Think Visually…in advance
Good video journalists understand the power of images. They are able to “think in scenes,” as Randy Covington, a former TV journalist, puts it. This requires the ability to imagine the potential visual elements of a story before setting up the camera. You should develop a shooting plan before going out to shoot a story. It might be a detailed shot list or a rough storyboard you sketch on the way to the story location. Either way, think about the visual possibilities and consider how you will record those images while working on a tight deadline. You’ll be able to work much more efficiently if you have a good shooting plan.
The Eyes Have It: Writing to Your Video
The storytelling process also requires you to make clear links between your video and your audio. When writing narration, you must make sure that what the audience hears is closely related to what they see. This is a critical skill. If there is not a clear, coherent link between your words and your video, the audience’s eyes will compete with their ears. Their senses will be in conflict and research shows that the eyes will usually win, meaning the audience will retain visual information but won’t remember important verbal information in the story. You don’t want all your hard work to go to waste, so make sure you carefully watch your b-roll before writing your script, and carefully connect your words to your images. The simple rule is: Say it, see it!
Here’s reporter Mike Schuh from WJZ-TV in Baltimore breaking down the writing process, using one of his PKGs as an example. You’ll see the PKG first, then Schuh dissects the script. Good writing doesn’t call attention to itself, as Schuh tells us. “You’re just getting out of the way of a good story.”
Putting it all together
Here’s a story from Boyd Huppert, one of the best storytellers in the business. He works for KARE-TV in Minneapolis. Watch the story carefully and pay close attention to Huppert’s voice track. Notice how clear and concise he is. He also uses lots of natural sound between sentences — almost as a way of punctuating a phrase. He’ll even pause mid-sentence to allow a short “pop” of natural sound, then continue the sentence. This is not an easy way to write news stories. Huppert has perfected his craft over many years, working hard to showcase the best video and audio elements. There are many memorable moments in the story, and some small surprises, too.