Viewing entries tagged
Visual Storytelling

Insights from Chance Multimedia's Director of Photography

Insights from Chance Multimedia's Director of Photography

Hi, Chloe here. Today I’m going to interview James Chance, our Director of Photography and co-owner of Chance Multimedia. He has been the creative eye behind all of Chance Multimedia’s shoots for 6 years, and had many years of shooting experience before the company’s inception. I’m curious to know how he does what he does, what exactly goes on in his brain while he’s on a shoot, and I’m sure you could glean some insight from it too.

Chloe: So James, first can you tell us how you came to be so enamored with shooting video?

James: My background is photojournalism, however, I always had an interest in video because it was another tool. Way back, in my early foundation courses I specialized in video rather than photography. It had always been at the back of my mind. As I got more serious about visual journalism, although my track was still photography, there was always an interest and it grew. Mainly because it offers so much as a medium for storytelling. You can only do so much with stills. Being able to hear someone’s voice… It’s just a an added layer of the story.

Chloe: What does it take for you to prepare for a shoot? What steps do you take beforehand?

James: I’m uber-organized. If I could give one piece of advice to people starting out, it would be ‘stay organized.’ Especially with video, there’s so much stuff, so much gear, being organized is essential. I put a lot of thought and prep in before getting on location to ensure I have everything I need and that it’s accessible.

I like to know ahead of time what’s expected. That’s the benefit of working with a team, it helps to have someone in a production role. Starting out, there’s a lot of people having to do the one-man-band thing and it’s challenging. For one person, staying organized when you’re dealing with complexity is tough. You need someone to keep you on track so you can lose yourself creatively in any moment. Coffee is also important.

Chloe: You have a very unique style to be sure. It is what sets Chance Multimedia apart from others. How do you achieve the unique movements that we see in shots, where we are following a character’s feet as they walk, or getting a sweeping overview of a landscape?

James: Specifically with equipment - you have to conceive the idea first and then apply it with equipment. Physically I can’t carry everything -- that’s how we’ve grown as a company in striving for better production value. The main pieces of equipment we use are jibs and sliders. We also recently got the Movi. These are all just tools to facilitate ideas and high production.

First and foremost we’re talking about motion. Motion defines video. So given that, I want to make the best motion I can, use motion to my advantage because it determines production value. In any visual medium, providing the viewer with intriguing or new perspectives is important. When I do workshops, I teach photographers and videographers that you always think about where you’re shooting from. If you don’t move that much and every picture is the same, it becomes very dull. You have to create interesting angles and perspectives so the viewer is challenged in a way. Great images offer a unique perspective. The tools and equipment are really just to provide fluid motion, because you can only do so much with a handheld camera. We still do a lot of handheld stuff, but it’s all about production value.

Chloe: I’ve also always wondered, how do you achieve the beautiful vignette that we see around certain shots? And what affect do you think this has on the overall aesthetic of the video?

chance
chance

From “Rotary Projects in the Dominican Republic

James: This type of look is used a lot more in our documentary. Without getting too technical, a lot of times when shooting with lens apertures wide open, that vignette is created. Also, using neutral density filters is critical when shooting on DSLR cameras. However at their highest settings, they tend to vignette. This effect draws the viewer in toward the middle of the screen. It’s not something I deliberately seek, it just happens as a side product of the way I’m shooting through the lenses. We do it less with commercial stuff because it’s more difficult to shoot that way.

Chloe: What is the first thing you do when you get to a shoot location? How do you set up your shots and know what to capture?

James: Usually when we arrive we know there’s going to be an interview. So we scope the best location for the interview - looking for natural light and a clean area that’s not too cluttered. An important thing is to get a lot of distance behind the subject, because we’re using quite a shallow depth of field on the lenses to make the subject pop out. We do interviews first as a rule so that we can illustrate any points that were made. If the person talks about getting their eyes tested using a specific tool we need to get a shot of them doing that after the interview.

Generally with B-roll we work as a pair. One person will have the A-camera which is handheld with audio to make sure we’re getting the basics and the sound. Then the B-camera is usually a DSLR like a 5D, which is rigged on a slider or jib to complement the basic stuff with more high-production-value shots. The balance in necessary.

