“Everyone is playing a game with the audience. If you don’t, you are dead in the water.”
Recently I attended a multimedia storytelling workshop in London, organized by Duckrabbit, a multimedia production company. The following statement comes from their website (used with permission) as I can’t describe it any better: “We work with documentary audio, still photography and video to make compelling film and audio narratives for commercial, charity and broadcast clients. We also train photographers, videographers, journalists and communications professionals in audio-visual storytelling and online strategic communications.”
The workshop was led by Benjamin Chesterton, a former BBC Radio 4 documentaries producer, who appeared to be an excellent and passionate teacher. He was very open in sharing his own experiences and struggles. Over the course of three days students were taught several skills and given practical knowledge, all of which are indispensable when producing photofilms. However, this workshop doesn’t teach you how to use gear and software. The emphasis during the workshop was on process, not end product. In the end, neither the viewer nor the client will know what gear you have used, and frankly, it doesn’t really matter.
- new approaches to shooting for photofilms
- how to grab the attention of an audience with your story
- how to record audio for multimedia
- interview skills
- editing skills
- Soundslides & Adobe Audition software
I always keep my eyes and ears open when someone with lots of expertise shares his knowledge. Such encounters are usually very useful and in the end you will probably learn some valuable tips. For instance, during the first day of this workshop we analysed several photofilms. The feedback from the group gave new insights in how other people approach stories and photofilms in general. This kind of teaching is very enriching.
The part of the workshop that was almost completely new to me was audio recording and audio editing (except for a single occasion a few years ago when I recorded a short voice-over). Benjamin explained to us how to record audio that can be used in your photofilm or multimedia presentation and how to avoid the many pitfalls that will certainly cross your path during the process.
A few weeks prior to the workshop we had to learn some basic knowledge on Adobe Audition but it was only during our group assignment that I really became impressed by its capabilities. I’m not going to explain all the features, as this is beyond the scope of this article, but if you are interested in using the software I advice you to download the trial and to sign-up for one of the many online tutorials. Adobe Audition is a pretty expensive product but at the same time a very powerful and essential tool in your workflow.
I wasn’t really keen on using Soundslides for editing the images and the audio. It’s rather limited and not very intuitive in my opinion. Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro might be overkill when editing a photofilm, but they are excellent tools for film/video editing. When your budget is limited, other options like Adobe Premiere Elements, Sony Vegas Movie Studio, Avid Studio, Final Cut X or iMovie will work as well.
Until now, I have only used photography to create my photo essays. In my opinion photography alone is not always the appropriate medium to tell a story. Does this mean I suddenly underestimate the qualities of photography? On the contrary. In some situations, the story seems incomplete without interviews or music. I’m convinced that a photofilm can add value to your final story.
I also notice that over the last few years more photographers have started to experiment with multimedia productions. This may be because the market shifts in that direction (partly as a result of DSLRs with movie recording options), but I also truly believe that the audience can and will be more emotionally attached to your subject and your story. The danger of this shift towards multimedia lies within the fact that it will be very hard to master all of the necessary levels.
You can’t master photography and at the same time be responsible for audio, video and editing. To be honest, each of these levels requires a professional with its own expertise and experience. As I recently said in an interview in Chip Foto/Video: “I don’t want to become a jack of all trades and a master of none”. A multimedia production consists of several layers and one weak link in one of these layers can result in a less powerful photofilm.
I do believe in participation, where every member of the group has its own strength and talent which will be beneficial for the end product. Is it possible to do this all by yourself? Well, yes, you probably could, although the overall process will take longer to complete. If you want to create a photofilm on your own, let me give you some advice: focus on one task at the time! Don’t try to record audio and take pictures at the same time. You will, without any doubt, encounter quality issues if you try to do so.
This three-day training offers you a very good understanding of all the elements related to producing photofilms. It provides you with an extensive checklist you can rely on when compiling your multimedia piece. I can recommend this workshop to those who want to start exploring the domain of multimedia storytelling.
During the workshop we were split into two groups of three students and each group had to create a photofilm. We talked to Bernard (Beano The Clown), one of the many performers at Covent Garden, and explained him the goal of our assignment. He agreed and he was really cooperative. During the interview, he told us an anecdote from the early stage of his career where he did a trick with his hat. The trick failed over and over again. He had to try at least 29 times before he could toss the hat onto his head.