Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

My first video journalism shoot with the Canon550D

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 7, 2010

I was recently commissioned to produce a five minute video package ahead of this week’s General Election in the UK, on the controversial ban on prisoners being able to vote.

It was a commission for the VJ Movement, and has since been featured on Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

It was also the first test for my new Canon 550D DSLR camera and related paraphernalia which I introduced here.

Click here to watch it.

The story

We spent a fair amount of time thrashing out the story arc for the piece, something VJ Movement take very seriously.

Together we’re trying to produce video journalism which doesn’t conform to the old rules of a TV news piece. This first commission doesn’t quite go the whole way with that, but the opening sequences and the atmospheric introduction of the main character attempt to try a few different things.

We used John as the main character to drive the narrative forward, rather than flipping between talking heads, which works well, and he lent himself well to colourful soundbites and nice sequences.

The story is limited though by its complex and legal nature; there’s a lot of elements to it not just John’s personal story which all need to be included – a challenge to both shoot and write to.

The gear

For the most part the 550D performed well, and produced some excellent images. I have the most basic 18-55mm lens but it’s a good all-rounded for most shots. Importantly it performs very well in low light, which helped in the darker locations I was filming in for this piece.

It also produces a nice colour for the images. Some limitations with recording time though: you can only record for a maximum of 12 minutes at a time, regardless of the size of your SD card (I have absolutely no idea why). You might also spot a couple of out of focus shots too, a result of not being able to focus properly on the LCD screen.

The rough edit contained a few handheld shots but we removed them as they were too shaky. Being an SLR it’s not an easy camera to keep steady…more support, if anything, for always using a tripod where you can.

The biggest challenge, as with all the DSLRs is audio. As well as a Rode VideoMic attached to the camera, I recorded all the interviews separately onto a Tascam DR-07 and synched it in Final Cut Pro.

I am very happy with the quality of the audio – but ran into trouble with frame rates. If, for example, I changed the shutter speed down to 25fps to brighten the image, the audio recording was not recorded at the same speed.

All minor problems to iron out with more practice, and I personally don’t find it too much of a hassle to sync the audio in post – if it means the sound is good quality.

No grading was done to this film – more out of a lack of time rather than anything else. I’m hoping to get more aquainted with Apple’s Color in later edits.

The DSLR debate

I’ve enjoyed working the 550D: very happy with what I got for the price and also glad to have the flexibility to take photographs and produce audio slideshows with a single camera.

Meanwhile the debate over whether video journalists should use DSLR cameras continues; the detractors – for example Cliff Etzel in this post – label it a “fad” and accuse users of a “lazy” obsession with shallow depth-of-field:

There are many who have become enamoured with the so called uber cool extreme shallow depth of field flavor of the moment, equating it to creative license and thus making it their top priority, and in the process, losing sight of the first rule of solo video journalism:  It’s the story, not the gear.

And of course Cliff is right, it’s the story not how the pictures look…but personally, I think it’s possible to care about both.

What do you think?

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6×6: video

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 19, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

The second in a series of 6 blogs, each with 6 tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists.

video

Video has by far and away become the most popular medium for the multimedia journalist – to the extent it almost seems many won’t consider it a truly multimedia project unless its got a bit of video in it. The thing is, video is a tricky medium and must be treated differently in the world of online journalism.

01. video doesn’t need to be expensive

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t do video just because you haven’t  got any cash. Sure, if you want to go right to the top range, say a Sony EX3, Final Cut Pro and After Effects yes, it’s going to set you back about £3,000 ($5,000). But high quality can be achieved on lower budgets.

Check out my article on how I put together an entire film making kit for £500 ($800).

02. shoot for the edit

If there’s one piece of advice for multimedia journalists making films – it comes from Harris Watts, in a book he published 20 years ago. In Directing on Camera he describes exactly what shooting footage is:

“Shooting is collecting pictures and sound for editing…so when you shoot, shoot for editing. Take your shots in a way that keeps your options open”

Filming with the final piece firmly in mind will keep your shooting focussed and short. So when you start filming, start looking for close ups and sequences. The latter is the hardest: an action which tells your story, told over 2 or more shots.

