Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Challenge: Feature story

Here is a challenge I am giving my convergence journalism students for next semester. Feel free to use:
Next semester, you will create a 3-4 minute short feature about a subject of your choice. Use what you have learned about the 6-shot system, sequencing, editing and storytelling to create your film.

Think about interesting people or ideas here at ONW. Talk to your friends. Ask around. Come up with original ideas.

This feature will be due by the end of 3rd quarter, just before spring break.

Step #1: Watch 3 stories and fill out a "beat sheet." Download the beat sheet here.

This website has great short features and documentaries.

Step #2: Write a project proposal as a blog post. Use this template for your proposal. 

Steps #1-2 are due before you leave for Winter break!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

English nerd to Journalism geek

The transition

SID Students film GameDay: Northwest
Eighteen months ago, I embarked on a new journey in my teaching career: transitioning from English teacher to a Convergence Journalism instructor at Olathe Northwest High School.

For 10 years, I taught English at Olathe South and ONW. I feel like I came a long way teaching English from my early years when I didn't know how to teach Julius Caesar or Close Reading strategies.

I majored in English and Journalism at K-State, and it was always my dream to teach Video Journalism. It was just a natural move for me to go from English teacher to Journalism teacher, while incorporating my love of video, technology and social media.

However, last year I felt like I was behind the learning curve of my students. The software, technique, studio and cameras were all foreign to me. I felt like a brand new teacher all over again.

Washington, DC bound

Last February, I traveled to Washington, DC to learn the concept of Backpack Journalism from Bill Gentile. Backpack Journalism is the idea that anyone can film, edit and tell a story with equipment that will essentially fit in your backpack. 

Working with Jerry Gardiner on his backpack journalism video
I elected to do my story on one of the workshop participants, Jerry Gardiner, who came from Liberia, Africa to learn video storytelling. I followed Jerry on his journey for two days, documenting his mission to film and edit his story. Here is my finished documentary:

This experience taught me so much about video storytelling. I learned the six-shot system and the concept of video sequencing.

It was such a great experience that we brought Gentile to Olathe Northwest High School last summer to work with 15 of our students. The students learned a great deal, and I took away even more ideas for my students.

Bill Gentile working with our students in the summer

Tri-ing new things

Last year, our studio and equipment was falling apart. It had not been replaced since the building opened 11 years ago. 

This year, we tore out the old set and changed our studio into a green screen, infinity wall. We also ordered a new tri-caster system that allows us to produce our ONW...NOW! shows in a much more efficient and up-to-date way. We use a virtual set for our anchors, and we can produce the show with fewer people than we did before. Overall, it runs much smoother than our old set-up.

Students producing ONW...NOW!
Here is an edition of a show from this year:

Sophomore redesign

One other change we made this year was to redesign our sophomore video curriculum. I was excited to share what I learned from Bill Gentile, and I saw many of the ideas were applicable to our sophomore class. 

We started the year with "Cutting Carrots" which is a filming and editing exercise that implements the six-shot system and sequencing. Here is an example:

We took this simple concept and applied it to the rest of our projects: AB Sequencing, Chase Scene and music videos. The last two projects directly applied the ideas of backpack journalism, where students filmed each other putting together legos and told the story of the blood drive.

Sophomores filming the Lego Project
I feel great about the direction our sophomore video class is going, and I believe our students will be much more prepared for my Convergence Journalism in the future.

Looking to the future...

I have a vision for where I would like to take this program. A few goals I have for the future are:

1. Learn more about the tricaster. I am hoping to attend a workshop in New York City this spring where I will learn how to use the tricaster to its full potential. I know it can do much more than we already do with it.

2. Implement more writing in the class through news articles and student blogs. I spent most of first semester working on the video portion of the class, and I feel great about the progress we have made. I want to improve our writing and begin creating stories for our Raven Daily website.

3. Win awards. e-Magine is our spring film festival that we host every year. Last year, we didn't win any awards in the news story category. After the competition last year, I told the class I was making it a goal to win awards at e-Magine. I feel great about the work we have done, and feel we can be competitive this year.

Final thoughts

I feel like I have come a long way in the last 18 months as a convergence journalism teacher, but I know I still have a great deal of work to do. I am constantly reading other blogs, websites and communicating with other journalism teachers. It has helped me grow a great deal. I am excited about where I will be a year from now when I look back again.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Audio Slideshows

This year I started off my Convergence Journalism class with a project called Audio Slideshows.

The audio slideshow is a way of telling a story over a subject using:
  • Sound bites from an interview
  • Nat noise
  • Photographs. 
These three elements are weaved together to tell a story. 

