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Filming preparation and location scouting

Tips for finding a great mobile journalism story, and choosing the best filming locations.

Finding stories

First, do your research. Create and maintain a contact book, set up Twitter lists to follow issues you want to cover, and constantly ask questions. And most importantly: get away from your desk, away from the internet, and meet people. Go to where the news is happening. Attend events. Have conversations with strangers.

Still stuck for ideas? There’s plenty of great advice from industry educators including these tips from the BBC Academy, this blog post from NPR Training, and this guide from the International Journalists’ Network.

Plan for great visuals and audio

Video stories need powerful footage. So you need to start thinking about the visuals as soon as you have a story idea. How might the finished video look? What footage will be essential to tell your story? Who do you want to interview?

If you’re used to working in print or online, keep in mind that video interviewees need to speak clearly and coherently about their subject.

And think about audio, too. As well as choosing a microphone to record your interviews and sound, think about what the audience might hear as they watch your story. Will you record ‘natural sound’ of the location? Will you use music?

Watch this 2019 award-winning documentary by Italian mobile journalist Nico Piro. The story was filmed on an iPhone Xs. Notice how it uses music and natural sound to increase the impact of the story.

Here is another award-winning documentary that uses natural sound. It is called ‘A Place Like This’, and listen to how the producers used sound to tell the story of RAAF Lancaster pilot Alexander Jenkins.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many journalists have had to use mobile phones for the first time, and have discovered how powerful the devices are – not just for using themselves, but for sourcing video content directly from interviewees. Watch this interview with Spanish mobile journalist Leonor Suarez for more insights:

Now, how might you achieve good results with a smartphone? What sounds do you need to record? If you can’t physically travel yourself, how would you involve your interviewees, or members of the audience, to use their phones to record the video and audio you need?

Scout your filming location

Sometimes, you have no choice over a filming location. For a breaking story, you have to get there quickly and do the best you can.

For a planned story, you should find out as much as you can about the location to help you decide where to put the camera to film, what the lighting conditions will be like, whether it’s near a noisy road or railway line – and what you might film to help you tell your story.

If you’ll be doing interviews on location, what will be the best backdrop for the interview? Will the location have access to natural light, or will you need to bring an external light?

Asking these questions in advance will help you work better and faster when you arrive on location for the shoot. For more tips on location scouting, visit this Videomaker post.

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