Stillmotion: Visual Storytelling Instruction

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

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

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

Audio Storytelling Workshop

Transom.org, an organization that I would characterize as an “audio thinktank”, has just announced a 3-week “traveling” workshop to be held in New York Aug 12-30, 2013. Applications to this workshop will be accepted up to April 30th. A website with additional information is: http://transom.org/?p=33839, or by clicking the image below:

This 3-week documentary workshop will be co-sponsored by Transom.org, The Bronx Documentary Center and the Manhattan Neighborhood Network. The class format will be:

Week 1: Participants will be introduced to folklore and oral history approaches. They will also identify potential story ideas for the following weeks.

Week 2: Audio Boot Camp. Participants will learn basic audio skills such as: using field recording gear, approaching and interviewing strangers, writing for radio, voicing narration, digital editing basics. Each student will produce a vox pop and a promo. Audio Boot Camp will be taught be Sarah P. Reynolds (an independent producer and regular Transom instructor).

Week 3: Audio Narrative. This week will build on the audio skills learned in Boot Camp and will focus on storytelling as well as field recording, interview techniques, multitrack editing, and script writing. Participants will produce a short broadcast-quality piece about a creative person. The Audio Narrative portion of the workshop will be taught by Rob Rosenthal (founder of Transom.org).

Transom’s intensive “boot camp” workshops typically run for 2 months, so this 3-week format is somewhat unusual. But the organization is experimenting with some shorter-format classes (such as two 1-week workshops for which, unfortunately, the registration deadlines have already past).

The Art of Storytelling (audio course)

I’m listening in to an audio course entitled The Art of Storytelling, offered through the online company The Great Courses (www.thegreatcourses.com).

The Art of Storytelling consists of 24 lectures, each 30 minutes, which I listen to during my commute. The instructor is Hannah B. Harvey, a professional storyteller and performance artist. Dr. Harvey holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies/Communication Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and she is now an adjunct professor at East Tennessee State University.

As a performance ethnographer, Professor Harvey develops oral histories into theatrical and solo storytelling works. Her stories highlight the experiences of contemporary Appalachian people. More important to me, Dr. Harvey is an engaging, fun speaker to listen to. While The Art of Storytelling course is primarily directed at oral storytelling, I’m finding applications to multimedia storytelling.

Yesterday’s lecture, for example, walked through the ways to use time in storytelling to focus the audience on specific elements of the teller’s story. In addition to using just “scene time” (where time in storytelling approximates actual time), Dr. Harvey described techniques to slow time & accelerate time for dramatic effect. Dr. Harvey also illustrated ways to mix past tense, present tense and future tense in storytelling for creative purposes. I’m finding the lectures interesting: they bring up topics that I don’t normally think about.

Today’s lecture focused on the narrator’s role and tools available to the narrator such as switching between “closed focus” (the story’s details in the “then and there”) and “open focus” (the narrator’s connection with the audience in the “here and now”). Again, this discussion was interesting because I wasn’t conscious of how “closed focus”/”open focus” could be used creatively – but as soon as Dr. Harvey mentioned it I thought of Woody Allen’s opening sequence in Annie Hall. In Annie Hall, Woody first speaks directly to the audience (“open focus”) about the characters, setting and background of his film, and then Woody flips himself into a character (“closed focus”) for most of the film. Occasionally we hear Woody as narrator addressing the audience directly. It’s a nice illustration of Dr. Harvey’s “closed focus”/”open focus” narration technique.

I recommend this course, particularly if you have long hours to kill (like during a commute). You can get a sample of the product on the course website page. I also recommend that you wait for the course on sale. I paid $35 for the audio download during one of their periodic sales, but I see that right now that same audio download version costs $130. Finally, I got the audio download but there are a few spots in the lectures where video would be beneficial.

MediaStorm – Online Training

MediaStorm offers web-based multimedia training. I’m going through the 1-year “all access” subscription for all existing training modules (plus any additional modules they put out within the next 12 months). Obviously there’s some risk (maybe they won’t post any additional training), but based on the reputation of MediaStorm and the multimedia stories that I’ve seen them produce, I took that risk. I felt additional modules would be gravy; I gambled that $199 is worth what’s already out there.

I’m so-so on the products so far.

The MediaStorm online training is broken into modules. There is a “Reporting Track” (covering audio, stills and video for multimedia) that was, frankly, not particularly insightful. Most of that information is already available online or through other sources. I don’t think the content in that one “Reporting Track” module warrants the separate $99 price tag (if you buy it alone).

In addition to the “Reporting Track” there is a “Post-Production” track. I haven’t gone through that module.