1. The first step is to choose a subject for your project. The person should be a good character. For a subject to be a good character, they must fit the following criteria:
  • They must WANT to be a character.
  • They must be articulate
  • They must have a good story to tell. 
I had my students pick a subject and create an Audio Slideshow over how they contribute to the Raven Nation (our school's mascot). 

3. Next, students conducted their interviews and recorded the entire thing using a voice recording app on their phones. We are working to use devices at our school, and this was the perfect opportunity to teach students how to record interviews that we will use later on in the year.

4. Using their phone's camera, the students then took pictures of their subject doing the activity. It should be something very visual: playing basketball, working on a computer, creating art. They used the 6-shot system to compose their photos. Read this post to learn more about the system.

5. The next step is to capture NAT NOISE of their subject performing their activity. If the story is about playing basketball, sounds of the ball bouncing, game noise or whistles blowing would be appropriate. These sounds will be layered underneath the audio to help tell the story.

6. Finally, it is time to edit the project together. We used Final Cut Pro X to edit the audio and video. Soundslides is another option to create the Audio Slideshow, but it costs money to purchase.

I tell my students to always start with nat noise to draw the viewer in.

Check out: "What makes a good audio slideshow" for more tips and tricks.

Here are some examples my students produced:

This project is a great way to teach students several skills:

  1. Interviewing
  2. Nat noise
  3. The 6-shot system
  4. Composition
  5. Editing audio and video.
Questions about this project? Please post in the comments below!

Friday, November 14, 2014

6-shot system for video journalists

Last winter I learned the 6-shot system from Bill Gentile for video storytelling. This system gives videographers a game plan for shooting video.

There is a list of six shots to get, and you can keep cycling through those shots to get everything you need to tell a story.

The shots are:

1. Close-up of the hands
2. Close-up of the face
3. Over the shoulder
4. Medium shot (Waist up)
5. Wide shot (Feet up)
6. Extra-wide shot (Establishing)

The first exercise I have my students complete is called "Cutting Carrots." This exercise asks students to film someone doing something routine, using the 6-shot system. They then will edit it together in a SEQUENCE to tell a short story.

Here are some examples:

This is what it looks like when applied to a complete news package:

This method for shooting video has given my students a game plan for shooting video. No longer do they go shoot and "Spray and pray." Shooting everything around and hoping to have something great. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Awesome interview tips

I asked my students to come up with five tips for awesome interviews. I received some great responses. Here are some of their tips with a link to their blog post:

Isabel Lauby: It is important to determine the location of the interview that is pertinent to the story line.  For example, when I did my package over boys on the drill team, I interviewed their coach while the band and drill team was practicing, providing a relevant background.  If you capture your interview in an interesting setting it will make your package better.

Pedro Von Simson: Use your first questions to make the subject feel comfortable. Incorporate easier questions about subjects such as their background that do not make the interviewee defensive. If you immediately start off with your tougher questions, your interviewee with be less likely to feel comfortable and therefore provide worse answers.

Tougher questions should close out the interview. These are the "meat" of the package where you get the important and controversial answers that lead to the soundbites that you will most likely incorporate into your package. The first questions are more important to develop background information about your subject for your voice over instead of being used as sound bites.

Quen Barkyoumb:  Prepare everything that you'll need to conduct an interview. Make sure your camera angle is on point, audio is at the right level, your computer is charged, the lights are in the right spots, and every setting is at its correct degree. This will give your interviewee a sense of importance because you're all ready to proceed without any distractions. If you're messing around with your technology during the interview, then your respondent is likely to be annoyed.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cool Video: ONW A&E Electrathon

I wanted to share this cool video that a couple of my students produced:

Two things really stood out to me in this video:
  1. Storytelling. This video has a clear beginning, middle and end. The video starts with an unassembled car. Throughout the video we see students working on and building the car. The final shot is the finished car driving away out of frame. Story. It is so simple, but something that is so hard to do.
  2. Shot composition. We have worked hard on the six-shot system and sequencing. This video is textbook in my opinion. We see a student turn the steering wheel, and the next shot is the actual wheel turning. Another sequence has the student being interviewed while we see a shot sequence of him: close-up of his hands and face, a medium shot and wide shot. There are more sequences throughout, but this does an excellent job.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

September top stories

My convergence journalism students have been producing some great work for ONW...NOW! this semester. Here are some of the top news packages from recent weeks:

Tyler Soetaert and Quen Barkyoumb:

Tiajah Holt, Joe Kolega, Rachel Brookhart:

Samantha McCue and Rachel Brookhart

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Challenge: Video sequencing

Challenge #2 dealt with cutting carrots, or sequencing. We saw many great examples of what it takes to do sequencing using the 6-shot system. We also learned that you can never have enough B-Roll to build your sequencing. Shoot, shoot, shoot.

