. Medium. Tight. Shoot. Move. Shoot. Move.” This is the single most important theory that every photographer should embrace, which by itself will make their video a thousand times better. If you can shoot sequences, you have the ability to push your viewer in and out of a three-dimensional space, providing visual variety, and a much more dynamic overall experience.

Related to sequencing is a style of editing, which I have come to enjoy and find tremendously powerful. I tend to shoot for and edit for matched action. For example, if the subject is smoking a cigarette, the sequence may start with a wide shot of him smoking in his house to establish the scene. Once he moves his hand from his mouth to the ashtray, the sequence will cut to a tight shot of his hand entering the frame and ashing his cigarette into the ashtray, and then resolve on a medium shot of his hand in the same position hovering over the ashtray. Matched action is challenging to shoot, but so rewarding to edit. If you are able to edit a sequence in such a way that the viewer doesn’t notice the cuts, then you have succeeded both behind the lens and in front of the monitor.

Some of the greatest challenges that I have overcome in the past year are the logistical difficulties of shooting video with these fancy-shmancy HDSLRs. The image produced by these cameras are hands-down, without question, BEAUTIFUL! The cameras are affordable, but the issues are daunting. Audio recording is a disaster. Recording time limits are frustrating. Ergonomics are painful. And interface can be a challenge. With that said, there are many solutions out there such as dual-audio recording and the plethora of support systems. So why do we go through the pain of shooting video with these cameras? I think it’s because we’re familiar with the format. It doesn’t intimidate us, and we already have the lenses. However, that doesn’t mean that we’re immune to the millions of bells and whistles necessary to make the car move.

Q4. It looks like you spent the better part of 2008 working on the “Slow Healing” project. What was the origin of that project and why did you devote so much time to it?

Hida: I took a documentary photography class at the Photographic Center Northwest; my first foray into documentary photography or photojournalism. As part of the class we were to execute a documentary project, which I decided would be an exploration of the visually impaired community in Seattle. I reached out to many organizations only to be shut down by most, except by the Visually Impaired Services Team at the Puget Sound VA Hospital. I connected with a woman, who will remain anonymous, who was so passionately involved with the care of her clients that she immediately introduced me to two OIF and OEF veterans who had both lost eyes as a result of the wars. I started first by taking portraits of the two soldiers and soon hit a wall. I lost my direction, and had no idea how to proceed. I was dealing with personal issues like access, compassion, and sensitivity to these soldiers’ lives, and had no idea how to overcome these obstacles. I let the project rest for a while, until it dawned upon me that the real story wasn’t the loss of their vision, but rather the impact of traumatic brain injuries on returning soldiers. As a result, I returned to the project, which evolved into Slow Healing.

The project took so long to develop most likely because I approached it with little guidance, which resulted in a lot of stumbling, fumbling, and mistakes in the field. But, how else do you learn? Coincidentally, at the same time I had applied to a number of grants–my first foray into grant writing–and to my surprised received a large grant from the Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs to fund the production of this project. I then had one year to complete it in Washington, and travelled to Wisconsin and Hawaii to work with two other subjects. In the end, I realized that as a first project, I had set my sights too high. The responsibilities on my end were tremendous, beyond the scope of just shooting the stories. I was on the administrative, marketing, financial, and creative sides all at the same time. It was taxing, and as a result took much more than a year to complete.

Q5. In the Slow Healing project you managed to capture very intimate conversations with your subjects (e.g., Jason). How did you gain that access?

Hida: My girlfriend recently told me that I’m a good reporter (she’s a magazine writer). I had no idea what she meant. I don’t know what reporters do. I never learned reporting skills. I don’t even know if I follow the ethical guidelines. I’m not saying I fabricate my reporting, or anything like that, but I do accept meals from my subjects, and I do nurture personal relationships with them. I remember an assignment for the Oregonian, where I was teamed up with a writer. She would refuse to eat even a cashew that was offered to her because it would compromise policy. Maybe it’s internal policy of her company, but I just remember thinking how odd that was. I usually gauge the rapport between my subject and I by an invitation to a meal. If they invite me to dinner, or ask me to put the camera down and sit down for lunch with them, then I know that we are developing the type of relationship that will allow me to capture very intimate moments that otherwise are inaccessible.

