The ‘quick and dirty’ approach

I very much hope my audio and video skills are shiny and polished at the end of this semester and recognise I may have a way to go yet. My approach to audio and video, to date, has always been to create dynamic content as quickly as possible. And this often means cutting corners, or at least developing a plan which helps you to cut those corners, to enable you to capture the content as quickly and easily as possible. This we (or I, at least) refer to as the quick and dirty approach.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating this as a good approach but when there are increasingly demanding workloads being juggled, there’s no time for scripting, hours of filming and days in an editing suite. Here’s an example… Jovan Byford is an expert in conspiracy theories and it’s way cooler to talk about conspiracy theories than to write about them, it’s a more dynamic and engaging way to get across your point. And this is a very quick video of him doing just that (and here it is in context).

The quick and dirty approach is the opposite to a nice, shiny, scripted and beautifully polished video, but it can work too, particularly in the 24/7 newsy world we live in today when journalism is as much about capturing the ‘here and now’ on camera as it is about telling a story. I like to think there are no hard and fast rules, but I’m in no doubt I’m about to learn a fair few rules this semester.

So, back to quick and dirty. I’ve filmed quite a few people this way and think there’s a lot of scope for a series of 60-second lectures, for example, in which people learn about interesting topics in bite-size pieces. And while it may not appear so, there are skills involved in doing it this way. I’ve certainly learned a few things as i’ve gone along, the first that some people are more comfortable in front of the camera than others. The second being that the more people try to refer to their notes, the more they forget what they’re saying. The third being that, for the most part, the first take is usually the best.

As with Jovan, I encourage people to prepare what they want to say -pick a topic, an angle or a specific question to answer and summarise in three or four key points. Then leave your notes on the table, turn and face the camera and go. And don’t worry if you stumble on your words, stutter or say the wrong thing; correct yourself and move on. And if you forget your trail, stop, take a breath, and carry on (which makes editing easier), don’t blurt out an obscenity and ask to start all over again because you might never get those first few points across as well a second time around. If it’s a timed video – I personally like videos less than five minutes long, especially if it’s a talking head – then I give a visual cue to the person in front of the camera that they need to start winding up. People find that five minutes goes by much quicker than they realise and that the notes they’ve prepared are possibly more suitable to a half-hour video, not a five minute one. So you know that topic/angle/question you prepared earlier? Read it back to yourself and time it.

Some people don’t find it easy and I’m one of them – I’m rubbish in front of the camera. So I try and put them at ease by adapting the process to a way which suits them and makes them feel more confortable. Sometimes, this is me asking a series of questions to help their content flow and give them focus (and editing myself out) or asking a third person to sit in and act as a focal point for the person doing the talking. It’s often easier to talk to a real person who can nod at your points and shake a head in agreement, rather than talk directly down the intimidating lens of a camera.

Anyway, it possibly sounds like lazy video to you. We can’t all have flying rhinos. But sometimes it’s not about creating a polished piece, it’s about something being much better than nothing. I hark back to to my newspaper trainee days when we were told that a rushed and unfinished story on deadline was much better than no story at all and therefore a gaping whole on the front page. What do you think?

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