Film at 11 (long post) at DVinfo.net

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Old December 8th, 2002, 07:09 PM   #1
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Film at 11 (long post)

Last spring I had a situation pop up that has since generated about $8,000.00 in income I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m thinking there’s probably a few of you folks who might like to take advantage of it, too.

I happened to be in the right place at the right time -- and I had a Canon XL-1s, along with some print media journalism experience – when the fellow who was traveling around the country planting pipe bombs in mail boxes came through our town. Ours was the last town in which he planted one of his devices before he was caught.

When all the commotion was going on I taped much of it, thinking I’d give the tape to the sheriff in case he needed it for training. I do that for the fire department, too, sometimes. Anyway, while I’m taping the ATF folks as they disabled the device, the sheriff taps me on the shoulder and hands me his cell phone: “A woman from CNN wants to talk to you,” he said.

She said she’d like to buy my footage. A satellite truck was on its way from Denver (three hours away). I could dump the footage to them when they got here. Long story short: What you all saw on CNN, FOX, MSNBC and the others was stuff I shot (they all share footage). By the time the smoke and dust had cleared, I picked up an extra $1,200.00 for an afternoon’s work

The next month the whole state of Colorado caught fire. By the time the last of the embers had been extinguished, I had another $3,500.00 to spend.

Since then I’ve done numerous stories for two of the Denver stations, and Fox has called me three times to do assignments for programs they run.

The point is this: You can do it, too.

When I first met with the folks from CNN’s satellite truck I thought for sure they were going to make fun of my “toy” camera. They didn’t. They ooooh’d and aaaahhh’d, and said CNN had started buying them and they couldn’t wait to get theirs. Fancy that.

So here are a few tips on how to get your footage of breaking news on the air.

1.“If it bleeds, it leads.” That’s how you know you’ve got a hot story. Shots of a burglary investigation at Joe’s Hardware probably aren’t going to get you a cent. But footage of rescuers cutting 8 skiers from a medical school in Thailand out of a van that went over a 100’ embankment will. It’s sad, but true.


2. Have the right gear: It doesn’t matter if you dump your footage to a satellite van or take it to the local affiliate… you need a way to get the stuff out of your camera and into the TV editing gear. Many of the TV guys are set up to take an RCA lead out of your camera, but some aren’t. Buy a couple RCA to BNC connectors at Radio Shack. I’d get male and female. They’re only a couple bucks each.

3.Get good audio: Don’t depend on the onboard mic. Invest in a good remote mic and/or a wireless mic.

4.Know and tape the who, what, where, when, why and how of a story. Let the editor sort out what’s useable and what’s not; just make sure you’ve got it.

5.Shoot steady: Limit the number of pushes, pulls, tilts and pans you use. If you watch a news story, you’ll notice it looks almost as if they’re cutting from one still (static) shot to the next.

6.Shoot sexy: If you can get an interview next to the flashing lights on a fire engine, it’s much more attractive than some talking head at the side of the road. If an upshot or a low angle shot helps tell the story more effectively, shoot it that way.

7.Get tape releases: Because it’s news you don’t have to worry about a release as much as you do for a feature or a documentary. The editor will K/O any footage you get that’s legally troublesome. But when you interview someone, have them say and spell their name at the beginning. That’s a legitimate release in the news game, and it helps the writer and graphics people when they put the story together.

8.Body shots are tacky: And they piss people off. It’s okay, even dramatic, to get a bunch of rescuers hovering around an injured person, but keep the injured party’s face out of it. Think about how you’d feel if it were your loved one on the ground.

9. If you shoot something they don't buy from you, hang on to it for awhile. I thought it would be cool to get an interview with a firefighting helicopter crew. Nobody used it. But a week after that same chopper crashed while fighting a fire. Suddenly, everyone wanted my interview footage.

10. I have a TFT monitor I bought at Radio Shack for $179.00. I affixed it to an old still camera shoe so I could mount it on my XL-1s. Now, if one of the pretty faces (on-scene journalist) wants to see him/herself while I'm taping a news piece, I just turn the monitor around so they can.

Now, once you’ve got that Pulitzer Prize-winning footage, you need to get it to market. If it’s a story without national significance, you can still sell it locally or regionally. Call the TV station in your market, ask for the assignment desk, then tell them what you’ve got. But if it is nationally significant, go to the national market first because they’ll pay you more than the local station will. They’ll also tell you up front what the story is worth to them (but expect to wait about a month for the check to come). Have a W-9 tax form filled out, scanned in and ready to fax at all times. The telephone number for CNN’s assignment desk is (404) 827-2658. I keep their number and several local ones in my camera bag. By the way, if you shoot something for CNN, Fox, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC or any of the others, they’ll most likely direct you to their local affiliate to dump the footage to be uplinked to them by satellite.

So go on out there and get ‘em, Newshounds.

PS: Shhhh.... don't tell the people who own Sony's about this.
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Old December 8th, 2002, 08:42 PM   #2
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Charles,
That's a good story and some excellent tips for folks interested in getting into on-the-scene freelance news footage. I found it particularly interesting that the CNN folks found your XL1s interesting and didn't pooh-pooh it.