My girlfriend later explained to me what she meant by a good reporter. She said that I have the unique ability to make people relaxed and very comfortable with my presence. One of the first things I always do when I arrive at a subject’s house for the first time is ask for a cup of water, or ask to use the restroom. It’s a small act like this that helps to put the subject at ease. I think it communicates to them that ultimately I’m just as much human as they are. Working with subjects in sensitive settings requires a certain amount of trust building. I always make myself vulnerable to their questioning, and share equally intimate details of my life as I hope they will share with me. Breaking down those barriers and being myself opens doors that otherwise will never open. Half of this work is relationship building, from which I have developed great friendships over the years with subjects who to this day I still remain in contact with.

Q6. What gear do you use for your productions?

Hida: I shoot with a Canon 5D MKII for both stills and video.

I always record on a dual-audio system: recording externally on a Marantz PMD620 and feeding that audio track into my camera using a Sescom LN2MIC-PMD620 attenuation cable (it is very important to use an attenuation cable to feed any audio signals into the 5D MKII so you don’t fry the internal audio circuitry). I use a Rode VideoMicPro mounted in my hot shoe, fed into the right channel of a y-splitter cable that feeds into my audio recorder. I then feed in the audio signal of a Sennheiser ew100 G1 wireless lavalier microphone. I will then set the recording level of my Marantz to fall between -12 and -6 db, and set my internal recording level of the 5D MKII to mimic the exact same levels as my audio recorder. This results in very clean audio in the recorder, and a clean audio signal to the camera. However, bear in mind that the audio signal of the 5D MKII will inevitably have more hiss than that of your external recorder given the internal circuitry of the camera. In post production, when necessary (eg. for clean interview audio), I will sync the audio track from the recorder with the footage from the camera using PluralEyes. I also use a Rode NTG-2 microphone to collect ambient audio when necessary (using the same Marantz recorder), and to boom my interviews.

As far as rigging is concerned, I have bought a couple of solutions over the past year, including the Jag35 DSLR cage, and a Cavision shoulder rig (the cheapest shoulder rig I could find on the market). I would recommend playing around with a variety of rigging solutions in order to find something that works for you. It all depends on the style of your shooting, and in most cases one solution will not be the end-all-be-all solution. Luckily, all support systems are standard across the industry, which allows for interchangeability of parts between systems. In my case, I’ve disassembled both of those rigs to create my own low-profile rig that allows me to attach all of the equipment onto a single mount without a shoulder stock. I like to carry as little equipment with me as possible, and also prefer to shoot hand-held most of the time even though it yields less-than-steady results. However, I’ve come to embrace this style of shooting and found ways to brace myself and steady the camera. My workhorse lens is the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens, which has image stabilization that provides additional stabilization necessary without the shoulder rig. I also use a Glidetrack LCDVF viewfinder, which adds an additional point of contact and stabilization of the camera.

Finally, I use the 755 XB Manfrotto tripod with a 701 HDV head, which is probably the the best tripod ever made for video. The head is smooth as butter, but the greatest feature is the leveling head built into the tripod.

Q7. Have you developed your multimedia capabilities on your own – or have you tapped into any particularly good training resources?

Hida: I would love to say that I’ve developed my multimedia skills all by myself, but that would be a blatant lie. Tim Matsui introduced me to the audio tools and the digital realm. Video technique, sequencing, and editing was learned through a lot of practice in grad school at Syracuse University. Professor Bruce Strong is probably the most gifted teacher in visual journalism, and has been a tremendous influence and resource to help me build this skill set.

Visually, just watch TV, look at Vimeo, and learn from your peers and colleagues who are kicking butt. Learn to light by doing it. Learn to sequence, and edit by watching TV. There are definitely some set rules in traditional film making to follow (such as the 180 rule, and jump cuts) that can be learned from books. However, there is always a time and a place to break these rules.

I have been fortunate in grad school to be presented with a multitude of opportunities that have provided me with the chance to produce, produce, and produce. I easily become obsessive with my work, dedicating countless days, weeks, and months to shooting. But without this kind of determination and discipline, you will never push yourself to succeed. If you ever reach the point where you are satisfied with your work, you have reached a very dangerous tipping point in your career.

Q8. Where are you going from here?

