For educators who want to produce good quality multimedia (and who doesn't for heaven's sake?)
Also, join Gary on Twitter!
Gary Olsen is on twitter, and,quite frankly, who the heck isn't? It's sometimes easier to deploy messages on twitter particularly on certain textcentric cellphone models.
About this Blog:
I read all kinds of journals, magazines, newsletters, e-zines and Websites promoting the virtues of technology in education. They do a splendid job keeping educators informed of what's available, but what many teachers ask me is, "How best to use these tools?" How does one use this technology to develop learning materials?
It's not just that they don't know where to start. They don't know how to start. "I'm a little fuzzy on the technology part," is a common complaint I hear from teachers who like the idea of applying technology, but lack the knowledge to actually apply it to a project.
Perhaps the most practical skill set for most multimedia development is television production skills. Visual story telling that stimulates multiple senses and conveys emotion like nothing else is a talent but it is also a skill one can develop if properly trained and motivated.
Today there is a particularly steep learning curve for teachers since much of television production technology has gone digital and requires more than basic knowledge of computers to produce any kind of multimedia project. Why is it difficult to find resources about how to get a project started, how to manage the project, or how to, for example, produce a simple television show? How do I take an idea from by brain and put it on the screen or on a Web page?
This is the kind of thing I do, and I do it perhaps better than average. So I decided to start a blog dedicated to the implementation of ideas for multimedia in education. And communication is a two-way boulevard, my friends. Tell me what you want to know. My email link follows.
You and Your Bright Ideas:
I also produce a video blog for the Dubuque Schools. It's called, You and Your Bright Ideas! Sometimes video is the best way to illustrate something or convey an idea. Note how green (is that a cf bulb) our graphic is. Hey Earth! We got your back.
Who the heck is Gary Olsen?
Gary Olsen is an award winning media designer with an exceptionally large forehead as you can see in this photo, and he is presently the media developer for the Dubuque Community School District.
Gary has been writing this blog for most of a decade, but it was private for teachers and administrators only. It was intended to teach teachers how to adapt to and leverage technology in the classroom. Gary has been working with educators on emerging technologies and media trends. Gary has received several inquiries from those who had heard about the blog requesting access to the previously password protected content.
Gary has received regional and national recognition for his work in television production and web-based multimedia.
Gary has written two books on creativity as it applies to technology and the digital world. Getting Started in Computer Graphics and Getting Started in Multimedia Design.
His creative enterprise takes all forms of digital multimedia including photography, videography, animation, graphic design and he's even created digital sets for live stage plays. Gary teaches digital photography at Clarke College in Dubuque. Gary is a painter and a portrait artist as well. Gary was recently named a Cable Leader in Learning by the the non-profit Cable in the Classroom Education Foundation for his work on The Garden Organic cable series. His first cable series, Kids in the Kitchen, won the Beacon Award for outstanding cable series which is in its fifth year of production. Most recently, Gary's series Doctor! Doctor!, which puts middle school students in lab coats and lets them participate in medical procedures in a real hospital, completed its third year of production.
Gary is also a cartoonist whose work has appeared in USAToday. Gary resides in Dubuque, Iowa with his spouse, Linda, where they've lived since their college days at the University of Dubuque 44 years ago.
Gary describes his job as "taking people's communication goals and objectives and making them a reality."
Gary was hired by the Dubuque Community School District in 2000 because they lacked a cohesive strategy to leverage the Internet. "The district didn't even have a Website," explains Gary. "I set to work immediately building a media rich content site, and I converted everything that was published on paper and moved it to the Web. The result is that we now have a Web-based culture, and 15,000 visitors a day to our site."
All the while, Gary's organizational skills created a workflow model that would provide media rich content for the Web and a full-time cable television channel he successfully negotiated for with local cable provider, Mediacom. His award winning shows involve hundreds of children and are amazingly popular in the community. Those on the dish and not on cable can still download videos on demand from the district Website.
Now that these thoughts have been made available to the public at large, a new blog name was in order
Gary admits that when he approaches a project, even with enthusiastic gusto, there are aspects of the project about which he is fuzzy.
"Often I'm armed with all kinds of data and research that are supposed to dictate some kind of strategy, but I will still operate on gut instinct on some things," explains Gary. "I am blessed with a long and productive career in which all of my jobs required me to be creative. I draw, write, or photograph something every day, and have been doing so every day of my working life. So I'm floating on this buoyant raft of experience that has served me well."
You can reach Gary by email. Let him know what you think, and feel free to ask questions or provide news people can use. Gary's on LinkedIn, and Facebook, too.
Gary Olsen's 10 things you should know about video production:
1. Great video is ruined by poor sound quality. You can have the best picture, lighting and performance possible, but if the sound is bad, the video is unwatchable.
2. The best on-camera performances are extemporaneous and not memorized from scripts or read from cue cards. As a consequence extemporaneous performances are more genuine, more authentic and most credible. Scripted performances are devoid of emotion unless you have Meryl Streep delivering it.
3. Most cable access programming is unwatchable because of picture and sound quality issues. You need to find a way to be as good as the national cable networks in terms of quality or you're wasting your time. I'm speaking to technical not content issues. It can be done, and I've done it. There are formulas that work. It's easier than you think.
4. Learn from reality television. People have become accustomed to this type of programming, and it has become so popular that scripted shows (and theatrical films) are emulating it (The Office).
5. Lighting is critical to picture quality. Just because your camera can shoot in low light doesn't mean you should forget about additional lighting. And for heaven's sake, buy a good on-camera light to do fill-in when shooting in high contrast lighting situations. An on-camera light with dimmer control is invaluable. I have two that run LED lights and they sip power.
6. Get the microphone as close to your subject as possible. Acoustic bounce (sound that bounces off of hard surfaces before it gets to your microphone) is what causes that hollow sound as if you're recording in a cave. The closer the microphone is to the subject speaking, the better the sound.
7. When lighting an interview subject, don't forget the rim light. This is a light that highlights the head or hair from behind the subject and cuts the subject from the background. Otherwise the image becomes flat and the head blends into the background.
8. Don't zoom so much if at all. It's always better to shoot moderate to wide angle and walk up to your subject with the camera rather than zoom the lens. Walking up to the subject or "dollying in" as it is sometimes called, is a more natural way for the viewer to focus attention on a particular subject in the composition.
9. Invest in a Steadicam or similar camera support system. It's a vest and shock absorbing armature on which the camera rides. That's me above on set with my student crew and I'm wearing the Steadicam. The armature absorbs movements caused by the operator walking with the camera. So the camera appears to glide through a scene as if on a wire even over the roughest terrain. I've built my career on the capabilities of this device. It was the best investment I've ever made. I originally purchased it to relieve the stress of shouldering a traditional camera for long periods of time. I quickly realized it's a wonderful and creative tool.
10. Back up your hard drive. Need I say more?
I Launch My Commerce Website
hew! it's been a long time since I've added to this Blog page, and I sincerely apologize for that. But I've been extremely busy working on my first personal Web commerce site designed to market me cartoons and clip art. Many of you have actually asked what I was going to do when I retired. Well this is one thing. Several have also asked for permission to publish my cartoons and artwork over the years, wanting to do the right thing legally, of course. So I am attempting to add legitimacy to the process. I'm selling from my growing single panel cartoon archives individual cartoons (and one time reproduction rights) for $2 each. I guess you can say I've become my own syndicate. Why $2? Originally I was going to sell them for a buck each, but a close friend said it was too cheap. So instantly I doubled my income. Trust me. I'm just getting started, and I'm not yet making a living at this, but it has excellent potential. Where the real opportunity is is in Gary Olsen's Custom Cartoon section where I can take your idea and turn it into a cartoon for $29.95.
I've been thinking of this enterprise for a long time, and what truly motivated me was the number of people who would discover my cartoons online and want to publish them without getting in trouble with the authorities (whoever they are). I find this heartening because I believe everyone wants to do the right thing. Nonetheless, I see my cartoons published all over the World Wide Web and I don't recall giving those people permission. My thinking may be a little fuzzy on this point, but I can rationalize that these people are you can say they are unwittingly doing my marketing for me. Exposure at any price these days can only be a good thing in the cartoon business.
Intellectual property has become the coin of our realm in this information age. Cartoons are becoming a commodity item I suppose. But there is always a market for quality work, and I hope I represent a measure of quality in that particular category.
I got some expert help in programming the site complete with a bank gateway that allows me to conduct safe and secure online credit card transactions and provide shoppers with a cool shopping cart interface that delivers the high resolution cartoon to the customer almost instantly upon transacting our business. Pretty cool!
I must say it's a lot easier drawing cartoons than it is programming a commerce Web site. It took me over two months to get it right. It was a collaboration between me (the artist type) and the programmer (a programmer type), and there was a lot of back and forth. But once it got up and running, I was starting to attract customers from all over the world. Thank goodness for my Facebook and Linked-In accounts. Now I know why I continually expand my friend' list and business contacts. Social networking is wonderful for marketing one's products and services. In my case I'm selling laughs.
I started a regularly appearing cartoon on my Facebook page called "Facebook Funnybones." I love doing cartoons almost daily for this pipeline. People send me ideas for new cartoons, and I'm off to the races.
I mentioned that I'm retiring in a preceding paragraph, and actually I am retiring from the Dubuque Community School District. I've had a good run, and now it's on to other things most of which are on my life's bucket list. Truthfully, I'm not planning on accepting any new projects unless they promise to be immensely entertaining.
I have retained ownership of my television series, Kids in the Kitchen, Garden Organic and Farmers' Market TV. I'm in the process of determining which of these shows is the most promising enterprise. I think they are all winners, but I can't do all of them without a substantial infusion of cash.
I just got a call today from a local show business enterprise (my term for them), but they are best described as a local arts organization with emphasis on musical performance. They are going after a financial grant to launch a special show celebrating our immigrant heritage. I like the idea, and I have some creative suggestions for them, so we'll see what happens.
Meanwhile, I'm going to continue this Blog in earnest. I always love to hear your feedback, and if you have a cartoon idea about parenting, pets, education or what have you, by all means let me know what it is. --G.O.
|So you want to be a writer? Some tips...|
hen you set your wheels in motion toward a goal, you must be laser focused on that goal. Unfortunately it may be at the expense of other things in your life. It takes a lot of energy and will to succeed. Here are two general self-examination questions I will ask you based on my experience and my study of others who have made a success of their lives.
1. Know what you want, but are you prepared to accept suffering with success? And when you know what you want, you must want it more than anything else. I'm reminded of the college student I had one semester who spent her whole young life wanting to be a TV news reporter, and when she finally got to be one as a student intern on one of the regional affiliates, she discovered that people actually hated news reporters especially when they are reporting tragedies (which was one of the first stories she had to do). It was a terrible blow to her, and she changed her focus quickly. She now works in an ad agency in Chicago last I heard. With this in mind, do you really want to be a writer and accept whatever suffering may be part of the success? J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye) couldn't accept the attention fame brought him. If you are uncomfortable in the limelight, then success may not be comfortable for you. You know the saying, "Be careful what you wish for... it may come true." This is one of those situations,
What seems like a bleak time for books and authors I believe is an exciting time in anticipation of what changes will come about. People will always have a thirst for great stories. That is what distinguishes our species from the rest on this spinning ball of molten iron (we just live on the crust). Consequently there is drama and comedy every day of our lives. Those among us who are successful in turning that into entertainment or a life's lesson won't starve for their art.