Sequences are vital to storytelling and must be thought through.

A simple sequence: shot 1, soldiers feet walking from behind

A simple sequence: shot 1, soldiers feet walking from behind

Then to a wide shot of the same action...

Then to a wide shot of the same action...

...and then to a wide reverse showing more detail

...and then to a wide reverse showing more detail

03. master depth of field

In online video, close ups matter. The most effective way to hold close ups – especially of a person – is to master depth of field. Put simply the depth of field how much of your shot in front of and behind your subject is kept in focus. It is controlled by the aperture on your camera – so you’ll need a camera with a manual iris setting.

Your aim – especially with closeups – is to have your subject in clear focus, and everything behind them blurred: Alexandra Garcia does it very well in her Washington Post In-Scene series. (HT: Innovative Interactivity)

Screenshot: Innovative Interactivity

Screenshot: Innovative Interactivity

Here’s a quick guide to getting to grips with depth of field:

  1. you need a good distance between the camera and subject
  2. a good distance between the subject and the background
  3. and a low f-stop on your iris – around f2.8, depending on how much light there is in your scene. A short focal length does this too.
  4. You may need to zoom in on your subject from a distance

04. never wallpaper

If there was ever an example of the phrase “easier said than done” this would be it. It’s a simple tip on first read: make sure every shot in your film is there for a reason. But with pressures of time or bad planning you can often find yourself “wallpapering” shots just to fill a gap.

In his excellent book The Television News Handbook Vin Ray says following this rule will help you out no end:

“One simple rule will dramatically improve your television packaging: never use a shot – any shot – as ‘wallpaper’. Never just write across pictures as though they weren’t there, leaving the viewer wondering what they’re looking at. Never ever.”

05. look for the detail and the telling shot

Broadcast Journalists are taught to look for the “telling shot”, and more often than not make it the first image. If your story is about a fire at a school, the first thing the audience need to see is the school on fire. If it’s about a woman with cancer, we must see her in shot immediately.

But the telling shot extends further: you can enhance your storytelling by looking for little details which really bring your story to life.

Vin Ray says looking for the little details are what set great camera operators apart from the rest:

“Small details make a big difference. Nervous hands; pictures on a mantelpiece; someone whispering into an ear; a hand clutching a toy; details of a life.”

I’m midway through shooting a short documentary about a former prisoner turned lawyer. One of the first things I noticed when I met him was a copy of the Shawshank Redemption on his coffee table – a great little vignette to help understand the character.

06. break the rules

The worst thing a multimedia journalist can do when producing video for the web is to replicate television – unless that’s your commission of course. TV is full of rules and formulas, all designed to hide edits, look good to the eye, and sometimes decieve. Fact is, online video journalism provides the chance to escape all that.

Sure it must look good, but be prepared to experiment – you’ll be amazed what people will put up with online:

  • Cutaways are often used to cover over edits in interviews; why not be honest and use a simple flash-dissolve instead. Your audience deserve to know where you’ve edited right?
  • TV packages can’t operate without being leaden with voice over, but your online films don’t need to be
  • Piece to cameras don’t need to be woodenly delivered with the camera on a tripod

The final word…

Here’s VJ pioneer David Dunkley-Gyimah speaking at this year’s SxSW event in the US:

““When it comes to the net, there is no code yet as I believe that is set in stone….we’ve all been taking TV’s language and applying that and it hasn’t quite worked. Video journalism needs a more cinematic- hightened visual base.”

Next: storytelling for multimedia journalists!

Journalism posts: a summary

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 26, 2009

Here’s a summary of some of the practical journalism posts I’ve written this year.

Image: LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

Multimedia journalism

Great free apps for multimedia journalists :: the most popular one by far, covering some online sites to aid journo production

Shooting multimedia-a lot to juggle :: the challenges of covering stories in multimedia in the field; in this case, Iraq.