Now that’s for live action situations. Next we’ll pull away from that and look for specific pickups, shots that can fill spaces which aren’t dependent on a subject doing a specific thing. They’re more about a space, more detailed shots, more conceptual in nature. With that stuff we’ll use the equipment to achieve high production value. All the while I’m thinking about the editor as well. In order to make their job easier you have to use a combination of wide shots and close shots so that they have enough to make a very dynamic-looking video.

Chloe: How do you balance being behind the camera and also engaging with the subjects of your video? The people in front of the lens?

James: My history as a stills photographer taught me the huge importance of engaging with the person you’re shooting. As storytellers we all have different styles that are personal to us. As a photographer, I would spend a lot of time talking to people and hanging with them and getting to know them before shooting. We often don’t have that luxury now on video shoots because it’s go-go-go. But people being comfortable in front of the camera is everything. If people feel awkward or shy it absolutely is read by the viewer. Sometimes I’ll stop shooting and chat with people and goof around a bit, then we’ll start up again. You know, we’re not doing hard news generally, and although our responsibility to the clients is very important, I try not to make it all too serious. People are intimidated when the video guys come in, especially with a multi-person crew. So we just try to put people at ease by recognizing the fact that it’s a bit uncomfortable.

As far as engaging with the subject while I’m focusing on the shots...you kind of just get used to multitasking as you shoot. It becomes second nature, like how you can have a conversation and make a sandwich at the same time. You’ve made a lot of sandwiches, so you can do it. That’s where organization comes into it too, because when you know what points you have to hit coming in, you can move very freely within them, you don’t have to think too much. It becomes easier to find the right exposure and angles. Between shooting moments you can re-engage with the subject. If there’s action going on between two people, I’m not going to say anything, I just let it play out.

Chloe: Because we do impact reporting and uncover serious issues, there must be times where being behind the camera is difficult. What is the most difficult shoot you’ve been on? And what advice do you have for filmmakers in those situations?

James: The worst situation I’ve seen people surviving in is a community that lives around the landfill sites in Manila. There is a site we shot at specifically in Vitas, Tondo. The people there are surviving off two things - one is sorting through the landfill where all the trash is getting dropped off to find recyclables to sell. The other is producing charcoal .They are pulling scrap wood from wherever and cooking it down to produce charcoal. So this whole area is full of black smoke, and it’s just unbreathable. For shooting, I could duck in for 20 seconds at a time, breathing through a handkerchief, and then run out. Not only are people working in there all day, but there are communities living right next to it. There are kids with no clothes and bare feet just running around the trash. Not only was that tough on a physical level, but emotionally it’s just hard seeing people live that way. It’s always the kids that hit you emotionally. What future do they have?

My advice to other filmmakers that may put themselves in the same situations -- Be compassionate, be sensitive, work sensitively. Always put the subjects first. I’m not going to upset anyone to get a better shot. If they don’t want me there I’m just going to smile and wave and say ‘see you later.’ You have the responsibility of representing a whole field and that I take incredibly seriously. You also have a responsibility to represent your subjects honestly. If you’re in a situation where they are consenting to being recorded, with that comes a huge responsibility to tell their story correctly, truthfully. What are you doing if you’re providing misinformation? What’s the point? It doesn’t serve.

Chloe: What do you believe video and documentaries do for the people on the other end of the camera? The people and lives you’re featuring?

James: You hope that the window into other people’s lives promotes change in society as a whole. I try really hard not to be the bleeding heart. When I was 18 I thought I could save the world, but as you grow older you just realize all you can do is use your skills to help as much as possible. There are organizations that are far better set up to deal with the massive challenges.

Honestly, you do it selfishly and you do it for other people, it’s fifty-fifty. I can make a difference and I am satisfied by the work. I have a skillset, and I would rather offer my skill-set toward social change because it’s important.

Chloe: To end on a light note, what are the most inspiring types of shoots for you to go on? What do you enjoy capturing the most?

