I'm in Norman, Oklahoma, for The NPPA News Video Workshop. I really don't know what to expect, as there seems to be some sort of informational blackout when it comes to The Workshop. Even a Norman graduate from 2007 won't talk much about it. All I know is to bring my gear and to check my ego at the door.
The first day, Sunday, is full of discussions of the basic grammar of shooting and storytelling along with the screening of some incredible work by the faculty, which they estimate have 700 years of experience between them. Awesome.
According to our schedule, this is our last night to get a good night's sleep. (For future attendees, believe this!)
The Workshop consists of folks from the military, television stations, and newspapers. There is a mix of reporters, shooters, and one-man-bands. This is a diverse group. I'm on the shoot/edit track, and Monday begins the fun of shooting and editing and getting critiqued. I won't go into detail about the exercises. I think it's better that you enter this workshop with an open mind, and without any expectations. One highlight, there are NO discussions about what type of gear you are using, or about whose camera is better. It doesn't matter in Norman. This is all about storytelling.
Damn. It's Wednesday and I'm full of information that simply isn't making the transition to the real world when it comes to what I'm shooting. I'm struggling. Really struggling. The shooting exercises are not going well for me. I felt like I'd never shot a frame of video before and my stories aren't working out. Instead of getting better, I feel like I'm getting worse.
"Son! What part of sequencing do you not understand? How freakin' hard is wide, medium, tight, super tight? Action, reaction. Action, reaction. Commitment. Son, what are you, brain damaged? You have listened to the best of the best. You have taken notes. Now, why can't you do it?"
Luckily, the folks critiquing my work don't use those words. They don't have to. My inner drill sergeant does it for them. Even though I've shot and edited hundreds of videos over two years at a newspaper, I feel like a newbie. Maybe UPS is hiring. I'll check into that when I get back.
It wasn't until an evening cutaway session with John Gross, of KSTP in St. Paul, that I learned to change my mind about failure. Listening to the inspirational stories of Mr. Gross made me realize that I was failing extremely well. I was Failure First Class. My ego left the room, disgusted.
Looking on the bright side of failure didn't make the next day's critique go any better. It only made me more philosophical about it. After looking at my edited piece on Thursday, one of the critiquers looked at me, shook his head, and said, "You are going to knock the final assignment out of the park." I think he meant, "Applying to UPS might be a good idea if you don't." No pressure.
After the final exercise, I did feel better. Not great, mind you, but better. I saw in my raw tape shots that I would have missed or not even thought about before, and sequences that I wouldn't have shot prior to the workshop. My ego gratefully accepts a Band-Aid.
I've had the rare opportunity to experience two workshops this year, in rapid succession. One month before the NPPA News Video Workshop, I was a teaching assistant for the Platypus Workshop held for select members of the Houston Chronicle staff. As a TA, it was interesting to observe still photographers grapple with the basics of shooting and editing a story under the tutelage of Dirck Halstead and PF Bentley. As a fellow still photographer who has made the transition, I could relate to their struggles with learning the language of video storytelling. In Norman, it was a whole different experience as I was the one being observed, squirming in the hot seat during critiques and trying to put all the tips/tricks/techniques learned in both workshops to use in the field.
ACTION and REACTION:
Back at my newspaper, the question "What's the story?" dominates and has guided all of my conversations with reporters and editors since I returned. I have a renewed commitment to dig deeper into every assignment to find the story, and tell it well.
Some will make quantum leaps during the week, and some will take off months later. Absolutely no one I talked to said they were unhappy with the workshop. Some question the methods, some thought it was too basic in the beginning – but by the end of the week, everyone said they were taking something home with them that will make them better. No matter what the outcome, I've added some great tools to my camera bag that will only make me a better storyteller, and I am grateful for all the hard work that the staff put into the experience.
A huge thank you to the staff at Norman, and a huge thank you to Dirck Halstead for being the catalyst in my own career of video, through his writings and the Digital Journalist Web site, and through having me as a teaching assistant in the excellent Platypus workshop.
Shoot/edit well. Keep it simple.