I'm temporarily "sticking" this thread in place so that it doesn't roll-away before many other folks have a chance to read it.

Thanks very much for taking the time to share this with us all!

-Ken-
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Old December 9th, 2002, 12:00 AM   #3
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Charles, awsome post!
That's the type of thing I wish magazines would publish more of.
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Old December 9th, 2002, 12:54 AM   #4
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Film at 11

Well, I'm glad you like it and I was happy to share it.

Perhaps there could be a new category just for ENG (electronic news gathering) for freelancers.
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Old December 9th, 2002, 06:58 AM   #5
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Charles,

That was a fantastic post! Thank you for taking the time to write this very informative post.

I hope we get a chance to get together when I am in Denver for the Holidays.

Paul
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Old December 9th, 2002, 07:45 AM   #6
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Very informative, thanks for all your efforts. I know of several others with similar interests on the boards here. If there is enough interest I'm sure a forum could be started. Any others?

Jeff
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Old December 9th, 2002, 08:47 AM   #7
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Great post! Thanks
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Old December 9th, 2002, 10:39 AM   #8
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Film at 11

You know, I think this has given me the Mother of all Ideas.

I did some searching on the Net and I have not been able to find an association of freelance (electronic/digital) photojournalists. We have the makings of forming one right here.

But I'm not just talking about one of those associations that's a Good Ol' Boys Club and nothing more. I'm talking about pooling our skills and offering them to the major media. We create a list of who is available, where they are, what equipment they have, etc. Then we make that list available to assignment editors with all the major TV stations and networks. Maybe we could even have a designated webpage, updated several times a day, with mini-features available to the media. This is exactly how AP, Reuters, etc. got started.

I think it would work. An editor needs a sidebar story in The Well Went Dry, Kansas. But the closest photojournalist is at a TV station in Dodge City, and he's out getting his dog groomed that day. The editor goes to the Web site, finds one of our folks in the next town to The Well Went Dry.

Or, like happened to me last month, a Fox producer is going nuts because they're taping an episode of the the Rob Nelson Show in L.A. and they need an interview segment in Poncha Springs, Colorado. She calls the closest Fox affiliate in Colorado Springs. They don't have an extra videographer that day. Try Denver. Denver hates the Rob Nelson Show so they make an excuse... but they give the producer my name and number. I go out and shoot it (2 hours, $600 bucks). The producer is going to name her first born after me because now she gets to keep her job.

If we had an organization and a Web site, she could have gone there in the first place. We list the members by region, and by zip code. Editors and producers looking for a shooter just type in the zip code of where the story is, then the closest member's name and phone number pops up. Bingo... assignment!

Another scenario: One of us comes across a really neat story... like one I sold to CNN. A little girl in Leadville, Colorado feels bad for the children of the fallen firefighters in NYC. She goes on a fundraising campaign. The little girl raises $48,000.00. True story. Anyway... one of us shoots a story like this on spec, then posts its avaiability on the site. A bored editor looking for a human interest story spots it and picks it up.

Here's where it gets a little tricky. We'd need to figure out how to support the Web site and organization. Dues? A percentage of sales? Perhaps all billing should go through the organization, with the organization paying the member. That would mean someone would have to be pretty much full time overseeing this. I herein admit I haven't the skills. But I'll be there's someone here who does.

Why not do it through DV Community? Maybe it's time Chris Hurd earned a few bucks for making this site available to us. Would it be hard to put up a site like that through DV Community and not have every editor and producer in the world poking around here in this portion of the site?

Some of us have more skills than others in certain areas. My technical (shooting) skills, for example, are just beginning to blossom, and my editing skills are nearly non-existent. But I have considerable experience in journalism. Others may have great technical skills, but lack in story gathering instinct. So we work with each other, have cyber meetings, etc.

What do you think? Should I start designing our press passes for the DVNews Syndicate?

Charles Newcomb
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Old December 9th, 2002, 03:05 PM   #9
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That's an idea I've thought about as well. I was surprised that no one was doing it already. I'm in for getting it running. It would take a lot of co-ordination and probably would be a full time job for someone.
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Old December 9th, 2002, 03:47 PM   #10
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Shooting for news is much different than many other types of video work.

As a guy who shot news for many years, I think much could be learned from such a forum.

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Old December 9th, 2002, 08:23 PM   #11
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Uhhh..Are You Sure You Want To Be...

...a "freelance" shooter? If so, be sure you buy a car with a big, comfortable trunk.

http://www.nydailynews.com/12-08-200...3p-39283c.html
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Old December 9th, 2002, 09:12 PM   #12
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And a helmet.
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Old December 9th, 2002, 09:22 PM   #13
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I'll say this, having been a news photographer, he was driving a 2002 Mercedes Benz? I don't know a single freelancer that drives a brand new Mercedes. None, zero. Sounds to me like he freelanced something else, other than his photography.

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Old December 9th, 2002, 09:29 PM   #14
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I was kind of thinking the samething as I read the article. What was it they mentioned, a puncture wound? Hmmm...
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Old December 9th, 2002, 09:31 PM   #15
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Perhaps he had unique methods for ensuring that he was the first shooter on the scene of certain...events.
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