James: I like shoots where I can take my time. Time is the most valuable asset. It promotes creativity. It’s not so much subject matter that excites me the most, there’s a scale obviously, but it’s more about having the time to approach any subject as creatively as possible rather than having one morning in one situation to hit all the marks. We’re good at that now, but it’s not as satisfying because there’s not time to be as creative. It takes time to ingest a situation, wait for things to happen organically. There could be something twice as interesting an hour later but you just have to go with what you’ve got because you’re on the clock.

To answer the obvious side, I always enjoy working with people, telling their stories. It’s the personal stories that I like. It’s an honor to represent people, it’s a responsibility that I love. Some people open up about incredibly personal things and it’s not easy to do.

Introducing New Team Members

chloe_danCM.jpg

  Spring greetings!

We have some great new content lined up to share with you throughout these upcoming months.

First things first, meet Chloe and Dan.

Chloe came to us as an intern, hungry for more knowledge and experience in the video production world. She admired our mission, having a passion both for working with nonprofits and using video and photography as mediums to tell the untold story. With a background in journalism from Colorado State University, she was eager to develop her skills in that field and gain some real-world experience. Her natural knack for listening and narrative development quickly earned her a spot on the team as a Creative Production Assistant, where she is able to get her hands dirty in a variety of areas. She enjoys being a jack of all trades. She is currently working on building up Chance’s website, attending shoots to assist the team, blog planning, updating Stories Without Borders.com, organizing video projects and narrative development as an assistant editor.

What inspires her the most?

“When I watch a finished draft of a story we’ve told, a story that I’ve been involved with from start to finish, I feel incredibly inspired. Creating a story takes so much work, so much attention to detail, so much listening and attentiveness to the people being featured...it’s amazing when it all comes together.”

Dan came to us as a skilled craft editor.

He came to Colorado by bicycle in 2013 and just recently landed at Chance Multimedia. Living in Ohio, he had attended Ohio University for Photojournalism and Film and held a position as a staff photographer at the Columbus Dispatch. While freelancing in Colorado for outdoor lifestyle clients, Daniel was looking for something bigger which would help him give back to a larger community. As an Editor and Cinematographer, he is able to help tell stories which, in turn, help inspire people to think outside of their immediate lives. Daniel has experience working with nonprofits such as Local Matters in Columbus, Ohio and Paradox Sports in Boulder, Colorado and is using those experiences to help communicate the stories we here at Chance Multimedia are passionate about.

What inspires him the most?

“I am inspired by passionate people or groups who are not afraid to stand up and make their voices heard. We often work with exceptionally driven subjects and try to tell their stories with as much conviction as they tell them. Being able to feel that energy and weave it into the work we are doing here is a very inspirational feeling.”

Catching Up in Denver

HP_2.jpg

Greetings! Since we took a blogging hiatus for a while we need to play a little catch up, like old friends catching up over a cup of coffee. We’ve been up to quite a lot.

It’s been interesting to see what stories have come our way in the last year. We have felt the changes happening all over Colorado in our own business. Because of our mission to tell the untold story, to enlighten individuals with narratives of great people doing great things, we are excited by the storytelling opportunities we are seeing all over Colorado. Things are shifting.

Some shifts are positive -- there is a movement to live healthier, build self-sufficient communities and become more active in one’s own city. Other changes are posing a great challenge to people that have been here for years -- new developments are driving people out of their homes as many cannot afford the skyrocketing prices of living.

Chance Multimedia strives to capture both sides of the picture. We like to follow people and organizations that are making positive changes, and we think it’s important to be a voice for those that are feeling trampled on by the rapid growth in this city.

One story came our way in the last year that inspired us and caused us to contemplate our own community. The story of the Healthy Places Initiative, developed by The Colorado Health Foundation, and what’s happening within three communities in Colorado. These communities, full of families and lively cultural diversity, had room to improve: In some places they lacked streetlights at night, parks for their children to play in, bike paths to ride on...

We have been running around with our cameras following the actions of the Healthy Places Initiative members as they set out to build those things that were lacking, celebrate with their community members, and cultivate stronger relationships between neighbors. They’re creating pride in their community and embracing health in a whole new way.

Watching this growth and change makes us reflect on what we’re doing in our own lives and communities, Do we feel the sense of excitement and hopefulness in our own neighborhood that our lenses are capturing in these three ever-evolving places?