Hida: Once I finish up my graduate work in December, I will be moving to New York City. My dream and goal for the past 4 years is to intern at Mediastorm. I have my sights set on this, though understand the competitive nature of this internship. Mediastorm, in my eyes, is defining multimedia storytelling in its practice, product, and viability as a business. However, if this does not work out, I will be looking to other positions both internships and jobs, where I can work for a smaller production house as a content gatherer and/or an editor. I hope to continue working on documentary work to tell compelling stories through–as best described by Mediastorm–cinematic narratives.

SAME Cafe – Project Notes

I’m starting a project to profile two owners of SAME Cafe in Denver, Colorado. SAME Cafe stands for “So All May Eat”, and offers high-quality, nutritious food on a “pay what you can” basis. Brad and Libby started SAME Cafe 5 years ago and are passionate about their restaurant and the community that they’ve built around that restaurant.

Jennifer at my day job lead me to the SAME Cafe when I enquired about interesting people working in the non-profit sector who might be interested in posing for a photographic portrait. Jennfier told me a little about SAME Cafe and suggested that I contact the owners. Brad and Libby were very accessible and willing to pose for a portrait; we had a great time one afternoon punching out a couple of versions where I could test some strobe lights.

I was intrigued enough with Brad and Libby’s restaurant to contact them again to see if they’d be up for a “video portrait”. I want to try out some editing techniques that Ed McNichol outlined in CreativeLIVE’s online workshop “Vincent Laforet: Introduction to HDDLSR Video.” Doing a quick profile of the SAME Cafe sounded like a good subject for that test. McNichol has developed a methodology to efficiently edit an interview video. I’ll describe the process in more detail in a later post, but basically it involves first building a “radio cut” of video sequences, focusing exclusively on the audio storyline, flow and pace, and then overlaying visuals on top of that audio foundation to build up the visual quality of the final production.

Step one was to record some interview segments. I scheduled an appointment with Brad and Libby to record audio and video interviews about the origins and motive behind setting up SAME Cafe. I used my Canon T2i to capture video (I was really only looking for an introductory head shot to introduce both Brad and Libby as narrators), and my Marantz PD661 with a lav mic to record separate audio. In this first session I recorded about 35 minutes total audio recording.

I’ve just submitted the transcription job out for bid on Elance. Although transcribing 30 minutes of recorded audio wouldn’t take too long, it would be just another thing to do. I also want to line up a transcriber who can help with future jobs and take that element off my plate.

Next up: Ed McNichol’s approach to building a “radio cut” as an audio foundation.

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.

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.

Interview: Patrick Reis

I found Patrick Reis offering a workshop on HDSLR filmmaking at StudentFilmmakers in New York. Unfortunately, I’m in Denver and NYC trips are hard to fit in, but the workshop sounded interesting, so I contacted Patrick to see if he would participate in an online interview.

Patrick’s career can be traced back to the mid ’90s independent film scene in New York City. He was lucky enough to secure a solid background in film before the digital video revolution exploded and began to dominate the indie market. The majority of his work is commercial but his love of storytelling has drawn him to more narrative projects. Patrick’s clients include ESPN, Nickelodeon, Fox Sports, Canon USA, BETJ, and various independent production companies such as Wonder Wheel Media and Masterlink Films where he is a founding member. A few samples of Patrick’s work can be seen here: Road to Roubaix (shot with Panasonic video cameras); Empire Crush (music video shot with a Panasonic video camera); New York Bartending School (promotional video, shot with a Canon DSLR).

Patrick has shot with 16mm and 35mm cameras as well as myriad video cameras including Canon HDSLRs. Although Patrick has spent the majority of his time behind the camera, he teaches video production workshops at IFP, DCTV, Student Filmmakers and master classes at Frank Sinatra High School.

Q1. How did you get started shooting documentaries?

Reis: My introduction to shooting documentaries was a bit of a surprise. I went to film school and the focus was almost completely on narrative storytelling which is where my interests were (and still are to a large degree). I worked on narrative shorts and features for years with a few TV shows in between. Then in 2006 I was working at the SilverDocs film festival and became friends with the graphic designer, Dave Cooper. He proposed a concept for a movie about a French bike race and we discussed it casually while we were working together. One day he asked me if I had any thoughts or opinions about this project. He liked my ideas so later that week he introduced me to his partner, David Deal, and I was officially on the team. We shot two movies, a short and feature length documentary the following year.