Video Journalism

The ultimate budget film making kit :: a guide to how I kitted myself out for video journalism on a £500 budget

Broadcast Journalism

The radio emergency survival guide :: how radio newsrooms should prepare for major news events

Making the most of your network :: a good example of how to use other journalists in your group

Three ways to instantly improve your newswriting :: a quick guide to broadcast writing

Five even quicker ways to improve your newswriting :: more tips

Covering court cases-the questions you were afraid to ask :: everything from what to wear in court, and where to sit

How to avoid being THAT annoying PR person :: advice for those unfortunate PR professionals

9 questions for newsreaders :: a checklist for newsreaders

Iraq: the first draft

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 15, 2009

The first draft video report I shot in Iraq is on Current TV’s UK website this week.

I’ve uploaded a draft to see how their target audience respond to it, whether they like it, hate it or don’t bother watching it, it will be interesting to see.

Sadly the quality of both the audio and the video have taken a battering in the upload, but the gist is there. It was shot on my Panasonic NVDX100, and cut on Adobe Premiere Elements. The music and non-video images are all published under the Creative Commons Licence, and found using some of the sources I described here.

It’s the latest step in my plans to build a multimedia website on my assignment with British troops in Iraq, before they finally withdraw in June. More on that soon! In  the meantime, whether you’re a regular visitor, a media professional, or a passer-by, I’d love to hear your feedback on the film too – the good, the bad, the ugly…

bloodtreasure-screenshot2WordPress doesn’t let me embed Current videos, so click on the image to visit the video.

To find out when and why I was in Iraq, check out this previous blog post.

Multimedia emergency plans

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 14, 2009

Nice post by Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words on ways for journalists to cover big breaking news stories in multimedia.

Often these new methods get overlooked in the race to get the story the traditional way; Luckie shows just how valuable it can be to keep multimedia in mind.

Click here to have a look.

(Hat tip: Deborah Potter at Advancing the Story)

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Great free apps for multimedia journalists

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 8, 2009

The great thing about multimedia journalism is that it provides so much choice for treating stories. Do I write a straight article? Upload an mp3 interview? Produce a video package? An audio slideshow? An interactive map? Even a timeline?

I’ve been experimenting with most of the above for both work and in my own time, and discovered there are more and more free web based applications which let you do many of these without too much technical know-how.

Here then is a list of great free resources for multimedia journo’s hoping to get things done on the cheap. It’s by no means comprehensive…if you know of a better one, then stick it in the comments box!

Great apps for multimedia journalists

AUDIO

Soundcloud cockayne-screen-grab

Soundcloud is what’s been inexplicably missing for a long time: an audio version of Youtube. Quick uploads allow you to embed a very attractive audio player into any webpage. Best of all, the player is customisable, and means, for example, my radio station Viking FM can embed it in branded colours. The people at Soundcloud are very helpful too.

Cost: free (or paid subscription)

Downsides: the free subscription only allows 5 uploads a month.

Audioboo

Lots of noise about this 4iP funded startup, which allows you to upload audio from your iPhone direct to the Audioboo server and thus any website you chose. Has the benefits for a multimedia journalist in that you can upload audio from location, as Guardian journalists did during the G20 protests.

Cost: free (registration required)

Downsides: no iPhone, no boo.

Mixcloud

Still in beta, this is yet to be available to everyone, but looks like a more speech orientated alternative to Soundcloud.

Cost: free

Downsides: not yet in operation

Jamendo

Jamendo was a very happy find for me: a copyright free music site – where the music is actually quality! Record producers should be hunting Jamendo’s ripe jungle for new talent: it’s all unsigned artists (mostly electronic, and mostly French) who put up their music for free use under the Creative Commons Licence.

Cost: free (registration required)

Downside: it’ll take some time to find the perfect soundtrack to your piece.

VIDEO/PICTURES

Vimeo

This is the film makers Youtube. It allows HD uploading, has a smart player and quick streaming. A big benefit is an excellent web 2.0 set up and talented community. Your video might get more passing views on Youtube, but it’ll get less “fuk dis shit innit rofl lol” comments. In fact, almost all the comments I have had have been useful, constructive criticism of the technicalities of the piece.