2 .Can you market yourself? Unless you can attract a literary agent, and only successful not struggling writers have them, you may have to settle for being your own agent. Today, publishers that aren't establishing a beachhead on the brave new shore of technology, are likely doomed in the long run. All of the traditional ways of getting a book published (which means printed promoted and distributed), promotion and distribution are the most important aspects of that industry. Today with eBooks, self-publishing, and God knows what all, writers have to look to other means of expression to a mass audience. The publishing industry for eBooks is just getting started. The market for good writing is extremely fluid. I've noticed there are some writing enclaves forming in cyberspace. Salon.com is one, Huffington Post is another.
These two are giants in the eZine market right now, and others will follow. They actually pay for work they like and will post. Huffington Post merged with AOL with the purpose of building a worldwide network of writers, stringer reporters photographers and videographers, and their plan is to supplant the daily newspapers in small to large markets. It's going to be successful, and they may put several newspapers out of business in markets where they are hanging on by their soy-based-ink-stained fingers.The best strategy here is to develop email correspondence with writers and editors in the subject area you love to write about. If your talented, and you make a meaningful contact, they may help you.
But I believe that from chaos will come order in time. The publishers will make better use of the Web to discover and cultivate new talent. There will be some powerful brands emerge from all this... brands people will look up to for quality stories and talent. These brands will become aggregators of quality writers and stories that help support their values. Like there will be great mystery brands, great biography brands, great political brands, great business and self help brands, and yes, romance and (ahem) sex brands. You want to attach yourself to one of those emerging brands that already publishes what you like to write.
What seems like a bleak time for books and authors I believe is an exciting time in anticipation of what changes will come about. People will always have a thirst for great stories. That is what distinguishes our species from the rest on this spinning ball of molten iron (we just live on the crust). There is drama and comedy every day of our lives. Those among us who are successful in turning that into entertainment or a life's lesson won't starve for their art.
With all this being said, I have been writing for a living all of my adult life. I began as a copy editor for news and advertising departments for a broadcast company. I wrote and edited organizational publications, have had articles published nationally, wrote two books that did extremely well, and I write every day for television and the Web. And this particular job pays for my health insurance. Who says you can't make a good living as a writer not many people have heard of?
|How to make Talent Shows Even More Entertaining...|
Have you ever seen someone's amateur video of a student talent show? The camera is usually set upon a tripod at the back of the auditorium so the resulting video looks like a group of alien holograms cavorting about on stage in the moonlight. The lighting is too contrasty for the camera to compensate, and the audio is so bad it makes the video practically unmatchable. No matter how good the Handicam one applies to the task, it's not a matter of sophisticated camera quality that has any positive impact on the result. It's all about technique.
I've written about this topic before on my blog, but certain aspects of my recipe for success need to be revisited, especially during the second semester in which I write this. It seems there's a talent show at every turn. So I've filmed a few over the years, and I can tell you from experience how important it is for the entertainment value of the project to take a fresh look at talent shows. I can guarantee you that I can take a cell phone camera and make a better talent show video than someone with an expensive camera filming from the back of the auditorium or even from the front row.
Never film the actual show but instead film a dress rehearsal
I never film an actual talent show. It distracts the audience when you consider I shoot everything on stage and not from the audience. I will talk about shooting technique in a moment. I like shooting dress rehearsals in which the acts play to the camera rather than the audience. The first thing is do is take a knee with the performers before the show, and I explain that we are doing a show for television and that it's different than performing before a live audience. I tell them "play to the camera" not the cheap seats. I tell them I'm going to be on stage with them, and I'm going to film moderate to extreme close-ups on the singers, and I'm going to be moving among the dancers even shooting from behind them toward the audience for some interesting backlit effects.
The beauty of filming a rehearsal is everyone is more relaxed. With no audience there is no excessive pressure among the performers. Oh, and applause? I have an impressive collection of applause and laugh tracks actually recorded in the auditorium during past performances. That's what I use in post production to create the illusion we performed in front of a live audience.
My being on stage with the performers creates a marvelous opportunity for close ups that audience members normally don't see even sitting in the third row. Plus, I'm not looking up from an extreme angle or down from a balcony to the stage. In such situations the camera must remain stationary, and that's no good for me. I hate stationary cameras. I like the camera and the performers moving at all times which creates a feeling that's called "point of view." It makes for a more intimate portrait of the performance, but it also puts the viewer on stage in the performance. It helps to have a Steadicam support, a Merlin, or some form of mobile camera support. It gives more fluidity to the camera moves. But I've gotten marvelous results from a small hand-held video camera without any additional support whatsoever.
Sound recorded in an auditorium is generally horrible. I prefer to use a wireless setup that I plug into the output on the auditorium's mixing board and then put the receiver on my camera plugged into one of the mic inputs. I can control the volume pretty well right on the camera. It sounds simple, but it rarely is. In one auditorium there was no output for a recorder or my transmitter, so I brought along a headphone splitter and put it in the 8 ohm jack on the mixer they were using so I wouldn't deprive the operator of a headset jack. He didn't mind as long as I didn't interfere with his responsibilities.
In another auditorium, there was no way to wire into the house PA system, so I took an off camera shotgun and pointed it to one of the house speakers in the auditorium. It worked surprisingly well. The shotgun mic I had was a good one, and it cancelled most of the hollow acoustic bounce one usually gets in such recording scenarios.
The point of all this is to get the microphone as close to the source of the sound as possible. For solo singers I like to get their voice before it hits the sound system and bounces all over the place. So I put a wireless lavaliere microphone on them and take the house sound out of the equation altogether.
I don't normally shoot on full auto on my Sony HD camera. Because the auditorium stage area is so contrasty, lit by spotlights, back lights, and frequently a bright follow spot, your camera's automatic setting will try to compensate for the dark background at the expense of the performer's skin. This is what makes the performers glow white hot with no discernable skin tone. Sometimes close ups benefit from automatic settings, but then your camera is constantly going dark to light on you depending on how much black consumes the frame. It becomes a struggle until you figure out the best manual settings. Here are some tips.
Set your camera on manual exposure, and find the best, most flattering exposure to render skin tone. Forget about the background especially if it's a dark background. If the auditorium stage area has dark curtains or black drapes, I try to fill my frame with performer and let the background go dark.
Of course you will always struggle with depth of field and shutter speed, so you must take time to find the best exposure by setting shutter speed and aperture to render the best overall exposure without sacrificing quality. Depending on your camera, you have a gain control that increases the light sensitivity of the video. I avoid boosting the gain, however, because it makes the video more grainy. Instead, I set my shutter speed no slower than 60 and my aperture wherever it provides the best exposure.
Now, what if the light changes to overpower the exposure? This is where your neutral density filter comes in handy. And you thought it was only good for outdoor shots in extreme sunlight. The neutral density filter is like putting sunglasses on your camera lens, but better. It knocks down the brightness but doesn't sacrifice contrast, so I have my finger on that button when I know the light may change and get brighter on stage. Rather than take valuable time resetting the camera with new exposure values, I just use one of four neutral density filers that automatically improve the exposure.
Very shortly I'll be posting links to some shows I'm doing right now, and when they are done, watch for them right here on my blogograma. Meanwhile, check out this clip (The Juggler) as a classic example of camera settings in a contrasty auditorum.
|Farmer's Market Live TV... My Masterpiece... Hopefully|
I've been neck deep in a project that is one of the most ambitious of my career. If I am successful in getting this project on wheels, it will represent the culmination of a lifetime of accomplishments in communication and media design. Everything I've ever done that has worked will be employed, re-purposed and plugged in, and stuff that didn't work will obviously be avoided. Welcome to Farmers' Market Live TV.
Now I have to admit that my thinking about some important topics in my life is somewhat fuzzy, but this thought is crystal clear. I intend to produce a high quality live television show.
Imagine a live television show broadcasting from a farmers' market, these weekend festivals of food that can be found in practically every community from coast to coast. It's not like this is some new phenomenon. The farmers' market in my home town of Dubuque, Iowa has been going on almost continuously for 150 years in essentially the same location in the shadow of City Hall. But with a growing interest in gardening and organic foods, these markets are popping up everywhere. In my mind it's a television series begging to be produced.
The purpose of the show is to provide information and inspiration to an audience who desires to return to some basics, growing one's own food, reducing one's dependency on processed food, and narrowing the intellectual gap between what grows from the ground and ends up on our plates.
I'm no stranger to live remote broadcasting. When I was in radio, I was almost never in the studio. Salesmen quickly realized I had a knack for live broadcasting because I could ad lib and make up jokes on the air with uncommon quickness and enthusiasm. Pretty soon my broadcast schedule was wall-to-wall remote broadcasts from such diverse locales as county fairs, appliance stores, and car dealers. The circus coming to town? I would be doing a live show from outside the main tent interviewing the clowns and trapeze artist. An auto show? I was there. Boat show? I was the guy in the orange life jacket holding a microphone.
It wasn't long and the radio station purchased what best can be described as a “hot dog wagon,” a fairly large trailer that was equipped with turntables, PA system and everything we needed to be a radio station on the road. I hated that heavy beast because I had to hitch it up and drive it to venues. I vowed I would never haul one of those big trailers around again. A busted trailer hitch and a burned up transmission taught me a valuable lesson as you will see later in this report.
Since getting involved in television production, I have had more than enough experience in live telecasts. However, television is a lot more sophisticated than radio when it comes to the equipment one needs to mount a production. And it's still a rather costly venture. There have been price declines in some areas like cameras, but it's still a substantial investment to create a production company that can sustain a series television show. This is why I've spent the last three years designing this show.
Farmers' Market Live TV consists of three on-screen personalities, two hosts and one chef (yes we are shopping the farmers' market stalls with a chef, and he's whipping up a dish during this show). Each of the two main hosts have their own camera operator, and we switch back and forth from host to host. While one host is on camera doing their segments, the other host is moving to and setting up the next segment. The action is continuous. For those of you who think I'm going to be one of the hosts, I'm afraid not. I've got enough to do as the show's producer. My on-camera days are done. I'm behind the camera now, and for me that's the best thing. Having been a broadcaster, I can share my gifts with a new generation of talent, and I'm more than okay with that.
We are employing some exciting technologies into the show. First, wireless cameras will be employed to allow the operator and the host to roam the market at will. The camera provides a “point of view” that puts the viewer right into the action. The cameras are mounted on Steadicam braces that are worn by the operators. The Steadicam provides fluid movement of the camera wherever the host wants to go.
An almost endless list of topics will be discussed with the denizens of the market and will include everything from plant care tips and gardening advice to how to shop and choose fresh produce. We are also going to cover topics such as cooking and baking (there are all sorts of bakery products available at market). There are hand crafted cheeses, organic meats and poultry, flowers and plants for interior and exterior spaces, canning, crafts such as soap making and sewing. There are artists, craftsmen, furniture making, spice grinding and herb enthusiasts. And for several years now, wine makers have been represented.
The production's headquarters is what is referred to in commercial vehicle circles as a “high van" which will be strategically located in the heart of the venue. It is completely outfitted with a production switcher, audio board, wireless intercom system and graphics computer. The unit is powered by a Honda generator and the operators can work in air-conditioned comfort.
