Finding a story and location

‘Mobile journalism’ is still journalism. Apps and kit aren’t enough – you need a story worth telling. How do you find one and how should you prepare to film it?

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 great list of 24 story-hunting ideas from Media Helping Media.

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?

In this 2011 package by WNBC-TV New York, the story is told entirely through interviews and natural sound. What would you need to record to achieve a similar result?

Watch this award-winning short documentary, ‘A Place Like This’, and listen to how the producers used sound to tell the story of RAAF Lancaster pilot Alexander Jenkins.

This 2013 documentary, ‘Inocente’, won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short. Listen to how natural sound supports the interviews with Inocente about her life and situation, and helps tell her story.

Now, how might you achieve good results with a smartphone? What sounds do you need to record?

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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