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Master Storyteller Meets a Track Star Overcoming Autism

December 1, 2009

A high school track star overcoming autism is the hero of this recent news feature by a master storyteller.  Boyd Huppert is like a modern day Charles Kuralt, and is an award winning reporter at KARE 11 in Twin Cities, Minnesota.  I once attended a 1-day writing workshot with Huppert and his regular photojournalist, Jonathan Malat.  Together, they once won the prestigious National Edward R. Murrow Award for journalism with a story about a duck in a truck.  This time, he meets a young man whose track achievements were an answer to his parents’ prayers. Click here to read the print version of the story, or you can click on this photo of Andrew Gerdts to go directly to the video:

Andrew Gerdts, high school track star overcoming autism

If you are a photographer, a writer, a news photojournalist or just someone who appreciates a well told story, reporter Boyd Huppert is definitely someone whose work you will want to watch and study…

His writing and reporting combined with Jonathan Malat’s photojournalism techniques embody the NPPA style of storytelling.  Some of those key principles are using steady, sequenced video shots, tightly edited for pacing, as well as meaningful natural sound, action-reaction sequences, memorable moments, clear writing, and surprises that keep the viewer interested. Huppert likes to put little surprises into his stories about every 10 seconds; he calls these the “little gold coins” that reward the viewer for continuing to watch the piece.  There is a link to Boyd Huppert’s “Land of 10,000 Stories” collection in my blogroll on the right side of my website.

In his story about Andrew Gerdts, you’ll notice photojournalist Jonathan Malat (I’m assuming it’s him) weaves the bits of Huppert’s narration with snippets of interview sound and natural sound of things like trucks driving, feet running, a starting gun firing, and other short bursts that grab your attention. He uses steady tripod shots at great distances to show runners at the starting block or coming down a road, but he also uses handheld (shoulder-mounted) shots to get up close to the action at the end of a race, or to get quick soundbites from Gerdts, his mom and others. Some interviews are locked down on a tripod and/or use studio lights, while others are not. The NPPA shooting style is all about getting the moments that make a story memorable, and sometimes you have to get off the tripod to follow the action, but usually a shot should be stabilized.

As you watch the story, also notice the use of quick, tight shots such as feet jumping off a starting block or the reflection and whirr of a milkshake mixer. These little shots are great transitions and also help add punch to the story. You can never get enough cutaways when shooting coverage, and you will be glad you did when you get back to the edit bay. Huppert believes in the “Show, Don’t Tell” motto. You’ll notice his commentary stays humbly out of the way, leading you through the sights, sounds and emotions of the story, while adding needed context that increases the emotional impact.  If you are a professional reporter or videographer who wants to learn to do this kind of work on a regular basis, there is a place where you can go to do that.

In 2000, I attended the week-long NPPA News Video Workshop, often called just “The Workshop.” It’s a one-week, intensive course where you are literally engaged in learning about the craft of multimedia storytelling about 12 hours a day. It is inspiring and career-changing for any shooter who attends.  It’s only offered one week per year and only in Norman, Oklahoma. You could spend four years at any college and walk away with a degree in broadcast journalism and not learn what you will learn at The Workshop in a week. The instructors are working reporters, photographers and editors who regularly win national awards for their work. I have found that keeping up with the output of the NPPA instructors is a good way to stay fresh and inspired to do good work even when the job gets stale.

If you are a news photographer getting into video, NPPA has offered a “Platypus” track at The Workshop to help make that transition. When I was there in 2000, they were using the Canon XH-1, which uses a real manual lens like photographers are used to using every day.  I would highly recommend the course, since so far there really are no books or DVDs that have been produced that take you step by step through the NPPA style. At the Workshop, each presenter has a video presentation custom made for the occasion, and you just have to take notes. They also give you a notebook; I guard mine pretty well, since it is the only reference manual I have available to refresh my memory.

Recently, Focal Press put out a book that looks like it might be the first NPPA-level textbook for news video shooters. It’s called “Roll!,” and I just ordered a copy, so when that gets here I will read it an post a review.  It’s been on my wish list for a while.  I have several other books I plan to review here as well, and these reviews will go under a new section of my blog for professional development.  I am planning some tutorials on video editing to relay some of the video storytelling methods I have learned over the years with examples of how to translate those into actual work.  If you have any specific questions or areas of interest, please let me know in the comments section of this post and I will try to find answers for you.  Besides sharing good work I have found on the website as examples of excellent storytelling in a digital medium, I also want to help grow the pool of good storytellers by sharing what I have picked up in 10 years as a working TV videographer.

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