It represents one of the most ambitious projects I've ever worked on, and the start-up investment is hovering around $200,000. How on God's earth am I going to come up with that kind of capital? Well, I'm working on that part.
My strategy so far has been to gather a wide circle of experts, friends, and those who share my vision to work on certain aspects of the show. We have an ad hoc board right now, and all have ties to government, education, local agriculture initiatives and businesses who could potentially have a stake in our success. Right now we are all engaged in making business contacts and looking for the right fit with grant organizations. My plan all along was to make this production company a non-for-profit. Believe it or not, it opens up a lot more options financially.
Once we've secured the start-up capital, then we can seek out business partners to underwrite ongoing costs. My thoughts are that start-up capital will attract more underwriters once they know we are for real.
The first year's broadcasts will consist of 20 shows, 10 in the spring and 10 shows during harvest season, August through October. My plan is to air the show on Mediacom Cable's state-wide cable network. We can work out the production bugs, expand what's working and retool what's not. My hope is that we can broaden our reach through an affiliation with Iowa Public Television and push the show regionally to rural people not served by cable. Many of these folks are served by satellite services, and they would be an important part of our audience.
The entire production staff will number about 8 people, and that includes the talent. I've already produced what I consider two pilot episodes and we've posted them to our Website.
For more details and an in-depth look at the project, I have a Website: Farmers Market Live TV can be found at http://www.farmersmarketlivetv.org.
|The Budget Cut Messapalooza....|
've just been reduced from a full-time position to a part time position as a media producer for the Dubuque Community Schools. This did not come as a surprise, and it is the way things are in these troubled economic times. But I've had an excellent run, and I've made a significant mark in the world of educational multimedia. I've written and had published two books, won national acclaim for my work with the Dubuque Community Schools, and most importantly, I've touched many young lives in very meaningful ways. But I'm not finished. I'm just re-grouping if you will. I have some shows I still continue to work on, and new projects I hope to be working on soon.
Of course there was the recent article in the local paper that features questions asked by members of the community and which the paper's reporters divine the answers. One recent "Ask the Telegraph Herald" question was, "With all of the budget cuts in the district, how much does it cost to produce those television shows on cable TV?"
The paper did consult with the director of technology for the district, my boss, but his answer was apparently imprecise or too complex to be properly rendered by the paper's editors, and furthermore, it left the question open to even more speculation. I have the short answer, but they didn't ask me the question. So here is the proper answer to this question:
The cost of cable television programs for the district on our own Channel 19 is approximately $48,000 a year. That includes my salary and a modest annual $1,500 budget. All of the cable equipment, cameras, microphones, etc., are covered by the Cable Franchise Agreement we've had with Mediacom Cable and The City of Dubuque for the past 7 years. A portion of cable revenue pays for practically everything except my salary. My salary has been greatly reduced as you might guess.
Nonetheless, this is a good deal for the school District. Of all the media forms the district could be dabbling in, television is the most effective and most critical since Americans get most of their information from television these days. More people subscribe to cable or satellite TV than subscribe to newspapers. That's an irrefutable fact. So we get our information out to more people.
Plus, our students get to participate in the content of our TV channel and learn visual storytelling and all of the ancillary skills required to produce television. I believe that this absolutely must be part of every school curriculum, but sadly, it is not. Most television curriculum now is managed by high school industrial arts departments and not the English, drama or speech departments where it belongs. Television is as important as books in the modern era. It shapes culture and promotes ideas just as books have done throughout the rest of history.
I want to thank everyone who has written to me and supported me throughout this trying period. But don't worry too much for me. I will survive and prosper. My talents and abilities are in demand, apparently, and I'm always working on some great project. I'm going to try my best to keep our national award winning shows on the air.
Meanwhile, the School Board and the Administration has to do what it feels is best for the district.
It is what it is my friends.
|Kids and agriculture. It's an opportunity for growth, especially when you put it on television|
've spent the last few months working on my Garden Organic TV show in which kids grow a garden and we follow their victories and defeats in the process. It's all in the name of teaching children where food actually comes from. I've been doing this show for five years, and it never gets old. That's because when you're growing something, there are always the unexpected, the variables, the weather, pests, etc. that make for excellent television. And do I have to mention how fascinating it is to give a child a rake, a hoe and a packet of seeds? Trust me. It is.
Of all the television shows I've done, Garden Organic gives me the largest canvas on which I can paint my productions. The subject matter is unlimited. Originally, I though I was just going to have the kids plant seeds or starter plants and we would return every week to tend the garden and see what's growing. My close associate partners in the production had other ideas. They wanted to go all organic, no pesticides, herbicides or non-organic fertilizers allowed. That would not only send the right message from an environmental point of view, but it would provide an extra challenge for the gardeners to overcome. One year we had to pick giant horn worms by hand from our infested tomatoes. It was amazing television.
Another year we had to call in an expert. Our pickle and melon vines were dying for no apparent reason, but the horticultural expert who was a guest on our show produced a pocket knife, cut off one of the vines from the plant's base, and expertly dissected it on camera to reveal a tiny worm that had invaded the vines, created a home for itself and consumed the vine from the inside.
We had a ground hog that nobody wanted to poison or trap inhumanely (this is a kids' show after all), so we set a Havaheart trap near its burrow. Wouldn't you know it, we never caught the ground hog. We instead captured the neighbor's tabby cat twice and a juvenile raccoon that (you guessed it) made great television, especially when we released it from the trap and it scampered away to later eat our sweet corn crop. Well, it's nice we can share.
Oh, and finally one day this huge ground hog was observed by a neighbor entering our trap, but the animal was so rotund and long, it's butt stuck out the back of the trap so that when the trap was sprung, the door merely closed on the creatures ample backside. The ground hog calmly ate the bate and backed out of the trap. Great, our trap became a ground hog feeding station. Live and let live, that's what I say.
We not only film in the garden, but we take field trips to other people's gardens. We also cook garden side. We pick produce and herbs right there, and cook them up in inventive recipes that these kids wouldn't ordinarily try in a million years but do on the show. It narrows the intellectual gap between what grows from the ground and winds up on children's plates.
One of our best field trips we filmed was to an organic hog farm in nearby Dyersville, IA. We met a young man that was an expert and pioneer in the growth and marketing of organic livestock. Apparently it's a growing market. Another show we visited an organic blueberry farm, and the kids picked blueberries until their fingers and tongues turned blue.
If I had any influence (and lots of cash) at all, I would recommend that all schools have a green house of some sort, maintained, of course, by the science department. And in that greenhouse, children would be taught how to grow food. And that food would find it's way into the student lunch program. I know that some schools are doing this, but not many, and especially in urban areas where the disconnect between kids and good food is an abyss, a facility and program to support this activity would be well invested.
|The SLR Camera/Video Camera Fusion
Is this where photography is heading? For me it is.
've been capturing stills from my video footage for most of this past decade. I quickly saw the advantage of capturing stills from the footage not just because it meant I could carry one less bag of equipment, but the video images, though not the resolution of a good still image, where still good enough for most things, but more importantly, I manage to capture shots I could never have taken with an ordinary still camera. Of course that's because I'm shooting 30 frames per second. I've even had some of my more recent still images from my HD cameras published in magazines! I don't even tell them they are captured from video footage. I love when that happens.
Recently, I had the good fortune of being part of a production filming a commercial, and the crew was shooting the spot with a Canon 5D. This camera is the traditional SLR form factor camera that has been around for generations, and I can't help it... it reminds me of Darth Vader's helmet and facemask. It shoots spectacular still images and high resolution HD video. Is it a video camera or a still camera?
Well, both, obviously. It's a hybrid of sorts. What does it do better? For me that question is impossible to answer. It's so new and different from a videographer's perspective, old hat to a photographer, but certain pros in the film industry have taken to it like ducks at a bug hatch. They, like me, see the creative potential and the cost to production value ratio that makes this attractive. One pro demonstrating the camera at the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention I attended this past spring perhaps said it best. His short film just played to an enthusiastic audience and the first thing out of his mouth was, "And I did it with a camera costing less than $3,000!"
The videographer on the commercial production in which I was involved recently, told me he's used to hanging out of helicopters over massive mountain ranges shooting snowboarders and skiers engaged in extreme sports. "This beats a shoulder mount or even a Handicam style camera," he said, "because the images are awesome, and I'm able to put the camera into situations I would never use a traditional video camera."
"What about audio?" I asked. "I like having an on-camera channel mixer and volume controls."
"Well, you don't have that, obviously," he said, "but you use the on-camera microphone to synch up mixed audio from this." He held up a small digital recorder that was quite a bit smaller than the camera. The recorder was attached to a Sennheiser wireless mic receiver. "Impressive," I responded in my best Darth Vader voice, "Most impressive."
I have to admit I'm conflicted. I'm due to buy a new camera, and I'm wondering if I just shouldn't just buy this one. For the money, it's like buying two cameras. It's value as a still camera is without question. But is it a good video camera? I think depending on your production style, this camera could be indispensable.
What are the advantages of a camera like this besides its compact size? Keep in mind, this is a hybrid camera, and the kinds of controls you have come to know and love on an HD video camera are not exactly the same. In my opinion, however, there are infinite creative possibilities with a camera like this nonetheless. For one thing, you have a fabulous array of interchangeable lenses. You can take your existing collection of Canon lenses, and you now have anything from an ultrawide to a long zoom telephoto. That fact right there makes me extremely excited. Have you ever priced prime lenses for a video camera? Forget about it. I love that I can use my collection of Canon legacy lenses with this camera.
As I mentioned, I was at the N AB Convention in Las Vegas, and I saw all kinds of accessories for this type of camera not to mention all sorts of sample motion pictures. Most notable were the camera mount people, like Tiffen Steadicam, who introduced a new line of camera stabilizers for the Canon 5D including my favorite, the Tango, pictured at right. This prototype was an extension of the popular Steadicam vest and armature that I already own but with a jib pole attached so that you could literally fly the camera from several feet in the air down to the ground in one continuous motion while keeping the camera in perfect plane. The inventor of the Steadicam, Garrett Brown, was on hand demonstrating it, and now I know why they call it the Tango. He looked like he was dancing the tango as he was moving about the convention floor getting incredible shots with his Canon 5D. This photo is courtesy of Tiffen's Web site, and pricing and availability are not yet available until later this year.
I was very impressed with this setup, and if I could afford it and it was available, I would have plunked down the cash immediately. This has enormous creative potential, however, there are some limits with the Canon 5D. Capacity on the memory card is one problem (not enough for my purposes at the moment). Ideally, the best way to do this would be a wireless transmitter that sends the signal, both video and audio, to a video mixer recorder combo during a production, but that would be another $25,000 for such a rig. That was the other technology I was looking for, wireless transmission of HD video and audio. Whew! Now that's expensive!
