Viewfinder: The Disciplines of a Storyteller

Spinning a good tale is as important to video as having good gear.

Videomaker actively reports on the development of hardware and software every month
because there are so many changes in this exciting field of communications
technology. Years ago, no one would have guessed that enough could happen
in 30 days to warrant such reporting. Today there are hundreds of companies
regularly releasing new products or upgrading existing products.

DV, a new format that is spurring many innovative products, is exciting
because it produces video at a quality level that actually exceeds the needs
of most people who read this magazine. If the DV tapes are edited within
the DV format, the quality of the final product exceeds "broadcast
quality." We have now reached a time when the only thing separating
the readers of this magazine from professional TV producers is basic storytelling
skill.

Advances in technology will never replace the aptitude for conveying information,
thoughts and emotions from one human to another. The inherent advantages
of this skill can’t be purchased in a retail store or by mail. There are
training materials and courses to help develop it but, in the end, the talent
must reside in the mind of the person making the video.

Storytelling is the basis of all good video production. Many of us
do not create original stories, but those of us that do have an enormous
responsibility on our hands. We are hoping that many people will give up
a chunk of their time; in the life-span of a video program, thousands or
millions of people can devote a portion of their life (even if it is just
half an hour) to watching our story. Therefore, we owe it to our viewers
to sharpen our storytelling skills. Keep these basics in mind whenever you
create video that other people will watch:

Composition is the fundamental skill of framing a shot. The "rule
of thirds" in composition has staying power; it’s been with us since
the first lens was used to capture an image over a century ago. Aesthetics
tend to change with the culture; keeping up with them is not easy. Witness
MTV’s "off kilter" or "crooked" composition style of
several years ago. Now it is becoming passé. There is no substitute
for good composition. In this month’s "Getting Started," Lauryn
Axelrod offers solid, usable composition techniques.

Pacing is essentially how long to hold a shot. As simple as it sounds,
there are endless possibilities. Cutting a scene three frames too long can
create an awkward lull, while cutting a scene three frames too short can
be too abrupt, depending upon the mood of the subject.

Transitions are crucial to the editing process, and choosing which
transition to use is an art in itself. All of us have been guilty (at one
time or another) of using the wrong transition or too many transitions,
when a few simple cuts were all that was called for. Jim Stinson explains
the rules this month in "Edit Suite."

Multi-track audio should be used whenever possible. The natural sounds
captured while videotaping are sometimes simply not enough to communicate
the entire message. The added sound of birds chirping reinforces the fact
that the story is taking place outside in the summer. The addition of background
music has a profound impact upon the emotions of the audience.

On-camera talent is challenging to find and equally as complex to
direct. The person must not only look good, but also be a competent performer.
Often, it is a distressing task to find those two qualities wrapped up in
the same package. Talent then becomes the primary consideration since make-up
and wardrobe can often meet the needs of any project.

Planning covers just about everything in video production. Each of
these disciplines requires selections and scheduling to keep the ball rolling.
This is one skill set that is particularly elusive to the creative people
who are drawn into video production.

Screenwriting is the conversion of a story into a form that can be
presented on a TV. There are an overwhelming number of choices when it comes
to deciding exactly how to portray any particular story on a TV.

No matter what video gadgets you find attractive, powerful or compelling,
nothing compares to the value of these basic skills that need to reside
in your head.

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