We Are All Broadcasters

Back in the early1960’s, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement marchersthe world watched as violence and hatred played out every night on TV.  A few years later, we watched the horrors of the Vietnam War taking place on the other side of the globe, from the comfort of our living rooms. Those broadcasts made an indelible mark on me at the time, growing up in my fairly sheltered life in suburbia.  They opened my eyes to the world and I took it all in.

Yesterday, a tragic bombing occurred during the Boston Marathon that took the lives of three people and injured dozens more.  Seconds, after the first of the two bombs went off, everyone who was connected to the Internet, immediately knew what had happened, regardless of where they were in the world.  Photos, video and sound recordings went viral – globally and instantly.  Along with the “bonified” news broadcasts transmitted in real time, rumor and speculation spread instantly as well.

In the 50 plus years that have gone by since those early days of “live” news coverage, bringing “awareness” into our homes, technology continues to impact our lives in a profound way.  We are connected globally and there’s no turning back that clock.  We are no longer isolated from what is taking place anywhere and everywhere on the planet.

We are all collective participants. We can tweet, blog, post images and video on Facebook and numerous other social media platforms without really needing anyone’s validation, permission or vetting whatsoever.  Think of the power in that.  It gives everyone a voice on a global scale.  But along with that comes responsibility. It used to be that if you saw something written in a newspaper or heard it on the evening nightly news on TV, it was true and you could believe it.  But now what do we do?  How can we decipher and determine what we see and hear online is true and accurate? Ultimately, we need to make those judgments ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about this all morning, and I can only hope that as we become more connected through technology, that we start to embrace our similarities as human beings, instead of being split apart by our differences.  For those of us who are documenting the world through images and video, whether professionally or not, we are broadcasting on a global scale, on a daily basis.  Think about the power of that and the responsibility.


The Difference Between TV and New Media

It’s been a tough 3 weeks teaching video to journalists in China – perhaps the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.  It’s not the teaching part that’s hard – it’s knowing if what I am saying is being correctly translated to my students, it’s being away from friends and family and just being away for so long that makes it tough. I have one more week to go and will take a good long rest when I return to the US.

Last week was especially difficult but yet my amazing students got me through it.  They simply amazed me in how quickly they learned.  They learned in 4 days what it takes most photographers to learn in 4 weeks or months.

Every week I have a new group of students and each week there are always one or two students that I know really “get it”.  There was one student who I coined a nickname for “Mr. Question” because he asked more questions than most.  His questions weren’t just about what settings to use on his camera or how to do something in Adobe Premiere, but more about the “big picture”.  His questions always showed me he was thinking.

One question, this particular student asked me this week, really caught my attention.  He asked me “How are we (new media producers) different than TV?

Stephen-Lee-TV-News-Presenter SMALL
Stephen-Lee-TV-News-Presenter SMALL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had just read an article online that addressed this very question and it talked about how newspaper video journalists are now winning more Emmys than TV news journalists.

I responded to my student by telling him:

  • TV news makes the reporter part of the story – sometimes even the “star”
  • New media tells the story through the voice of the subjects – making them the “stars”
  • TV news is delivered to us on the network channels – 3 times a day.
  • Online news is 24/7 and on demand.  We get the news online when we want it and wherever we want it – on our desktop computers, on our iPhones or on our iPads. We also can share the news and interact with others.  We become part of the delivery chain.
  • TV news journalists rush back to the studio to get the story on air by 5 o’clock. The stories are generally very short – limited to their broadcast slot.
  • As new media producers we have the luxury of working longer on feature stories and delivering them online to a global audience.  While print newspapers and magazines are folding – there has been a rebirth of the long documentary story that can now be delivered online.  We are communicating to a wider audience around the world, no longer being restricted by time and space.

In the 1960’s newspaper executives were lamenting about the good old days and predicting that TV would kill them.  I find it ironic that the shoe seems to be on the other foot now.  I teach “motion” and “video journalism” to a lot of still photographers.  There are some who buy their DSLR’s and aspire to make broadcast spots for TV.  There are some who aspire to make feature length films for Hollywood.  And then there are some who tell me that there is nothing new about video and that field is already glutted with videographers and cinematographers. Those are the old business models for video and motion.

The ones who “get it” are the hybrid creatures that recognize that there is a shift in the way we communicate.  They understand that video is really just another medium in which to tell their stories – not a business model, nor a niche market.

My student in China who asked me this question- he “gets it”.  He understands that he is part of the future of how Chinese journalists and others around the world, will deliver the news. That’s why they call it – new media.