For those of you who are regular visitors to my blog, you know I cover a lot of ground, from the art to the science of media production, and sometimes I drift to other fuzzy thinking issues like personnel relations recently. This column, however, is a hybrid, just like the camera I've discussed. The way I see it, technical innovation serves art by creating opportunities for artists. Conversely, art serves technical innovation. Garrett Brown invented the Steadicam because he enjoyed doing point-of-view style cinematography. He knew that it enhances storytelling and is more effective in engaging the viewer than cameras that didn't move with the actors and followed the action. I noticed this right away while doing a simple production like a cooking show. When the cameras were on tri-pods, there was no feeling of being part of the production. There was far less movement, and even with three cameras and continuously switching views, I didn't get the feeling as a viewer of being in on the action. But introduce a Steadicam, and the show takes on an entirely new character. It comes alive.
I keep my camera lens on wide angle, and instead of zooming in on my subjects, I walk up to them, peering into pots and pans. The camera is constantly moving, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly depending on what's happening and the opportunities that present themselves. As far as I'm concerned, the Steadicam will always be my main camera. Now there are even more fantastic possibilities with these smaller cameras and camera supports like Tango.
|What's a Good Boss?
Maybe understanding what makes a bad boss is more useful.
re you one of those people who tend to over think things when it comes to production projects? My thinking has always been fuzzy, which means I try not overthink projects too much or, it is my belief, we wouldn't get anything accomplished. I've known a few micromanagers in my time, and there probably isn't anything worse. I've always been considered in the job world as a "creative" and not really a manager. I've been in situations where I hired and fired, managed people, and I have to admit I never liked it all that much. That's because I always had to worry about keeping people busy. If and when they were busy, I worried if they were doing the right things right, the right things wrong, wrong things right, blah, blah, blah. Oh, and make sure you fill out your TPS reports (I invoke a line here from one of my favorite movies Office Space). I am a hands-on guy, and management is an endless schedule of meetings and responsibilities that add up to not much fun for me.
As I look back on my career, I've had a variety of managers I had to deal with, not to mention owners, investors, clients and contractors, and a very small number actually knew how to handle creative people. Most did not. The truth is, most people that ascend to a position of management can't help but exceed their grasp, and they never realize they are not helping but likely hindering the process between the creatives, the client and the completion of the project.
So as stress begins to build, deadlines loom large, and the inevitable glitches occur that complicate and delay things. instead of taking proper stock of the situation and identifying the pinch points, many managers put their heads down and micromanage. I've seen this time and again, and it almost always ends badly.
You can always tell a manager who is in over his head. He or she becomes a bit of a tyrant or a bully. Every meeting becomes a confrontation, a test of wills and credibility, and, worse, there's the blame game to designate who is responsible and who will be punished.
If you're a creative person and have logged any time at all in the career world, you probably know what I'm talking about. So what can be done about this situation? I hate to be a downer, but not much. The whole relationship hinges, balances is a better term, on risk management. My thinking is you probably have to bail before your head explodes. The manager isn't going anywhere, so you might have to. It's tough to do in a down economy, I know.
Management has a little more inherent risk than say a functionary or skilled employee like a graphic designer, editor, photographer, journalist, what have you. Ultimately, the manager is on the bubble more often than not. I'll never forget a job I had where I was joining a creative team, and on the day I arrived, the manager who hired me was fired! Yes, isn't that a great way to start a new job?
So the department was without a manager, and the person who fired the guy who hired me was now acting manager. The conversation we had in her office bordered on the surreal.
"I know how this must look to you, but rest assured, you are welcome here, and we still have a lot of work to do while we take care of finding a new manager for your department."
Interesting to note, I don't recall seeing that interim manager ever again. It was a couple of months before we actually found a new department head, but everyone seemed to know what to do and we seemed to get along fine without a manager. When we did hire a manager, she turned out to be someone who was promoted to the job from another department, and to make a long story short, she was the best manager I ever had. She was gifted, a fixer, problem solver, bulldozer (when she had to clear the road for us), and she had a wonderful almost self-deprecating humor she employed to good effect. She had a way of calming the waters, but whipping everyone into a tempest of creative energy and enthusiasm when it was required. I've never seen anyone like her before or since.
Among the worst managers I've worked with, they all had certain things in common. Because they don't quite understand the creative process, they may try to belittle, degrade or devalue the people they are in charge of. This always amazed me. Does the manager who makes fun of his "eccentric creative people" realize what he is doing? Marginalizing people does not properly motivate them. It makes the manager look like a total moron, and the clients quickly pick up on this if they have any appreciation for the creative process at all.
If I'm starting to sound like someone who has gone through most of his life feeling unappreciated, don't worry. It's just that if you've lived long enough in a creative field, you have seen all kinds of behaviors and all sorts of personality types.
I'm just sending the elevator back down, so to speak, and providing those of you who are just starting your careers some heads up.
|How television changed my life, and how it will continue to change it...|
What I discovered about the state of education and technology:
hat's the future of television in classroom technology?. One would think that with YouTube, and video cameras in every still camera and cell phone that is sold today, that we should be seeing a lot of homegown video content coming from schools and classrooms. It's happening but only in small pockets and certainly it can be found in commercials for Apple, Microsoft and Cisco, but what is really happening in the classroom?
In most public schools in our nation, teachers are kept so busy with traditional duties in a schedule so tightly packed there is little time (or energy) for experimentation. Administrators, who may harbor a vision of wiz bang technology in their classrooms, become frustrated when teachers don't share their enthusiasm. “Who's got the time?” and “Will I be compensated for the extra time it will take to become proficient?” are the push-backs. I also discovered that teachers in a school building become a tightly knit group especially when conditions are routinely stressful. But tightly knit doesn't mean they work as a team. Peer pressure among teachers, for example, can prevent any activity that may be perceived as grandstanding. Nonetheless, change can happen, and if a particularly useful technology gets a toe hold in a school, adoption is rapid.
It might be helpful to examine the history of modern technology in the classrom to understand how it is adopted, or more appropriately adapted.
When personal computers were plopped down on teachers' desks, it signaled an advance in technology but not necessarily the advance in productivity that was anticipated. The first computers were not networked or properly protected, and so each computer installation became a costly headache, and schools lacked the personnel to maintain them. It wasn't until computers became part of a network, when standardization of software and the organization of upgrades could take place. Networking made possible the most important innovation of all, email.
Email became the single most important collaborative tool of educators. Programs like Microsoft PowerPoint became the coin of the educators' realm and necessitated the next big innovation in technology in the classroom, the digital projector. There is an irony to this innovation. PowerPoint is an amazing creative tool, easy to use, and it can be used to create everything from an interactive lesson on the Internet to an animated movie. However, it's mostly used by teachers to deliver the same lessons with not necessarily better graphics. Only a small percentage of classrooms allow the students to use PowerPoint to create their own learning materials.
What's the next innovation?
Hand-held computing devices are entering the classroom not just as an adjunct technology to the cell phone, but educators are moving toward these tools very quickly because they put the power of personal computing in the palm of your hand. Plus, they already have the devices as part of their personal cell phone upgrades to smart phones. The teachers don't have to wait for the administration to approve funds for this technology. There's no waiting for wiring to be installed because they are wireless. Much to the taxpayers' delight, teachers are funding this innovation largely by themselves. I like to use the following personal observation to make my point.
A visiting college art teacher was helping a class of elementary students who were working on individual art projects… tribal mask making. The students were asked to envision themselves as an animal spirit as a means of inspiring them to come up with original designs. As the students began sketching at their desks, the teacher produced his Apple iPhone, and when a child was stuck trying to imagine what a growling grizzly bear might look like, the teacher, with a few deft finger strokes, was able to produce hundreds of images featuring bears of all species on his Google image search application. Soon the students were sketching right from the reference images on the iPhone.
What has been my best strategy to promote technology among educators?
Television, specifically cable television has been the best way of conveying a message with emotional content. Television is clearly the fastest way to develop compelling content for Web sites and multimedia platforms. As networks both wired and wireless become more efficient, it will be video that is the preferred content that educators are going to want to see on their small screens. Sure we can retrieve Martin Luther King's words spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but why not download the archival film of him actually delivering the "I have a Dream... " speech in all its glory? Instant context.
Video conveys emotion better than any other media. I prepare my materials for cable TV, and the same content can be compressed for delivery over our Web site to a potentially broader audience. For one thing, the local cable provider and our city's Cable Programming Commission, comprised of enthusiastic citizens, parcel out sums of money from the city's franchise fee to educators like me. The program is financed by Mediacom and it's intended for cameras, editing equipment, and whatever is needed. Mediacom supports local origination programming because it differentiates them from their largest competitor, the satellite TV providers.
I zeroed in on this relationship between Mediacom, the City of Dubuque and the local schools and colleges, many of whom seek grants for video equipment. I discovered quickly the formula for success in applying for funds: Produce compelling shows worth watching.
I began submitting shows to the local cable access channel. I was so productive, producing several series shows that first year, that Mediacom offered to give the Dubuque Community Schools its own cable channel. We've been operating it continuously 24/7 for the past five years.
Two of our first shows that premiered on our own channel are still in production, Kids in the Kitchen and The Garden Organic . Both have won prestigious national awards from the cable industry, the Beacon Award for Outstanding Series Programming. Kids in the Kitchen beat shows from Cox, National Geographic, and Time Warner. In 2009, I won a Cable Leader in Learning Award for The Garden Organic.
Putting Together Strategic Business/Education Partnerships: Civic Involvement
I noticed that our schools each had what we call “businesses/education partners.” These partnerships were often forged with businesses that were neighbors or whose owners or employees had children attending that school. But too often these relationships were partnerships in name only. There wasn't much mentoring going on or even direct contact with students. Typically these relationships meant sources for funding not covered by the annual budget, field trips to that business, and a plaque on their wall that announced to customers that they supported education only it was still fuzzy as to how they supported it. I saw an opportunity to expand that involvement in one particular case.
Roosevelt Middle School had a partner that was a local grocer which was part of a major chain, Hy-Vee Foods. I approached them with the concept of Kids in the Kitchen . I asked if we could film episodes in the middle of their store for our Mediacom cable channel, and all they had to do is provide us with the ingredients we needed from week to week to prepare the recipes. Chuck Donnelly, was so intrigued by the idea, he assigned the store's health food buyer to see to our needs. Megan Dalsing was studying for her certification as a dietitian, so she came to our production with an agenda. She wanted the show to feature foods and ingredients from the newly established Hy-Vee Health Market which she managed. Cooking from scratch and using organic ingredients whenever possible has become our mission these past five years.
That first year of production was incredible. We were so successful, and the show became so popular on local cable, that when Chuck Donnelly announced a $2 million expansion of Hy-Vee's Asbury Plaza location, he said the plans included a $150,000 teaching kitchen designed with my specifications for television production. It has been our headquarters for the past four years. It is a state-of-the-art kitchen, and other stores in the chain have copied it. When Kids in the Kitchen isn't using it, they hold cooking classes, wine tasting parties, and provide a nice space for baby and wedding showers.
Meanwhile, for the cost of groceries each week, Hy-Vee is known for underwriting one of the most popular television shows in local cable history. The brand marketing opportunity for Hy-Vee was obvious. When we won the Beacon Award, our city's mayor issued a proclamation and mentioned the honor in his State of the City Address, which was (of course) cablecast.When that first season of Kids in the Kitchen wrapped, Megan Dalsing approached me on the idea of having a summer camp for kids who would plant their own garden and learn where food actually comes from. I suggested we turn that experience into another cable show, The Garden Organic , which is now in its fifth year of production and signs nearly 50 children over the summer to participate in this venture.
