My high school choir teacher used to use the analogy of a duck floating on a pond to explain how hard you and your body are supposed to work when you sing. The duck looks so smooth and serene drifting on the surface of the water. What is unseen to the eye are the duck's feet perpetual pedaling beneath the water, fast and ferociously transporting the duck from point A to point B.
The same analogy works for anything you watch on TV. Unless you've worked in the industry, you have no idea the amount of work, mistakes, arguing, and repairing goes into a production just to make it go on the air like nothing ever happened.
I’ve always loved the phrase “breaking news mentality”; mostly because I feel it loses its intense meaning every time a news station reports breaking news that’s 24+ hours old.
But that’s a blog for a different day.
The reason I bring up the term here is because one of the biggest transitions I had to make from coming from the news world to the video production was trying to sedate that breaking news mentality, but also keeping it somewhat alive for when we needed to get things done quickly.
Let’s backtrack a little bit now. Although Patrick, Rob and I were in school at Temple University together, in the same major, and now work together, when I left school I worked in Grand Island, Nebraska for a year from April 2012 to April 2013.
Getting your start in news is, in a word, humbling. A common misconception is, “Oh my god. You’re on TV. You’re famous,” etc. This is far from the case. Grand Island, Nebraska was a town of 50,000 people. It was neither grand (by my estimate) nor was it an island. Living there made me more and more grateful for the fact that I was on TV because that was really the best part of it.
In college, I had a week to two weeks to put a story together. Obviously, when you’re part of a daily newscast you have just a few hours to do that. This process was tough to get into. You go from having two weeks to schedule, shoot, interview, write, track, edit, and complete the story to having to do all that in one day, every day. Add in the fact that you’re in a town where you don’t know anyone, you don’t know where anything is, you don’t know what’s going on in the local news, and you’re expected to deliver all of this every day like you do know it, and you start to get the idea that you need to grow up pretty quick.
Having that quick turnaround, for me at least, was all about trial and error. There are questions you have to ask yourself and prepare for every day. How long does it take to get to my story? Sometimes it’s 2 minutes; sometimes it’s 2 hours. What if this person doesn’t want to talk? What if this equipment is broken or not working? What if the person who took out the car before me didn’t fill it with gas? Those are just a few of the elements of TV news I had to prepare for every single day. So much was out of my control that I had to have such rock bottom expectations and check off what I could control as I was going. Some days everything would go perfectly, and then other days the “breaking news mentality” was routine.
“Breaking news mentality” speeds everything up. It allows you to block everything out and focus on the thing that needs to get done. Your heart races, you sweat, you don’t want anyone else involved in what you’re doing. It’s completely on you. Because that’s all you have time for.
It gets chaotic. I’m talking about full-grown adults sprinting in suits carrying cameras and tripods in a newsroom. This is not typical office behavior. I’m talking about yelling. Full voice yelling.
“I sent it!”
“I don’t see it!”
“Well, it’s there! I sent it!”
“What is it called!?”
“Move, I’ll find it!”
All while an adult male is putting makeup on. It’s insanity. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the breaking news mentality.
Basically, the “breaking news mentality” is when you sacrifice quality of work and production for time.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a little dark, we have to send it in in 10 minutes”
“It doesn’t matter if the sound byte doesn’t make sense, it has to be done by 9:00”
“It doesn’t matter, just get it done.”
I always had a problem with that. I was part of a team. Our product was the newscast. Why would we put something on TV that wasn’t as good as it could have been? Unfortunately, when you’re 23 at a news station full of “adults”, people don’t exactly, well…care about you.
Knowing news stations are okay with whatever can fill time in the show, I took the necessary precautions to make sure I’d never have to deal with a “It doesn’t matter, just get it done,” situation. After all, I didn’t leave all my family and friends in Philadelphia to live in Nebraska for it to “not matter”.
Now, please don't get me wrong. I definitely appreciated my time in Nebraska. I worked with some awesome people, learned a lot about myself, how to be independent, how to be better at TV production and how to be a functioning adult. It was an extremely valuable year of my life. The heartland and the friendships I formed there will always have a place in, well, my heart.
Ok. Now. Let’s wipe the tears. And fast forward to today.
In the video production world, there’s much more of an emphasis on pre-production whereas in the news world, it’s completely disregarded because it would take up too much of your day. At 20/20 Visual Media, we spend time planning schedules, shots, lighting, and basically every other element of production.
I always wonder what differences the viewer notices between a story that we’ve done and one that maybe has aired on local news. I’ve been enveloped in it all, so I feel like I notice certain things others would not. And I’m not even talking about what the shot looks like, if part of the story was left out or cut, who they didn’t talk to, etc. I’m talking about caring.
It’s easier to care in video production. You only have to care about the people who you’re covering while you’re covering them in news. Harsh reality. In video production, we have the luxury of varying deadlines. Some clients give us a couple months; some give us a couple days. But we always take that time to care. We make sure audio, coloring, focus, animations, music, graphics are all perfect because that’s what our clients expect. And we want them to expect that from us.
That “breaking news mentality” still lives inside me and I’m sure it comes out when we’re trying not to inconvenience a client during a shoot. In that situation, I probably have been known to run to the car and grab something, but I would never yell at Patrick and Rob the way I saw people yelling in my newsroom and not just because when I have to run back to the car to grab something, they don’t make me wear a suit.