Spacer Spacer

A YouTube video of KGTV's Joe Little has been making the rounds lately. Inside of one week, four people sent it to me. Little works as a one-man band. In other words, he shoots his own video, reports the story and edits it.

The e-mailers all marveled at how this guy, working alone, could be so creative, especially shooting his own stand-ups. (A stand-up for those of you print and online folks who don't know is when a journalist appears, talking, on camera.)

Watch this video featuring excerpts from his stand-ups, then hear from Little about how he does his work.

Below is an edited version of our exchange:

Tompkins: Lots of one-man-bands (OMBs), or "digital correspondents" as you at 10News in San Diego call them, struggle to include stand-ups in their pieces. Your stories, though, are more creative than the work of most two-person crews I see. Share some of your tips and tricks with us. For starters, how do you frame stand-ups that you walk through?

Little: The biggest breakthrough in one-man-band/visual journalism technology is the flip-over reversible screen. I can flip the viewfinder over, stand in front of the camera and see (with the help of laser-corrected vision) where I am framed up in a shot. Without that, I add at least 15 minutes to a shoot.

The tricks I use are the same ones a good two-man crew would use. I have to do both of their jobs. I look for meaning, balance and creativity. There has to be room for my fat head, any subject matter and any movement. Once you do enough stand-ups by yourself it gets easier and easier.

Creativity is the most important thing. If you're going to slap a stand-up onto a package just to see your mug on there, please stop. If you're going to do a stand-up, make it creative; do something, show me something or at least make it look interesting.

I've been "accused" of being a feature reporter (not that there's anything wrong with that) because my stand-ups are creative. Watch the video again and listen to the subject matter. Most of those stand-ups are from A-Block stories, and each and every one of them was a part of a deadline-driven package turned around in one day. At what point in broadcast journalism did we begin thinking an A-Block lead story needed to be conservative, straight-laced and boring? Nobody relates to that! The people at home have pulses, personality and a funny bone. I try to talk with people through the lens, and even crack a joke if it's appropriate.

Now, to be honest, I would love to say I whip one of these babies out for every story. I'm not that good. Some days, you just can't do these stand-ups for murders, crimes, etc. But spice up a city council meeting or a water authority announcement. I'll bet my next paycheck that people would rather see my video than any city council chamber video.

Tompkins: All of the stand-ups on your sample reel are "bridging" stand-ups, not closing stand-ups. Why?

Little: In the way of background, a "bridge" literally bridges two thoughts together in the middle of the story. A stand-up close wraps up the story at the end with a final thought and a sign off, "in Chula Vista, Joe Little, 10News." 

I usually avoid stand-up closes because very often I am fronting the story and will appear at the beginning and end of the story live. That's almost a procedural habit of mine. What if I front a story live? I don't want to waste any time recording a creative stand-up tag only to leave it in the can. (Hopefully I instead pull it off live.) A bridge allows me to be creative and not interfere with the producer's plans.

The writing style I usually employ allows me to do a lot of stand-up bridges. I call it the "Pregnant I." I start and end each package with a single thought, subject or personality. For example, I'll introduce the viewer to Chuck, who has a lush, green backyard. Then I'll use a stand-up bridge to segue into the bigger subject, which is "the city may increase water rates, which would impact yards like Chuck's'." I'll wrap the story up with Chuck again.

It's a formula I try to use whenever I can because it lets me do a stand-up and usually gives the viewer a reason to care about the story subject.

Why are stand-ups important to video stories?

Little: I think stand-ups are important for one main reason: If I interview a person, I show that person's face at least once to identify him or her. Why wouldn't I do the same for myself? I'm not egotistical enough (though my wife would beg to differ) to think that the folks at home would hear my voice and say, "Oh, that's Joe Little." If I sounded like Barry White, maybe. But I don't.

Let the viewer know who's talking. Hopefully, when you appear on camera, you make it worth the viewer's time.

You work alone every day. Are there some kinds of stories that are just not suited for OMBs?

Little: Oh God yes! There are days where I would die to have a photographer, only because I can't be everywhere at once (despite what the stand-ups show you).

Court-related stories. Investigative pieces. "I'm going to a dangerous place" stories.

Before I explain, let me say I have done all of these on my own. I could have done a much better job, though, with a photographer.

Courtrooms are brutal because you have to stay with the camera. I can't go grab the attorney or the family member who just ducked out because I'm stuck behind a wall with a judge begging for a reason to throw me out. I have to hope the traditional reporter from the other station will hold that person and wait for me.

Investigative pieces or stories where you have to confront someone are difficult, too, mostly because you want someone to have your back. If you have a photographer, it's easier to fire away questions and make sure you're right where the action is. It looks sloppy if I'm messing with the camera, looking through the viewfinder and still trying to focus on "this guy."

And going into dangerous places just (pardon my French) sucks if you're flying solo. I am 6'4" and weigh 230 pounds. I don't like going some places by myself (my mother-in-law's) because I don't feel safe.

You have used the split-screen technique a few times. It makes it look like there are several of you. How do you do it?

Little: Ah, the omnipresent Joe.

Anyone who has non-liner editing abilities can do this, has done it or knows how to do it. Non-linear editing has made "special effects" available to everyone, even lowly one-man-bands. I'm using Final Cut Pro right now and I love it.

If you've never done it before, it is very simple. Here are some tips:

1. Plan out what you want to see. (For this exercise, let's say you want two images of yourself in a room -- one of you smiling and one of you frowning.)
2. Frame up your camera (on a tripod) wide enough so that there's room for two images of you that don't overlap.
3. Lock the tripod in that spot.
4. In the viewfinder (this is easier if you can flip it over), find a marker near the middle of the screen. It can be a lamp, the edge of a picture frame, whatever. This is your barrier that you cannot cross.
5. Hit record.
6. Stand on one side of that barrier and smile for a few seconds. Do not touch the camera. Let it roll.
7. Stand on the other side of that barrier and frown for a few seconds.
8. Stop recording. You're done shooting.
9. You can edit this tape-to-tape by simply wiping halfway, basically putting that wipe on the barrier. Same for non-linear editing.
10. Lay your first shot of you smiling on the first video line (V1). Now, lay the second shot of you frowning right on top of it on the second video line (V2). Using whatever tools your system has, wipe to that barrier. For Final Cut Pro users, go to Motion, Crop, Left (or Right) and start cropping toward that barrier until you see both images of yourself.

Viola! You now have a multi-personality disorder ... like the rest of us reporters.

Remember, though: Don't use this feature just because you can. Make sure you have a good reason.

Find out more here about KGTV's use of digital correspondents