Viewing entries tagged
storytelling

Inspirational Storytelling

We're always excited when real stories get promoted in the creative industry in Denver, so when we came across The Denver Egotist's post highlighting work from Parallel Path and Roos Brothers we were inspired to watch and discuss. 

Three short films were created to promote Rocky Mountain Health Plans using real stories of people's lives on the Western Slope. They're beautifully and artistically done. 

 

Advance Video Stories: Transportation and Health

Advance Video Stories: Transportation and Health

We've started working on a series of stories for The Colorado Trust that mirror written stories published in their Advance newsletter. The stories cover all areas of topics around health equity in Colorado, and we were so impressed by the amazing reporting and information that we saw an opportunity to produce videos that would spread the stories even further. 

Check out the first video in the series below that highlights three Colorado residents with very diverse experiences, and their stories about transportation and its disproportionate effects on health.

The Process of Gathering Stories

The Process of Gathering Stories

We were asked to produce a visual story this month to compliment and build upon a written story published by one of our foundation clients. The story featured several characters, and we had freedom to speak with the people featured in the written story, or explore new areas and highlight new people. 

It's always a joy when we're able to dive into our own exploration process and seek out people that have very interesting things going on in their own communities, but don't often get the chance to have their voice heard. 

In this process of searching for people willing to share their story, this time about transportation issues for people in various environments around Colorado, we discovered Bill. He lives up in Gold Hill, a rural mountain town in the hills behind Boulder, up a steep and winding dirt road that you would never know exists. After a quick phone chat with Bill, we thought he would be a great piece of the story and could explain how he survives without a car in such a remote community. Often a phone call or two is all we have before meeting with someone and trying out an on-camera interview. It's often easy to tell if someone is going to be forthcoming on camera or not, and we find that most of the time people are excited to tell their story and have an active listener. 

Bill had agreed to an interview in his home, a dome structure up a steep hill without running water. He greeted us with tea and coffee, so warm and generous, and showed us a bit around his property. He lives a simple life, is retired because of a disability from an accident he had years ago, rides his bike and spends weeks in the woods behind his house camping and being in nature. He produced some wild foraged mushrooms for us as a lunch offering, which he grilled in butter with asparagus and local bacon - a savory and unexpected treat for us. 

During the interview we gathered much more than we needed for the story, but we often experience people opening up to us during interviews and understand that a listening ear is not offered much in people's lives. When they get the chance to open up, and receive genuine listening ears, they feel inspired and unfold layers of themselves. We understand that our job is not just to gather the story, but also to treat people with the utmost kindness and respect, acknowledging their humanity. We have a great responsibility with our cameras and editing capabilities, and when people offer a willingness to be vulnerable in front of our cameras, it's our job to take care and listen deeply.

The experience with Bill in his nature home and esoteric ramblings was a stark contrast with our next character, Pam from Montebello. We sat down with Pam in a park and learned all about her experience has a walker in her community. Pam is full of fire and energy, and leads a walking group in Montebello. She advocates for black women to get out of their homes and walk their community, to fight preventable diseases and also create a stronger sense of community. We learned about the greatest struggles Montebello has, and how the city has been built around the assumption that everyone owns a car, which not everyone can afford. We were inspired by her vivaciousness as a retired woman in her 60s, advocating for policy changes and galvanizing hundreds of other women in her community to make a change for themselves and where they live. 

We followed Pam through the streets with our cameras, documenting the dangerous and unfair experiences she has as a pedestrian trying to navigate her own city. 

It's these varied experiences that we love exploring, just minutes or hours away from our own homes in Denver, and it takes getting out into the community and talking to folks to understand and capture diversity of life. Everyone has something to share, and many people welcome us into their world without hesitation. When we leave ourselves open to the organic story that unfolds, we experience true humanity and can develop a story that expresses vulnerability and depth. We're also highly impacted by the experiences we enter into as filmmakers, and we learn a great deal about people and issues every time we discover a new story. 

Capturing Video Stories Over Time

Capturing Video Stories Over Time

This year we wrapped up a three-year video project with The Colorado Health Foundation, and we've been reflecting on the experiences we had in different communities. 

We were tasked with capturing a three-year grant process in three different communities - Westwood, Lamar and Arvada - getting to know each one and watching them grow into more abundant, stronger, physically active and healthy neighborhoods. We captured the growth in each place from the very first meeting to the last, following the key community leaders as they gathered around their neighbors and made decisions about what would make their community healthier, including implementing new parks, sidewalks, bike trails, neighborhood gatherings and youth sports programs.