Q2. Apart from exotic destinations, what are your keys to crafting a good documentary?

Reis: My feeling is that most good documentaries are part education and also part entertainment. I often find myself asking the question would anyone pay to watch this for one or two hours? There are many stories that should be told and need to be told but in order to reach an audience you need to have an element of entertainment in them. Two hours of talking heads and stats on the screen aren’t memorable. Intriguing subplots and interesting b-roll help keep the audience invested.

In recent years I’ve noticed a growing interest in voyeuristic style movies. Reality television has tapped into this audience preference to great success. If you look at documentaries from thirty and forty years ago, they were always trying to give the audience the feeling of discrete observation but a 16mm camera with a clap slate and boom operator didn’t allow the subject to relax and actions felt staged (and they probably sometimes were). If you can give your audience an unbiased look into someone’s life, career or tragedy then you’ve got yourself a compelling documentary that will hold the audiences’ attention and stay with them.

Q3. You say you’re going to use DSLRs to shoot these films. Are DSLRs well-suited to that type of work? (This is something I struggle with personally: the DSLR has great capabilities, but it’s a bit finicky. Not as easy to work with as some videocams, for example. If you’ve got just one chance to capture activity – as in documentaries or event coverage – you can miss your chance by using finicky gear. Why are you opting for DSLRs?)

Reis: My opinion is that if you are comfortable shooting with DSLRs then they are well-suited to any type of work. If you want to use a remarkable piece of equipment then you have to know it’s limitations, what it can do and how to use it. The bottom line is DSLRs are real movie cameras. They should be treated with respect and used properly.

I often compare shooting with DSLRs to using film whether it be 16mm or 35mm. Shooting film requires the shooter to be more aware of the camera and therefore it’s more difficult to just “point and shoot”. You are absolutely correct in saying that DSLRs are not as easy to use as some video cameras and if your comfort level isn’t very good with DSLRs and you feel that it could jeopardize your movie by missing shots, etc. then I would suggest using a video camera that you are more comfortable with. I’m not sure that finicky is the right word to use when describing DSLRs but I understand why you use that word. I think formidable could be the word I’m looking for?
I’m very comfortable using DSLRs to record video partly because of my background with film. I’m not the only one choosing to use DSLRs for these documentaries, the producer and director are requesting them.

Regarding these documentaries, my first reason for choosing the DSLR is image quality. They look more cinematic than any other camera that our budget can afford. Second is price and size. I can now bring five or six cameras with me instead of one or two. This will allow me to use multiple camera operators and cover events from many different POVs. I’m also covered if a camera is lost or broken. Third is the footprint. Often these cameras are ignored and by that I mean people don’t see them as video cameras so you’re able to get some uninterrupted, real action. Video cameras tend to attract attention and once people know they are being recorded they tend to change their behavior. Several of these documentaries will feature young children so having a small camera makes them more comfortable. Fourth has to be the low-light capabilities of the camera. If you take the large sensor and put a really fast lens on the body, you can get some well exposed images without introducing too much noise. I am not an advocate of shooting without lights but I know that there will be times in a documentary where you cannot bring lights into the situation.

Q4. What other core gear do you use for documentary work? (e.g., audio, lighting, stabilizing systems for the DSLR, etc)

Reis: First and foremost is an external monitor. The LCD screen on the back of the DSLR isn’t very accurate and I’ve run into trouble a few times when I depended on that LCD screen so an external monitor is key. Some people like using a loupe but I still find exposure and focus difficult to judge. I use the SmallHD monitor because of the false colors option and focus assist. The monitor is compact, durable and loaded with other features so I like using them.

If you can’t get a monitor with exposure assistance, then break out the old light meter. I still have my old analog Sekonic and I am so happy to be using it again.

ND filters are going to save your life. If you have any exterior shots you’ll find yourself stopping down to 11 or 16 or more and sometimes that still won’t be enough. Once you’ve lost your beautiful, cinematic shallow depth of field, you’ll wish you had a ND filter. Still photographers don’t have this issue as much because they can adjust shutter speed to compensate for overexposure.

