At first, it’s music to my ears, of course. My favorite client who always heaps praise on me has given me the green light to do whatever I deem best. Perfect, right? Read on.
The job was to shoot an event and edit a short 3-to-4 minute video from it. Four or five hours on site. The occasion? The Illinois High School Art Exhibition at the Zhou Brothers Art Center on Chicago’s South Side. Over 1000 student artists displaying their work while a live “draw-off” figure-drawing competition took place in the center of the gallery, pitting a couple dozen teenage artists against each other for a cash prize.
My client is Cheryl Jefferson, co-founder of a social justice/human rights arts initiative called “The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions (BCT).” Cheryl and her co-founder and artist Ric Laurent, along with curator Chuck Gniech, invite artists to create beautiful works to raise awareness of unlovely practices like female genital mutilation, child marriage, acid violence, “honor” killing and more. Through displaying these sometimes provocative works of art, conversation can emerge, followed by compassion, inspired action and ultimately change for the better. They have presented their traveling exhibition around the country and have addressed audiences at the United Nations in New York City.
Today, the BCT crew is on the lookout for new works to include in their show. I’m there to capture the excitement of the event and to focus on the winning artists and their works, to briefly interview them and produce a video that will inspire other artists to join Cheryl and team, and move others to invite BCT to present at new venues.
As the day approached, I began to realize I did not have a plan for the shoot. I needed direction. Cheryl had said to me, “Just do what you do. Your work is always brilliant. I trust you.”
Nice to hear. But a strong video is built upon more than nice words. I needed to draw upon my experience and talk to myself as a client would. I knew this would be a visually rich location that could easily induce me to shoot way too much material. (My teachers and colleagues at WTTW in Chicago call the phenomenon “Shooting at the zoo.” There wasn’t anyplace you could point the camera and not see something interesting.) And there was, of course, way too much to shoot if I was mad enough to entertain the thought that I needed “to get it all.” No way.
Once on site, I learned that there were four high school artists whose work had been chosen by BCT to be added to their traveling show. I did a little figuring in my head and realized that 3-to-4 minutes of finished production would be eaten up very quickly by the following simple structure: Intro to the general event, a brief word from the three BCT principals, followed by time spent speaking with each artist and commentary by BCT curator Chuck Cniech on the merits of their works.
In a moment, it became clear: Everything else going on – other than for “b-roll” – was not necessary for this production. Which was like going to the circus and restricting your filming to one or two acts.
And you know what? I’m human. I wound up shooting quite a bit of extra footage anyway. Which made me very happy when I received a call a few days later from the organizer of the IHSAE General Exhibition. He wanted to know if I thought I had enough material to make a second video. Why, as a matter of fact, I do. (Brilliant when I don’t even know it! Thank you, Great Video Spirit in The Sky.)