The above piece was largely shot in two afternoons, and edited in one afternoon, during a recent trip to find personal stories of Haitians who were helping themselves in the aftermath of the Jan 12th earthquake that shook large swaths of Port-au-Prince and surrounding cities. By the time I got there, the press had made the point: the destruction was devastating. I agree with Chip Litherland that the media coverage were that most of the viewer response was largely carried by the photographs. The galleries from the Big Picture, or the NYT revealed amazing, personal moments, with range of context and mood. That’s what I was seeing re-tweeted over and over. Not the videos. Stand-up acts by white guys was the last thing anyone was engaging with. I felt they were appallingly impersonal. I was hard stretched to find personal stories of Haitians delivering aid to themselves.
By the time I got there, the few people I work with had some leads. We pursued one, and Pastor Ronel Mesidor proved a resilient man helping everyone around him, by converting both his church and home into shelters and clinics.
In creating the piece, I wanted to share some learning points I’ve reflected on:
1. Deadline work and Interviewing Foreign Languages
I’ve gotten in the flow now, to be able to quickly shoot and edit foreign-language videos. It involves:
- The Interview: Do the interview with two lapels, one for the subject, one for the translator. The translator sits off-camera next to me. I instruct two important things: the subject looks at the translator (more natural for him to talk to someone asking him questions in his own language anyway), and I take as much time as needed to make clear that the subject needs to contain thoughts to 2-3 sentences and then pause and wait for the translator. The translator also needs to pause and wait for the subject to completely finish his sentence before translating. Translators will often jump in and begin translating on the fly, thus making the subject’s audio polluted with faint English statements. I struggled with this piece to rid the Creole of English audio fall-off from my translator. Lesson learned for next time.
- transcribe the interview in a text editor, then run through and highlight the story. You’d be surprised how fast this goes when you realize that a 40-min interview in a foreign language is half translation being spoken, so really is 20 minutes of talking, which when the statements are broken up a moderate typer can keep up without hitting the pause button. I typed out the above piece in maybe 30 minutes.
- Once transcribed, it’s no harder than skim-reading to find the story in 5 minutes. I edit in TextEdit on a Mac, and just change the font color of key statements to red. Then go find those red statements and cut them into Final Cut. That makes the base of my narrative.
2. Musical Choice.
My company subscribes to FirstCom, so we have a pretty large library, which makes it even harder to find the gem song for any particular occasion. This occasion was “confusion.” As the pastor began his recounting, and I listened to his comments on the timeline, I wanted a musical selection that reinforced that state of mind. The track used had rough beats, drums and strings that were abrupt and sudden, going in and out. I thought it was fitting to help “wrap the emotions” as one colleague put it, using music to guide the emotive response…
3. Value of Subtitles.
I’ve had a recent discussion with some friends on a partner project about this. To do voice-over in English, or native language with English subs? Both have different effects, and are appropriate for different occasions. For this piece though, which was going to be largely distributed and viewed in web browsers, I went with natural language and subtitles. I did this because I felt the subject’s tone carried part of the story. His cadence communicated something to me. Second, I wanted viewers to hear Creole, to hear a local speak, instead of a British-accent pundit standing in front of another bad scene. But here’s some general guidlines to understand when doing subtitled videos:
If you’ve read this far, this post is largely about the production. Not my experience in Haiti. I reserve that for personal inquiry, and might post on that later.
thanks for the notes! i’ve been wondering about the most effective form of other-language story telling: subtitles vs. VO’s.
good tips on doing an effective interview w. a translator.
also, i do like the use of the continuous shot.
Great insights. You shared some very practical tips which not only would save time, but help the story come out more clearly and with a stronger impact.
Thanks for the video too. It seemed to have a bit of an unconventional start, but the dirty glass and bumpy roads reflect the situation. It still seems fairly risky in that some might move on before they really were captured in the story. It is well done, though.
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