Surrounding yourself with people more talented than yourself is an important lesson. The things you can learn are immeasurable.  I’ve been fortunate to work with some extremely talented people.  Even more so to be mentored by them.  It sharpens you.  Pushes you.  It’s unfortunate that I’ve only allowed this later in life rather than sooner.  In high school, I rested on natural ability and felt that was enough.  I didn’t push myself.  It was in college, when I was surrounded by talented driven people that I realized that my presumption was incorrect.  It was going to take more.  I only started to feel like I’ve come into my own in the past couple years.  I’m 10 years out of college.

Last April, I was asked to shoot promotional material for Booker T. Washington, an arts magnate school in downtown Dallas.  A school full of the most gifted young individuals I’ve ever encountered.  I had a split reaction to immersing myself in this culture of young talent.  The first feeling was typically: a sense of awe and amazement followed by a sense of internal grief.  Why the hell did I wait so long to get serious about myself?  A question I’m sure these kids illicit in most adults bemoaning squandered potential.

Art2This selfish thought soon evaporated however as the plan for the videos were laid out.  I was extremely excited about this project.  My initial thought was that we were going to be doing 30 second commercial spots selling the high school.  I was wrong and happy to have been so.  What Lisa Holland and John Kirtland wanted was so much better!  I was going to get to shoot interviews with students discussing their experiences at the school.  To get to hear firsthand on how their immersion in a school of immense talent effected them individually.  The excitement they felt when they heard the got in.  OrchestraThe anticipation of going to high school, HIGH SCHOOL, day to day.  Their attitudes were infectious and you can see it in the edit when you hear them talk about their school.  If surrounding yourself daily with talent pushes you, then a kid listening to someone their own age talk about how wonderful it is to go to Booker T. Washington would do more than any brochure or sales pitch they would ever hear.   And here’s the best part:  these kids were genuine.  Absolutely genuine.  After listening to them, I wanted to go there.  Build a time machine just so I could go back in time and HOPE to get in!

DanielleIn the videos, I tried to use the architecture of the buildings and a television as a device to present the interviews.  It wasn’t enough to turn in a more standardized edit.  I had something to prove to these kids.  It sounds ridiculous now that I’ve written it, but like I said previously, surrounding yourself with creativity spurs creativity.  The building itself is a beautiful modern structure with many flat surfaces that I felt resembled large LCD screens.  So I looked for ways to put students on the sides of buildings using the architecture of the building.  I didn’t know if it would work out, but I’m really happy with the result.  My feeling towards the final effect, is that it doesn’t necessarily look photo-realistic, but the stylization of the effect looks purposeful and complete.  TrashadThat is the thing with vFX shots, especially bad vFX, if it looks like it’s trying to be real, but you don’t have the tools or the ability to make it look photo-realistic, you’re only doing a disservice to the effect.  Further, if you can’t capture an organic texture in the end result, the eye will be completely distracted by the unnatural quality and the purpose will loose it’s desired result.  Using the existing brick textures in the building by overlaying the video footage using a Screen Composite Mode to bring the texture underneath softens the harshness of the overlay.  You never want to use opacity to do this.  Always play around with your composite modes.  Also shooting the interviews against black helps the texture cut through the negative space.  I believe if the Interview Footage was shot in an open environment, the lack of negative space would muddy the image and destroy the effect.

EilliotUsing the projection / large LCD screen gimmick couldn’t carry across multiple videos, so I decided for the second, to use another presentation device.  I’ve used the television before, but this is the first time I’ve used it to present the story.  Usually it would present B Roll that was either in a lower resolution, or had bad color balance.  In previous projects I’ve had to use archive footage, and I never liked blowing it up to my projects resolution if I didn’t have to and looked for ways to present it closer to it’s natural resolution without having black negative space.  This particular video is stories from the students that have happened in the past.  There was no B Roll to cut to and having them be on screen for 3 minutes with black negative space wouldn’t have worked for me.  I wanted to see the environment they were describing, but not cut away from the people talking at the same time.  Putting them on TV and dolly tracking toward or away from them to reveal the building had a great look to it.   If you read my last blog:  “Success Stories” you can see pics from that project where the TV projects B Roll.  After these two projects, I can no longer use this visual gimmick.  It will have to be retired.  Since I have declared this in a blog, I will have to follow through with it.

Art1This style of video is extremely popular right now.  There are so many videographers shooting short burst journalistic videos.  Part of finding a way to cut through all the noise online is finding a way to have your stuff stand out from other videos in the same genre.  To me, it’s not enough to turn out video pieces that don’t have a bit of your own voice in them.  For people in the visual medium, that voice is the video style you present.  I would always encourage people to take that extra step to set your work apart.  I don’t pretend that I’m breaking ground, but I will always follow that belief.  There are a lot more people doing video now at all capacities.  So the industry will start looking towards those that elevate themselves from the pack. Hallway-Practice I believe that videographers will always be able to find work since visual content will always be needed in all kinds of capacities.  I really encourage everyone to push themselves with every project.  I’m adding this last thought even though it’s a bit off topic because I believe it’s in keeping with the spirit of the school I had the privilege to shoot.  This school pushes their students to excel.  It’s expected and encouraged.  These kids are in a ‘sink or swim’ environment that reaffirms personal growth through action.  It’s not enough for them to leave the school without having grown in their artistic endeavors.  Just like this, it’s not enough for professional videographers to rest on their laurels.  Push yourself daily.  Always try new things, and never believe that you’ve ever arrived.  Once you do, there’s nowhere to go but back down.  If you’re constantly looking to the next plateau, then there is no descent.  So put that in your pipe you scoundrels!

Booker T. Washington Video Series:
Watch “Getting In” here
Watch “I’m Home Now” here

Stills pulled from the above videos.
Credits:  Art and Orchestra stills shot by Andy LaViolette
All other by Jon Collins