We think so. Jessica is involved in the Sustainable Food Policy Council, Chloe volunteers at the Denver Film Center down the street, James and Jessica participate in vegetable gardening with the neighbors on their block, and we run races in City Park to support causes we’re passionate about. These things excite us, and we would like to look for other ways to be engaged in the lively Denver community this year.

There’s always more that can be done. It just takes some vision and a few strong individuals to start moving forward and others will inevitably follow.

We are pleased that the work we’ve been doing with Healthy Places not only inspires us, but will inspire other communities around Denver to make the same impacts in their own neighborhoods.

We’re just glad we can be here to capture and share it all.

It’s an exciting time for Denver, and we have more interesting stories in the works that embrace these great movements.

All this talk of growth and change reminded us… we have some new team members to introduce to you next week!

 

Introducing Our New Intern: Patrick Gillespie

leveled_3.png

I’ve been interested in film for a huge portion of my life, but didn’t actualize this interest until relatively recently. When applying for schools, I never considered film school as an option, telling myself that it was beyond me, way out of line. Yet upon my return from study abroad in Spain, halfway through my junior year of college, I found myself with a year and half of school left, a thesis to write, and enough time to complete another major of my choosing. Thus I thrust myself into the film school at the University of Denver, with a focus on documentary storytelling being an obvious choice. I graduated this spring from the University of Denver with degrees and honors in psychology and film, with an emphasis on documentary filmmaking. Psychology has allowed me to better understand those around me, and film has given me a medium to tell the stories that I grow to understand. For isn’t storytellers what we are, at the end of the day? We may have transcended, leaving the smoke filled campfire circles, but those of us that are born to tell stories will tell them, only hardened by any adversity. Adversity is merely another chapter.

Last summer, after taking my first film class ever, Intro to Production, I applied for and received a grant through DU to film a documentary for my senior thesis. With this money, I borrowed my mom’s tiny digital camera and moved to a small village in Nicaragua, alone. I met with a professor there for six days, then spent the next two months living and breathing the stories of Gigante. I learned more in these two months about filmmaking, travel, and myself than I had in years of schooling. In the field notebook I kept, there’s a scrawl towards the bottom of a page, “I find in every second here what I spend weeks searching for a mere taste of at home.”

Six months after my return, I finally finished editing what became my senior thesis “Encantado Por El Mar", a short documentary focused on maintaining the integrity of a small local culture as foreign development careened forward. With barely any time to breathe, I began another film, this one more local. “Leveled” was my capstone documentary at DU, a short film that explored reactions to our own mortality and followed the head groundskeeper at Fairmount Cemetery. This film took on a much more poetic tone than my previous film, aided exponentially by the incredible visuals guided by our DP. “Leveled” went on to win the Best of Fest award at DU’s InShort Film Festival and is now an official selection for DocuWest Film Festival in Golden, Colorado.

Patrick 2

Patrick 2

I found Chance Multimedia, through a flyer posted in a classroom at DU, advertising the ever-elusive ‘paid internship’. Although this caught my eye through the plethora of papers, a look at their website really hooked me in. Within 24 hours of sending Jessica and James an email, I sat in front of them for an interview. It became clear to both parties (I hope) that I’d be good fit with the company. These were people whose ideals aligned with my own, to whom helping people was a first priority and film an integrative medium. I left the interview politely declining the opportunity to ruminate my decision over the weekend, and accepted on the spot. It’s incredibly fulfilling finding work that allows me to use the skills I’ve learned to achieve goals that coincide with the values I hold close.

To me, documentaries are the summation of passion, the most involving and incredible experience one can hope to encounter. To find a way to tell a story as I’m immersed neck-deep and looking at the distant shore of my comfort zone. The world needs people that are willing to tirelessly work, to strap on that bulletproof vest to tell a story. Because the stories are out there, waiting to be told, waiting for a storyteller.

– Patrick

Creating a Video Strategy

infographic-featured-image.jpg
Creating a Video Strategy

Creating a Video Strategy

If you would like to download a printable copy of this infographic, please click on this link. Alternatively, simply click on the image above to view the graphic full-size in a new window within your browser.