Here are a couple of the top examples:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Backpack journalism: Day #4

Today was the last day of the backpack journalism workshop in Washington, DC. I learned so much during this time, and would encourage any journalism or film teachers to attend to learn about backpack journalism. 

Here is my completed film.

I had a great time learning about backpack journalism from Bill Gentile and my colleagues at the workshop. Special thanks go out to Bill Gentile, Jerry Gartiner, Dr. Gwen Poss and Anna-Lynn Morris who made this experience possible for me.

Receiving my certificate of completion from Bill.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Backpack journalism workshop: Day #3

Screening the rough cut of my documentary.
This is the third day of the Bill Gentile backpack journalism workshop. Today will be spent editing my project.

Let's get started.

Write your script for a 12-year-old. They should be short, simple sentences.

Use the two-column script format. The video/visuals are on the left, and the audio is on the right. I wanted to resist this at first and write my script like an academic paper with big works and complex sentences. Once I simplified things in my script it worked much better.

Make picture stories. Write your words to compliment the pictures. Turn the sound off and see if the pictures tell the story.

How to set up a "platform" - the place where all of your fans can reach you. 

  • Use Google Hangouts to live broadcast events. Your video is saved to YouTube.
  • Platform - website, blog, Facebook... any place where your friends can find you.
  • Should have accounts with all of the top social media platforms (YouTube, Blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc...)
  • You want everyone to be able to communicate with you - so people can find you. Give people ways to get in touch with you (e-mail, address, Twitter, Facebook)
  • Build your e-mail list through your website. Have a place on your website for people to sign up for your e-mail address. 
  • We all get the same window. Everyone has the same window to release information (You, NBC, Coke, etc...) all have the same platforms available to find you.
  • Connect with your audience and Google will reward you for it. 
  • YouTube is one of the largest social media platforms. 
  • Respond to comments left on YouTube/Blog. This builds your community. (Note: I need to be better about this on my blog!)
  • The gatekeepers to broadcasting, publishing, marketing, etc... have all fallen. Anyone can push out their own information. YouTube is your broadcast platform.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Backpack Journalism workshop: Day #2

Working with my new friend Jerry on our documentaries.
This is the second day of my experience at the Bill Gentile backpack journalism workshop. You can read about the first day here.

Review of what we learned yesterday:

  • The six shot system. 
  • How to hold and operate a camera was huge for me. This is something I will bring back to my students.
  • Eye contact with subjects. This is very different from the journalism I am used to with my students where the subject is looking slightly off to the side of the camera. 
  • Shooting for 20 seconds. 
  • Managing the lights when shooting the characters. 
  • Think of the camera as a finger pointing at things. 
All stories have three components: a beginning, a middle and an end. 

My controlling idea: My documentary shows an African man on his first trip to America and how his expectations of America mesh with the reality he sees on the ground.

Dramatic Arc: The spinal column of your story.

Characters are vehicles to get you from point A to point B.

People want to hear stories about people.

In a good documentary you should be able to turn off the sound and understand what is happening.

Formal interviews

Point one leg of the tripod at your subject.

Get in close and intimate with the subject.

Can cut off some of the hair, but not the chin so you can have a lower third if necessary.

Confirm the source of the light. Cast shadow on one side of the face. They should be looking INTO the light. If they are looking into darkness they will look evil. Simple trick - your LCD screen should be pointing into the light.

Last two questions to ask:
Is there anything you would like to add?
What are your deepest concerns and fears about this subject?

AFTER the interview, go to a wide shot and let the camera run for 60 seconds. This will give you great cut-away footage of the subject. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Backpack Journalism workshop: Day #1

Bill Gentile
I am live blogging from a workshop about backpack journalism. The idea is that you can fit everything that you need to tell a story in your backpack: laptop, camera and a microphone. I hope to bring back ideas and information to my journalism students after this workshop.

Bill Gentile is running the workshop. Here is his website.

There are six people in the workshop, including a woman named Zar from Afghanistan and a gentleman named Jerry who flew in from Western Africa!

Let's get started.

When filming:
50% should be close-ups or extra close-ups
25% medium shots
25% wide or extra-wide shots

What makes a good character? Three tests:
  • Take your camera and walk around with your camera down. Wait for someone to come to you who wants to talk to you. These people will open up to you and be willing to talk. People who want to be characters.
  • They must have compelling stories to tell.
  • Can they tell the story? Are they articulate?
If we learn how to DECONSTRUCT a story, we will know how to CONSTRUCT it.

