KCRA — BOREAL SKI RESORT MAKES THEIR OWN SNOW — minute-by-minute getting it on KCRA
Thursday, December 28, 2017
I was just finishing up my work on my reporter-photographer story on a fallen CHP officer, a sad story, but one we had to cover–and would be wrong not to cover–and one that I was proud of my work on.
Thinking ahead to the next day, which would be the Friday going into the holiday weekend culminating in New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. In my 34 years at KCRA, we have always done a full day of coverage of the weather and the conditions at the ski resorts for the folks who would be driving up into the Sierras to spend their holiday weekend.
I wrote up a request to cover this and got an immediate response that they were planning to send a reporter and a photographer up there, but they would keep me in mind for the story. Good enough.
Friday, December 29, 2017
9:30 AM I came into the station, ready to head up “the hill” to the ski slopes, and was greeted by Angie Sheets and Aram Sarkissian, our Assignment Managers. Then I was told that the reporter they were going to send up with me had called in sick and they wanted to take me up on my offer, if I was still up for it?
Without hesitating–actually, excited–I said, “Yes!”
The caveats they wanted, though, were:
- Weather/traffic video of the road conditions.
- A package for the 4 o’clock news. It can be any length–even just 45-seconds.
- Send back some footage and sound clips for teases and a VO-SOT for 5 o’clock.
- A package for 6 o’clock. This can be the rest of the 4 o’clock story.
- I have to: A) drive nearly 90-miles; B) shoot; C) find a secure WiFi location; D) log & write; E) record my audio; F) edit the story; G) feed back the story for broadcast on KCRA at 4 o’clock; H) And I have to have all this done in less than 6 hours!!!
“How would that be?”
These were all the same needs for the precious day’s story, so I was prepared for that.
Time Management & Budgeting Your Time Whenever asked about one of the most crucial skills required for working in news, hands down, it is know how to manage your time–in driving to your story’s location, or locations, shooting time, logging & writing time, editing time, driving back or feeding/uploading time. This is something you can’t fudge on. It can make your day. Or be sending you to explain to your managers why you couldn’t make your deadline. Miss a couple of deadlines–you won’t have to worry about that much longer.
9:45 AM I had grabbed my gear and a TVU transmitting backpack and headed out.
On leaving the station I called Tucker Norred, the marketing/media contact at Boreal Ski Resort — who I had worked with earlier in the year about Boreal hiring extra help for the extended skiing season — about coming up and seeing conditions.
“I know that compared to last year this has been a lean year for snow.”
“It has been,” Tucker said. “But we’ve got snow and all the slopes are open.”
“When it doesn’t snow, we make it. Everybody down below seems to think we’re dry, but we’re open.”
“Well, that’s great. I’ll come up and show it.”
“I’ll see you when you get here.”
Working Against The Clock: I am leaving the station
11:30 PM Coming up I-80, which has been bone dry, and come around a bend in the highway and see to the south–Boreal Ski Resort and the mountain tops covered in white snow! It was surreal.
Time Management I figure that I can shoot until 1 PM. Then I will have 3 hours to get my story fed back to KCRA. (Actually, 2-hours and 50-minutes — stories should be in the station by 10-minutes before the newscast begins.)
I meet up with Tucker, shoot a 6-minute interview, then he shakes my hand and turns me loose to get my footage and talk with their customers.
12 Noon I now have 45-minutes to get interviews with skiers and all my B-roll footage.
12:20 PM Have all my sound and shots from my Sony HD XDCAM.
I shoot most interviews hand-held to be fast and flexible.
But I shoot most of my footage of skiing on the tripod using the longest part of the 12-1 zoom lens on a 2x extender, giving me around a 600-800mm lens shot in 35mm terms. Super tight telephotos of skiers and zooming with action.
All of that in the can, I then get out my GoPro Hero 5 Black on the Karma Stabilizer and hoof it out to the ski slope, staying close to the roped that border the slope and always keep an eye for on-coming skiers — I don’t want to be the one responsible for a collision and injury.
This gives me exciting, moving wide-angle up closed footage.
