The Digital Journalist
July 2004

by Gail Fisher

I spent the first 20 years of my career observing the world through a still camera lens. In March 2000, I completed a video workshop (Platypus) for "still" photojournalists at the University of Oklahoma. Now I've added another perspective: I now observe life not only in moments, but also in sequences.

These dueling viewpoints each came into play on a recent project on which I worked for the Los Angeles Times and, eventually, a two-part series for ABC's "Nightline:Up Close."

Hell - Unemployed and homeless, her husband in jail, Janea Lopez uses the squalid restroom at Belevedere Park to dress and take bird baths.

Gail Fisher/Los Angeles Times
Several years ago, the Times published a series on the foster care system. It left me questioning what happened to such damaged kids when they aged out of the system. After weeks of research, navigating miles of red tape with foster care authorities, numerous interviews and, finally, a written court order from the presiding juvenile judge, I was granted access.

Writer Phil Willon was assigned to the project. Together we interviewed and identified our subjects. The next year of our lives would revolve around the roller-coaster experiences of Janea, Monique and Jesse, documenting moments which would shed some light on how they coped as young adults, on their own, out of the system - without the support of family. During their first year of freedom, they faced homelessness, violence, drugs, poverty, pregnancy and incarceration.

Sheer Exhaustion - After a long day of working and riding buses all over town, Monique Luna closes her eyes in sheer exhaustion as her daughter plays in the bath.

Gail Fisher/Los Angeles Times
I had decided to shoot both stills and video, hoping to utilize both media and present the story in a variety of ways. The stills could be used for print publication, the video for Web streaming and/or television broadcast. With each piece cross-referencing the other, this truly multimedia package could garner maximum exposure across several platforms.

The learning curve for the video was a daunting task, since it was my first project. I was fortunate to get periodic feedback from Rolf Behrens, an instructor I had met at the University of Oklahoma's video boot camp. We produced a 10-minute rough cut and Behrens, who had independently produced other pieces for ABC's "Nightline," took the trailer to Tom Bettag, the show's executive producer. Bettag was intrigued by the idea and we set in motion the process of producing a series for the late-night news show.

In the world of convergence, my goal is to become multi-skilled - shooting compelling still images, becoming an accomplished filmmaker, and learning how to write, structure and produce documentaries for broadcast and the Internet. Ultimately, whatever it takes to tell a story on a much broader scale, with each piece cross-referencing the other, is my objective.

© Gail Fisher

Gail Fisher is currently working on two documentaries independently from the Los Angeles Times. Her position at the Los Angeles Times is senior editor of projects and most of her time is spent working with photographers, editors and designers on high-profile projects at the paper.