Cost: basic registration is free. You have to pay for Vimeo Plus HD uploads.

Downsides: smaller audience, but as a video host to embed, it’s fine.

Al Jazeera

Already leading the charge from traditional media, Al-Jazeera has broken new ground by putting stock footage available for download under the creative commons licence. It’s so called ‘repository’ currently holds plentiful (and harrowing) footage of December’s conflict in Gaza. A useful practice tool, if anything, in the art of knowing what distressing images to include and what to leave out.

Cost: free, with CC restrictions, although it does allow it’s content to be used for commercial purposes (see comments, below)

Downsides: until Al-Jazeera expand the repository it just contains Gaza content.

Multicolr

Here’s a little gem: a flickr library, searchable by colour. You choose up to 10 colours from a palette and it automatically brings up all photos containing those colours. multicolr-screengrab

It’s fantastic for finding generic images to match the design of your website (you’ll see a few on this site). All images are released under creative commons.

Cost: free to use

Downsides: you can’t search for the subject of images; frustrating when you want a black and white image of that something.



SLIDESHOWS

Soundslide

Soundslide seems to be the market leader in creating professional audio slide shows at a low cost. It allows greater control and manipulation of images, captioning and music/narration control. On the other hand though, it doesn’t finish in an easy flash window for you to embed. Oh and it’s not free.

Cost: $69.95 (~£50.00)

Downsides: The finished slideshow is turned into several files which you then need to upload to your own webspace. A bit cumbersome.

TIMELINES

Xtimeline

This is one I’ve been getting to know a little recently, in an overly ambitious attempt to create an interactive timeline of every Hull FC v Hull KR match since 1899. Sadly the sheer number matches put paid to that. And that’s a difficulty with X-timeline. You can input events individually if there aren’t many. Or you can use an excel spreadsheet, and upload it as a .csv file. Despite this it is still the most user friendly way to create and embed timelines I’ve found yet.

Cost: free

Downsides: the timeline design is un modifiable. No matter the design of your site, you’re stuck with an odd camouflage green colour.

xtimeline-screengrab

MAPS

Gunnmap

I’m yet to use this, but from the outset it appears to be a pretty easy to use platform, with a slick final product. You can create global maps on any subject and highlight stats by colour.

Cost: Free

Downside: limited to world maps.

SOURCING/DATA

Twitter

There’s nothing to say about Twitter which hasn’t already been said in 140 characters or less. Except to say it’s a great free tool for both finding contacts and stories and publicising your own work, and building a community of followers.

Facebook

Ditto.

Guardian Data store

Responding to the rise in homemade mashups and APIs, the Guardian recently opened a site publishing statistical data on various subjects. The rather nice idea being they put the leg work in and give you the stats for free. Great to plug into applications of all kinds. Such as…

Yahoo! Pipes

A very clever way of collecting information from all sorts of sources and publishing it in allsorts of ways. The cleverest thing has to be the user interface, which has you dragging a coloured pipe from one thing to another like a digital playdo set. With a bit of practice, this could be a great way to present detailed information, or even several newsfeeds through one aggregated embed.

Links to all these sites, and others not featured here, have now appeared in the Multimedia Tools links section to the right hand side of this site. If you have any better suggestions, suggest them!

Multimedia shooting: more lessons learned

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 19, 2009

My post on the challenges of shooting multimedia during a visit to Iraq this month proved a popular one (thank you!). A week of furious editing in both radio studios and on my own video edit software later and I’ve learned a load more. Here are the highlights…


8 more lessons learned in shooting multimedia

01. different mediums, different audiences

I wrote on a previous post how a difficulty of shooting for different mediums was juggling all the kit. Well, since coming back I’ve really come to realise how you also have to juggle different audiences some times. I went out primarily for my local radio station; the brief: meet local soldiers, find out about their life on the front line, get some good home references (like supporting local football teams) and messages back home to loved ones. Your typical local young house-wifey type content.