Hy-Vee was soon joined by Ace Home and Garden Center of Dubuque for this show that is now produced by Megan Dalsing and Sara Selchert-Carpenter from Ace. Both of these young professional women have become energized with the success with these two television series. For example, they collaborated on one of the best features of The Garden Organic , “Cooking Gardenside.” Ace delivered a huge barbecue grill the size of a small kitchen to the garden site, and it is used to cook dishes from the produce that become ready to pick. We prepare recipes right in the garden with what the kids grow thereby closing the intellectual gap between what grows out of the ground and what ends up on childrens' plates.
Our garden, by the way, is on land owned by Megan, and she and her fiancé just completed a major renovation and expansion of their house that stands next to the garden. A spacious kitchen was added to the plans and it will become a set for food preparation at the garden this year.
Not one taxpayer dime…
If the school district tried to mount either of these shows without partners like Hy-Vee and Ace Home and Garden, they couldn't afford it. Building a kitchen, for example, and then buying and maintaining food stocks would be problematic. There would be all sorts of waste. But when your studio is a huge food store, you have the world's largest pantry with guaranteed freshness. One of the key features in Kids in the Kitchen is “Shopping with the Chef.” The first 10 minutes of every show follows the kids as they chase our chef through the store like a covey of quail as he hunts for rare ingredients and bargain prices.
For The Garden Organic, all seeds, plants, tools and expertise are provided by Ace Home and Garden. The company has just installed a raised garden and a patio designed expressly for filming episodes of The Garden Organic. We premiered the raised garden last season. It was built by an Ace employee. This season we are going to provide students with individual gardens they are to maintain for (we are hoping) competitive judging. We have Iowa State University Extension and the local 4H chapter participating. We also have the City of Dubuque 's solid waste agency participating. They have the largest ongoing composting operation going on and provide the show with experts on environmental science. We also involved the local officers of the county and state offices of the Department of Natural Resources who share experts on wildlife, the watershed, and the delicate balance of life that is impacted by agriculture. We have area farmers lined up to provide field trips to their organic farming operations.
All of this is taking place with not one taxpayer dime with the exception of my modest salary. All program costs are assumed by the participating sponsors. I believe this is an important point because such projects as these are extremely beneficial for all involved. The children receive an extraordinary opportunity participating in a cable show. The sponsors get tremendous coverage on cable at virtually little cost to them. It prompted one executive for Hy-Vee Foods to comment: “We couldn't buy advertising like this.”
And there are other shows we do. For the past four years we've been producing “Doctor! Doctor!” at the Finley Hospital in which we dress students like doctors… lab coats, a stethoscope, photo ID, and we allow them to accompany a physician and participate in medical procedures, both real and simulated.
Backpack Production Method…
All of the equipment we use to produce our shows fits in to a large carry bag (the Steadicam rig), and two backpacks. I and one additional crewmember produce each show. Sony Corporation just ran a seminar on “Backpack Production” at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention this year, and we have been doing this method for five years.
There are two cameras, one on a tripod and the main camera is on a Steadicam rig. It provides a point of view that brings the audience into the show in a way that contrasts with the more traditional multi-camera shoots. Because the Steadicam is continuously moving, adds energy to the depiction of the action on the screen. The camera doesn't zoom in but walks up to food cooking on the stove and peers into pots and pans and looks into children's faces as they do their kitchen prep. In the garden, it walks along the rows of vegetables, and it hovers low simulating the point of view of a 7 year old child. It's difficult to describe in words, but suffice it to say, it works famously on screen.
And even though we don't cablecast in high definition, all of our cameras and editing equipment can shoot and edit high definition.
So what's next?
It's my belief that we are doing an excellent job of creating what I like to call a “classroom without walls” fueled by innovative video content and a cooperative team of sponsors. We've received national recognition, and despite the economy, support for our efforts is never in doubt. However, there are storm clouds on the horizon.
School finance is a zero sum game in Iowa . Money cannot be carried over from year to year. The books are balanced every July 1 st , and then the school district budgetary schedule starts all over again. Because of this, an educator doesn't know he has a job from year to year. Budgets are formed based on projected tax revenue (which has plunged because of the economy), and then the legislature votes on how much spending authority each district will have. It's a complex formula. With 85% of district costs tied to compensation, the fastest way to balance the budget is to let people go. We are terminating more teachers this year than I want to count. It is a gut wrenching morale killing affair.
Stay tuned. -G.O.
|Puttin' on the Gritz... a school newsletter used so many different fonts an alarmed parent called because she thought she received a ransom note.|
|I am amazed at the number of school administrators I've encountered who want to hide their lights under bushel baskets because they don't want to come off too spendthrifty.|
Have you even seen this anywhere but education? "We don't want this to look too good because the taxpayers will think that we've spent too much money on it." I've actually heard school administrators say that very thing! Sometimes they'll say something that says this but it's supposed to mean something else. "Sure our video looks crappy, but at least its authentic." Let me answer that clue phone for you. If it's crappy, it's crap. It doesn't look authentic, but you look incompetent and are obviously a poor judge of what's authentic.
I am constantly trying to raise the bar on quality in my organization, and I know I've succeeded when people watch a program for its content and don't think about the technical aspects of the show at all. If the sound is poor, exposure settings on the camera are not quite right, it's going to succeed in one thing... being unwatchable. I know YouTube has changed some of the rules for video quality, but hey, that's 3-minute videos of people doing stupid stuff, and if we wait long enough, someone is going to get hit in the crotch by a three-year-old kid hitting a baseball. That's a different form of entertainment and does not apply to shows in which you are trying to convey learning, more traditional forms of entertainment, news, and what have you.
That means printed materials are reproduced in one faded color (black, or should I say gray?) printed with the last dregs of toner in the cartridge that was recharged by a non-factory vendor that instantly voided your warranty.
It means a newsletter with strange black squares that were supposed to be photographs, but the school secretary can't afford nor knows how to operate Photoshop.
It means videos of the talent show were shot from a distance equivalent of locating the camera across the street and with audio so low the audience thought you were a school for the deaf.
Your newsletter used so many different fonts, a parent called because she thought she received a ransom note.
It means the pit orchestra for the senior musical had to be a boom box with karaoke tracks because we cut the music education staff three years ago when we lost funding due to low test scores and No Child Left Behind.
Principals are so gun shy about appearing like their school has money, they purposely promote a shabby chic ethic that continually downplays quality. It's insane. Sadly that message gets drummed into teachers' heads and ultimately to students. It says, "Quality equates high cost." It means, "Don't be too good or people will think you're too expensive." I know this seems ridiculous, but this strategy is practiced every day in education and in so many ways.
And now with even more budget cutting upon us, school officials are going to likely purposefully take it out on what may have been quality programs as revenge for the ignominy of diminished funding. "You want mediocrity? Well here it is! Choke on it."
I call this mentality, "Puttin' on the Gritz" (opposed to "Puttin' on the Ritz" a reference to an old Irving Berlin song).
Since I'm in charge of media design for the messages we wish to convey to our publics, I take a decidedly different tack than many of the administrators and clients for whom I work would likely take. And that's precisely why I do what I do and am respected for it. I look at communication problems and their solutions 3-dimensionally. I not only craft the message in so many words and pictures, but I insist on creating the texture, line, contrast and composition of everything that will carry the message. Simply put, the "look and feel."
I tell them that quality does not cost more, and it really never has. Quality is actually a byproduct of the economy of good design. Quality also means clean, unfettered, and efficient. It also means the best value for the money. Quality is not easily attained by spending more money on something but by doing something exceptionally well, or, may I say, clever? And finally, quality is a process. You really can't have quality unless your have respect for the process necessary to attain it.
I'm so glad I divested myself of print, because digital media is so much easier and less costly to produce and maintain. Color is part of the process and not something that costs extra. But even though today color is on the desktop, and is cheaper than it ever has been, it still carries the baggage of when color was a luxury. Most people older than 45 still equate color with cost, and it applies to anything and everything in color and not just print vehicles. Ooooo, my "irony alarm" just went off.
Did you know that when I was putting the new design together for our district Web site (pictured at right), I decided to use black & white photos on the front page. I actually converted color photos to black & white, bumped up the contrast, and voila, instant sophistication, almost like the Tag Heuer watch company or BMW Web sites that use black & white photos that evoke an almost inexplicable air of super high quality manufacturing.
So what was once a tactic to save money has now become a symbol of the highest quality manufacturing and products in the world. But you'll love what happened when I unveiled my new Web design to school officials and various stakeholders..
Some people I showed the site to actually got what I was trying to do. "Oh, black & white photos! I love what that says about us. It's so artistic." "I don't know," came another response. "Do we really want to appear classy or snobby?" "Don't black & white photos make us look less colorful?" was another question raised that I thought was amusing. And my favorite: "I know it's black & white, but it looks expensive to me."
Finally someone asked, "I thought color always meant expensive?" "It does in print," I explained, but on the Web, 16.8 million colors are traditionally no extra charge."
That reminded me of a newspaper editorial that was published not two years ago amidst a storm of budget cutting that laid off teachers. Since my work is so muchin the public eye, the newspaper saw fit to take my position to task. "Maybe the district should curtail it's colorful content on its Web site that may be inappropriate in these difficult times." Well, what does one expect from a newspaper culture in which color is a significant cost item? I continue to be amazed at the number of newspaper people I meet that are so poorly informed, especially about technology issues. Oh, oh, my irony alarm! I wonder if they ever read their own paper?
Needless to say, I was amused and bemused by the variety of reactions my Web site design received. My recommendation ultimately won the day, and I couldn't be more pleased. When I look at other school districts and see what passes for Web sites, I'm usually disappointed by the stark coldness, the sleek, corporate, all business appearance of most school district sites. They appear to be very low maintenance, and I think that was their guiding design principal in the first place. Several I've examined don't even feature a photo of a child on their main pages. What business are we in anyway?
I just received a lovely email from an automotive executive in Detroit who had visited our Web site on the recommendation of someone who has a child enrolled in our schools, and this important if not supremely busy person took the time to watch some of our television shows that comprise most of the content on our site. He said he couldn't believe the quality of the shows and the professional production values. "You could syndicate these shows right now as they are," he said to me about Kids in the Kitchen. "Have you ever thought of approaching HGTV or the Food Network?"
That's high praise, and I'm grateful. I really don't know anyone at those networks, and as a rule, they never accept unsolicited material, like scripts, DVDs or show ideas from people they don't know for fear of getting sued if they later mount a show that may be similar to what someone submitted earlier, perhaps years before. But that's okay with me. I'm happy doing a quality production in our little hamlet of Dubuque, Iowa on our local cable channel. I don't have to put up with network executives meddling with the formula. We are not on the Food Network, but we look like we belong there That's plenty good for me. --G.O.
|Crazy Cam! When you can't think of a proper way to cover a topic for television... Think The Ed Sullivan Show.|
Sometimes I have an assignment to cover something going on in the schools that defies explanation. How does one package something like a "Paper Dress Fashion Show," or a field trip to study architectural stained glass? Here's what I came up with and it has become a huge hit in terms of brand recognition on our cable channel.
It's best if you can attach some kind of branding experience to a production. What this strategy does is prepare the viewer for (in this case) the unexpected. Crazy Cam! is like the old Ed Sullivan television show which was essentially a variety stage show in the great American Vaudeville tradition.