I did, however, listen to “The Making Of: Surviving the Peace” which was flat-out outstanding. That module is a steal at $50 (if you buy it separately). Rick Gershon and Brian Storm take viewers through the 18-minute “Surviving the Peace” film, dissecting the structure and techniques employed in capture and editing. It is really, really interesting to see all the decisions made in the course of building this film. Get this!

The online subscription also entitles subscribers to two additional “The Making Of” modules:

  • The Making Of: A Thousand More, and
  • The Making Of: The Amazing Amy

I’ve started “The Making Of: A Thousand More” and I’m not as impressed with it yet as with “Surviving the Peace.” I have a way to go, so I don’t want to judge the quality prematurely, but it looks to me as if MediaStorm launched this “A Thousand More” module before the “Surviving the Peace” module — and they improved the training module in the second round. The earlier module isn’t divided into logical segments, and I don’t find the exhange between the producers as crisp and insightful. But as I said, I’m just starting so I’m still hopeful.

I’ll keep you posted.

StillMotion’s KNOW Workshop


 

I recently attended a multimedia/filmmaking workshop put on by Toronto-based StillMotion. The company is hosting 36 workshops in cities around North America in the Fall of 2012. I recommend attending one of the storytelling skills sessions (roughly 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM). (I didn’t find the evening editing session to be as good: if you’re new to editing I think it would flow too quickly and if you’re familiar with editing I think you’d be familiar with most of what they covered.)

Here’s what I liked:

  • StillMotion’s presenters were experienced and very competent. I was very, very impressed with their work product: both wedding films and commercial work. (And StillMotion’s commercial clients are pretty “premier”, like Showtime, Callaway, the NFL, etc.).
  • StillMotion emphasized connecting EMOTIONALLY to subjects/characters being filmed.
  • StillMotion provided a step-by-step walk-through of two projects (a wedding highlights film and a commercial project), plus they discussed a third feature-length film project in detail. This was really interesting, as they took us through how the projects originated, how they worked with clients to prepare for the shoots, specific decisions they made when shooting and editing the films — and the rationale behind these decisions.
  • The presenters were young and enthusiastic. Helpful over a long workshop (which started at 9:00 AM and finished at 9:30 PM).
  • The presentation format was relaxed and informal.
  • StillMotion stressed using tools and techniques for specific purposes, not just for cool effects. They repeated that message often to drive the point home.
  • StillMotion demo’ed the equipment they use, including a simple DSLR filmmaking kit they typically use “for 90% of a shoot”.

If you can attend the one-day workshop I think you’ll come away impressed.  Even if you’re familiar with a lot of the gear and techniques, these folks do outstanding work and you’ll learn from how a commercial shop approaches it’s clients and keeps production humming along.

 

Ryan Libre and Documentary Arts Asia

I recently heard an interview with Ryan Libre on The Candid Frame Podcast (www.thecandidframe.com – well worth investigating). I was impressed with Ryan’s interest in documentary photography. He discussed in particular his project to document the Kachin culture and independence movement (winner of the 2010 Nikon Inspiration Award).

Ryan also discussed his work forming Documentary Arts Asia (www.doc-arts.asia), which is a non-profit organization located in Chiang Mai, Thailand and working regionally. When I looked into Documentary Arts Asia (“DAA”) I was REALLY impressed and decided to contact Ryan for an interview to learn more about what he’s doing.

Ryan was raised in Northern California but now calls Chiang Mai, Thailand, his home. He has lived in various parts of Asia for over 10 years, having first started his photography career with a self-assigned project to document the largest national park in Japan. In addition to founding and running DAA, Ryan teaches photography workshops and continues his photographic projects.

Q1. Looking back on your experience as a documentary photographer, what skills and attributes do you think best equip a person to be successful?

Libre: To be a successful documentary photographer you need curiosity, passion and 12+ hours days. On top of that to be any kind of successful photographer you need to balance technical mastery and creativity. Many people are too far to one side.

Q2. You started out as a photographer, but now it looks like a lot of your time is spent helping others develop skills at or actually produce documentary work. Why the transformation?

Libre: Why is a huge question, but in a nutshell because it is deeply needed. Especially in the places like Kachin State where i am shooting myself and teaching as well.

Q3. Do you find producing and helping others produce to be equally satisfying?

Libre: Yes, and in many cases more satisfying. When i see my students get shots that would be hard for even myself to get or giving someone their first solo exhibition. These are a few of the many rewarding moments.

Q4. You formed DAA in 2008. What were your original ideas for the organization? How have your ideas evolved since 2008?

