Platypus in Portland
June 2009

by Dennis Whitehead

Having just completed the May 1-10, 2009, Platypus HD Workshop in Portland, Ore., I am resetting my career in a direction that looks forward, rather than worrying about what is approaching from behind. This program was very meaningful to me and I heartily urge anyone thinking about participating in an upcoming workshop to do so. It is to the benefit of your future.

Locked in a windowless room for nine days, aspiring "platypi" listened and learned as Dirck Halstead and PF Bentley imparted their combined wisdom from years of experience in photojournalism at the highest levels and from their transition into digital storytelling. We were introduced to documentary filmmaking theory and practice with tools of the trade in HD cameras, microphones, Apple computers and Final Cut Pro software. Dirck and PF tirelessly emphasized the basic steps to success in creating concise, meaningful stories. Right away we were unleashed upon Portland to carry out of specific assignments of the day, each one an individual lesson toward competing the final assignment – a full 5-minute documentary.

The students, coming from a wide range of backgrounds, received an intensive education in digital storytelling technique. Those with photojournalism backgrounds easily understood some of the basic principles that carry across both mediums but even those with little or no photoj background picked up the ideas very quickly, as was demonstrated in their final projects displaying the progress we all had made in a very short period of time.

"You can't do what you've just done," someone was quoted as once saying about Platypus, "teaching these skills in nine days. It takes a lifetime!"

So one would think, but Platypus did it. The academics in the group wondered how long it would take to teach such a class at the college level and it was agreed that it would cover at least a full semester, if not a full year.

I've spoken with people who've participated in other workshops and have surveyed a few others too, but none compares with Platypus. I highly recommend this program to all who are seeking to learn the future medium of storytelling from two of the best.

© Dennis Whitehead

After a stint with The Associated Press in New York and Los Angeles, Dennis Whitehead started his freelance career as a photojournalist in Washington, D.C., during the Reagan administration, moving on to other endeavors at the start of the Clinton administration. Since then, he has worked as an editor, writer and producer, having just completed work as an Associate Producer for the PBS documentary, "Hallowed Grounds." He attended the Platypus HD Workshop as a producer to improve his field production skills and is now putting the lessons to work. Dennis is currently based in Arlington, Va.


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