Licensing and Music

Music is the heart of any film, tv show, commercial and just about any other type of “content” that delivers a message.  Personally, I think that music is equally important to the visuals and dialog, in setting the feel and pace in any of those “products” I just mentioned. Imagine any of those things without music!

While working on the post production of a feature documentary recently, I became aware of just how important music was to the film and that I needed lots of it. In all I think we used over 53 pieces of music in a film that was 76 minutes long. And, I think we still could have used a little more in spots.

It’s amazing to me how many professional photographers don’t consider the licensing process when it comes to music. I’ve seen too many portfolio samples with “main stream” music that I know hasn’t been licensed because it’s prohibitively costly.
When you enter into the world of incorporating music into your creative projects and businesses be prepared to spend money and keep proper documentation. I learned a lot in this process and I’ll share with you some tips:

• Be prepared to spend money, especially if you are looking for broad rights. Even licensing royalty free music adds up if you want a mass market license. That would include everything from TV to a theatrical screenings to DVD’s and VOD, internationally.
• Even royalty free music in some cases comes with different tiers of licensing rights. One company I worked with www.neosounds.com had two options – Standard Licensing and Mass Market Licensing – the difference was that for TV broadcast, standard was national and mass market was worldwide.
• Make sure you keep all licensing agreements as well as any receipts for  music – both electronically and printed copies. You will need this documentation. If you want to mass duplicate DVD’s – you will be asked for proof of licensing.
• Keep track of the music, the title, the publisher, the recording company, the artist, the songwriter as well as how much of the music was used (time) and where in the film. You’ll need all this info for your “cue sheet”. A cue sheet is basically a list of all the music that is used in a film in the order that it appears – with all the info above listed. If your film is accepted by a film festival they will ask for it.
• Don’t forget that most times you will need two licenses for a song. One is the “synchronization license” which is permission from the publisher to use the song and the other is the “master use license” which is permission from the recording company for a particular recording of that song.
Apple Loops is “free” to use as long as you aren’t reselling just those clips as clips. But you’ll still need to download that license on the Apple website.

I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of months in what it really means to be a producer – at least in terms of what is needed to get a film off the ground after the “fun” part of creating it is over. But, while this type of work isn’t “fun” – I’ve grown by the process.

Embrace Disruption

Every now and then disruption needs to take place and does.  Technology is causing disruption in all our lives but it need not be looked at as a negative thing.  We can embrace it and find opportunities or we can shut ourselves off and become obsolete.

It’s Day 3 of the NAB Show Every April the National Association of Broadcasters have one of the largest conferences in the world but these days this show is not just attended by broadcasters.  As TV converges with the Internet the attendees have become more and more diverse.

On a very small scale there is the DSLR contingent along with all the vendors that cater to this group with their third party add ons – a big business these days for sure. At Canon’s display, Hollywood DP’s and cinematographers like Gale Tattersall of House and Russell Carptenter of Titantic (to name just one of his films) tout the merits of the Canon 5d MarkII and make the point how these hybrid cameras have created a new aesthetic.  They are also quick to point out that these “affordable” cameras are not chosen because of budget but rather because they are small and discreet and create a beautiful image in low light.  One digital “rebel” filmmaker remarked how he shot a scene for his film on an airplane with an actor and no one even took notice because its such a low profile camera.

But back to the word disruption.  Convergence works both ways. As much as the DSLR has rocked the still photographic world and created a huge hunger amongst still photographers who want to learn how to shoot motion and capture good sound, it has also rocked the world of motion shooters who are providing stills for their clients and learning the language of photography.

TV and Internet are converging.  There is a whole generation that has no need for a cable hook up.  They watch what they want – when they want – online.  Just like they never get a landline – many never get hooked up to cable.  The small affiliate broadcast stations are feeling just as threatened these days as magazine photographers are because of the demise of print publications.  Their worlds have changed because the patterns of the end user have changed.

Director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) just formed a partnership with a 3D company.  As TV’s are manufactured with 3D capability and the tech hurdles are overcome, he feels that 3D will become mainstream. But he goes on to say that the big problem is content because the only content created now is coming from the motion picture industry.

And Apple made their worldwide announcement last night with Final Cut Pro X.  I was in the room and all I can tell you is that it is REVOLUTIONARY.  Watch out Adobe.

But at the end of the day – of every NAB day – as I sort through all the information and announcements – I ground myself and think about what I will choose to embrace.  How can I use technology and apply it to what I do and why.  If disruption means that I can tell my stories in a better way or reach more people – that I welcome it with open arms.

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