Reflecting on a week at NPPA Immersion

In mid-May this year, I was invited to participate as a coach in the 2013 NPPA Multimedia Immersion workshop held in Syracuse, NY. For a week, award-winning photojournalists, working professionals, and college students descended on the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications to receive 5 days of intensive training in multimedia storytelling. The workshop prides itself in having one of the lowest student to teacher ratio, where each team of two coaches is paired with four students. The uber talented coaches included hot shots like Darren Durlach from the Boston Globe, McKenna Ewen from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Wes Pope from the University of Oregon. As some of the most accomplished storytellers in the industry, they arrived as volunteers for the entire week to share their knowledge and experience with students and coaches eager to learn. 

It was my first Immersion workshop and was teamed up with veteran coach Steve Elfers, the director of video at USA Today. Coming from decades of experience in photojournalism and video production, I learned a ton from Steve just by looking over his shoulder and listening in on his stories about his early introduction to video. Our team consisted of Peter Taylor, an editorial and commercial photographer based out of Charlotte, NC; John Gastaldo, a staff photographer at the U-T San Diego; Patricia Swan, the Dean of School and Business at Utica College; and Alexa Mills, the CoLab director of Media Projects at MIT's Center for Civic Media.

I primarily worked with Peter and John from start to finish, talking about story structure, the nuts and bolts of interview and video technique, and most importantly: SHOOTING DETAILS!! It was a rewarding experience to work with such talented shooters, where my primary role would really be helping them through all the other stuff they've never had to, or wanted to think about. 

By the time Saturday came around for the final screening, Peter had pumped out a gorgeously shot video about a couple's accidental building of a family legacy. Peter sucked it up and twice drove the 2-hour round trip drive to Owera Vineyard in Cazenovia outside of Syracuse. Although he initially struggled to find the story, Peter pressed hard to tease out the story from his quirky couple, Peter and Nancy Muserlian, and ended up finding genuinely passionate and emotional moments from them. Peter has the ability to see something beautiful, and use the camera to immerse you in its beauty. This story was challenging, but the combination of Peter's determination and vision is what really separated his story from just another video about wine.

Between Peter and John, their stories could not have been more different, but yet so similar in theme. John chased the story surrounding a disabled veteran and single-father, Scott Jr. Brennen, as he fights to provide a better life for his family in Syracuse. In a beautifully shot video, John builds a wonderful story arc that culminates in an emotional moment of pure joy for him and his 4 kids. John was so excited to produce this story that he began shooting before we'd even had the chance to talk about video or audio. However, the footage and moments that he came back with seemed like he'd been shooting video for years. The one thing that always baffles my mind, is that usually when an accomplished photographer begins shooting, his sense of composition and aesthetics seems to go out the door. However, with John, that aesthetic and innate sensibility to capture and stay with moments really came through in his project.

In a nutshell, the NPPA Multimedia Immersion workshop was a tremendous experience. As a coach I learned about new ideas, techniques, and tools to further our storytelling. As students, they took home far too much knowledge and skills that I fear now threatens my own career. Haha! I appreciate all the hard work that everyone put into this week, but I tell ya, I'm glad that it's over. I'm exhausted.