Vaudeville was a name given a form of variety entertainment in America that began in the early 1880s and lasted through the 1930s. Each show was comprised of different and separate acts grouped under one billing, and Vaudeville shows toured the country's opera houses and theaters. Ed Sullivan, an entertainment reporter that became a television impresario of his own, coopted the Vaudeville format and put it on television. He would have every kind of act imaginable on his New York City Broadway stage (the theater David Letterman uses today for The Late Show on CBS).
Ed had all the biggest and most talented names in show business. I saw Elvis Presley and my first recollection of a juggler spinning plates on sticks on the Ed Sullivan Show. He devised the television premiere of the Beatles. Ed had the funniest stand-up comics who themselves became legends. And what about that crazy foreign ventriloquist, Senior Wences, with a talking head in a box? "How are you doing," Senior Wences asked the head in the box. "Sorright!" said the head. It became the first television inspired catch phrase. It was my memories of Ed Sullivan that inspired me to invent Crazy Cam!
What exactly is the "Crazy Cam?" It can be any camera, really, nothing special, however, I do prefer using the Steadicam because it affords the most flexibility that facilitates the point of view shooting style that works best for the show's format. And the Steadicam looks kind of crazy. But I've successfully used a little consumer Sony Handicam that I carry in a coat pocket that seems to work just fine in a pinch.
The show treats its subjects like acts, and the Crazy Cam is taking the audience into places the ordinary viewer seldom sees.
The neat thing about a small camera is I can turn the camera around and become part of the scene. Almost instantly I become an on-camera reporter which greatly enhances my productivity. It's video al fresco, making things up as we go along. I can fill in the information gaps and provide narration. Having been a journalist for most of my life, I know how to conduct an interview or narrate a scene if necessary. So I become the host as well as the camera operator on the show.
My approach is not unique. Anderson Cooper did this during Hurricane Katrina coverage, and I think a journalist or two did the same kind of thing in Haiti after the earth quake. Anderson Cooper likes to put a small HDCam on the dashboard of his rental car and report a story.
My favorite approach is to use my Steadicam because it is suspended on a gimbal attached to a third arm, so to speak. I actually "wear" the camera that is attached to a vest. I can cantilever the camera out away from my body and turn it around and point it at myself and even get a two shot with an interview subject. The kids love this because I look like Optimus Prime of Transformers' fame. The problem is, wearing the Steadicam vest makes me look like the commander of the S.W.A.T. team.
A strange side effect of all this success is I can't go anywhere in my community without some kids (and adults, too) yelling, "Hey Crazy Cam Guy!"
Okay, now that I can include myself in my coverage, the show practically produces itself. I keep things light and lively, and the camera constantly moving. One time, at great risk of life and limb, I did an on-camera report while descending a staircase.
The show, as you will see, has some great production bells and whistles. I have a simple animated opening and a logo I use for transitions. Not long after I invented this format and created the Crazy Cam! brand, a school board official made mention of the show during a school board meeting. "I want to give praise to the producer of our cable television programs, especially my favorite show, Crazy Cam! It is a perfect example of what I like to call our 'classroom without walls.'" Holy Cow! I thought to myself. This has suddenly become a big deal!
Now, three years later, I have teams of reporters throughout the district who have become Crazy Cam journalists. I do the videography, but the kids do the on-camera work. Among my favorite Crazy Cam reporters is a third grader, Justin Noel (orange tee shirt and wearing headphones), who recently did the Paper Dress Fashion Show for me. The video speaks volumes about the success of this formula.
Another reporter I love to work with is Megan Kennedy. She's a natural performer, and completely fearless when it comes to interviewing people. I showed up at her elementary school to do a Math Day celebration they were having, and the principal at that school picked her to accompany me on our tour of the event. After our initial interview on camera, I just handed her the microphone and the show was hers from that point forward. We've done another show since. She's extremely poised and talented for a soon-to-be fifth grader.
Well, there have been all kinds of cable shows under the Crazy Cam! banner. Not bad for a concept designed to provide continuity to something that defied explanation. --G.O.
|It's Been a Lifelong Learning Pursuit to Create Quality Recordings of Musical Stage Productions|
|I continue to discover new ways of capturing quality sound|
ecording a musical number on stage like I did recently for a promo piece for cable, I always like to tape a rehearsal... as close to final dress rehearsal as I can get, with no audience. And I like to use my Steadicam on stage combined with another camera that shoots the action from about the 15th or 20th row. The most difficult challenge continues to be getting good quality sound. You can't rely on the microphone on the camera because you're on stage and the mic tends to get whatever is close to it. Sometimes, under the best of circumstances, you can plug into the house sound with a recording device, but only if the sound system has been balanced and is working perfectly. So what happens when you arrive on stage and the house audio is a total mess?
That was the case recently while taping a high school production of West Side Story, and it was a near total disaster when I tried to use the house sound. I can't adequately discribe how horrible it was because the sound technicians didn't have the time to balance everything out before I arrived. What added to my difficulties is the cast already was practicing where their marks were for the big cast number. There must have been a hundred people on stage! The principals in the show were wearing head-style microphones that were way too loud or they were barefly audible.
Before I tackled the big stage production, I had recorded the two leads doing a tender duet on stage, and I had no house sound for that. I just recorded everthing with two omnidirectional Sennheiser mics I rely upon. It was pretty good as you will hear on the video clip.
I should have known better. I had encountered this same problem on this same stage two years ago. My mind, however, was completely fuzzy on what I did then to fix it. Let me just say that I managed to record this mess, and I did a reasablly good job of it, but it was a huge struggle in post production to try to get the levels to balance out. Fortunately I had two recording sources and four tracks of audio to choose from, each with its own microphone source. It took me forever in post production to get something useable. I should not have used the house sound at all, but I didn't think of this solution until after I was driving home.
I became enchanted by the stage production that was designed for a live audience, and I had a two camera shot, so I knew I could capture everything I needed for this number. And this was the big musical number where both the Sharks and the Jets are on opposite sides of the stage, which, by the way, is about 60 feet wide. It's huge by public shool standards, Tony is in the middle singing about Maria, who is also singing and standing on a fire espcape back behind and well above the two rival gangs. It was magnificent. The sets were mammoth, and the casts were in fine vocal form. But the house sound was not good at this point in time.
At this point in the show the gangs are anticipating the big rumble, and they are singing combined melodies that are separate but join at strategic spots in the arrangement. You need two cameras... one that covers one side of the sage and one that covers the other. I thought of this arrangement later, and it dawned on me how I could have gotten better control of the production, obtained cleaner and better sound, and I would have had a better total outcome for television.
Musical theater is choreographed for the stage, and not television. Television loves getting close, and the musical theater is all about the big picture on stage. Most viewers in the theater are far enough away that they hardly see the faces or the expressions. That's why I use the Steadicam on stage to give viewers a chance to see everything as if they were on stage with the performers. Of course the problem is you are too close sometimes and the over-the-top performances on stage look exagerated on television. Here are four ways to get a better high school musical produciton on television and have quality sound to boot.
1. What you need to do as a TV director is tell everyone to take it down a notch for the TV audience. Of course they will comply if you explain why it's important. This is why we do rehearsals and not performances in front of an audience.
2. Unless the house sound is fantastic and you can plug into the stage sound mixer, the next best thing is shut off the sound altogether. No microphones will be used except yours. You will capture a more natural and more accoustic sound which is better for TV. Also you may have to arrange the chorus and performers in closer proxiimity to your primary camera position, in my case the Steadicam. I don't want to go running all over the stage looking for the principal performers. I tell everyone... "this is for TV and I want you all to confine your movements so you're a consistant distance from my microphones. Let's review my three microphone positions.
3. Do a run-through or two before you start actually taping. In fact, I tape the run throughs. I tape everything. You never know what you may end up using. The run-throughs are valuable because then you know where you have to be to get important moments in the number.
4. Position micophones so that the orchestra doesn't drown out the singers. I don't worry about the orchestra too much. They're usually loud enough. If you have good microphones, you can place them between the orchdstra pit and the singers on stage, and it should work near perfectly.
The resulting recording is not necessarily the quality of a motion picture or broadway sound track, but it will be authentic in every way, and maybe better is many cases. -G.O.
|Don't Show Me the Money... Please!|
|As the economic noose begins to tighten it causes me to reflect...|
Sometimes my columns don't have a particular theme but become a compendium of thoughts (fuzzy and otherwise) on where I am in the universe at this particular point in time. This is one of those columns.
First, I'm back from a long needed week vacation to Tucson, AZ. My wife, Linda, whom you may know is a fabulous jewelry designer, goes to Tucson every winter for the Gem & Mineral Show in that city. She uses this opportunity, the first week of February, to stock up on materials, mostly gems, that she uses in her original designs. I tag along to carry stuff mostly. But I'm getting into her art form, and my knowledge of gems and minerals has expanded with my growing interest. Linda has a Web site I help her with if you want to check it out.
Tucson is an interesting place with lots of fantastic restaurants, and of course mild weather. The temperature never got below 50, and for us northerners, that was positively balmy. I could always tell the locals from the tourists in the early morning chill. I was wearing shirt sleeves, and the Tucsonians wear winter coats. I found that amusing. I was particularly amused since it reportedly snowed every day back in Dubuque while we were in Tucson. Sweet.
Things I found interesting about Tucson (and this was my fourth visit)... I drove through some neighborhoods, and I couldn't get over that there were no municipal street lights. Only on the thorofares were there lights. It made the neighborhoods somewhat scary to tell the truth. I'm sure there are residential neighborhoods in Tucson where there are street lights, but I didn't see any. Perhaps I wasn't in the right neighborhoods.
I saw a lot of private schools as well as public schools, and I tried to read a local paper and watch local news every day while I was there. They seem to be having some problems financing education and maintaining quality education in several communities. Throughout the South, and particularly in areas where there are a lot of retirees who generally don't like to support any kind of tax referendums, schools suffer more than their northern counterparts. It's just a casual observation.
I've been to several areas throughout the warmer winter states, and I've found this to be the case, especially in Florida. I was in Las Vegas not too long ago, and there were all these new schools that were built but the district couldn't open them because they didn't have the money to hire teachers or equip the schools properly. Vegas and Henderson were particularly hard hit by the economic downturn and housing bubble bursting.
This occurs when infrastructure taxes come out of different sources like sales tax (as in Iowa). When property tax revenue takes a plunge in bad economic times, that money would have gone to pay for teachers' salaries, benefits and a myriad of education programs. In Iowa we have all kinds of money to build and refurbish schools, but no money for teachers, so it's possible to build a new school and lay off a bunch of teachers in that same year. The state law forbids school districts from moving money from one fund to another. Education financing is a mess let me tell you.
These circumstances in which we find ourselves always causes me to reflect. I've been with the district, now for a complete decade, the first of the new millennium... 10 wonderful years. Now we are in a deep recession, and it looks like we are bracing for the night of long knives. I've experienced a less severe period a couple of years ago, but now things are much much worse. Tax revenue is receding at an alarming rate, and it caused the Dubuque Schools to dip into its emergency cash reserves, but it's not enough. Some say this is just the start of a long and protracted down cycle in education financing, and it may take another decade for us to get back on our feet. I may never see this happen because I will likely move on to the next chapter of my life and retire from the school district well before the recovery happens. We shall see. I have no immediate plans, but one never knows. I always hope for the best but prepare for the worst. At John Deere I survived a layoff that cut the workforce from 8,800 down to 3,000 employees in less than three years. It was devestating and catastrophic, but it made me tougher and more prepared.
