Posts from February 2013

Narrative or Descriptive?

Last weekend I was a tutor on the FameLab UK finalists’ masterclass, which was a jolly wheeze and wildly intense. They’re a smart and capable bunch, FameLabbers, and we put them through the wringer with storytelling and improvisation exercises, shifting of the performance space to video, then onwards to the weirdly out-of-body experience that was directing others and seeing their own work reinterpreted by their peers. Which was hilarious, apart from anything else.

One of the gang dropped me an email today asking for advice about their piece for the final, which I’ll choose to paraphrase as:

“Should I go for depth and detail, or a simplified overview?”

There’s no correct answer, of course. How well you execute and a modicum of luck play just as large a role as your preparation, deft avoidance of distractions, brisk setting of context, and so on. But for me there are two key thoughts:

The first is that, as a member of the audience, I want satisfying stories. That’s a very personal judgement, but for me those tend to be the ones with smart ideas that point in interesting directions. They might be nuggets of factual information, but they’re just as likely to be about perspective, interpretation, or a general mechanism. I want to be bursting with questions, but I don’t want those questions to be prompted too closely — as my partner Elin puts it:

“It’s not how smart you are, it’s how smart you make your audience feel.”

The second thought — and the core of my reply to the questioner — is: what sort of storyteller are you?

Do you revel in the process and sequence of narrative, driving on a story or spinning a web of information from which a chain of events resolves, suddenly snapping into narrative clarity? Or do you favour description, conjuring a detailed mental image which locates, directs, and focusses attention?

Where you see your strengths as a writer and performer should inform the shape of the work you do. Sometimes you challenge yourself to develop, and other times you play to your strengths.

So: depth and detail or simplified overview? Emphatically not the latter, because if your overview is best described as ‘simplified’ then you’re doing it wrong. Solve that, and either could work — so worry less about your work, and more about who you are.

The best part? The finalists’ email response:


Lens rings

It’s only just occurred to me that the camera manufacturers colour-code their lens rings to remind us of their respective cameras’ skin-tone biases. So: Canon — red. Nikon — gold. Panasonic — sort-of muddy grey.

I note this as I push a bunch of +magenta and -yellow into my Nikon grade, and watch the vectorscope slide over to the skin line.


A few things that have caught my eye recently:

  • Røde microphones have partnered with Rycote to fit the latter’s ‘Lyre’ mounts to the former’s videomic range. I’m a big fan of both companies’ products. They’re good value and perform well.
  • Also from Røde: new iXY stereo and SmartLav lavalier mics, both of which use an iPhone (or iPod touch) as the recording device. Not the first of this sort of thing out there (Tascam do an iOS stereo mic attachment), but the SmartLav in particular seems pretty cheap. I’m tempted to pick up an iXY for the same reason I have an Olloclip and Glif — to leave in my bag and hence always have to hand.
  • While I’m at it: Tascam also make an XLR interface for iPhones. You read that right. And no, don’t ask about phantom power.

Now, cameras: I very nearly pre-ordered a Panasonic GH3 for video work, but realised that doing so would pretty much lock me into buying the Panasonic X 12-35 and 35-100, and maybe the Voigtländer 25mm. That would make a commendably tiny kit, and the lenses are spectacularly good… but it’s a lot of money to invest in lenses that are only going to be any use if I have a micro4/3 body to hang them off.

If the right job comes along it could still be the right decision, but in the meantime I’ve waited. I’m glad I did — early reports are suggesting that the Nikon D5200 is an unexpected beast as a video camera and something of a bargain, while rumours suggest a D7100 may come along soon. Nikon DSLRs still have some quirks, but I’ve been surprisingly happy shooting with my D7000 for the last couple of years. If the new Nikons are sharper and avoid moiré they could be budget contenders. I’ve been tempted by a D800 with third-party antialiasing filter, but full-frame super-shallow DOF isn’t beneficial to the way I work.

Nikon-mount glass, of course, can be adapted to fit just about anything out there. Which makes it arguably a better investment than anything else.

Update — here’s the first decent D5200 comparative test I’ve seen:

EOSHD Shootout - Nikon D5200 vs Panasonic GH3 (low light) from Andrew Reid on Vimeo.

Article explaining the comparison on Andrew’s blog. As he notes, this isn’t entirely fair to the GH3, but still… go Nikon!


StoryCog is a communication consultancy and film production company; see more about us here, or explore the links above left. The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, though they're quite likely to represent the company's position too.


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