I try to bring some prime lenses along with my zooms. Zooms are easier in documentary work if you have lots of live action that will require you to be adjusting the focal length while shooting. Primes are important to me because they are always much faster and that extra stop or two can be a life saver in low light situations.

Audio is a tricky subject. I like to have camera mounted shotgun microphones for some of my handheld work but I really prefer my microphones closer to the subject. I find that using a separate recording device is best but if you need a quick turnaround then a XLR adapter like the BeachTek or juicedLink models are best. Make sure you are familiar with them because it’s easy to make mistakes with the XLR adapters.

Using fast compact flash cards or fast SD cards is key to getting that extra hour of sleep. I always go for the faster cards even though they cost more. Every documentary filmmaker knows those evenings that turn into late nights because you’re waiting to empty all of the cards onto a hard drive. Fast cards (and a fast card reader) will shave off those minutes that become hours. Just to clarify, when I say fast cards I mean something faster than the minimum. If you use CF cards, you only need 8 MB/s but I get cards that transfer at 90 MB/s and you see the difference when you’re transferring onto your drive at the end of the day.

It’s been said one too many times but you have to have a solid hard drive. This is where your work will live. After you add up all of the money and time spent on it, not to mention events that sometimes can only happen once, the hard drive has to be a rock. My favorite hard drives are the portable OWC drives. Not only are they durable but their customer service is amazing with a real live human being at the other end of their 800 number. You just can’t beat having a live technical person available to you if something goes wrong.

I could go on and on about gear that I like to bring with me. I’m thinking of doing some small POV style movies of my prep days so people can see what I’m bringing. A couple of filmmakers have asked me to do a double-check of their gear so it’s definitely something documentary filmmakers are interested in.

The most important tool that a filmmaker can bring to a set is patience. Filmmaking, whether it’s a documentary or narrative, never goes as planned and a cool head and good sense of humor is the best way to keep things moving forward at the proper speed for maximum efficiency and eventual success.

Creative; Fun; Enjoy

Here’s an unusual (and creative) storyline treatment.

Some background information from the creator Ben Crowell:

Q: Where did the idea come from?

Crowell: The idea came very randomly when Joel Marsh (co-director) and I were talking about ideas for the festival. The idea started out as something totally different; it was about a man trying to see his newborn child and then through chatting, it evolved into a reversal film and then into the romantic piece that it is now. It just emphasizes the cliche that no idea is a bad idea. The most banal idea has potential to turn into something really beautiful.

Q: How did you go about producing it? (all within 48 hrs?, formality – eg., storyboarding or more freeform? stuff like that)

Crowell: In terms of the film’s creation, we really didn’t have much time, so we made an idea list and then from that a loose shot list and then we ran out to get it done! It was a ton of fun, very small crew–everyone on camera also worked behind the camera. Our friend Luke Bradford wrote the music after I told him the general feel we were looking for. We were so happy with what he came up with.

Q: You did this on the 5d, correct? What other equipment are you using with that? (audio recorder/mics? camera rigs?)

Crowell: Yes, we used the 5d. Other than that, just a tripod and a paint can tied to a stick for a steady cam. We had some nice sound equipment too, although we ended up taking almost all of the sound out. The music was actually just recorded on a laptop microphone.

Q: You’re using the 5d – did you start out as a still guy and move into motion?

Crowell: Honestly, Joel and I have always been movie people. Joel is actually just adding photography to his repertoire now. It’s his 5d and he got it specifically for movie making.

Q: How are you finding using a DSLR to make short films?

Crowell: DSLRs are excellent in my opinion. Definitely no complaints, so far. Really good quality and beautiful colors. The microphone could be better, but that’s far from a deal-breaker.

Q: What would you regard as “the perfect gear” for making films?

Crowell: Perfect gear would be some lovely 70mm cameras with big lights and the works. More realistically, a Canon DSLR with some solid lenses and good sound equipment are ideal.

Q: The “48 hour Project”: How often have you participated? What was the experience like?

