I’ve noticed that workflow and media production methodology is rarely talked about at Podcast and new media conferences. Also, a few people have asked me how I approach my own audio/video recording, editing and mixing to tell stories — sometimes with a narrative, sometimes without.
I’m actually working on a project right now. So, the timing is right for me to document what I do. Depending on feedback, I may consider this as a presentation at a future conference.
I attended and audio-recorded the launch of the children’s picture book A Bear in War at the Canadian War Museum this morning. The book tells the incredible and true story of a stuffed bear that was mailed to a Canadian soldier by his daughter during World War I. The soldier, Lt. Lawrence Browning Rogers, volunteered when he was thirty-six years-old (a “greybeard”) and was sent to Europe where he served as a medic in Belgium. Lt. Rogers and his family corresponded regularly. To help her father feel connected with home, Aileen sent her beloved “Teddy” to the front lines where it kept Lt. Rogers company for about a year-and-a-half, until he was killed in action on October 30, 1917 in the Battle of Passchendaele. Teddy was shipped back home with Lt. Rogers’ other personal effects and military honours. In 2002, Teddy was donated to the Canadian War Museum and is now an attraction of the World War I exhibit in the Gallery.
I gathered about seventy-eight minutes of audio including the welcome speech by a museum curator, the book reading by the two authors, a brief Q&A session, some ambient sound of the event and six interviews.
Tell a compelling story in roughly fifteen minutes.
STEP ONE: GATHER AND LABEL MATERIAL
I like to do things in an organized and logical manner. The first thing I do is create a new project in my production software. I use Cubase for all of my audio production work. Once the project is created in its own folder on my hard drive, I import all of the source audio I have collected and I make sure that each imported file has a descriptive file name.
STEP TWO: LISTEN TO AUDIO AND EDIT (ITERATION ONE)
A lot of people map out, even storyboard, their media productions before they do anything with it. I don’t. In fact, to me, the story that I want to tell isn’t always obvious to me. That is, even though I may have an idea of what I want the result to be, I find that my ideas evolve or even radically change once I start listening to the individual pieces and discover that they can be threaded together in an entirely different way to tell the same story. Sometimes, the original story idea turns out to be terrible compared to what can be done. So, I approach this in an open minded way and eliminate what I determine I don’t need rather than look for the stuff I want to keep. Having said that, there are usually some clips that are quite obviously gems.
Okay… even the gems sometimes turn out to be duds. But if you discover what you think is a gem, label it that way so you know.
All that to say I approach editing as an iterative process and, at this stage I do a simple straight-through listen. I don’t dig in too deep or replay clips.
As I listen during the first pass, I make cuts in the audio to divide and identify specific pieces of audio. In an interview, that would be a question. In ambient noise, it may be a particular sound or event that has resulted in some cool audio. For this audio program, I want to use some of the book reading so I’ve made some cuts where a particular compelling moment of the book is being read.
I use colour coding to help me identify and group related elements. In some projects I colour code based on speaker. In others, I’ll colour code based on theme. In the “A Bear in War” project I’m colour coding based on known keepers.
STEP THREE: LOOK FOR THE CANDIDATE THEMES, PLOTS AND STORIES
I try not to limit myself to a single story line in my media work. Life isn’t made up of single themes, plot elements and stories. It’s a spaghetti of stories and ideas that weave around each other. As long as I can travel with my listener/viewer along an arc, I like to let a few of these stories play together.
In this step, I look at the different keepers and labels to see if anything jumps out and me and, more importantly, that there is enough connected audio that can tell the story in an engaging way. Engaging means knowing what to include and what to keep out. If you overdeliver the story, your audience won’t have a chance to use their own imagination. If you underdeliver, they won’t have enough material to engage their imagination. It’s a balance and I’m not sure that I’ve figured out how to hit the sweet spot, yet.
For “A Bear in War”, I know that Teddy is going to be one of my main characters. That’s an obvious one which can be dangerous, too. However, since there’s surprisingly little coverage of this in the mainstream media, particularly in the children’s book world, it’s a freebie. It’s also universal. Who couldn’t relate to the importance and value of a cuddly toy to a child and their parent? Themes I’ve identified include the use of Teddy as the narrator in the book, crafting the voice of a teddy bear, connecting world conflict in 1917 with world conflict in 2008, the human factor in war time and engaging with children on an important topic (rather than pretending it doesn’t exist).
STEP FOUR: SELECT THE KEEPERS AND REMOVE ELEMENTS THAT DON’T SUPPORT THEM (ITERATION TWO)
It’s time to make some tough decisions. The important thing to remember is that your audience doesn’t know what you cut out, only what you deliver. So, pick the stuff you can tell well and get rid of any content that doesn’t help you deliver.
Sometimes you have to sleep on these decisions.
I think that’s what I’ll do.