1 PM Back to the news car. I load my footage from both cameras into my laptop and cut together 1-and-a-half-minutes of footage & some sound bites that the station can use for promo tease footage and the 5 o’clock VO-SOT. Export it out of the laptop and try to WiFi it back to the station.
No luck! There is not enough WiFi strength at Boreal, so I have to go down the hill. I always have good WiFi at Cisco Grove eleven miles back down the hill.
Still plenty of time.
1:20 PM At Cisco Grove. Decent, but not great WiFi. I start uploading my footage. Computer says it is going to take 10-minutes to upload 2-minutes of footage. Not a good sign. But I will let it try. In the meantime, I start logging my interviews.
Logging & Writing: When I log my interviews I listen for the little nuggets that I heard during the shooting of the interviews. But I listen to almost everything because there are often things that are really good for telling the story. When I hear something good and think of a line to write into or out of it, I will write it then and not try to remember it later.
Writing Little & Letting The People There Tell The Story Themselves: When I first started seriously watching TV news back in the 1970s, it drove me crazy to hear reporters telling everything and not letting the people who the story was about speak enough. I like hearing people talk about where they are and what’s happening.
I try to write little and have the people I’ve interviewed tell about what they are doing and what their experience has been.
No Rapid-Fire/Machine Gun Audio Track I don’t do well speaking fast. I also don’t like it when reporters speak twice as fast as the people who are being interviewed. They are trying to tell as much as they can in a limited amount of time. Thinking energy will tell the story.
I prefer the methods of the great CBS newsmen Charles Kuralt and Morley Safer, who spoke slower, but made each word count, and each word memorable.
1:35-1:40 PM The 2-minute tease & sound bite footage has locked up and almost all of the moderate-strength WiFi is gone. I’ve got to go find something else.
The CalTrans station where they deploy their snow clearing vehicles is 10-minutes away. They are a key communication location for all the CalTrans vehicles and the California Highway Patrol. They have to have good WiFi!
I put the car in gear and go.
NOTE–NO SPEEDING: Even though I’m now facing a major deadline crunch, I do not speed. I am in a marked KCRA vehicle. Anyone who sees me speeding knows that I’m KCRA. Also, the CHP are all over citing people for speeding this holiday weekend. It’s just not a smart move.
2 PM: By this time I am at the CalTrans station in Kingvale. Try WiFi’ing the 2-minutes of footage. And the signal strength is blazing! Huge–huge–relief!!
I can pull this off.
Time Management: I now have one-hour forty-five-minutes to finish logging, write a script, edit. (This is allowing 5-minutes to export the edited story as a complete MXF file and can start WiFi’ing it into the station.) On an normal day, this would be asking a lot. But I have to do it.
3:20 PM: I have finished logging, reviewed my usable sound bites, moved them around on paper — editing the story on paper — (“paper” meaning my laptop screen using Microsoft Word) — and have a script that might be too long. But no time to worry about it.
E-mail the script back to Aram back at the station.
1–Track my audio. This is done by starting the camera rolling. Sitting in the car with the engine off and windows up and reading off the computer screen.
Usually I will do a lot of re-takes. There is no time for this today. I record everything except for one sentence in one take!
2–Convert Audio. Put mic back in the back of the truck. Stop camera and turn it off. Take out the SD card.
Convert track on the SD card for editing.
3–Edit the story. 3:25 PM. I have barely 20-minutes to edit!!!
4–Lay Down the A-Roll. I put down my reporter audio track. Inserting the interview sound bites as I go.
Some people lay this down rough, then go back and clean up. I view this as a prescription for mistakes. I cut my sound precisely, using audio waveforms. Keep the sound clean & tight as I go.
Also–the story’s running length, instead of only having to be a shortened 55-second story, is a full One-minute Thirty-five-seconds! 1:35 TRT (Total Running Time)!!!!
5–Fill in the black with B-Roll. 3:35-3:40 PM. I now have an editing timeline made up of my reporter audio track and the video and audio of the sound bites. Everything that isn’t a sound bite is black hole video & needs to be filled with my B-roll and GoPro footage. If there is a 5-second hole, I cover it with a 5-second zoom or moving GoPro shot. Specific shots for the written track have to be carefully matched.