Crowell: This is our 4th 48 film. I found out about it from my neighbor and fellow filmmaker Scott Palmer. He had won the Boston 48 and thought it would be something I would enjoy. He was definitely right. It’s a great incentive to get people together to make a film without a daunting commitment. It was an excellent experience. Stress-free, fun and exciting. The stunts were tons of fun, although it was a very, very cold day. We finished with about 10 hours to spare as well. We simply had fun, and very talented people all together and that’s really the key ingredient to making a decent film. If it’s too tense, no one’s going to be on their game, so I try to keep it as loose and enjoyable as possible on set. We came out with some fairly wild stories from a really magnificent experience.

Interview: Margaret Cheatham Williams

Margaret Cheatham Williams gives us two deeply-felt pieces revolving around her grandmother who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.  The first video, entitled “Goodnight Moon,” focuses on the story of William’s grandmother Dutchie and the people who surrounded her and cared for her.

The second project, entitled “Free,” centers in on Rosa, Dutchie’s caretaker who grew to be a close friend of Dutchie during the months they spent together.

 

Q: What attracted you to these stories? What were you originally trying to accomplish?
Williams: First, I should explain that I created “Goodnight Moon” for my Documentary Photojournalism class at UNC Chapel Hill.  I watched a similar project produced by my professor, Pat Davidson, where he documented his mother’s struggle with Alzheimers.   The subject of “Goodnight Moon,” my grandmother Dutchie, was a constant presence in my life – and sadly, her Parkinson’s began when I was fairly young.  As the eldest grandchild, I felt as if I knew her the best, and I had a responsibility to preserve her memory for my family.  It was a challenge to watch her decline and to feel that I may have been using my camera as a buffer to the pain, but I now understand what the process truly meant for our relationship and my appreciation for the immense beauty in her life.

“Free” began, in some respects, as a follow up to the original “Goodnight Moon.”  After Dutchie died, I fought with the issue and meaning of grief.  I knew I wanted to approach the emotions and space that were created in my grandmother’s absence, but I wasn’t quite sure from which angle to proceed.  Rosa (the primary voice in “Free”) is amazing – and she continues to do so much to hold my family together.  The original idea was not to do a story but to record Rosa singing the hymns to add to the conclusion of “Goodnight Moon.”  But it was far too beautiful and she had far too much to say to simply tack it on. I also didn’t want to affect the integrity of the original piece, as the uncertainty of Dutchie’s condition was such a factor in the piece. It seemed to almost cloud the original intent, to place such a finite and concrete ending as her funeral. I guess in my head, I wasn’t quite ready to put her to rest.

Q: How formal is your process? (storyboarding, shot lists – or more free-form?)
Williams: My process for “Goodnight Moon” was more formal than I am accustomed to.  In school we were taught a form of storyboarding that is fairly structured, and extremely helpful in charting the course of long-term work.  The project “road map” is a form of outline that allows for thematic structuring of a story, with areas to be filled with corresponding content as the project progresses.

Generally I do not like to approach a story with a preconceived notion of the result, but in this case, with my own family, I thought I understood the most complex issues of the story well before I began to shoot.

QUESTION: How would you describe your process for “Free”?
Williams: My process for “Free” was extremely loose in comparison – Like I said, I had no real intention of turning my initial visit with Rosa into anything substantive. I thought she would be an incredible addition, but she really surprised me. I thought I wasn’t ready to hear her reflections of Dutchie, or perhaps that she wasn’t ready to share, but all she felt was love for my grandmother. She had an understanding that I hadn’t quite reached – She was grieving her loss, but she was far more at peace with the fact that Dutchie was no longer in pain.

I had no plan – no storyboard for that one. I asked her only a few questions and let her talk – She had a far better understanding of what it meant to “take care” of someone, that meant a lot to me and to the story.

Q: How much time did you spend on these two projects?
Williams:  Storyboarding, photographing/recording and editing “Goodnight Moon” took about four months.

I went home to Charlotte almost every weekend during the fall semester to work on it, in an attempt to gather as much content and spend as much time with them as I could. The structure of our class demanded that we turn in weekly shoots, which we then discussed and edited as a class. Towards the end of the semester I began to sift through the audio and video and stills – I interviewed my grandfather and aunt once each. I then listened to their audio and began to build a story in transcripts. I ended up creating both the multimedia piece and a still edit of the project.

For the production of “Free,” logistics made it possible for me to shoot with Rosa just twice.  I first went to Rosa’s home with the intention to shoot a video portrait of the hymn that she sang during Dutchie’s funeral.  I conducted the interview by chance, in about thirty minutes before she left for church.  I asked her if she had anything she wanted to say while the camera was still rolling.