Story - How do we get there?
  • Individual clips. (Words)
  • Then we build sequences. (J and L edits, etc...) (Sentences)
  • Then you build scenes. (Paragraphs)
Shoot at least 20 seconds for each clip.
  • Make pictures that MOVE. Find places where you can have cutting points. (If focusing on someone writing (close up) and they reach up and touch their nose, that is a cutting point.)
Don't use LCD screen. Hard to see in light. Sucks up battery. You can't get a good sense of what is going on. Can have a conversation with someone. Should look

Connect the subject to the audience and the audience to the subject.

Learn to use your body as a tripod. Left hand should be support for the camera. You can distribute your weight down to your hip. Left elbow should be down toward your hip, knees slightly bent.

Shoot at eye level.

Clip alphabet:
  • Extra close-ups. (Close-up of an eye)
  • Close-up (Close up of face) (Can take off some of the hair, but don't take the chin off. Want to be able to have a lower-third)
  • Medium shot (Top of head to the belt)
  • Wide shot (Head to toe)
  • Extra wide shot
  • Tracking shot (Following someone. Cameraman does not move)
  • Pan shot (Stitching together information. Person-to-person)
  • Tilt (Up and Down)
  • Zoom
  • Point of view (If you shoot someone walking over brush, then you walk over the brush so you can see what the character is seeing.)
  • Over the shoulder (Ties the character together with what they are doing or connecting two characters together)
Start with establishing shots or master shots.
Then start shooting visually interesting/defining things around the room. 
Then start shooting characters (The Six Shot System)

The best stories are about CONVERSATION.

Six Shot System:
  1. Close-up of hands.
  2. Close-up of face.
  3. Medium shot to put together face and hands.
  4. Wide shot (head to toe) (Gives more context of what is going on)
  5. Over the shoulder (Tight)
  6. Extra-wide shot to put the subject in context
Informal interviews. (Magic questions):
  • What are you doing? (Present)
  • What did you just do? (Past)
  • What are you going to do? (Future)
ALWAYS shoot with headphones on.

Controlling idea: "My documentary shows ________________________." If you can't answer it, it isn't a story.

Script - Should be able to hand the script to an editor with the footage and he should be able to edit it together.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Finding your story

"I don't know what to write about."

If you teach English, you have heard that statement numerous times. I know I did when I taught English.

In my new role teaching Convergence Journalism, my students often struggle to develop story ideas that are unique and fresh.

For example, they want to tell a story about football, which is a very broad topic.

I often ask, "What story about football do you want to tell?" They struggle to dig deeper and come up with a story angle that is more specific than the broad topic of football.

To attack this problem, I returned to my English roots and Kelly Gallagher's Six Modes of Writing from his book Write Like This.

The six modes of writing are:
1. Express and reflect
2. Inform and explain
3. Evaluate and judge
4. Inquire and explore
5. Analyze and interpret
6. Take a stand/propose a solution

First, students generate a list of interest areas. These are the broad topics that they will then narrow down. For example, some of my broad topics include:

  • Coaching
  • Teaching
  • Football
  • Journalism
  • K-State
From there, students will choose one of their interest areas and develop 2-3 story ideas for each mode of writing. This gives my students between 12-18 different angles, rather than the broad topic of "football."

Here is a simple handout that I use:

I always model this for my students first. Just like when writing, I employ the "I go, you go" approach where students see me model first and then they proceed to develop their own story ideas. Here is a picture of my modeling of the topic "football."

In five-ten minutes, I generated 19 viable story ideas for the broad topic of football. If needed, I could turn all of these ideas into stories.

So far, my students have only picked one from their list and turned that into either a video package or written story. My next step is to have the students choose one written and one video story from their list to combine together as a package.

I have found this method forces students to dig much deeper and come up with better story ideas. 

What methods do you use to have students generate story ideas?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Packaging Plays: Stick & RB Screen

I love packaging plays together. It has become the option attack of the new millennium.

Previously, I wrote about packaging Inside Zone and Quick Screens, the Draw-Stick concept, and the Double Screen.

One other packaged concept that we started using was combining the Y-Stick concept with the RB Jailbreak Screen.

The play is very simple. Out of trips, we run Y-Stick to the trips side and the RB Jailbreak to the single receiver side. The QB counts numbers. If he sees 3-on-3 to the trips side, he will look off the stick, retreat and throw the RB screen. If he sees 3-on-2 to the trips side, he will throw the stick concept immediately.

Here is the play drawn up:

We love this play vs. man coverage, especially since Y-Stick is not very good vs. man.

Here is a cut-up of the play:

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This has been a great concept for us. We are going to experiment with other quick game concepts out of this, as the possibilities are endless.

What other plays are you combining together?