In taking out a camera though, I gave myself  a second agenda – an audience on the web very different from my radio one. Now the challenge before me is to produce content for two different audiences with the same raw material. So something fun – like this; and something a bit more serious – like this.

02. different mediums – helpful sometimes

OK, so holding a mic and a camera ain’t easy but it can cover your back too. The external mic on my camera failed me on one interview, but luckily I had the same interview in mp3 from my Marantz recorder. A bit of tricky synch work and you’ve fixed the problem.

As wide a wideshot as I could get!

As wide a wideshot as I could get!

03. interviews

Self-shooting without a tripod made interviews a bit of a challenge. I had to be close enough to my subjects to pick up audio on my Marantz recorder, but far enough away to get a wide enough head shot. The result: most interviews were in extreme close up! Although close ups are often recommended for online video in its smaller 720×526 screens.

04. get to know your camera

I didn’t have enough time to really practice with my camera before I used it for the first time. I meant a lot of wasted tape as I tried to ride the iris or adjust the manual focus.

05. keep it manual

I don’t regret keeping all my settings – but namely white balance, focus and iris – completely manual.

Scribbles and notes

Scribbles and notes

06. log it

I logged everything as I shot, which has saved time in the edit. Also my logbook provided a great home for memes, sketches and ideas.

07. be prepared…

…for technical hitches. I was very positive about my budget film making kit earlier this year, but remember, pay peanuts and you get monkeys. Adobe Premiere Elements is great value for money, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why it crashes every time I try to capture video. And the image recorded is shifted ever so slightly to the left. And when I recorded video with my external mic plugged in but not switched on I got a nice blast of Iraqi radio on the soundtrack instead.

08. oh and one bit of advice to anyone else who takes  recording equipment to a military theatre…

…don’t record anywhere near a military radio kit. Number of interviews lost: 2. Number of amazing pieces to camera on top of a moving vehicle lost: all of them

A piece to camera which will never see the light of day due to radio interference

A piece to camera which will never see the light of day due to radio interference

All the radio content has been broadcast this week on 96.9 Viking FM in the UK. Lots of content including interviews, audio slideshows and video is online – click here. I will put up all my audio shortly. And more video coming soon!

A snapshot of the new media debate

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on March 18, 2009

It was a busy day. Lots of last minute editing to do for my radio station’s week of reports on Iraq and content to put online; then bits to send to sister radio stations in Leeds and Teeside; not to mention a huge amount of local news moving including some important court cases and inquest verdicts….

In short, probably not the time to engage in a debate about the future of journalism.

After a couple of good articles in the Media Guardian it was on my mind; and sitting across from fellow new-media-ist @mattgame (here’s his website) it was inevitable.

I said: I love doing online journalism and multimedia – but how do we make money out of it?

Matt said: No-one will ever pay for online content – not when it’s free everywhere else

I said: so how will we make any money as video journalists online?

Matt said: once newspapers ditch print and we all have Kindles, they’ll have audio, video and text – in short you’ll be a VJ for a big newspaper, and people will watch your films on the underground.

I said: but what about in the meantime?

…we both shrug our shoulders.

I then tweeted the summary – and caught the attention of @jonshuler (here’s his website) and the following debate occured in 140 characters or lessa snapshot of the new media debate raging across the world

twittalk

Three young media types trying to figure out the future of their profession. That’s the new media debate – join in!

update: Check out this video from Beet.tv: they interviewed online video producer Zadi Diaz at SXSW. Her advice for getting through the tough times: team up with other producers and see if you can come up with  a good way to make it work financially. You have to think outside the box. When online money dries up Zadi switches to consulting/advising others to keep herself going.

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Changing media: the human victims

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 15, 2009

A lot of the talk about the death of newspapers and the new media revolution can be quite excited, proclaiming a new era.

But let’s not forget the ‘death of newspapers’ has human consequences too.