The result was one video per community per year highlighting the different themes of the year and stories of communities leaders who had grown throughout the process. We are so lucky to have been the chosen video producers for the project, and we grew with each community along the way, as we were in active conversations with each place and captured their greatest milestones in a long, rewarding process. 

It takes a different approach to work on such a fluid video project, over a long period of time. It took a lot of relationship maintenance, changes of plans, reassessment of communications goals, and creativity in translating what had happened in each community over the three years. We enjoy having a window into the intense work and dedication of grassroots activism and the strength communities have when they learn to work together. We were continuously inspired as we developed new and interesting ways to capture their progress, and we built relationships with people that we enjoyed getting the chance to interview over the years. 

These are the kinds of projects we like to go after - ones where we can dive deeply into a community project or process with people that are doing very important work on the ground. If we can develop beautiful videos around such movements and distribute them widely, we believe we can expand people's overall circle of concern and encourage people to act in their own lives, while also creating empathy and understand for those communities and folks they may not interact with every day. 

Check out the videos for each community below!

Healthy Places Lamar

Healthy Places Westwood

Healthy Places Arvada

 

Mental Health In the Media

Mental Health In the Media

We wanted to share a media campaign that Cactus and Lyra Health partnered on recently that really impressed us. Presenting mental health in a physically alarming form to portray a strong message about the crippling affects of not addressing our mental health issues.

In our video storytelling journeys over the years, we've often been in spaces of discussing mental health issues and highlighting the stories of folks who are willing to be vulnerable about their health-related experiences. The landscape is changing in the realm of mental health and its associated stigma - more media is being released revealing just how prevalent mental health issues are, and more resources are being created for those that want to seek help. It all starts with talking about it openly and welcoming others into the conversation.

We're glad to see a widespread media campaign that speaks to the issue in such a striking, serious, yet lighthearted way to reach a wide audience of people and demand attention. What if our mental health problems were taken as seriously and treated as immediately as our worst physical ailments? It's the beginning of a big narrative shift around mental health stigma. 

Click to see full campaign

Click to see full campaign

The Art of Listening: Why Isn't It Taught?

The Art of Listening: Why Isn't It Taught?

We came across this brilliant article written last week on one of our favorite publications, On Being, about a young man who walked 4,000 miles across the U.S. to listen. He carried a sign that read, "Walking to Listen," and that's precisely what he did - spending time with Americans from all walks of life in all different parts of the country. 

Listening is such an important part of our job as journalists, as filmmakers, because we have a duty to carry someone's story. We open people up through interviews, and it's only through real, curious, careful and attentive listening that those people feel comfortable talking to us. We ensure we're creating safe spaces for the interviewee to be able to open up. We listen in earnest, we listen not knowing the answer, we listen to gain perspective, and most importantly we listen with respect. 

We want to tell stories that bridge gaps and create a sort of ladder for people to climb the "empathy wall.." It's true that through authentic stories our minds can be changed, our hearts can be opened, we start to listen, we start to connect and the walls come down. To craft these stories we have to become vulnerable and create space for the the people with whom we're working to share. We receive, they give, and we in turn create a beautiful video or visual story to give to the community. It's a process and a journey, and it's not always smooth, but it is always worth the humanizing stories and tools that are created and sent into the world at the end.

We're inspired by this quote from the articled and how it applies to our storytelling: "Listening has a way of complicating any simplistic good-and-evil dichotomy in this way. When people entrusted me with their stories — their brokenness, their frailties and fallibilities — it made it impossible for me to hate them, even if I was deeply disturbed by some of the things they believed or had done. And when I didn’t hate them, and asked them questions without malice, they could remain open, and it is in this openness that transformation becomes possible."

We're so inspired by this individual and we hope to see more stories like this, of people getting out into the world and making connections, bridging gaps, operating with humility, in a cultural space that can sometimes feel reactive or disconnected. 

We'll leave with this quote from the article: "Listening with judgment, ready to defend and attack, is not the kind of listening I’m talking about. That’s critical thinking, argumentation, debate — important tools that most schools do a good job of teaching. What I’m talking about is listening, a commitment to exploring and building connection with others based on our shared humanity even when that kind of connection seems impossible."

Read the article

Building a Chance Multimedia Team

Building a Chance Multimedia Team

We're a small team of people at Chance Multimedia, and it's so important to maintain team members that will uphold the company's ethics and values and understand the often sensitive nature of what we produce. When our dear friend and editor Dan Sohner decided to take his career to the mountains, (where his heart belongs!), we were on the hunt for a new editor and cinematographer that would jive with our team as well as Dan did. 

