By Julia Schuller
As an aspiring photojournalist at Ohio University, Gwen Titley never foresaw a career as a videographer. Now a two-time winner of the Calkins Media Distinguished Video Award, Titley credits her success to trial-and-error, Google, and the newspaper where she’s spent the last four years, the Beaver County Times.
Titley started as the Times was beginning to enter the world of video news. Today, the paper produces about a dozen video series and daily news videos. Titley shared a few important lessons on what makes an award-winning video.
- Don’t forget the b-roll!
“Varying your visuals keeps viewers interested,” Titley says. “If it is just one person droning on, a lot of people are just going to exit out of the video.”
This is where b-roll, or supplemental footage, comes into play.
Titley suggests getting interesting shots that relate to what the speaker is talking about. This supplemental footage should intercut throughout the video, helping to keep viewers engaged for the full video.
- Empathy is important.
Although of great value, b-roll is not always easy to obtain, Titley says.
For example, a video about a cancer survivor may be challenging because the battle has already occurred, limiting visual opportunities.
In these cases, creating emotion in visual storytelling is equally important. Titley suggests getting to know the subjects of your stories and showing them that you care.
“Listen and empathize. Another indicator of a ‘good’ video is the emotion shown in the video and being able to make the viewer feel that emotion too,” Titley says.
She credits empathy as the driving force behind one of her award-winning videos, “Stories of Survival.”
- Pay attention to video length.
“The ideal length of a video is one minute and 30 seconds, [however] I go over this length all the time,” Titley says.
It’s important to pay attention to the average length that a viewer’s attention can be held, but different circumstances call for different measures.
Instead of sticking to a strict time limit, Titley suggests using your situation and audience to gauge an appropriate time length for your video.
For an example, see tip 7.
- Make sure your subject feels comfortable.
Titley suggests trying to connect with the person you are interviewing.
“Being able to relate to your subject can help you when it comes to getting responses that are less rigid and more open” Titley says.
Some interviewees are more forthcoming than others.
For example, Titley’s subject in “Hopewell Pottery Studio” had a strong passion for her business, and her emotions during the interview communicated that energy.
Some subjects are more camera-shy than others. Titley’s approach is to try to relate to the interviewee and to help them feel comfortable by assuring them that any mistakes can be edited out of the video.
It is also helpful to ask the interviewee to look at the interviewer as opposed to the camera during interviews and to ask that they answer questions in complete sentences instead of fragments.
- Practice and plan!
Titley’s advice for video newcomers is to practice getting interesting shots and to plan your videos beforehand.
She suggests taking videos of “your friends and the events that you are at as a part of your regular social life.”
“That way, you’re practicing shooting, but gaining footage of things you actually care about,” Titley says.
As a photojournalism major, Titley used practice and a lot of trial and error as her career developed as a videographer.
Planning structure, b-roll, and interview questions also helped her to produce award-winning videos.
- Use all of your resources.
On top of the trial-and-error method, Titley is not afraid to admit that she took full advantage of Google as a developing videographer.
“Sometimes I just wouldn’t know how to do something that I had in mind and I’d just have to look it up on the Internet,” Titley says.
She also credits her colleagues as a resource that led her to win the Calkins Media Distinguished Video Award.
Working in a team presents more opportunity for a successful video, Titley says.
- Know your audience.
Titley uses another one of her award-winning videos (“The Veterans of Beaver Valley”) to illustrate the importance of knowing your audience.
Although a one-minute 30-second video is typically ideal for news videos, Titley’s video clocked in at 10 minutes.
Why? The veteran featured had “lived through a lot of important events in World War II and was a walking, talking history book!”
Furthermore, a majority of the viewers of the series are looking for detailed military stories, not just a quick informational video.
This is just one of many scenarios in which knowing your audience is important in planning and executing an award-winning video.
- Use practical research.
Titley likes to stay up-to-date with videos from The New York Times and The Atlantic to generate ideas for her videos.
When she isn’t surfing through videos on those sites, she likes to get interesting ideas from TV shows and movies.
“Sometimes I see a shot that I think is great in a movie or TV show and think of how I can do something similar in my videos,” Titley says.
This type of easy and effective research helps her to stay on top of her game when it comes to creating new video content.
- Don’t give up.
Titley also encourages newcomers to video to not give up easily.
“Learning editing programs can be frustrating, depending on the complexity of what you are using,” Titley says. “However, keep going. It truly does get easier as you go.”
Titley says she didn’t like video and its steep learning curve when she started out.
“There was so much to learn and it took me a long time to create a video that I thought was ‘good’ and worthy of publishing,” she says. “But, after awhile of doing it, you learn all the tricks and shortcuts. Now, it’s like second nature to me.”
- Have fun!
Titley doesn’t forget to have fun while working on her videos, sometimes creating funny video skits with her newsroom colleagues.
“There is a skit about the crazy editorial letters we receive,” Titley says. “There is also a skit where a table of reporters are suggesting the most fake story ideas they can think of, in an attempt to make light of how reputable news outlets are being portrayed as creators of ‘fake news.’”