Libre: My original goals were to start to shift the documentary production from visitors who stay a few hours or maybe days to locals who live there and also shift the output of the projects that are taken from major international hubs to regional hubs close to where the story was shot and to the area being documented itself.

The plan has not changed goals really but has grown in scope a lot. I found just teaching was not enough to keep people engaged. Teaching plus a gallery to show the students and others work was more appealing. Then I added grants, then an artist in residence, then a library, then a theatre, then a festival, then an agency, now a publishing house and on and on. The more I added programs the more interesting it got and the more they supported each other.

Q5. Part of DAA’s charter is to “assist with the production and promotion of documentary projects which exist outside the standard remit of mainstream media, particularly those which represent the needs of marginalized communities and under-reported issues.” Is the assistance you provide primarily technical (such as teaching photography/video/storytelling skills) or exchanging ideas/advising/critiquing work as it develops? What types of projects have developed with DDA’s help?

Libre: The assistance DAA gives is broad and deep. It goes far beyond technical. We train, mentor, critique, make connections, support gear loans, scholarships to other workshops, provide funding, give outlets for completed work, sell work to give the artists funds and inspiration and much more.

Nothing to too basic or too big for us. DAA teaches people how to upload a photo to the web to connecting new artists with the best galleries in Asia, what ever is needed at that time for that person.

Much of the programming comes from a list I made of things that would have helped me a lot 10+ years ago when I was getting started. I tried to make everything on the list available to others.

Q6. It looks like DAA has a broad scope: gallery operations, an annual festival, workshops, a theatre to offer film screenings, an artist-in-residence program, etc. Which offerings are in highest demand? Are most participants local residents, or are you drawing people in from outside of Thailand? Is there anything you still want to offer but haven’t yet put in place?

Libre: DAA’s events are the most popular, we bring in directors and photographers to show and speak about their films and projects and that is always special and usually brings in 50-300 people. Our festival, the Chiang Mai Documentary Arts festival, brought in a huge crowd from all over Asia the first year. Next year’s festival looks to be even much bigger and better. www.cdaf.asia As much as we offer there are still many more programs I have plans to implement, but with no outside funding we are at the very max now.

Q7. You launched your artist-in-residence program in late 2011. How has that been received? Will the program change over time? What are your long-term plans for the artist-in-residence program?

Libre: Artist in residence programs are very new in Asia, especially SE asia and i dont know another documentary photography AIR in Asia. So we are spearheading this on many levels. All things considered it was well received, but we will work hard to make it even better next year. Long term plans are for the program to include a documentary photographer and film maker at the same time and also to make it four times a year. So a revolving door, as one AIR leaves the next one is coming and we have a big welcome / farewell party 4 times a year.

Q8. On a personal level, with so much going on with DAA, do you have time to photograph? What current projects are you working on?

Libre: I still shoot quite a lot all things considered. I am still actively shooting my 5-year project with the Kachin Independence Organization in Burma and some assignments as well. DAA is based on a team and community who all support our core goals and help out, so I still put in a huge number of hours but can walk away from time to time and trust the team and community who all want to see DAA succeed as much as I do.

Q9. How can people get involve or support DAA?

Libre: Many ways, like buying a print from our online gallery, or license an image from our photo agency. We also have a crowd-funding campaign to fund the first DAA photobook and documentary DVD, donate a book from our wishlist. Finally, we are a registered NGO, but we have no grants as of now. We’re always interested in potential grants to apply for to help fund some of our programs.

Three New Training Workshops

Three additional workshops – two covering DSLR video – came to my attention this week. I’ve added them to the “Multimedia Training” tab, but here’s a quick snapshot:

Poynter/NewsU presents Video Storytelling with the Pros on Oct 15. “Spend a day in this video workshop learning how award-winning professionals work through the storytelling process. Learn their go-to tricks, whether they’re reporting solo or lighting a subject under pressure. See how they lay out their story with and without narration. Look inside their bags. Hear their tips. And apply them to your videography.”

The Get In Motion Tour brings instruction to 30 cities nationwide this fall. Check out the schedule of locations for this 4 1/2 hour workshop put on by Jeff Medford and Ross Hockrow. $49/$59 per person.

Photo District News (PDN) offers a HDSLR Video Workshops in Oct/Nov 2011 in New York, D.C. and LA. $450 per person for each session. The workshop goal is to “remove any technical apprehensions about creating videos.”

Topic Added: Multimedia Training

I’ve added another page, called “Multimedia Training”. In this area I’ve listed various training resources (online, workshops, and more formal, semester-long courses) on multimedia topics. I’ll update this periodically. And please post any comments re: your experience with any of these training offerings. (It’s easy to offer training, but difficult to actually deliver good training.)