By Lexa Deckert
The True/False Film Festival came to Columbia at the beginning of March. Sarah and I decided to use the many events as an opportunity to try out the cell phone reporting kit for the first time. Because we had just been trained this week, keeping the reporting as simple as possible was the first priority. Going out in the field any time, I prepare for the worst to happen; technology always seems to want to malfunction at the most inconvenient times. I was especially worried since even though I’ve had one training session, I did not have the opportunity to see what would cause confusion and ask how to fix those things.
I decided to cover the T/F March March, which was a kick-off parade on Friday. The parade was a bizarre spectacle of people dressing crazy and doing even crazier things. There’s a marching band, fire performers, and tons of people in costume.
My goal was to talk to the leader of the parade about why they thought such a short march (from Walnut Street to Locust Street) would be a good start to T/F, some participants to see why they were involved, an audience member to get their opinion and some b-roll. With the cell phone it was easy to approach people without scaring them and they seemed to think it would be less involved than when I approached people with a large camera.
Technically, I did have some issues while doing my interviews. While using the microphone, there was the problem that you couldn’t get as creative with your shot; pretty much your only option is a talking head. This was because the length of the cord between the microphone and the phone is not very long. Using a microphone was also frustrating because people’s first instinct is to put it right up by their mouths. As journalists, we don’t want the mics in our camera shot, so we have to constantly remind them to keep the mic lower.
I also had an issue with the record button. I still have yet to figure out the cause of the problem, but it would randomly freeze. I would spot something crazy going on but couldn’t always press the record button. At first I thought I wasn’t waiting long enough and I was stressing it out by pressing it too many times in too short a period, so I decided to be patient; it didn’t help. So then, I had to exit out of the camera and reboot it. That got frustrating when you wanted to capture a moment that was over in seven seconds.
The convenience I felt while using the device may have made up for some of the technical frustrations. This weekend I also checked out a tripod, wireless mic, Marantz digital audio recorder and a DSLR camera to do reporting. Just setting up the tripod took me longer than getting the entire cell phone kit set up, which included an iPhone 4S, handheld mic, an extension mic and a Bubo. After I got the tripod set up, it took me another two minutes or so to get my camera mounted and at the right settings. Then I had to find an interview subject. I tried to do this before the parade, but it was such a hectic crowd that it was really hard to get anywhere but the outer edge of people getting ready for the parade. I was not able to get an interview after I got everything set up. Most people were in transition and in such a large, dense crowd I couldn’t follow them with all the equipment. The tripod is what really tripped me up. Had I got someone to talk, it would have taken about two minutes to then set up the wireless mics, before the interview even started.
When I used the cell phone kit, it took me about a minute to set up the entire thing. People were also not as afraid or annoyed by it, as they seemed to be by the larger camera. I could easily follow people through the crowd and I could easily approach the inner crowd. It also made a huge difference on my stress level. Instead of carrying a tripod case, a camera case, a Marantz case and a wireless mic case, I had a kit that could fit into my purse or my coat pocket. I felt like I could move around more, get different angles and have time to approach more people.
The editing process was very cut and dried; the training session prepared me very well. It takes longer than I thought, but I think practice makes perfect. While editing, I think the most important part is to familiarize yourself with the control of the cursor. Fingers sometimes seem big and clumsy while controlling something so small, but after repeatedly doing it you get into a rhythm that makes it easier. Something I did not realize I could do until half way through editing my piece, is while in the editing dock, you can pull up clip after clip instead of editing a clip, inserting it into the final piece, then returning to the editing dock and edit the next piece. Realizing I could eliminate that middle step, the editing process went a lot faster.
There were other little things I had to work out, such as the proper way to name video files. While I was importing video clips, I tried to name them T/F, which caused the entire app to mysteriously close. At first I thought it was my Internet connection, but later I tried naming the file without the / and I have come to my own conclusion that symbols are not allowed in the titles. I’m sure there will be many more little oddities that Sarah and I will come across this semester.
Overall, the experience was very exciting and I loved the freedom that the equipment gave me. There were some small glitches with the technology, but after I get more training, I may find that those were my issues, rather than the phone’s problems. With the crisp quality of the iPhone 4S, I think it’s a very realistic and opportune tool for newsrooms.