We are so happy to have found Alex Sandberg, an East Coast native and wanderlust who started his career in L.A. before being called to the beauty and expansiveness of Colorado. Alex is approaching his one-year anniversary with us, and he's made our team so much better since we snatched him off the freelance market. Here's a little bit about Alex:

1. Why did you decide to move to Colorado?

I grew up on the east coast, and before moving here I had spent the previous three years in Los Angeles, so I was ready to get away from the endless urban sprawl. I love the outdoors and I’m an avid hiker, so I wanted to move somewhere in the western U.S. with forests, mountains, four seasons, and great weather, and nowhere fits that bill better than Colorado! I only knew a couple of people here but I decided to just take the leap, and I couldn’t be happier with the choice.

2. What was your first shoot experience like with Chance Multimedia? 

My first shoot with Chance was certainly a memorable one. The day after my interview, I got a call from James asking if I was available the following day for a shoot, which would also serve as a “test run” to see if I was a good fit. Then he asked me if I had ever been up in a helicopter, to which I replied something like, “Uhh… no.” I said I was free and up for the challenge, but couldn’t make any major promises about the quality of my footage. The shoot was a blast, and I managed to walk away with one or two usable shots (with lots of stabilization in post), which I guess was enough to pass the test! 

3. What camera gear are you looking at right now? Drone? New DSLR? 

I’ve been thinking about upgrading my camera body for a year or two now, but just haven’t been quite ready to pull the trigger. I have Canon lenses, so I (like so many others) for years eagerly awaited the release of the Canon 5D mkIV, and I (like so many others) was disappointed when it finally came out. The photo specs are superb, but 60fps at 1080p is underwhelming for slowmo capability, and the 1.74x sensor crop in 4k mode is a deal breaker. I’ll take a bit of pixel binning any day over a crop that extreme. Sony on the other hand has been very impressive over the last several years. The A7S II and A7R II are both fantastic cameras and very tempting, especially with the performance of metabones adapters for using Canon lenses, and the cheaper price tag than the 5D mkIV. The A7S II is certainly the better camera for video with its fantastic low-light capabilities and 120fps slowmo, but the sensor size for photography is a bit underwhelming at 12.2MP, as compared to the A7R II’s 42.4MP sensor. My ideal camera is an all-in-one video and photo camera, which has me leaning towards the A7R II at this point. Sony also just released the A9, which appears to blow both A7’s out of the water. But with a price tag of $4,499.00, I may need a slight raise to make that jump... James? Jessica?

4. What do you do on the weekends? Tell us about your adventures. 

I try to spend as much of my free time as possible outdoors, preferably hiking. I’m also an avid nature photographer (childhood dream job was to be a National Geographic photographer), so I love finding new remote places to explore with the hopes of spotting any little (or big) critters who might be roaming the woods. I had an awesome adventure just this past Monday in the Mount Evans Wilderness, which is only about an hour from Denver. I hiked the Tanglewood Trail, which follows a beautiful bubbling creek through a lush forest before emerging above the treeline to a saddle beneath Rosalie Peak, a 13’er in the shadow of Mount Evans. I got to break in a new pair of snowshoes for the last couple miles to the top, and the trail was completely lost under fresh snow so there was some bushwhacking involved! The view from the top was incredible and I didn’t see a single other person on the trail all day. I also came across some large and quite ominous animal tracks in the snow, which I later ID’d as belonging to a mountain lion. Or it could’ve been an enormous dog... but I’m going with mountain lion. Makes for a much better story.

5. What are your dreams for the future in the documentary/video production business? 

I’m passionate about environmental issues and I hope to use the power of documentary filmmaking and visual storytelling to help spread awareness about the impact that climate change is having on all the living creatures of our planet. Facing existential threats are countless species and entire ecosystems, not to mention the homes and way of life of people around the world. I believe climate change is the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced, and I hope to use filmmaking and photography to be part of the fight. 

Ethics and Responsibility in Storytelling

Ethics and Responsibility in Storytelling

Our team was recently at an introductory meeting with a new client, and the topic of sensitivity and participant care-taking came into the conversation as a concern for the client. We're always glad when it does come to the forefront of a client's mind, because that means our priorities are aligned - they're putting the wellbeing of participants and interviewees in front of the story, which is always where we place the most importance. 

