More Media Savvy Than She Thinks

Reprinted with permisssion of the author.

I've got a pet theory (I've got a couple of them, actually, but only one is worth sharing with you here). People are smarter than they think they are; they're also more creative than they think they are. And in the area of video production, they know more than they think they do. Luckily for me, my theory was proven correct just last week.

A woman at work asked me to help her put together a videotape, a kind of video yearbook for a soccer team her daughter was on. She'd been videotaping the girls all season long with her camcorder, and now she wanted to turn that footage into a year-end production.

I looked at the footage she'd shot. Sometimes the camera didn't work right and sometimes she didn't hold it steady enough, but I also saw dozens of quite marvelous shots of girls playing soccer, hanging around, and getting to be very close friends.

No one had told this woman (I guess) that video is all about close-ups, but she seemed to know it instinctively, zooming in on the faces of the athletes she was videotaping. And although no one had told her that candid video is both more truthful and more touching than staged shots, nearly half of the footage was taken in unguarded moments.

I told her that I'd push the buttons for her and get the equipment to do what she wanted it to do, but that SHE would be making the video. The decisions on what to include and what to leave out would be hers, the order of shots and pacing and soundtrack would be hers. It would be very literally HER video that I'd help her with.

She was already a step ahead of me. She pulled out notes she'd jotted down on the back of an envelope, where she had listed different segments of the video she wanted to do. There was the before-game stuff, the championship trophy presentation, the cookout with family members and so on. She'd already had the rough outline of what she wanted in her mind and on paper! She had checked and re-checked each scene to be sure that her finished video would include every girl.

And so we worked together. At first she'd be asking me if this was OK or that was all right, but before long, she'd be saying, "I'd like THAT scene next, followed by THIS one." She had an eye for clips that told the story she wanted to tell, a sense for what she wanted on the screen.

Later, we worked on the soundtrack. Again, she asked, "Can we do THIS?" She didn't know the difference between an audio dub and a video insert, but she could see and hear in her mind what she wanted to be put on tape. We tried to set one bunch of scenes to a particular piece of music, and it was terrible, I thought. Just didn't work. I didn't know how to tell her that the music was all wrong for that part of the tape. Luckily, I didn't have to.

"I don't like that," she said. "Let's try something else." She didn't know WHY it was wrong; it just "felt" wrong, but that was enough. And she was right.

Before we were done, we had put music over and under live sound, lip-synched a portion to make it louder, and finished with a freeze-frame at the end. She wanted three brief title screens at the beginning - she wrote out for me what they should say.

The video was a big hit at the end-of-the-year banquet, she reported to me. The audience laughed when she had wanted them to laugh, sighed when she wanted them to sigh, and even cried a little at the big emotional ending.

Although I had pushed the buttons, the video she had created was certainly hers.

And it reinforced my pet theory that because we watch so much video, because we are affected and even manipulated by video images every single day, we have come to understand what works and what doesn't work in the medium. We know it from our experience - nearly viscerally or subconsciously - we know it without knowing that we know it.

And that's why I think that this woman's very first video production worked so well. She saw it in her head first, knew what and how she wanted to communicate. I was only there to put her vision onto tape.

I think that increasingly we are all media literate - more than we realize. We know - not from textbooks and courses, but through experience - what affects us and what doesn't. What's boring and what isn't. What's touching. What's funny. How to communicate in pictures and sound things which sometimes don't get put into words very well.

Like a student "immersed" in a foreign language program, we see and hear so much media around us every day that we can't help but learn it, can't help but become proficient in its use and construction. We can't help but become media literate almost without knowing it.

And that's both good to know and fun to discover.

Author Bio: 

Bill Walsh is an English teacher at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA. His column appears in the Billerica Minuteman newspaper weekly.