A Compelling, Creative Truth

photo.jpeg

Photo: Former Chance Multimedia Intern and Video Slayer Muffy Robinson, shooting on the Silkology set. By Muffy Robinson

“Well, what is it exactly that you want to do?”

I’ve always dreaded answering this question, mostly because it seems impossible to answer, but mainly because I don’t even know where to begin. I’m sure I’m not the only one in my position who feels this way.

I’m a recent college grad—having just received my master’s degree—looking for a career in a bleak economy, in a field of journalism that many say is dying- I say transitioning - all the while trying to maintain some sort of semblance of who I am and what I want out of life.

And to tap off that hunt for the elusive career, I’m also relocating to a new city. Scary right?

Truth be told, I’m a bit of a control freak, so for me yes, it is a little daunting, but it shouldn’t be, and here is why.

I’ve been working for Chance Multimedia as an intern editing video (with the affectionate title of Video Slayer). The most important lesson I’ve learned from this internship and Chance’s business model is that multimedia story telling is (what I hope will be) a new format of journalism.

So, what exactly is multimedia story telling then?

I’ve struggled with that phrase since I first heard it from one of my professors, and I may even still be struggling with it now. On a basic level, it seemed to be the combination of video, still photography and audio into a video reel; upon further glance, it appeared to be low budget advertising that non-profits had access to. Little did I know that I had it all wrong. That’s when Chance Multimedia was added to my resume and the definition of multimedia finally became clear.

Multimedia story telling is creating stories that are told through any and every means of achieving a compelling, creative truth.

In this new model, the line between advertising and old school journalism is blurred into a new model of creative story telling. Stories that can be and are visually beautiful, stories where people have their own voice rather than having their story regurgitated by a news anchor, stories that make you want to purchase, support, or be a part of something, stories that aren’t formulaic and determine their own way of being told. Perhaps even stories where few words are ever exchanged.

How did I come to this definition?

Well, I’m not the kind of person who wants to change the world. In fact, I’m not convinced I even care if I make a difference in it. I’m the kind of person that just wants to share in and be a part of life. I’m guessing there are lots of us out there, but few have had the same opportunity that I have, to work with James and Jessica Chance.

I didn’t initially see my viewpoint aligning with James’ and Jessica’s when I first arrived at Chance. I was—and still am—interested in fashion, sports and urban culture, and their passions lie more within the realm of human rights. But it is the medium they use to inform people of their interests that directly correlates with my own interests: visual story telling.

While I’m sure James and Jessica don’t consider much of their work journalistic or would call themselves reporters, what they do is similar in my eyes. Ultimately they are giving the viewer information that someone (usually their client) deems important information to be known. In a news room, the only difference is the news director or producer is the one selecting what information is important enough to make the air. The largest difference in Chance’s stories from a journalist’s is the way they put together the information. All of the information is still completely the truth but it’s being told through the voice of the subject, not a third party alternative, such as a reporter or a news anchor. There are no voiceovers to make a story connect and only the information that was gathered can make the final edit. For me it’s a lot like that childhood game of telephone: the more people that try to interpret the message, the more muddled it becomes. The Chances have cut out the middleman in their stories and I have a feeling the general population would trust mass media slightly more if journalism were to do the same.

I do realize there is an obvious problem in transitioning journalism into multimedia; time. Multimedia takes a little more finesse and requires a lot more tweaks than a news story might. Here at Chance, I have been afforded the luxury of longer deadlines and fewer stories. Will it ever work in a news information capacity? I don’t know, but I sure hope so. I might actually start watching then.

I have taken away a lot from the Chances, but for me, the most beneficial was the basic purpose of a story and how to tell it. I learned that, when done well, a story will weave together pieces of information to create a message and the intent of that message is to make the viewer believe. Whether that belief is thinking Bryan Dayton makes one mean cocktail with Silk milk or the belief that the stories of people living in a cemetery in Manila are worth hearing, the point is to see and believe. Nothing more, nothing less. If the viewer feels a call to action or is inclined to initiate change, then the story has accomplished a positive reaction and I would consider it a success.

