These past two weeks have been busy ones. I spent April 12-14 at the National High School Journalism Convention in San Francisco, which was as hectic, invigorating and inspirational as always. A quick trip home and a few days of teaching later, and I was back to the city again, this time for a two-day qualitative study of Tracy Sena's wonderful journalism program at Convent of the Sacred Heart. In the middle of that, my yearbook students finalized and submitted their book, my Oracle students covered another school walkout, I started giving feedback on a pile of essays, my junior English students began The Great Gatsby and an out-of-town guest arrived to stay a few days.
Given my preoccupation, I was not putting my full effort into my Teaching Multimedia class. We'd spent two weeks researching good video techniques and storytelling, and — in theory — I made a careful plan about what video I wanted to shoot and gone out and got that footage. In reality, I was scrambling yesterday to find a story in my community that I could shoot and edit in one day.
That story idea came in the form of the California Poppy Festival, which happens yearly in Lancaster about an hour north of my home in Los Angeles.
"Perfect!" I thought. "I'll bring my out-of-town friend with me to see those beautiful poppies, and she can keep me company as I do this video assignment."
Reader, that is not how it went down.
Lesson #1: Do your research. Although the Poppy Festival does, indeed, happen during poppy season, it does not happen at the poppy fields themselves. The festival was more a fair than a flower show — most of the poppies we saw were on posters. My friend was a very good sport, but I doubt she would have driven nearly two hours round trip for crafts and carnival rides. (And sea lions. Why there were sea lions at a poppy festival is a mystery, but they were — I will concede — pretty cool.)
My initial brainstorming for shots had involved a lot of close-ups of beautiful poppies bobbing in the breeze and people wandering through blooming fields. Shooting a fairground meant a complete change of plans, which put me behind schedule. I had all day, but my friend had to be back for a sporting event. We wouldn't have time to go to the actual poppy fields to get that additional footage.
Lesson #2: Plan to spend more time than you expect when covering an event. Don't bring anyone who might need to leave before you have finished getting what you need.
With the time crunch, I didn't get nearly as much B-roll as I'd wanted to. I managed to score a great interview with a delightful park employee named Sierra, but I didn't have time after the interview to go out and get more B-roll of the specific things she mentioned. I made a mad dash over to the sea lion show to at least get that shot, but I would have gotten somewhat different footage, including better close-ups, if I'd had more time.
Lesson #3: Do your interviews first. Get your B-roll after the interview to make sure you have appropriate footage that will match.
I got home from the festival and started editing. I used iMovie since it's a program my students all have on their school laptops, and I learned during this process that I did at least one thing right — I bought this Rode microphone, which worked amazingly well given its affordable price. My audio was decent. I also used my tripod, which meant my video was steady.
That said, I need more practice shooting video in manual mode. I did my best to use my settings well, but a couple of the shots are overexposed, and I wasn't sure how to fix the problem after dialing the ISO down and narrowing my aperture. That will take some more practice. I also don't feel that I've mastered manual focus, though I tried to adjust carefully for every shot.
With videos like this, I always prefer ambient sound to music. I think videos without music feel less artificial and more journalistic. My audio was decent, and I figured out how to use basic iMovie layering for audio and visual, but I'm not thrilled with the audio cuts. I was able to get much cleaner cuts using an audio editor, which I didn't have time to pull out for this project.
Lesson #4: Be sure to get at least 30 seconds of ambient sound before or after the interview in that same space. It would have blended more naturally than some of the other sounds I had to use.
Although I always want my work to be better than it is, I am actually fairly happy with how this video story turned out. I think it will be a great way to teach...
Lesson #5: Video photojournalism is not the same as broadcast journalism. Sometimes a web story needs this kind of accompaniment — a story without the reporter's voice narrating or interviewing.
I've learned so much during this project, including a stark reminder of how students feel when they put something off until the last minute and then have to scramble to get it all done. Also, the California Poppy Festival may not have poppies, but it's a great way to spend a Sunday — with or without sea lions.
“And though she be but little, she is fierce!” -A Midsummer Night’s Dream