Nonetheless, as I look back on my decade with the district, I have a lot to be proud of, and I accomplished quite a lot. When I started 10 years ago, the district didn't even have a decent Web site. Now we have an award winning one that attracts 15,000 visitors a day.
We didn't have our own television channel, but three years into the job, I made that happen, and we produce national award winning cable shows making our enterprise one of the most successful programs in the nation. I became a nationally recognized "Cable Leader in Learning," won a national Beacon Award for outstanding television series on cable *Kids in the Kitchen," and I've won just about every award one can win in educational multimedia. And this was my third career in my long path to this place in which I'm standing now.
I started in radio broadcasting when I was in college which prepared me for my next job, graphic artist and communication professional for a Fortune 500 company, John Deere (19.5 years). Because of my facility with computers, I became a pioneering expert in the emerging technology of desktop publishing, then came educational multimedia, digital video production, and Web site design and development. I've written two best-selling books on technology and creativity, and I continue to be energized by the trials and tribulations I encounter every day in education. The school district job has been by far the best use of my talents.
Famous organizational communication guru, Joe Williams, from Bartlesville, OK, wrote about me once in his monthly newsletter, "What Gary lacks in budget he makes up for in genius." How flattering, but I've always found myself with lousy budgets, and that only made me more creative and encouraged me to work harder. There is nothing that spurs creativity more than a lack of money, trust me. I don't think I would know what to do if somebody gave me all kinds of cash. What fun would that be? Don't show me the money. Please!
When I started with the school district, there was a $65,000 budget, most of which was spent with the local newspaper. I gradually put a stop to that, rerouting funds to television equipment so we could produce our own shows for cable and eventually we got our very own 24/7 cable channel with Mediacom. I felt we got more bang for our buck by having our own media, cable TV, and not having to rely on the local newspaper to be our mouthpiece. That strategy worked extremely well my every measure we took. Needless to say, the paper was not happy about that, but that's the way it was going to be. Sheez! We spent over $15,000 a year on employment ads alone (not in my budget but still!). We now have all our ads online, and it works just great.
At this point I want to emphasize that most of the money for our television operation comes from private sources, sponsors, grants, and I frequently dip into my own pocket. I'm proud that very little tax money goes to pay for our communication program. Why should taxpayers pay additionally to be informed by the school district? There are plenty of sponsors and businesses in the community willing to finance that for a brief mention. I've become an expert at finding those finance sources. As a result, I've reduced that $65,000 budget of 10 years ago down to about $25,000 today. Not bad.
Newspapers are in decline for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the iPad will be their salvation. And we are preparing for that ourselves with our own online newspaper I'm working on, with links to videos, audios, and media-rich content. I feel every community needs some kind of news aggregation, especially for local news, governnent, education, the economy and to provide perspective on how events in the rest of the world affect us. The newspapers, local radio stations, and the television network affiliates still do a good job of this, But it's ALL going electronic onto personal media formats like the iPad, iPod, and any number of highly portable hand-held devices my friends. And I am ready. --G.O.
Get Ready for Kiddeos!
|They may help usher in more technology in the classroom and encourage, not discourage the use of handheld devices for learning.|
Get ready for Kiddeos! It's something I've been trying to wrap my head around for a long time, and now, I think, we've figured out how best to get kids involved in providing video content for our Web site and our cable television channel. Why on earth would we want to do this? Because kids are already checking their technology at the door when they walk into a typical school (even ours). We need to find ways kids can get excited about school and teachers excited about the enormous potential of technology in the classroom that, for the most part, doesn't quite exist yet. But with these new hand-held devices, we are so close.
Let me back up even further and describe to you the genesis of this project, the seed that started growing, so to speak.
My colleague, Cheryl Werner (Gifted and Talented) and our Superintendent, Larie Godinez, asked if it is possible to get kids' videos on our Web site. "The problem is not getting them on our Web site," I responded. "We just need to provide the proper encouragement so that our teachers can become involved, too," I added. This was a major breakthrough! I was elated. For months I've been talking about the evolution of the hand-held device, which is the technology at the heart of the digital revolution in education. Now that we are all sharing a similar vision, we can set to work promoting their use in a myriad of educational scenarios.
"We probably need some technological guidelines and provide some incentives for students to participate," offered Cheryl who immediately copied our IT administrator on all of our correspondence. "We've got to involve teachers in every step of the way," I added. "Just putting the opportunity out there without some kind of infrastructure and support mechanism to make this easy and accessible (like YouTube), it won't succeed. But involve the teachers in the process, and make them collaborators with the student, could be the strategy that spells success. And since this is a school district program, needless to say we'll have to screen for appropriateness."
Then I added this little gem of an idea: "I think we should have our own Oscars at the end of the school year with categories, trophies, certificates of participation, the whole works. Nothing jump starts a program like this better than staging a contest!"
But my personal vision of this project is actually much more big picture. This opportunity represents much more than just contests, prizes, and funny videos. This is serious business, and it could serve us well by promoting the use of hand-held technology in the classroom. That's what this is all about.
Why does it appear to so many that technology's growth in the classroom has become stunted? This is largely because education finds it hard to keep pace with the rapid changes in technology, like the evolution of hand-held devices at the moment. Because education is an institution in every sense of the word, it's reaction to change is usually defensive. And because school districts are constantly struggling with a lack of time and money to apply to these new challenges (okay, opportunities), it seems we will always be behind the proverbial curve.
I can't argue that there's not enough time to experiment in education, especially these days. But is it really about the money? Many kids, particularly in middle and high school, already have PDA type smartphones which are connected to a vast network of these devices that practically circle the globe. I haven't met a principal yet who doesn't have a phone capable of more than calls. But students are especially connected to the Web via their cell phone network. Most kids don't even realize what they actually have in the palms of their hands. They're busy texting their BFFs, snapping photos, shooting videos and exchanging them wirelessly with their" friends network," but they may not realize they have an incredibly powerful learning tool in their possession. This is where inventive and adaptive educators could take the lead and use this technology to further their teaching goals.
In Asia and much of Europe people text on their phones more than they talk, and that's because texting is pretty much free or cheaper than talking on the phone. This is what has caused the incredible boom in text based applications in cellular technology in those parts of the world. This is why Asian kids can type with their thumbs or one handed faster than anyone else in the world.
However, here is the reality we face in American classrooms: Teachers, and in large part schools, are threatened by these and almost all technology devices. They see them as supplanting their power and authority in the classroom. In the most ironic situations these devices are banned outright in schools.
What should be happening (and is happening in some places) is school administrators need to be figuring out a way to harness the power of these devices to deliver content that will enable students to participate in learning wherever they are inside or outside of school. Personally, I can't imagine doing a paper using my thumb keyboard, but attached to a wireless keyboard, and I have a pretty comfortable way of taking notes in class, doing papers, and what have you. Need more memory for my hand-held device? I slide in a larger Memory Stick, flash memory card, etc.
The fastest way to raise the technology comfort level is to create fun and ultimately indispensable applications which utilize these devices.
We must make these devices less threatening and more accessible to everyone, and Kiddeos is one small way we can do it. We are actually going to encourage students and teachers to produce and submit 3 minute videos, most of which we know will be shot with cell phones, to our Web site where they will be judged and added to a compendium of short subjects for a cable TV show we are producing as an added bonus.
You've heard the term "learning by doing?" That's precisely what this is. It's learning disguised as fun. Some day teachers will be using these devices to film little tutorials like math lessons, and then make them available to their struggling math students to consult while they're trying to do their homework that evening. One of the biggest selling accessories for cell phones will be little tripods so teachers and students can film themselves doing things and then posting them instantly to the Internet.
A history teacher will film a visit to a Civil War battle field, and armed with a metal detector, unearth a lead ball from the soil that was fired from a soldier's gun.It will all be captured on his own video phone.
A science teacher will film the striations of a local rock quarry that illustrate the pre-glacial age of the earth, and she'll get close ups of fossils she finds that confirm the area was once a vast sea full of exotic life forms.
A student will not only submit a digital paper showing how the Mississippi River actually had several channels besides the one that exists now, he will present his findings in a film shot along exposed limestone bluffs miles away from the main channel showing proof of river borne erosion.
But before all this can take place, we have to become more comfortable with the technology. Kiddeos is a start. --G.O.
|What's the best way to film a kids' concert?|
get asked this quite a lot. If you're in charge of video for an educational institution, you can't help avoid the chore of doing the band, orchestra, choir or choral concert, especially around the holidays. Now I might be engaging in some fuzzy thinking on this topic because the resulting video is often great for the kids and their immediate family members, but because these tapings are often done badly, with one camera at the back of the auditorium and one microphone (on the camera), the quality and entertainment value of the shows are not very good.
I recognized this early on, and I set about doing something about it. Instead of a flat concert video, I endeavored to reshape the kids' concert experience into a made-for-television music video with close ups of musicians, interviews, and featuring the best aspects of the performance instead of the whole performance. The key here is "entertainment value." A concert auditorium tape unless done with multiple cameras, live switching with a line producer, can't be good. The camera is usually so far away (as is the microphone), that it looks and sounds like we taped the performance from the next town.
Here's what I do to showcase musical talent in our district. It's a simple four step approach:
First... The Policy and How to Sell the New Concept: I made it a policy never to tape an entire concert with an audience present. Instead we do dress rehearsals and performances designed expressly for the television audience. This is an easy sell to the music teacher. We are going to do something special for television, and it won't add to your workload. We can incorporate it in the rehearsal schedule. This is going to be a music video, not a concert recording. It's going to be like if Carson Daly came to your school to do a segment for Last Call.
Second... The Camera: I use a shoulder mounted camera or my Steadicam and I'm on stage for the taping among the musicians. I could probably do this with a tripod, too, but I like the camera moving continuously. Instead of zooming the lens, I can walk right up to and move among the musicians to get my close up which is the way to go. See the photo above? It's a still from the actual video of a concert I did at one of our middle schools. I'm obviously on stage with the musicians, and it's wonderful. I'm getting the full power of the music. And it sounds better, too. You can't get this kind of shot from a camera positioned in the audience.
Third... The Interviews: I interview the conductor/instructor, find out who the virtuosos and soloists are, and I make sure i get their performance on camera. I don't hesitate to ask the music director, "Which piece is the best and which piece are you most proud of?" Of course you're the final judge of what's quality in the end. I also interview the students and find out how they feel about their participation in this event and the music they are playing. In post production, I cut from the interviews to the performance segments and back to the interviews. If a particular piece is exceptional, then I use the entire piece. One more thing. Never ask a kid a question that can be answered by a "yes" or "no." Always ask how the feel about what they are doing or what they are playing. You won't be disappointed.
