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NPPA Adv Storytelling Workshop, anyone ever go??

Rep: 444
Eric Seals April 21, 2012, 7:27 a.m. permalink

I was just chatting with Phil Carpenter who is on here and works in Montreal.  We were talking about the NPPA Advance Storytelling Workshop and he wondered if I'd been, he did it four years ago.

I have not been and have thought about it the past couple of years about going and wonder if any of you have been?  I know Ben Garvin from Minneapolis attended this year.

Ben when you get a chance can you tell us how it was, surprising things you learned etc?  One knock I've heard from others is that they cater to the TV side of things. Not sure if that's true or they've mixed it up more.

Perhaps I'll attend next year but just wanted your overall thoughts on it for the rest of us.  Who knows maybe next year there will be a few of us from FtF that attend.  



Rep: 4
Ben Garvin April 22, 2012, 6:20 p.m. permalink

Hi Eric,

You had asked about NPPA's advanced storytelling workshop. It's designed mostly by and for TV journalists, but I'm glad I went. There were a couple other folks from newspapers, including David Brooks from the San Diego paper. And a bunch of people from Denmark which was weird and sorta fun. It was a valuable experience for me but I had to be careful to remember that what I (we?) do at newspapers is different. There was a good deal of emphasis on voice over and writing for stories, a skill I'm not interested in (or perhaps capable of). I love natural sound videos. And there were some sessions that were completely irrelevant to me like live shots of stand ups. 

That said, I did learn a great deal and am glad I went. Most importantly, I learned that value of  focus. It's an obvious thing to say but having a certain clarity of vision before, during, and after your shoot is so important. In the past I've often just gone out and shot a bunch of tape and turned it into a 'story' in the editing room. That's time consuming and ineffective. We shot two stories during the week and for each had to write a 'focus statement'. Something that crystallized the story and it's drama into a single sentence. It could change once we were out in the field, but we had to have a clear sense of intention before we picked up the camera. That was a good lesson for me.

Newspaper videos often try to cover everything, to echo or summarize the newspaper story it supports. That's usually impossible and often incredibly boring. What I'm going to practice now is reducing my scope, finding a focus (usually a character, a relationship, something human) and figuring out exactly what the story is and shoot things that support it. Rather than shooting everything that moves and talks. Less is more. 

I thought Boyd Hubbert and Jonathan Malat of KARE11 in the Twin Cities were by far the best speakers. Google their work. It's all voice over but the story telling is so solid and well edited and human. 

I learned plenty of technical details about audio and mics. I will be using my wireless mic alot more often. A good tip Jonathan gave was to get a shot gun mic attached via clip or velcro to your camera via a short xlr corded cord. He would whip it off and stick it super close to something he was shooting. Say, a water fountain or a kid playing with blocks. The mic on camera is ok, but getting a shotgun right next to the source makes the sounds (and ultimately the video) better.

As for the workshop itself it's not cheap. Tuition is $850 for the week. plus flight, $140/night hotel (although I shared a room--they had suites with two separate rooms), rental car for the week, $14/day parking. Unfortunately my work didn't pay beyond freeing me up to go for the week (at least I didn't have to take vacation time). However I applied for and received one of NPPA's scholarship which paid tuition and up to $1,000 in expenses. The scholarship seemed easy to get,  they didn't even ask to see my work. I was honest and told them I wouldn't be able to make it unless I was given a scholarship. 

I remember at times having trouble articulating exactly how the video we do at newspapers is different, even though I think it is. I never could quite define that difference for others or even myself and I'd be curious is others have thoughts on that. Besides the medium itself, how is newspaper video and TV different? One thing I realized over the week is that there was little discussion of beauty, of light, of composition. It was all focused on characters and people. As a still shooter what inspires me to hit record is often as much about about light and composition as it is what someone is saying or a soundbite. And in that way I think that makes me different than many TV shooters. But what I've learned over time and especially at this workshop is that without a driving sense of 'story', there is no reason to watch a video, even a beautifully shot one.

Take care,

Rep: 444
Eric Seals April 22, 2012, 7:15 p.m. permalink

Thanks for taking the time in writing this for us to read Ben.

I did think or should of known that Boyd and Jonathan would be on faculty. They are fantastic for sure!!

We flew them down for a long 3 day workshop at the Detroit Free Press two years ago for our photo department, KARE is a Gannett owned like our paper is.  I took tons of notes (still refer to them) I remember the "focus statement" well, first I had heard of that and still use it.

Jonathan's shotgun that can come quickly off the camera with a cord is something I started doing right after to capture better nat sound and active interviewing right after they finished their mini workshop for us. 

