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Remote video and audio strategies

Gathering good quality audio for your video stories

Class, as you know, COVID-19 is limiting the range of our reporting to a certain degree. And when we are talking about video reporting/postcards, this could be rather problematic.

I wanted to share with you a few ideas to produce video pieces remotely, even without direct contact with your sources. Yes, you will still need to have some b-roll, establishing and closing shots, but those can be accessed without direct exposure.

1- When thinking of good video, first focus on GOOD AUDIO

Viewers are much more forgiving of limited or poor visuals, as they are of good audio. A good audio narrative under blurry/shaky video can tell a much better story than bad audio on good quality images.

2- Plan ahead, because you’ll need time to retrieve good audio

As I’ve been discussing with you via email, you can always ask a source to tape the answer to one or two of your questions, and to self introduce themselves, in a voice memo that they can then send to you. But you need to have a certain connection/trust built with that source before the ask.

Imagine if someone, out of the blue, emailed you with a request to tape several answers to a few questions and email you back the audios. It could be a lot of work, so you need to be careful. 

A good approach is to first conduct all the interviews on the phone, tape some yourself just in case, and then, when you’ve figured out who is your most interesting source/character, and the entire arch of your story, then ask them to tape a few answers to a couple of (not all of them) and send them to you. 

3- Be mindful

Think of one, maybe two answers to a two questions as the core of your ask. You may ask two of your characters to give you an answer to one question. But consider that as little as this may seem to you, it could be a lot to ask to anybody. So be considerate and minimize the amount of work you are asking of your source (who has already answered some of your questions on the phone).

4- Think of natural sound

After the interview, if your sources are in place (working at a soup kitchen, in a bodega, a hospital) ask them to take some natural sound of the room they are in, too. Again, don’t overstretch their patience. Assess whether they are open and available. If they aren’t simply thank them and move on.

5- Take a lot of b-roll

You will need it to run on top of your interview. Courtesy photos (of your sources, the institutions you are working with, the developments or project they are working on) could be useful too. But don’t keep them on the screen for more than six to eight seconds. 

Remember to use an array of different camera angles. And to keep your phone steady for at least 10 seconds (no panning, no traveling, no zooming, steady and on the subject).

6- Connecting testimonies with VO

If you only have a few seconds of a character on audio, you can try to stitch two testimonies with a voice over. But make sure that the VO is clear, and explains why these two characters are connected and how.