Fourth... Audio: You can have the best picture quality in the world, but if the audio is poor, the video is unwatchable. I pay a lot of attention to this aspect of production. My camera has two microphone inputs. I use the on-camera microphone and one additional wireless microphone on a mic stand or boom strategically placed to capture the best sound from the entire ensemble. This ensures perfect sound every time no matter where the camera goes. Since audio is a two channel affair on my camera (a Sony), I have control over the incoming volumes right on the camera. I also have control over what track I emphasize in post production in Adobe Premiere.
|Kids in the Kitchen is Five Years Old|
he first show was taped in a grocery store on a big wooden box on wheels that was outfitted with a built-in gas range donated by a local appliance store. It ran on a "pony bottle" of propane. The mission of the show was "Kids would know what to eat if they knew how to cook." Even the first show had a lofty goal of emphasizing nutrition over convenience. Our aim was to teach kids basic kitchen skills like knife handling, food safety, and making things from scratch, but it evolved quickly thanks to our volunteer chef, Jim Terry, to become the math, science, geography, literature and history of food. The concept was to combine a top chef with five or six kids, and produce a dish in approximately a half hour. I had no idea what was going to happen once the camera started rolling. We had a couple of cue cards, but quickly abandoned them. We just cut the middle school cast loose with a chef and we would observe what would happen. Clearly our chef choice was critical to our success. Five years and all kinds of awards later, we are launching our fifth season in January, and we show no signs of tiring.
I confess my thinking was fuzzy on this project at first. I knew we would be somewhat successful, but what I didn't know was how big this was going to get. and that it would last this long. It's an enterprise unto itself. The school district had just received its full-time cable channel from Mediacom Cable through our city's cable franchise negotiations. To win the franchise and be Dubuque's primary supplier of cable TV, telecommunication and Web services, they had to provide cable access to education and the community at large. I thought I could easily fill a daily schedule with shows since I was already a prolific producer of television pieces for our Website. In fact it was our Website that closed the deal with Mediacom, and they provided all of the hardware necessary to maintain our channel. I was confident I would get everything I would need to produce shows, especially this one. No direct taxpayer funds from my meager budget were involved. We forged partnerships with areas businesses to support the project. It actually was an easy sell.
I knew the store director at Hy-Vee, Chuck Donnelly, and I told him about my idea. He warmed to it immediately. He gave me access to his store's dietician, Megan Dalsing, who has become my co-producer on this project and another show that spun off after our first year, The Garden Organic. Megan (pictured left) turned out to be a terrific asset. Her knowledge and her willingness to become a TV personality contributed to our success.
I had a local woodshop build what we called a "rolling kitchen in a box" which was quite ingenious. We could cook on top of it and store all of our cooking utensils and appliances inside, and we could roll the whole works out of the way. The only downside was grocery employees had to move huge displays of beverages to clear a space every week for taping. It took a long time to set up because every square inch of a food store is valuable real estate. After the first year of production, Chuck included a new teaching kitchen/studio as part of the store's million dollar expansion project. I got to collaborate on the design which was complete with TV lights and state-of-the art cooking appliances. He even installed a mirror over a portion of the 20 feet of counter space that is the cooking surface. The audience and the camera can better peer into pots and pans. We are no longer on the wooden box but in a fantastic custom built kitchen as you can see in the photo above.
The practical thing about doing a cooking show in a grocery store is the store becomes the world's largest pantry. The cost of doing a show outside of the store would be unaffordable. We would have to install food storage, refrigeration, and there would be so much wasted food. This workflow scenario allows us to use only what we need on a given production day. Another bonus is we added a segment to the show called "Shopping with the Chef," and it has become the most popular part of the show. We follow the chef through the store with the Steadicam as he picks fresh and organic ingredients for the day's recipe. The students follow like a covey of quail asking questions all along the way.
The neat thing about this cable project is its fantastic momentum. As the show began to air, it became the talk of the town. The mayor even referred to the show in a televised speech on one occasion. He used it as an example of creative problem solving in the community and forging partnerships between schools and businesses. Instead of us looking for sponsors, sponsors came looking for us. Soon, food labels were asking for their products to be placed on the show. A local department store gave us $5,000 worth of ktchen appliances.
At first we limited our show's cast to middle school kids, thinking the kitchen is still a dangerous place for say a third grader. Of course it's dangerous! But you ensure a layer of safety and supervision for the youngest cast members, and we have third graders all over the place. The older kids look out for the younger ones. We've had only one mishap on the set that involved a bandaid. The first day of production on the very first show, a seventh grader named Kenny skinned his knuckle on a cheese grader. It was not serious and made great television.
During the first season we used to open every show with a joke told by one of the castmembers and it had to be about food. The first joke went like this I vividly recall:
"I was playing at my friend's house when his mom hollered, 'It's time for dinner!' Everybody got into the minivan."
Okay, so how do you create a sustainable television series that's easy and economical to produce? There really is no way to summarize my strategy in just a few steps. In subsequent blogs I will share more tips and tricks of the trade. For now, however, I'll share my big concepts and and we'll break it down further in the weeks and months to come.
Before you read the following, you should see an episode or two so you know what I'm talking about and then this will make perfect sense. Click here.
Don't over think it:
Once you have a good idea in mind, your next step is to choose a subject expert that will carry the show. I never write a script. You have to understand that the name of my game is formula, and my formula consists of a news gathering approach similar to a photo journalist. At the most I create a shot list with talking points for a given episode. The problem with scripts are, you feel compelled to stick to them, and your performers can't help deliver a stiff performance.
Managing the kids:
In our program we are teaching television by doing television. Our first and foremost goal is to produce an entertaining, but more importantly, a quality show, and that means the students become players that take direction. There aren't many programs like this as far as I can tell. All the participating students have a job to do when they are assigned to a production, and sometimes it's behind the camera or on a sound board as well as performing in front of the camera. For the most part we are on a tightly controlled set, a professional production in every way, and that means the director (that would be me) is in total control of the production.
Television production is part of a much broader curriculum in our schools. It's more integrated into other "digital media" components especially in our middle schools where there is also instruction in creating multimedia content for the Web. So I have steered away from making television production a classroom experience. Class periods are simply too short for that. This is not some basic television production course either, where kids can spend an entire semester making a video. Our television efforts are professional productions in every way with the best HD cameras and sound equipment made available through our local cable operator and largely financed through grants. On production days when we involve kids, they are excused from classes, transported to the set and then back to classes when their production is over. Our shooting schedule and time we spend on the sets are carved in stone. This way the kids and their teachers can compensate for the missed classes. So far no complaints.
I usually have from four to six students (sometime more) in a cast, and I find it's best when they are able to repeat a line that is fed by a director rather than memorize a script which we never use anyway. That's the secret of my success in working with kids. This means I have to find good auditory learners who can actually repeat a sentence or two. I don't insist on accuracy. They can say it in their own words and that's fine. In fact, I encourage kids to be creative and, most importantly, be themselves.
You can fix it in post production:
One thing I've learned doing television is you can fix it in post. I find it takes about 80 minutes worth of video to create a 30 minute show as a rule. After you've had some practice at this, you develop an instinct for what's working and what won't make the final edit.
Develop a formula for the open and close to the show, then let the middle take care of itself.
I love carefully crafted show opens where the students introduce themselves and the topic of the show and then the standard animated open for the show begins. That goes for the close as well. I've got a show called Crazy Cam! in which we always take kids who are being featured and make them do the show open. I'll have a host say, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to..." and the kids featured will yell out "Crazy Cam!" Crazy Cam! is largely an interview type show where the camera goes into all kinds of places recording kids doing ordinary or extraordinary things. The kids yelling "Crazy Cam!" has become a trademark of the show, and everyone loves doing it. On the end of the segment, we have the host say, "Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for joining us on..." and the students yell "Crazy Cam!" again. I've discovered that once the open is recorded, the energy level of the cast is up, and we are ready to tear into our subject.
PS: Kids in the Kitchen won the Beacon Award in its third season. The Beacon is one of the cable industy's highest honors. It beat such well established production companies as Cox Cable, National Geographic Channel, and Time Warner. Gary was also named Cable's Leader in Learning in 2009.
|Television can be your best ally in the battle for kids' attention. Here's one way I use it to inspire kids to read books...|
roduce oral book reports and make them available online and on cable TV? I am amused at those parents and educators who demonize television and don't recognize it for the wonderul learning tool that it is. That's fuzzy thinking.
"So, Gary, do ou mean we take something that has been long considered a distraction (television) and the most serious competition to book reading among youth and actually use it to promote book reading?" You betcha! I don't recall exactly how I got this idea, but the Dubuque School District has been doing this for some time, and I'm a little fuzzy on when we actually got this boat to float.
To ensure this success, I first had to inspire the school librarians, most of whom no longer refer to themselves as librarians but media specialists. No matter what you call them, most have been librarians for nearly all of their careers, and many still refer to themselves as librarians with all the self respect they deserve. Some actually have their degrees in Library Science. It reminds me of another interesting degree you can get, "Museum Curator." I'm sorry. That was a cheap shot. But then again, school librarians have to explore all of the media choices one has available to them. Text books, particularly, are going online faster than the speed of light.
So it was with great intrepidation I approached the librarians with my idea of creating this series of shows called "Looks at Books." Here was the deal maker. I said I would bring my camera to their libraries where we would film the book reports and create some excitement for the project among their kiddos. I would bring my portable greenscreen, TV lights (see photo below), and we would feature the students against the giant cover of the book they read and show some illustrations if applicable behind the students. Oh, and don't forget to have photos of the authors, also available online doing an image search.
Did you know that Adobe Premiere software has greenscreen abilities? If you can photograph a child against a green or blue screen (mine is reversable with both green and blue screens, and I bought it on eBay for under a hundred bucks), you can superimpose that child's moving image against anything you can put into your computer like a scanned image or pages of a book, etc. In fact you don't even have to scan a book cover. All popular children's book covers are available online (just do an image search of the book's title) and you can find a cover of a popular children's book instantly. Copy it to your production graphics folder for this project, and import the image into Adobe Premiere. Same goes for the author's portrait..
|It's Children's Art on the Digital Fringe|
I'm in the midst of completing my second installment for November of a little project I call "The Digital Fringe Art Gallery." It's a virtual gallery for the Web and for cable TV. It's frame after frame of juried artwork submitted by our district's elementary and secondary art teachers. I put them together in Adobe Premiere, combine a little techno pop music, and I time the transitions to the beat of the music. The result is quite impressive if I do say so myself. Think of it as the world's largest refrigerator door, and I'm the magnet. Maybe we should have called this project "The Digital Fridge." Or maybe not.
If you're an art teacher, you no doubt have a digital camera (like who doesn't?), and no doubt you know how to use it. Our school district has a TV channel reaching approximately 60% of households in our district, and a Web site that attracts 15,000 visitors a day. These elements combined form the "Digital Fringe Art Gallery." It's an opportunity for student artists to have their work seen by a wider audience, and who wouldn't want to be part of that?
I've just reviewed November's artwork for the Digital Fringe Gallery and I'm overjoyed that the numbers are up from the first month we premiered the project. I'm particularly thrilled that one of our high schools is on board. In fact Senior High's ceramics are positively fantastic and they are expertly photographed I might add.
Some of you know that I've made a career in the digital art field (written two books on the topic). But do you know what really made me a successful digital artist? Traditional art instruction. Without knowledge of color, texture, line, composition and contrast, you can't call yourself an artist, can you? The fact that I know how to use a brush and piece of paper makes all the difference in the world.
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