We have strict ethical guidelines in our work not only because of our journalism backgrounds as a team, but because we as individuals uphold strong ethics and values in our own lives, in our own day-to-day interactions with others. We're aware of the power we hold as storytellers with tools, and we ask subjects to make themselves vulnerable through the interview and storytelling process. As such we have a great responsibility to make sure we operate within the comfort of those subjects from beginning to end and beyond. The process involves building relationships, building trust, and intently listening, all keys to crafting beautiful stories and letting people's words be truly felt. 

We start every interview ensuring the participant that they are fully in control of what goes into the story - they don't have to say or answer anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, and even if they do, they have the right to strike it from the record. We're often in sensitive, nuanced situations where people may be hesitant about our presence, and we're sure to never push any boundaries to "get the shot". We are humbled when we're welcomed into communities, into people's lives, and respecting them is our number one priority. 

When our ethics and values are aligned with those we're working with and for, the storytelling process is truly powerful and impactful for all those involved. 

Lessons from the Community

Lessons from the Community

A huge part of our job as videographers and journalists is to listen and absorb.

We do a lot of community work for foundations and nonprofits who activate rural city participation through grant opportunities. The documentation of those community-led processes sends us all over Colorado, to Olathe, Fort Morgan, Manzanola… places we hadn’t even registered on the map. Those places have taught us incredible lessons about life in rural cities, reflecting all the rural communities that make up the majority of this country.

In these tense political times it’s easy to become polarized. The hard thing is cross those lines and listen to the other side. Rural Colorado has a unique voice, a unique perspective, it’s a dichotomy of new and old, immigrants and generations-old families.

When you sit and listen, you have the opportunity to embrace. We’ve heard stories of Somali refugees making the journey to Fort Morgan to work and build better lives, we’ve heard stories of families traveling from Mexico to find peace and security in the small farm town of Olathe, we’ve heard stories of three-generations of families living in San Luis Valley embracing the changes they’ve experienced in their own, small culture. The most important thing is, these people are all now listening to each other through grassroots efforts.

Listening creates empathy, empathy creates movement, movement creates great change, and we’re honored to be able to witness these transformations and capture them in visually beautiful ways.

 

Questions of Copyright and Value: Where Does Inspiration Come From?

By Dan Sohner

Have you ever had an idea stolen? Copied maybe? It’s not a particularly great feeling. But now imagine that that idea ends up on the cover of, let’s say, National Geographic.

Photographer Tim Kemple has something to say about that. In short, Kemple made an image of an iconic rock climber on an iconic rock climb and another photographer, Jimmy Chin, made a nearly identical image, which he sold to National Geographic.

Jimmy Chin's image:

national_geographic_image
national_geographic_image

Tim Kemple's image:

tim_kemple_image
tim_kemple_image

You can imagine the conversation that happened. Mr. Kemple wasn’t very happy and Mr. Chin didn’t seem to see anything wrong.

Where does copyright begin and end? What is intellectual property, really? Is this ethical?

Where does inspiration truly come from?

As a creative person, I think it is sometimes hard to ask yourself where an idea came from or why you decided to create something in a certain way. When you start asking those questions, you start to discover your personal style, which then inevitably relates directly back to everything in this world which inspires you and has most likely inspired someone else at some point.

One of the hardest things we have to face as creatives is constantly figuring out how to stay relevant, fresh and innovative. It can be difficult to maintain uniqueness when there is such a saturation of content these days. But is the issue really about the physical production of a similar image, or is it more about the idea of something you made and believe is truly unique being recreated? Does this lessen the value of the unique way you see the world?

It is up to us as creatives to draw our own boundaries and direct the evolution of photography and video production in the manor we see fit because the conversations that arise are serving to shape our social values as a whole.

When producing content for clients, we have to make sure we can evolve the conversation while still maintaing the point and integrity of the story. As storytellers we give voice to those who may not have had the opportunity to share, and their voice is what inspires us to continue developing content. Even if the story we're telling has already been told, maybe it hasn't been told in this particular way by this particular person, and that interviewee getting their voice and message heard is what matters.

I think the point of visual storytelling, whether it's through photography or videography, is to present a platform that helps us all evolve the way we understand the world around us. We have to build off of things people can relate to and in doing that, have to accept the fact that some inspiration is borrowed. We have to tap into the collective conscience in order to build off of what has previously been done.

Shared experiences, like the ones we share through media, are some of the most powerful things we can feel as humans, only to be trumped, of course, by having an image on the cover of National Geographic…

The Editor's Chair

Chloe: Dan, how long have you been an editor? (Of photography and video) Dan: Ever since I started shooting, I have been editing. A lot of people try to be the “do it all” kind of person. Doing that teaches you a lot about efficiency, but is very difficult to do properly.

