You don’t have to work in a major market to tell great stories.
That’s the take-away message for nearly 60 media professionals after two days of NATAS-Upper Midwest workshops in Bismarck and Fargo North Dakota on March 4th & 5th, 2011.
Small Market Success
Bob Lindee from Minot, ND is a perfect example that you don’t have to live or work in a major market to win awards. Lindee grew up in North Dakota and moved to California to work in TV in LA and Hollywood. Bob chose to move back to his hometown and now he has worked on two Emmy-Award winning projects with his company Results Unlimited.
Lindee shared clips of the 2006 Emmy-Award Winning program “Breath of Heaven/Life of Hell”, the story of meth in North Dakota at the Fargo workshop.
“This program showed how meth is a bigger problem in America’s rural communities on a per-capita basis than major cities,” Lindee said. “Our program caught the eye of the federal government which now uses our program to educate people in other rural communities,” Lindee added.
Lindee and the rest of the team at Results Unlimited now compete against major market production companies with budgets ten times that of his company, and they are getting big projects.
Watching & Learning
“Instead of trying to impress people with what “big-city” reporters do, we showed the possibilities for great story-telling in a small market. It was real advice for real life situations,” Hannan said.
“I really appreciated the discussion on creatively framing interviews and looking for nat sound opportunities’,” said Amanda Tetlak, Political Reporter and Anchor at KFYR-TV. “I really enjoy using nat sound, but I never thought to clip a wireless mic to my ankle while walking through a wheat field,” said Tetlak. “I felt that even though the Emmy award-winning stories we looked at took a lot of time and work, there were little things reporters could take away from them and use them in everyday stories, said Teltak.
“Attending a workshop like this re-ignites that passion,” said Marci Narum who is an Anchor/Reporter with KXMB-TV in Bismarck. “My battle cry in the newsroom is “Teamwork!”…so I consumed your tips not just for myself, but for the good of our team. What I might forget…I hope someone else will remember and share as we move forward trying to improve what we do here together every day, said Narum.
Bob Dambach couldn’t agree more. Dambach is the Director of Television at Prairie Public Broadcasting and NATAS-Upper Midwest Board of Governor’s Representative. Bob hosted the workshop at his station in Fargo.
“This workshop series is so important to professionals in small markets,” said Dambach. “Good stories are waiting to be told everywhere, including small towns and farms. Just gather the right characters, words, video and sound and you can spin it into gold,” Dambach added.
Bob Lindee from Results Unlimited offers his tips for high-quality production on a small budget.
Gear: Have enough on hand to be able to do every-day jobs, but don’t go crazy. Get to know the people at a rental facility. The industry is at a point where unless your last name is Lucas or Spielberg, you have to be thinking about budget. Nobody can afford to get the latest and greatest camera every time they come out, or you’d be buying a new camera every 6 months. We rent all the time. When we do a big shoot and know we need more gear or a specialty item, we rent. And we’re not afraid to tell our clients either, because in the end, it keeps their costs down as well. Minneapolis has a fantastic resource in CineQuipt, and we use those guys all the time. They’re knowledgeable, have fantastic well maintained gear, and the price is right.
Play: Take advantage of any extra moments you have on set to tweak lighting and keep an eye out for ways to improve not only that set-up, but future lighting scenarios as well. Or for those days when you’ve got some real downtime, find a soda can and try to make it look like the best looking can of soda you’ve ever seen in a commercial. Go shoot wild-life on full manual focus (or a hockey game, dance recital, etc.) The more you can practice shooting manually, the less you have to rely on auto focus. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself not using it at all.
Training and Research: I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay on top of this game since the technology changes every single day. NAB has fantastic resources for training, plus the bonus of it being a gigantic candy store for video nerds on the show floor. Creative Cow and the dozens and dozens of seminars throughout the country offer fantastic opportunities to go and learn the latest techniques. Local stores in Minneapolis like CineQuipt and Alpha Video offer seminars to show off new products. Certainly the internet is a cornucopia of information. Not a day goes buy that I’m not in one forum or another either asking a question or giving advice to someone else seeking an answer. My three favorites are Creative Cow, The Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group, and Apple Support Discussions.
Watch how the pros do it: Take a moment and study any additional segments included with DVDs you are watching. You can pick up some amazing tips and then research budget minded ways of pulling them off the internet. Also, if you go on vacation anywhere near L.A., call the studios and find out if they have passes to get in and check out a set. Very often all it takes is a phone call to get a tour of a particular production. If you belong to an affiliate, use your connections at the network to get in.
Specific – Lighting: Controlling light ( i.e. getting rid of it) is just as important is bringing it in. We have found cinefoil, moving blankets and c-stands to be invaluable. You have to be able to control color temperature, and it’s really hard to do if you have tungsten fixtures but have overheads flourescents you can’t turn off and sunlight pouring through a tinted window. Moving blankets are cheap, durable and can double as padding for your gear during transit.
Diffused and indirect light: Whether it’s using a Chimera or a larger 6’x6′ silk or bouncing the light off of a ceiling, diffused light tends to look more natural. Even when using flourescent lighting we often diffuse the key light during an interview. Use your eye and constantly evaluate whether you are moving towards your desired effect. More and more we find ourselves (with caution) shooting directly into a light source, when a situation calls for it. Very often our DP will blow lights through a silk in the background of a setting to give a particular look of warmth or serenity.
Specific – Shooting: Does your camera have a full auto selection where you can point and shoot? Our suggestion: DONT use it. You’re a professional now. Know how to control your camera, all of its functions, along with its limitations and strengths.
Set your gain switches so that if you need to add gain, you have to manually go into a menu to get it. It can be extremely difficult to notice if you’ve gained up too high by accident in a tiny LCD monitor, and you may not know you’ve accidentally knocked a switch into a gain until your editor is yelling at you a day later.
You can still create depth of field with a fixed lens camera – there are many tricks to doing this. Distance between camera, subject and background are the easiest to manipulate, but if you don’t have room, try a neutral density filter. Using a ND filter can allow you to open up the lens and get a shallower depth of field.
Move: With the exception of interviews and general news, our cameras are always moving. Dolly, jib, SteadyCam or shoulder, you want to create that illusion of the viewer being involved in the shot. Be careful, because it’s really easy to go overboard with it. There’s a very fine line between making someone feel like they’re part of the action, or making them motion sick. See “Saving Private Ryan” for details. You don’t need to go crazy with budget either. You can make a really smooth dolly with skateboard wheels and pvc pipe for under $100. Do a Google search for “DIY Video Gear” and you’ll be amazed at what you find.