Today, we all want to be entertained, not see an outline of what someone else deems are important events we should know about. So, what better way to meet that demand than through multimedia story telling? This is how I hope journalism is changing. Changing to be more compelling and innovative. I’m confident the rest of the journalism world will come around and see my viewpoint; it just may take some time.

So let me take another stab at that dreaded question. What exactly is it that I want to do?

I want to tell stories. Stories about fashion, designers, sports, city events, maybe even stories for advertising firms. And it just so happens that the way I’m going to do that is through a camera lens and a Final Cut keyboard (or Premiere Pro, thanks to James and Jessica).

So one last question. Am I afraid of finding a job, in a new career field and in a new city?

Definitely not. I’m all too happy searching for a career in this current grey area better known as multimedia and am confident I am more than equipped with the skill sets to be competitive in this transforming industry.

Oh, and if you know of anyone hiring for the position of Video Slayer, please pass along my information.

zp8497586rq

Re-Introducing Chance Multimedia: Our Story

intro_slide3.jpg
Watching the sunrise in Cascas, Peru. Photo by Dr. Bruce McArthur.

We arrived in Denver on January 3, 2009 with a moving truck, two laptops, some multimedia equipment and an Every Human Has Rights Media Award. The award, our first together as a company, had come with a free trip to Paris along with 28 other winners from around the world. We spent the trip talking, debating and dreaming about media, journalism, communication, and what Chance Multimedia would become (once we really got started).

During the previous year, we worked out of backpacks together in the Philippines, Cambodia, Guatemala and Thailand, building our ability to produce work together in tiny rooms. James with his cameras and me with my computer. Crafting interviews, shot lists, and sequences, writing, and working it all out as we went. Visiting people living in mausoleums, in monasteries, and on the street. Gathering stories. Oftentimes, breaking my own heart in the process.

Before deciding to leave Ohio and begin Chance Multimedia, we worked on a national foster care project with young people who had been raised in the foster care system. Between our international stories and our national advocacy work, we began to shape our vision and balance how our strengths might work,  together.

So when we arrived in Denver in 2009, we were on our way to establishing a multimedia storytelling company that we knew would be different. Our partnership would focus on telling real stories, authentically captured and woven with beautiful visuals, from a transparent point of view. Stories that would invigorate audiences — as well as the staff of the organizations we would work for — because they were told from a grassroots level, outside of the conference room.

We wanted to produce stories that would touch hearts, because they were true.

We just needed that first project.

After hundreds of cold calls, several networking events, and a lot of projects that fell through, it came. And then another, and another. Slowly, with gratitude to the clients who took a chance with a small, new kind of video team, we began to grow. At some point in 2010, we stopped making calls and networking. We were too busy, and the word-of-mouth recommendations kept it that way. It was happening.

Nearly half way through 2012, I'm very pleased to say that we haven't slowed down a bit. In fact, we're still gaining momentum and expanding faster than we even expected, not only in our work, but in our staff, our brand, and our space. (But more on that in an upcoming post..)

Soon, we hope to travel back to Manila to finish a 30-minute documentary that we started in the Philippines on that epic trip in 2008, about a community of people living in the North Cemetery. It's the same project that won the Every Human Has Rights Media Award. We're eager now to bring our enhanced skills, knowledge and attention to the varied perspectives of the people living there who have generously shared their lives, thoughts and dreams with us over the years, and weave them together into a long-form documentary.

As we look forward to all of the new happenings in our work this year, I want to emphasize the values that we bring to our work every single day:

We believe that authentic, true stories are the best way to cut through the communication clutter, and it's what we do best.

We believe that strong, clean visuals honor the stories we produce by making even difficult and sad stories beautiful.

We believe our stories honor the storyteller's truth and experience. We listen, and we respect the courage it takes to share one person's truth with another (and the dynamics of telling that story in front of a lens).

Finally, we regard each of our clients as a partnership that grows and becomes more valuable over time.

We are so grateful to the many client partners who have enabled us to come to this place in our own story.

We'll be publishing a series of blogs during the next few months, introducing new team members, going behind the scenes on some of the stories we've produced, and looking back at some of the most valuable mistakes we've made over the years.

Thanks for reading,

Jessica Chance.