Monday, July 23, 2007

Secrets of Harvesting Sound

Profiling. Cops say they don’t do it but I damn sure do - every time I’m forced to shoot those wretched man-on-the-street interviews. And I ain’t talkin’ skin tone, either. No, only the reticent incur my slurs. I don’t care if you’re white black or plaid, as long as you speak in complete sentences I’ll be happy to put you on the tee-vee. But avert my gaze from across the way and I won’t waste my batteries asking how you feel about Roe VS Wade, that new Wal-Mart they’re building or the First Lady’s boob-job . Sound harsh? Perhaps, but when six opinions on disc are all that stand between you and a sit-down lunch, you tend to get a little punchy.

It’s different when you’re with a reporter, of course. There’s just something about a two person crew that slows foot traffic. Maybe it’s the teeth, the power-suit, or that dopey microphone flag. Whatever it is, nothing validates the whole interview process like an actual interviewer. Main anchors are great. So are weathermen (the goofy ones - not the scientists!). Drag along your station’s ‘sweetheart’ and you’ll be using those tripod legs to fight off talkers and stalkers. But it doesn’t take all that. Even a wooden Indian can illicit the proper response if he’s being trailed by a scruffy dude with Sony on his shoulder. (Trust me, I’ve worked with a few.)

Trouble is, on-air talent ain’t always available. See, the overly coiffed crowd has a habit of writing (or at least pretending to) in the afternoon. While they update their MySpace account, assignment editors like to scurry up busy work for idling lenslingers. Merge that urge with a lazy producer and you have a sudden need for a string of sound bites. Before you know it, you’re loitering outside some box store asking strangers where they think they city should build that moratorium they’re always talking about. That is a place you don’t wanna be, unless of course you dig panhandling for points of view. I don’t and neither should you. That’s why I’m revealing the following secrets of harvesting sound:

Use Your Sticks: Sure, you look cool hefting that glass at jaunty angles, but readied weaponry can really scare off customers. That’s why I recommend mounting that beast atop your tripod and planting yourselves by egress or escalator. Let ‘em come to you, role tape before they know it and engage in real conversation. Before you now it, you’ll leaving the food court a happy photog - and smelling a lot fresher than if you shouldered your piece when you should have parked it

Drop the Caveats: Extended speeches regarding the operation of said video camera are the imprints of an amateur. Throw in a few technical words no on outside of the Engineering Department understands, and you’ve really revealed yourself a rookie. Instead, ease up to your intended victim as if everyone walks around with a logo’d camera in tow. Chances are if they pause long enough to talk in the first place, they know what you and your lens are up to. Perhaps you’ve heard of YouTube.

Incite Division: This one could be considered dirty pool if it didn’t work so well. Say you’ve cornered a couple of ladies with shopping bags and designer duds. Instead of agreeing to talk on camera, they hem and haw, urging each other to go first, if at all. These, are easy marks. While dying on the inside for just a little screen-time, they seek the approval of their erstwhile partner. The smart photog will pick up on this game of back and forth and jokingly cajole each to do as he pleases. But be careful! ’Sugar Tits’ is rarely every an acceptable bromide. Ask Mel Gibson.

Dodge the Laconic: This goes back to the very essence of our post, but it’s worth repeating. Some people won’t talk to a TV camera for love nor money. This is often a wise tactic on their part, but that’s not your concern. You want them to open up, shout, cry or beat-box - whatever fit’s the question of the day. So don’t waste your time with the mousy housewife, don’t burn up batteries browbeating the timid, don’t delay your lunch by accosting a group of mimes. Some folk just ain’t got it in ’em. Which brings me to my next suggestion…

Scoff Not the Weirdo: Eccentric people have interesting opinions and they’re usually more than happy to share a half dozen or so with you. So do what I do. Look for the kind of person you’d avoid like the plague were you out on a stroll with your girlfriend. They’ll stop and chat. Look for nose rings, odd clothing, funny walks and close-talkers. These are your people. Unlike the vacationing accountant with his , that dude in the frayed Insane Clown Posse concert tee will be happy to share his views. Let’s just hope he’s been following the mayoral race.

Leave Your Comfort Zone: I’ve joked a lot about stereotypes here, but on this last point, I’m serious: Be an equal opportunity inquisitor. The people you put on camera should reflect your viewing audience. If instead everyone you talked to looks like your cousin’s kids, then you have failed yourself, your viewers and your assignment editor. That last part doesn’t bother me so much, but the good folk who tune every night at five, six and eleven deserve better than your idea of suitable humans. So mix up those skin pigments, bravely traverse all tax-brackets and chat up someone you might normally shun. You’ll come away the better journalist, and far more importantly, you might just get lunch.


Anonymous said...

hmmmm, what a great job for interns! Just give 'em one of those fancy small BJ cams and turn them loose. It could be a valuable learning experience.... or maybe they'll realize photojournalism ain't their cup 'o tea!

Anonymous said...

I would find this extremely funny if you hadn't turned up at my Yogurt store looking for sound bites all the time.

Besides, we eccentric people prefer the term “oddball freak”

chy said...

Hey! We oddball freaks prefer the label "interesting individual" thank you very much.