Did Jonathan and Boyd do the Lincoln Logs bit when they got someone to build a house and they taught how to ask questions and the whole active interviewing thing?  Did he show the lawnmower piece and the junkyard cars that drive off a ramp??  Great stuff!!

That cost of $850 just for the tuition is pretty expensive and like you my paper would give me the time to go without having to take vacation time but I'd have to pay for it out of my own pocket.  

Seems like the things I learned with the KARE guys workshop at my paper and still use means I can look to other workshops.  I'm thinking about a Maine workshop on Cinematography or the documentary process etc.

Really glad you brought up the little discussion of beauty of light, composition and how that wasn't really discussed very much that does help us stand out at times over "them" but at the same time "they" have that story and getting to the heart of it nail down quicker than most of us can, do or try like hell at getting better at.

Totally agree with you on story man!!  A person could have the best/latest equipment or stunning visuals but if the story is weak or falls apart from the get go what's the point in watching it.

Thanks again man!!


Rep: 14
Phil Carpenter April 23, 2012, 3:43 a.m. permalink

Hey guys,

Ben I'm really happy for you that you went, and Eric, YES you should go!
It is expensive.  When I did it four years ago there was a moratorium on travel at my paper, so I made a vacation out of it.  I made a deal with the paper - I'd take care of the plane fare and expenses; they agreed to pay the tuition.  When I returned i got a nice surprise.  They wanted all my receipts for my expenses and offered to re-imburse me!

As for the course.  Yes, Ben, the biggest lesson I learned was the focus statement.  Read Aim For the Heart by Al Tomkins from Poynter.  The focus statement is the hardest part of a story - 3 to 4 words that tells what the story is about. 

The other thing I learned which was valuable, was story structure - the importance of "sprinkling surprises throughout and finishing with a big one.

The workshop was started by, and for  TV journalists.  But most of it can be applied to what we do at newspapers - especially the one-man-band stuff.  It was on that workshop that I learned to voice my pieces, and it was Boyd and Bev who pushed me to start doing it.  I think voicing is a very valuable skill and it takes work to do it right.  GOOD writing for voicing is a helluva skill that can really juice up a story.  That's not to say nat sound pieces aren't good, when they are done well.  What I'm saying is that we shouldn't shy away from it.  It's a lot of work though.

Working as a one-man-band is what we, well what I do mostly at my paper, and what I learned from John Goheen at the workshop is helping me to this day.  I am still looking for the coily XLR cable for my shotgun and I can't find one anywhere!  But it is valuable tool for gathering sound.  He also uses a wireless mic A LOT for the same thing too.  Here's his website:

Lastly, yes, Boyd and Jonathan make a helluva team!  The Land of 10,000 stories is a wicked way to learn good storytelling, how to use sound and good editing.  I try to model my feature pieces off them.  As you can see, I have a loooong way to go.

This workshop will change the way you work, for the better.  I can assure you.  What they need, though, is a newspaper shooter on their faculty.  I think Darren Durlach from the Boston Globe might be the man, but who knows.

Go for it, Eric!!

Rep: 444
Eric Seals April 23, 2012, 6:50 a.m. permalink

Not sure I'd go Phil.  There are so many other amazing workshops to choose from and partly it's case of a lot of time to do a workshop but not a lot of money. 

I miss the days from long ago of getting to do one workshop every other year that the paper would pay for, now it's out of my own pocket like Ben had to do.  Very cool that he got a $1,000 scholarship!

Main reason why I would not attend this is from what I said in my post above now knowing some of the faculty that are there......we had the fantastic Jonathan and Boyd from KARE come to our paper in Detroit 2 years ago for a great 3 day workshop (story structure, focus statement, active interviewing etc) and learned tons from them. 
I still have the yellow legal pad full of notes from their talks with us and I'm still getting great constructive criticism from them on pieces that I send.

I'd want lots more bang for the buck and a workshop that really specializes in certain things relevant to me. I'm sure 80% is relevant to what we do with video storytelling in newspapers but the other 20% (knowing about standups, live shots and other "TV" things) not so much

I'm more inclined to do a Maine Workshop


If you're looking for a good coiled XLR cord, check out B & H


Rep: 14
Phil Carpenter April 23, 2012, 10:06 a.m. permalink

Thanks, Eric.
Do you, or anyone know someone who's done the one with Mediastorm?
I know it's super expensive but I haven't heard what it's like.

Rep: 444
Eric Seals April 23, 2012, 10:26 a.m. permalink

Sure man. 

I know that Peter Lundberg who is on here just finished a workshop there.  Peter did a story that was reviewed a month or so ago about winter swimming.  He and I have been emailing each other and he just got back last week or so from it.

I'd love to do that workshop as well.  

I found this behind the scenes video about the workshop but hopefully Peter will post something about his experience for you.


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