The recently closed Rocky Mountain News in the US  ‘covered it’s own funeral’ and produced this emotional account of its demise:

(Hat tip: from dead trees to moving pictures)

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Concentra VJ award: the winner

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 6, 2009

The annual Concentra Video Journalism Awards were held this week. The winner: Alexandra Garcia, a VJ with the Washington Post, for her piece about about a free medical clinic in the US.

So what’s good about it?

  • Well clearly it’s a great story, and it’s got an abundance of great characters. Alexandra gives them time to breathe and doesn’t talk all over them.
  • In true VJ style it has great access to the story, and often just shows action happening
  • It doesn’t follow any of the rules or styles of traditional TV news packaging
  • She introduces the story with a voice over at the beginning but then we hardly hear her; she lets the subjects tell the story
  • It’s an example of ‘solution journalism‘, showing an answer to a problem, rather than just reporting the flaws of the US healthcare system
  • It’s not too long
  • And technically it’s very sound, right down to the short f-stop in the final shot which blurs out the background.

What do you like about it?

The ultimate budget film making kit

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 23, 2009

Last year I wrote a post about my ideas for the future of TV news. It’s been one of the most read articles on my blog and solicited a lot of nice comments.

One comment, by blogger Thoroughly Good, made a (thoroughly good) point:

“Grab a camera or a microphone and go make the stuff *you* want to make. Stick it on the web.  If no-one consumes it then satisfy yourself with the thought you’ve satisfied yourself making something which satisfies you not the audience .. That’s the most important thing of all,” he said.

“So, when exactly can we see something?”

Good question. The prize is out there for those who go for it. Another media blogger, Dave Lee reckons 2009 will be the year Video Journalism ‘arrives’.

And I hope to be in the welcome party when it does; but the problem is cost. As great as it is to “grab a camera and a microphone”, it’s not cheap.

Sure, there’s lots of talk about how cameras are a fraction of the cost they used to be ‘and no-longer prohibitively expensive’. But if you want a decent filmmaker hallmark – say the Sony Z1 – you’re talking £2,000 ($3-4,000).

Here’s a good example: in Andy Glynne’s (excellent) book “Documentaries…and how to make them” he details the different set up costs for filmmakers. His “basic kit” is this:

  • Camera: Sony HDR-Z1E –> £3,000 + VAT
  • Batteries x 2: £99 each
  • Microphone: Sennheiser ME66 + shotgun –> £400
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD201 –> £15
  • Mic grip: –> £77
  • Camera bag: Portabrace –> £180
  • Tripod: Manfretto MN755 –> £148
  • XLR cables, raincover etc: –> £80

TOTAL: ~£4,000

And that’s before you get to editing. The upper range kit he suggests, reaches £7,000 and beyond.

For me – and many other young independents – that IS prohibitively expensive.

But I haven’t let that deter me. Over the last five months I have been compiling my own VJ kit, for a fraction of the cost. In fact, I believe I have managed it for just over £500.

I’ve decided to publish how I did it- maybe it’ll inspire some other budget filmmakers to give it a go.

The ultimate budget film making kit

I’ve learned there are two secrets to getting a kit together on the cheap:

  1. What you don’t spend in money, you must spend in time – that’s time looking around, not rushing into deals, properly exploring the options.
  2. Know exactly what you need each piece of kit to do: a £600 HD cam is no good, if it doesn’t have anywhere to plug in an external microphone, for example.

The camera

For a professional/semi-professional film maker a camera MUST have the following elements: manual focus, manual white balance, external mic option, hot shoe for attaching a mic, manual sound control. And ideally: 3CCD (for broadcast), manuel iris/shutter control and 16:9 widescreen, although these are by no means compulsory.

That immediately wipes out a lot of the consumer models, regardless of how light, cheap or flashy they are.

The budget filmmaker must be content with 2nd hand models as well. Often on ebay these are auctioned at cheaper rates. Ebay also has a healthy selection of 2nd hand Canon XM1s, XM2s and even XL2s – but these will eventually sell for at least £700.