This can normally take 15-45 minutes. I have 5-minutes!!!!
6–Export the Story. 3:45 PM or so. The story is done. I could make it technically prettier & cleaner. But it is okay to good technically. I can make it pretty for 6. I start it exporting. This means exporting the timeline so that all the sound clips and shots become one video file and start uploading it to the station via WiFi. This takes 3-4 minutes.
I am praying that the WiFi hasn’t changed!!!!
While it has been exporting I prep an e-mail with the names of all the people in the story and the times that their names should appear.
7–WiFi the Story. 3:50 PM. The story is exported and I start it WiFi’ing. Luckily the WiFi is still strong. The video file is 335Mb. It will take 3-minutes to get it back to the station and into the editing department to attach to the stations internal system rundown for broadcast.
8–Story is in!!!!! 3:55 PM. It’s cutting it close, but the story is in, and my script and all the fonts & times for the people interviewed are in.
I made it!!!!!
I allow myself to take a few minutes break.
(Yes, I go inside and use the men’s room.)
I then look over my script and the list of bites that I didn’t use and pick out some to enhance the other interviews, and move the sound around a little here and there.
I also finesse the shots, and the audio. Adding some audio dissolves to blend the sound more smoothly between shots on the editing cut.
And for the B-roll, I start the sound a little bit earlier, letting the B-roll sound fade up under the last few frames of the end of the interview so that it is not so abrupt with the B-roll shot comes on the screen. Likewise, I trail down the B-roll audio at the end of the shot and into the beginning of the next interview.
I want to keep the editing clean, without dissolves. But trailing up and down the B-roll audio helps to smooth the transitions between shots.
I take my time doing this.
5:30 PM. Adobe Premier locks up & crashes. As soon as I finish the expanding, adding one or two new reporter tracks, and clean up and am ready to export–-Adobe Premier stops. I had saved it 10-minutes earlier. But everything after that is lost!!!
I restart Adobe and slam edit the tweaks. I vaguely remember what I’ve done. 60-70% was saved. I finish up the remaining 30-40% and export the piece again.
5:45 PM. Upload and new times. The story is being uploaded by WiFi. During these few minutes I revise the script and update the names and font times for when the interviewee’s names should appear e-mail them back to Aram.
5:50-5:55 PM. Done! Everything is uploaded and e-mailed and back at the station and I’ve called to make sure that it has all arrived and is in the system.
Everything has been completed.
All requests/needs/demands have been filled.
On time. On schedule. On deadline.
Angie and Aram are happy and send me big thanks & congrats.
And–it feels good!!!!
It was a lot of work. But it all worked out. I did it. And all by myself!
Yes, unlike the staff reporters, I don’t have to do a live shot. That saves me a lot of time.
There can be no comparing what I have done to what a reporter & producing team can accomplish.
This is different.
But it all got done.
…..a nice and satisfying drive home.
And most definitely a nice glass of wine!
This was my third reporter-photographer story for KCRA in four days.
Why I do this–volunteer as a KCRA reporter-photographer:
This is a big and important story for the station, the ski resorts, and the people planning on coming up to the Tahoe area for the weekend holiday. KCRA has done this story every year. And this year, I did the story.
When I started out wanting to do reporter-photographer stories, I did not want to try and take the place of a reporter, but to augment the news staff. Ever since the economic downturn of 2008 every company, including newspaper and TV newsrooms, have downsized–either through layoffs or attrition–and tightened their belts. It’s an economic reality. Every business has done this.
I just wanted to contribute. And also increase my own value. And to be a greater contributor to KCRA. And if a reporter was out and a story needed to be covered, I wanted to be one of the persons the station could count on. I am not alone in this. There one or two other photographers who can–and enjoy–the challenge of wearing two hats. And it is double the responsibility. It is also ten-times the personal reward.
And I want to prove that I can do this by myself. Not to the station. They trust me and have confidence in me.
I want to prove this to myself!
And this is the story I did earlier in the year at Boreal when we were still deep with snow in March and many of the winter workers had to go back to school–in South America–and Boreal was hiring short-term workers to keep the ski runs going: