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. 

God's Ivory

At the end of April 2013, Reportage by Getty Images released the multimedia documentary, "God's Ivory," that explores the role that religion plays in driving and sustaining the illegal global ivory trade. I had the tremendous opportunity to produce this multimedia project--the result of a 3-year investigation by National Geographic contributing writer Bryan Christy, and Reportage by Getty Images staff photographer Brent Stirton. "God's Ivory" reveals the complexities of an ivory trade that closely resembles the illicit drug trade, where law enforcement has seen 10% success, further exacerbated by government complicity, institutional corruption, and the rising demand for ivory by expanding Asian economies. 

The demand for ivory as the material of choice for trinkets and spiritual carvings is fueling the largest elephant crisis facing many countries in Africa since the 1980's. Please watch this film to understand the gravity of this issue and how you can help stop the killing of the world's elephant population. 

Help spread the word about this video to your friends and family by sharing these links: 

On Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/65073709
On YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4StI2aNpgM

Take the next step in protecting elephants: 

Big Life Foundation
Celia's Corner
Environmental Investigation Agency
International Fund for Animal Welfare
Save the Elephants.org
SOS Elephants

Follow My Steps

It was 2010, when trees started to shed their leaves and the bitter Syracuse winter began to cool the air, that I met Andrew Cunningham, a young 12-year-old boy diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. His Aunt introduced us after seing a short video I had done about the historic Columbus Bakery. She had wanted me to meet her nephew and his teammates on Central New York United power soccer. I was sold! Imagine 5 guys dribbling a large soccer ball across a basketball court in their power wheelchairs, only to release it after spinning 180 degrees at high speeds to shoot a goal. It's exhilarating and nothing you could ever imagine. 

I spent a number of days filming Andrew and his teammates, intent on producing a short promo video for the team, when I noticed a unique dynamic between Andrew and his teammate Tony Reuter, 20, born with brittle bone disease and 8 years his elder. They were both kids in the element, making fun of each other, arm wrestling, and singing out of tune. It was beautiful to watch this genuine friendship and affection for each other that seemed to border on brotherhood. 

For the next year I would follow the two boys through their daily lives, I'd be at power soccer practice, at middle school or college, and allow myself to be absorbed into their world. Their bouts of Xbox challenges and arguments on each other's Facebook walls were not much different from those I shared with my own best friends (however I don't play Xbox). The more time I spent with them, the more I realized that despite their disabilities, they still experience the same challenges, pitfalls, and successes that you or I experience through puberty and young adult life. Andrew is moving to high school, as Tony graduates college. Andrew relies on his father for his care, as Tony has been able to find a sense of independence. Their situations are physically different, though they find support in their similarities. 

What began as a marketing piece for a power soccer team, turned into a graduate assignment for a documentary film class, which then evolved into my Master's project: "Follow My Steps" a 16-minute short film. In October 2012, I defended my project alongside my classmates Maureen Coyle, who published the iBook, "Death Valley Unified," and Zach Ornitz, who produced the short film, "Vaya a la Cumbre." It was well received, and passed unanimously by my committee who I thank for their help and support: Eric Maierson, Seth Gitner, and Bruce Strong. I would also like to acknowledge the color grading done by Michael Curry, without which this film would never have looked so good. 

Since its release, the film has received a number of accolades, including 2nd Place Documentary Multimedia Story in the 2013 NPPA Best of Photojournalism competition, and 2nd Place Longform Multimedia in the 2013 Northern Short Course Contest. It's since screened at the Athens International Film + Video Festival, and has been accepted into the Society for Disability Studies 26th Annual Conference. 

Please take a moment to watch the film, "Follow My Steps".