Some of the manuel settings on the NVDX100

Some of the manuel settings on the NVDX100

In my searches I discovered two reliable options that remained cheap: the Canon MVX250i and the Panasonic NVDX100. I was outbid in the former at the last second, but I snapped up the latter for a David Dickensian £189. It retailed at £2,000 when it first went on the market so a good buy by my reckoning.

It runs on MiniDV and being old is a tadge cumbersum, but it has 3CCD and more manual options than you care to mention. It came with three batteries, and a camera bag.

The microphone

A brief search round the internet brought me to Pro Audio Systems, a UK company specialising in professional audio. There I picked up a mic, with hot shoe attachment for £42. It has it’s own battery and a wind cover.

The tripod

Some VJ’s argue a tripod is an option rather than a rule, especially if you want to really push the envelope with creative filming. I would still argue it’s necessary for close ups, and long interviews. But you don’t really need it to perform amazing pans or tilts, so don’t overspend on a flashy Manfretto/Vinten. I picked one up for £15.99 on Ebay. It has a quick-release head to get the camera off quick which is good, and it’s very light.

The edit machine

Here I have had to make one of the biggest compromises. A VJ doesn’t look like a VJ unless they’ve got a laptop for portable editing. And ideally a Macbook. But that’s way out of my league, and instead I’ve opted for the best power v cost ratio.

And that means a desktop. Old school, I know. But editing won’t work without the following key elements: 160GB harddrive (minimum), 2GB of ram, 3ghz processer, and firewire port. We’re talking near the £1,000 mark for that in Apple form, but with a desktop that is within reach of £200 on Ebay.

After literally months of patient stalking in the Ebay jungle, I snapped up a surplus order from Ireland, for a meagre £150. With 250GB of diskspace, a 2.8ghz processor and 2GB of RAM it’s a bargain – and worth the wait.

The other crucial thing for editing is a good monitor. I picked up a 24” flatscreen from Play.com for £120 with free delivery.

The editing software adobe-screenshot

And of course without a Macbook, you are without Final Cut Pro, the staple of video editors everywhere. But even if I had been given a Macbook, FCP is prohibitively expensive. But there are other options: AVID are still a professional catchall, and Adobe’s Creative Suite are breaking new ground in the pro-sumer market.

In the end it was Adobe which caught my attention. Their software Adobe Premiere (currently on edition CS4) is well received. But best of all for the budget filmmaker, they produce a budget version – Adobe Premiere Elements (currently on version 7) , which retails close to £70.

There are some good bargains on ebay, but surprisingly it was Amazon who won this round – flogging it for £52 including free delivery. Cha-ching!

But what do you lose with the Elements version? Well, this is where knowing what requirements you need comes in. I’m a trained bi-media journalist, and after hours on Final Cut Pro, and in the classroom learning the craft of writing to pictures, I think a VJ really only needs a few basic requirements from their editor: the ability to separate audio from video, and a large number of audio/video tracks on which to multitrack. Without those, no matter how great the special effects or “upload straight to Youtube” functions, you can’t perform basic edits.

I spent a long time researching Adobe Premiere Elements, and eventually got a confirmation it is capable of those key functions. And having messed around with it on my own too, I can confirm it’s very similar to Apple’s Final Cut Pro in terms of usability. Click here to check out what it can do for yourself.

Straight to checkout…

  • Camera: Panasonic NVDX100 :: Ebay :: £189.00
  • Microphone: Audio Technica ATR25 :: Pro Audio Systems :: £42.00
  • Tripod: Camlink TP-2100 :: Ebay :: 15.99
  • Edit hardware:  Dell Optiplex 745 :: Ebay :: 150.00
  • Edit monitor: Acer 24” flatscreen :: Play.com :: £120.00
  • Edit software: Adobe Premiere Elements 7 :: Amazon :: £52.10

TOTAL:£569.09

So that’s the full kit – for just a smidgen over £500. I hope any other young journalists/filmmakers who feel it’s all out of their range will read this and see it is possible.

And if you’ve got great ideas and some creativity, you can make great content with the most basic of items.

“So, when exactly can we see something?”

Hopefully, very soon.

Profile of an aussie VJ

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 14, 2009

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