Chloe: What do you enjoy about editing?

Dan: I like seeing a project come full circle. I also like interpreting all of the content from the producer and shooter. I have to take the way these two people see the story and make it fit together.

Chloe: What do you do to set up an edit? What is your routine?

Dan: Everything begins with a meticulous file naming system and I start with the end in mind. I want all of the footage to be easily accessible and searchable by subject and date. I will set up the projects with a folder for Footage, Graphics, Music and the Premiere Project File. Knowing that this same folder setup will be imported into Premiere, making sure everything within “Footage” is labeled properly is important.

Inside Premiere, I will set up folders for Footage, Graphics, Music and Sequences. I make sure all of the Sequences are labeled with their contents, the version number and the date, just in case someone else in the office needs to find a specific edit or scene. This also makes naming our exports a lot easier.

Chloe: Do you think about edits you want to make during shooting? How much of the editing process is happening during actual production?

Dan: Absolutely. We have to be very strategic and efficient with our time at every step in the process. We do this so that we aren’t creating extra work for ourselves and so that we can deliver projects to the client in a timely manner. We will show up to a shoot with a rough outline of how we see the edit going, but are careful to leave room for the unexpected. We are always keeping a running list of the shots we have and constantly communicate the shots we are getting to each other to prevent shooting duplicate footage.

Chloe: What are the greatest challenges you have when editing?

Dan: I think the hardest part of editing is being concise with the edit. We often come away with a lot of great content and it’s hard to find a place for all of it. This means that I have to only select the very best content for the final edit.

 

 

Farmer to Cup

Farmer to Cup

Hi all, Things have been a little quiet lately on the blog because of a new project we’re working on, but we’re back online! We’ve been developing a new documentary with with a unique window into tea production practices in Kenya, the world export leader of black tea.

We spent the last couple of weeks in production in Kenya, meeting new people and discovering new stories on small tea farms. We are learning about the tea trade and synthesizing that information for a new media and storytelling platform. It’s exciting stuff! Not only are we capturing a unique story that has yet to be told in this light, but the way it’s going to be shared with viewers will be completely new.

We can’t wait to share these new stories with you! Until then, here are some pictures from the recent trip.

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A Letter to the Interviewee

A Letter to the Interviewee

Dear Interviewee, We’re going to show up to the scene with a multitude of cameras, lights and tripods. We’re going to set up a “stage” for you with lights all over and we’ll be standing behind and around the lenses asking you questions, but we don’t want these things to intimidate you, although we recognize that’s probably impossible.

We’re here to listen to you and tell your story. We value you.

The gear, the lights, the tripods - they’re just tools we are using to make your story beautiful to watch. It feels awkward right now, so keep in mind that we’re here for a larger goal. Your story is serving a purpose.

Now is your opportunity to say what you want an audience to hear, to tell your story honestly and without reserve. This is our opportunity to listen. We’ll take what you say and form new questions from it, keeping the flow of the conversation going very naturally. We like things to unfold organically. We’ll try to connect with you on an emotional level, if that’s where you want to go, because that is what will capture an audience the most.

Unless you’re delivering a thesis, there is no need to prepare. Who could know more about your experience than you? We’ve done enough research to know what questions to ask. We come to you having formulated some questions, but not all of them. We come to this conversation from a place of true curiosity. You have the story to tell, we have the job of weaving it together in the best way possible. You can leave the work and worry to us - all you have to do is show up and sit with us.

Being interviewed on camera is an extreme act of vulnerability and trust. That’s a lot to offer someone you just met. Trust that we appreciate this and in turn, we will treat your story with great care.

The secret is this: We have the gear, the knowledge, the expertise when it comes to making a video work. But your story is the reason we’ve all gathered here. So make “mistakes.” Ask to start over. Ask questions. Let’s collaborate for a goal beyond this awkward moment -- we’re ultimately here to educate, inspire and inform our community. When we remember that, we’ll do great work together… especially if you’ve never been on camera before.

Sincerely,

Chance Multimedia

 

Feature Photo:

Jessica Chance interviewing Hassan Latif for Take Care Health Matters. http://takecarehealthmatters.org/portfolio-item/hassan-latif

We spoke with Kevin Monteiro in 2014 for Take Care Health Matters. Kevin sat down with us 72 days after his release from a 30 year prison sentence. The experiences he shared, and more stories at takecarehealthmatters.org, are inspiring other justice-involved people to access health care.

http://takecarehealthmatters.org/portfolio-item/kevin-monteiro

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.