Sep 9 2012
The spring of 2012 brought a lot of change to college campuses throughout Pennsylvania. Governor Tom Corbett was proposing large budget cuts to the PASSHE (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education) for a second year in a row. Students held separate rallies at the 14 PASSHE schools before gathering in Harrisburg to take the message directly to the state’s legislators.
Because the story was so topical to students, a few of us from CU-TV decided to make a day trip to Harrisburg to film the rally. Our goal was to drive there, film the package, and have it edited for broadcast on our political show, Face the Campus, later that night. To accomplish this task, we brought two cameras with audio equipment, as well as two Macbook Pros to use as editing machines on the way back. Because the drive is nearly 3 hours long, it left us with little time and forced us to work in the car.
After arriving and getting our cameras properly exposed, I set off with our reporter, Matthew Knoedler, to film the interviews we used in the piece. In between the interviews I also grabbed some additional B-roll of the signs and crowd. Our second group used their camera to get more B-roll; they also set up a boom microphone and used it to get audio from the speakers at the podium. Together, this would make all of the footage we used in the editing room on the way back.
Myself and the other editor were familiar with two editing systems: Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro. We were just recently getting more used to using Premiere, but decided it was optimal for our in-car editing for one reason: the cameras we were using recorded .MTS files, a format that FCP 7 isn’t capable of recognizing. Because Premiere can work with those raw camera files, we chose to do the work in the program. This choice saved us the time of transcoding the files to Apple ProRes, which in turn saved us the battery life we needed to get the piece done.
In order to get the voiceovers for the piece, we simply passed a microphone to Matt in the front seat and had him record them to our cameras, which could then be uploaded. This system worked well, and we were also able to easily move computers throughout the car and review each other’s work or throw out different ideas.
By the time we pulled into the station at Clarion, both computers were drained of battery life, but we had finished the package and it was ready to go to air. Our final step was to print it to a tape and get it into our system; at the time we were limited to tapes for transfer of video out over air, though now we have a new system that does work with exported files.
I didn’t actually add the motion graphics for the piece until later. I created the lower thirds to add in later on; our broadcasting equipment at the time wasn’t capable of compositing the motion graphics live over the air. We now use the lower thirds I made as base templates for some our programming.
The best part of this experience was the pressure of the imminent deadline. This is something that reporters and field producers deal with everyday when producing the news, but when you’re a college student this reality isn’t always present. Students are usually enrolled in 15 credits (typically 5 classes), which takes up a lot of their time that professionals use to do their job. Add to this the fact that Clarion is a very small market, with much less news happening daily than other locations, and the end result is that you are forced to be more lax with deadlines, both because the reporters don’t have as much time, and the quantity of news is lower.
That is the reason that this experience was so valuable, and I will admit, we had it easy. Many reporters often have to report to a location alone and run their own camera; the classic “One-man band.” After filming a few stories throughout the workday, they are then expected to get back to the station and have all of these edits done for the nightly news broadcast. Because there were more of us, and we had time to edit in the car ride (not possible for someone alone), we did have it a bit easier than many professionals.
I’ve spoken to local reporters before that tell stories about recording voiceovers while sitting at red lights, just so they can save the time when they get back to the station. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to get SOMETHING on the air that night; it doesn’t matter if it’s the best thing ever, just so long as it’s there to fill the time slotted for it. Our extra resources allowed us to get something over the air with a high level of quality and on time.
Although we only produced one package during the day, it is somewhat comparable workwise; if a reporter has to film four locations, but two end up as VO (Voiceover) material and the other two as SOTs (Sound On Tape), the biggest pain will be getting to all four locations. A package has to be self-contained and tell the story; there’s less work involved in simply getting footage for a VO.
In the end, I definitely enjoyed the looming deadline. It served as a constant reminder to get the work finished and focus on what was truly important to get it on the screen, not what was necessary to make it the greatest package ever aired. Because there were more of us, we were able to make sure it was very high quality as well. Deadlines are constant in the professional world, both in news and even dealing with clients as a videographer; missing them is unacceptable, at least if you want to keep getting work.
Jobs Performed: Camera Operator, Editor, Motion Graphics
Equipment Used: Sony NX5U, Manfrotto Tripod, Sennheiser EW 100 G3 Wireless Microphone, Boom Mic/Pole
Software Used: Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects