A Dream Come True

Dispatch by David Snider
ABC News Nightline UpClose

Some things happen at the Right Time, and sometimes, that can take years to come about. I was a very fortunate person on the evening of August 30, 2002, when the Nightline UpClose program focused on my family's story and my photographs of my parents.

The interest that generated this attention is the fact that both of my parents were born blind, and that I seem to be the only photographer who's photographed his blind parents. The pictures themselves are my best body of work as a photographer. It was my dream to one day show my pictures of my parents to millions of people. I never thought it would be on ABC's television signals.

Over the past six years, I'd learned from Dirck Halstead and Rolf Behrens about the Platypus, and how to evolve into a new kind of visual journalist through video. I'd gotten pretty good as a shooter, producer and editor, and developed stories that were broadcast on four previous shows on ABC News Nightline. I concentrated on the Craft, and eventually I got pretty good at shooting and editing my own stories

Earlier this summer, I was inspired by an epiphany about bringing television and photography together in a dynamic and cinematic fashion. I knew how powerful Ken Burns' films were, and how they used pictures as a crucial element through the use of slow zooms. Resolved to make something special from my photography, I filmed an interview between myself and a friend, then went to work, editing and composing on Final Cut Pro to get my still photos to move slowly, exquisitely slowly, on the screen.

My strategy was to use photography for 80% of the video's content, and use the narration from the interview for the narrative backbone of the piece. Through this combination of media, I tried to create a cinematic feel through careful pacing and editing, things that I'd learned from my friend Rolf Behrens, who'd co-produced and edited my first two Nightline shows. After three months, I had a finished product, and I designed and created a website called Every Picture and uploaded a massive 40 megabyte video clip, almost 16 minutes long, about my photography.

I showed the video to my friends, and then I called Tom Bettag, Nightline's Executive Producer, and asked him to take a look.

Tom and I had always gotten along really well. He and Ted Koppel bought my first story about Ellen Bomer in 1999, and all four times I'd been broadcast on TV, it was on Nightline. Tom said he was very busy, after having developed the second Nightline program, UpClose, but he said he'd get around to looking at it. Sure enough, the next day, he called me back and said that he wanted to feature my work on the UpClose program with a new interview with Chris Bury.

The dream was becoming a reality.

I came down to the offices and Tom and I discussed the show. He said that he believed that photography could work very well on television, and he loved the way I used my pictures in my video, and I was given control over their use in the program. He doesn't always get directly involved as the sole producer very often, because he's got a great staff of producers, but Tom knows that I'm very hands-on about everything I do and this was very personal to me, so he would be my producer. This guy is one of the smartest and best producers in the business, and I trusted him and Richard Harris, Nightline's Senior Producer, to bring my family's story to the nation.

On August 23, 2002, I got on my bike and rode the five minute commute from my apartment to Nightline's downtown DC offices at the ABC bureau. I was escorted into a small studio where three cameramen and two soundmen were setting up their gear. I'd brought a few prints and my Leica, as well as my G4 laptop with all of the 50 pictures from my portfolio.

Chris Bury and I said hello and sat down for the one-hour interview. Inside my head, I was organizing the stories and statements and expressions that I'd been accumulating for most of my life. When the interview began, most of them rolled out as good, solid sound bites. I was able to get most of my heartfelt expressions out of my head in a good order. A couple of times I got a dry mouth, feeling a little nervous and self-conscious and drank some water.

At the halfway point, I pulled out my laptop and started showing the complete portfolio of pictures to Chris. One by one, everyone else came and stood behind him and watched the pictures come on the screen. We went back to the interview and talked about the pictures some more. I said some things that I rarely discuss openly, including my dream about my father being able to see, and my willingness to trade 30 years of my life to have him be able to see what I look like.

A few days after the interview Tom called me and said that the program would go on the air on Friday, August 30, and I should get ready. I came in and we went over his edit of the interview, and decided to insert photographs into the video at 12 intervals throughout the show. I was given a DV tape with a "radio cut" edit from one camera's point of view, and I brought it into my Mac. I then brought my prepared images into the video and made them slowly zoom and pan across the screen. I used 55 pictures, taking up 8 minutes and 20 seconds of airtime with my photos on screen.

I delivered a finished DV tape of my animated photos, which were patched into the Avid system and included in the edited show, just as I'd prepared them. I watched a final edit of the show on Friday afternoon and went home, satisfied that the show would be good. Tom was positive about everything I did, and I felt that he did a great job too.

I watched the show here in my apartment, in the same room that I had filmed myself three months before, and began the work that now propelled my life forward onto national television. My friends came over, and even though they were excited, I was exhausted but satisfied, finally, to see that my photos were in front of millions of people at that very moment

After the show my phone rang off the hook. My parents called and said that they were very happy with the program. Their opinion meant the most, and they said that I represented them and the blind community well, which is what my life's mission has been for twelve years.

The dream came true.

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