Bits and pieces of the “Free” story were shot during the original process of “Goodnight Moon,” and some additional B-roll for “Free” was shot at my grandparent’s home on the day of my grandmother’s birthday.

Q: What type of equipment did you use for images and audio?
Williams: In both “Goodnight Moon” and “Free” I used the Canon 5 D Mark II and a Seinheiser lavaliere mic on the lapel with a Marantz external audio recorder and a Rode mic as back up.  I synched the audio in post with a software program called Plural Eyes.  In Rosa’s case, there is a bit of audio cleaning in Soundtrack Pro.

Q: What was the most difficult part of these projects? (planning, image/audio capture, interviewing, post, etc)
Williams: I would say the most difficult part of the “Free” story for me was not process-related or technical – instead, it was difficult for me to hear Rosa talk about my grandmother.  They had a bond that was indescribable, and it was an emotional and daunting task to sift back through four months of material with my grandmother to fill in the missing pieces.

For “Goodnight Moon” I knew that the story of my grandmother was something that meant a great deal to me, and that I wanted it to be my concentration while I had the greatest amount of time that I had been given for any project to date. I wanted to make it meaningful, however, I soon realized that I had no true understanding of what the true story actually was. The piece, in my head, soon evolved from a story about her condition and the difficulties of disease and aging, to the story of a family and the complexity of relationships.

My professor and mentor Chad Stevens was an enormous presence in this story for me. There were several times when I felt like it was far too emotional to continue – He taught me to be patient, to listen.

My aunt Katie, who is featured in Goodnight Moon, is like a sister to me. All of my family was incredibly involved in the care of my grandmother, but her situation was unique in that she lived three hours away.

I wouldn’t understand the value of family or story telling without the support of my family.

Q: Looking beyond these two projects, I see that you are producing both videos and still photography. Which do you prefer? Are you finding that one is better suited than the other for particular things?
Williams:I began shooting stills in school, but it wasn’t long before I began to shoot primarily video. I suppose I naturally gravitated towards video in a progression mandated by necessity and the changing face of technology and media, but it is something that I have really come to enjoy.

I appreciate the value, the contained emotion in a still photograph– the ability to capture a moment with intricate layers and complexity.

I worry that sometimes with multimedia, audio can be used as a crutch – to mend imagery that doesn’t quite convey a story. My attempt is to layer audio, visuals, video and stills in a way that is most similar to the layers in a photo. Personally I am compelled and driven by voice, and the first person representation of a story. I thoroughly enjoy talking to people and to me it seems most natural to have them express their thoughts in their own words.

Q: In a given story, what drives your choice between still photography and video?
Williams: In choosing between stills and video – I think the motion is the most important factor. Video thrives on details and motion, and stills on moments, light, and composition – interaction. For me, however, it can be difficult to choose… Allowing a moment to unfold on video, to me, is extremely powerful.

Q: I see that you’ve attended some immersion courses – was that experience worthwhile?
Williams: Though I began as a staff photographer and assistant photo editor for our campus newspaper, my most influential experiences have been immersive. Enthusiasm for this work is contagious, and I have been incredibly lucky to have the guidance and support of driven and talented mentors. In situations like the Carolina Photojournalism Workshop and The Mountain Workshops facilitated by Western Kentucky, I was plunged into a culture of dedication, inspiration and energy. I would highly recommend these programs to anyone hoping to expand.

Q. Where are you going from here? Any projects in the works? Things you want to tackle?
Williams: I will return to school in the fall to shoot primarily stills, because I think that still photography is the basis of all good video. I worry that I jumped some of the fundamentals of composition, moment, and elements that make a good photography.

I am currently a video intern at the Washington Post, and though I just started, I am thoroughly enjoying the people and the types of stories that I have been assigned. I have a deep desire to explore the depths of mental health – which I have started to approach in a piece I just finished, Four Seconds, that was shot as part of the Hearst Journalism Championship in San Francisco.

I would really like to push to better understand the complexities of mental health and the systems in place to manage our well being as a community.

I am extremely lucky that these people have allowed me into their lives to try to tell their story, and I so very much appreciate their understanding and support!