KCRA Meets Cinema Vérité—Street nurse
Every news story has its own style, just as with every documentary and dramatic film. When I go out on a news story I have no idea about the shots I will get, but I do give thoughts to the style that I want to approach it with.
With this story, working with KCRA reporter Vicki Gonzalez, I knew her working style—lots of natural sound – a rapid-fire montage of natural sound, interviews, and short reporter tracks.
Heading out on the story, I knew it would be a profile following Amanda Buccinna, a nurse who works on the streets with Sacramento’s homeless. Nurse Amanda has a strong sense of obligation and does not turn away anyone on the streets who needs help. Our plan was to meet up with her, put a wireless microphone on her and follow her around on her rounds—a documentary slice-of-life look at what she does and the people she works with.
For her purposes, and for confidentiality of her clients, people living on the streets or in subsidized motel rooms when they can get them, the clients she was going to be checking in on had already been pre-arranged by the nonprofit organization she works for and had signed clearance papers—for their purposes, not for ours. In TV news, we do not deal with clearance papers. That is something for entertainment programming, not for news.
(For example, people who get in trouble with the law do not want to have their faces seen on TV. Also, so much of what we shoot in TV news is in public places where you can film anything you can see. When we are on in private property we are there by permission.)
During our filming one homeless woman came up to nurse Amanda asking for assistance, which Amanda provided. Provide it. Out of respect for her I kept filming on nurse Amanda but I did not show this woman’s face.
(Note: in the event that someone else might edit this story and not be aware of who this woman was, I did not want to run the risk of filming her, figuring I could always put a digitized blur over her face when editing. I prefer to do everything in-camera. It’s just safer that way.
Also, my policy on when I do have to get generic footage of the homeless is to film from a distance and not show faces, either whether filming the lower portions of their body or from behind with their face turned away. This is not a company policy, but one that I practice out of my own ethics. I have not always filmed this way, but it has become my practice for approximately the past two decades.)
This story would be shot completely handheld. I needed to be fluid and be able to move around and film nurse Amanda and her clients, getting a variety of shots, although I was not concerned about match-editing. I just wanted to follow and observe and document, capture the flow of whatever happened and keep out of the way.
Later that day in the editing I did something that I almost never do, which is to cut from a close-up of nurse Amanda being interviewed directly to a close-up of nurse Amanda interacting with a client. I did not worry about putting in dissolves. I wanted this to be straight cuts. Nothing pretty.
This is a style no I would not have been able to do when I started out in the business because it would have been looked upon as a jump-cut and sloppy. But times of changed greatly and I genuinely like this style because it is real, honest, direct, without pretense, without artifice, without pretense and been out trying to be pretty. This is a story that is definitely not pretty.
We interviewed nurse Amanda throughout the morning at several different locations so it was not the same interview throughout the story. She is a person who is always on the go.
This was shot in homage to a documentary style that emerged in the mid-1960s and 70s style of handheld documentary filmmaking known as cinema vérité—cinema of truth or direct cinema. Something I have adapted into my own personal style that I call active camera. Where the camera plays a third person in the story and is always moving in abeyance to who or what is being. Photographed and what they are doing. Following the moment.
In the end this became a conscious combination of documentary style shooting and editing. You never want something to intentionally look sloppy, but through the editing I strived to convey the reality of the moment.
Here is a link to Youtube where you can watch The Camera That Changed The World.
(Sorry, I tried repeatedly to embed the video here, but it would not attach. Perhaps a monetizing issue. But watch it!!!)
Some sources of inspiration for this mode of thinking is a wonderful documentary on how this style of doc you-camera came to be, starting in the late 50s and early 1960s with the development of lightweight 16mm cameras that could be handheld and that could also record sound either through “dual system”—a meaning a cameraman filming and a soundman recording side-by-side and synchronizing their footage in post-production and editing, or with the emerging new technology of recording sound onto a magnetic stripe along the side of the film. The earliest developments of what has evolved into E.N.G.—electronic newsgathering—cameras.
Also attached is a segment from one of the great early documentaries that employed this style. Salesman, filmed by Albert and David Maysles, about door-to-door Bible salesman in the mid-1960s. All handheld black-and-white, all happening in the moment, without interviews, just watching and listening and absorbing their lives through observation. A landmark documentary at the time heralded as the first nonfiction feature-length film.
When I shoot a TV news story I often don’t think of them as shooting news, but in making little documentary films. This story about nurse Amanda and her work on the streets of Sacramento for the homeless population on the streets of Sacramento is an example of this mini-documentary film style of storytelling.