Online Workshop 0.1: Convo

October 18th, 2013
Some lively, illuminating conversations from the first Transom Online Workshop (excerpted from the private Facebook Group page). Barrett G
Scott Carrier

Scott Carrier

Hello and welcome to the first Transom Online Workshop.

Thanks for showing up, ready to work. The fact that you’re here means a lot to me, and I hope to guide you through some interesting, perhaps inspiring, exercises.

The first thing I’d like you to do is pick up a pen and a camera. These are the first tools we will be using. Hold them in your hands and gaze upon them with wonder and fascination. They should feel like light sabers, throbbing through your fingers. In your hands they have enormous power. With these tools you can create something that never existed before, perhaps something that will blow people away. We’re going to use these tools to record and document reality.

Reality can be recorded and documented in an infinite number of ways, but we’re going to focus on interviewing people. I want you to find seven people and ask them all the same question and write down what they say, then take their photo. Ask them all, “What are you afraid of?”

It’s not easy to do this. It’s scary to walk up to somebody and ask them to spill their guts for you. You can get better at it by practicing, but it never gets easy. I’ve been doing it for more than 30 years and I still get queasy just thinking about it. But I force myself into it because it’s what I have to do to start a project, it’s how the work begins.

So, the first thing I’d like to know from all of you is if you’ve ever done this before and how you feel about it. We’re going to have a little discussion, then I’d like you to start.

September 21 2013
  • James Ayers
    James Ayers I just did my first two interviews (I’ve never done this before), and thoroughly blew the first one. It was with a very articulate and sensitive homeless kid sitting on the sidewalk with his guitar and cardboard sign. I didn’t turn the exchange into a real conversation – it was more like a homework assignment that I was rushing through in order to check it off my list. I am sure I could have gotten some interesting stuff from him if I had been less nervous. Ah well. Live and learn. The second one went much better, much more like a natural conversation.
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier James, I’m glad you’re already working on the assignment. Interviewing is really tricky. It’s kind of a wild thing in that you never know what’s going to happen. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t, like fishing. But keep going, and remember to take photos. Try to get a photo that tells us something about the subject, maybe something that highlights a quote with a visual, maybe something that juxtaposes the quote.
  • Emile B Klein
    Emile B Klein Great! The assignments begin. The majority of interviews I’ve conducted have been scheduled, but I’ve loved some Audio-Vox work in the past. The “What are you afraid of?” question is new to me (as is much of the insightful literature you’ve provided) and I’m looking forward to it.
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier Emile, OK, good, you’ve had some experience interviewing. I’m wondering how you felt about it the last time you did it?
  • Emile B Klein
    Emile B Klein I felt decent when the last interviewee said, “I never knew I had a story until now.” But bothered that s/he wouldn’t share something s/he’d said off tape. In the end we it worked it out, turning our mutual knowledge of their secrecy into an (hopefully) apparent inside joke. That said, I’m no Gay Talese and have got loads to learn. I can’t wait to test Alex Blumberg’s suggestion to (gently) dog for the right tape and create comfort with professional authority, L. King’s (and the Beaver Attack) departure from the “I” and reliance on “What happened?”, Ira’s sequence and anecdote, Cavet’s conversation, and Bradey’s flexibility. Gosh, the source material is killer.

    James Ayers BTW – I’ve been asking ‘tell me a story about when you felt afraid’, versus ‘tell me what you’re afraid of’. I hope that’s not cheating. Just seemed easier to get a proper story out of people.

  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier A story is what we’re after, so it’s OK to ask the question like that.
  • David C. Makkers
    David C. Makkers This will be my first time interviewing strangers. I am a little nervous but also up for the challenge.
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier David, I think it’s OK to start out by interviewing a few friends. Then after you get the hang of it try approaching a complete stranger. You can use this assignment to meet someone who looks interesting.
  • Charlie Knower
    Charlie Knower Interesting question, to be sure. I’ve actually done a fair amount of interviewing but I’m feeling a little anxious about this question for some reason.
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier Charlie, It’s kind of an intense question. You’re asking someone to expose a sensitive part of himself or herself. The only way someone will do this is if they trust you, and why should they trust you when they don’t even know you? This is why it’s a good question for us; a good one to practice establishing trust. Regardless of the question, nobody says anything interesting or important or true until they trust you. I’m not going to make a list of ways to establish trust. I’ll just say be honest and upfront about what you’re doing and then really care about the answers. Genuine curiousity does wonders.
  • Laura Irving
    Laura Irving Hi all. My first time interviewing too..and like James, i’ve been anxious and rushed. It’s gonna be a personal challenge to get over that! At the moment I’m hosteling in remote parts of Wales, so finding out lots of interesting stuff from fellow travellers. Working up to approaching total strangers.

    James Ayers Hey Laura. I was really surprised how much easier the 2nd time was. Crossing my fingers that the third (hopefully sometime today) will be even easier. Enjoy Wales!

  • Ivy Tzur
    Ivy Tzur I’ve done a very little amount of interviewing. Although I don’t have a problem approaching strangers, I am trying to think through what is the best way to start engaging them… the first line when I approach.

  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert Hi, I never have approached anyone in this way. This will be challenging and quite an experience. Anxious… a bit. I live in a small town and on a rainy day this adds to the challenge. Will be visiting social venues.
  • Laura Kate
    Laura Kate Hi all – I’ve done interviews before, but not of strangers. I’ve always found the idea a bit terrifying! Beforehand, I think it will be OK, and then when the time comes to do it, I chicken out. So, I’m pleased to have something force me to do it. Really looking forward!
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier When I walk up to a stranger I tell him my name, what I do for a living, the story I’m working on now, and where it’s going to be broadcast or published. Then I ask if he’s okay with answering a few questions. If he says no, then fine, no big deal. There are many fish in the ocean. If he says yes but turns out to not be interesting then I say thank you, that was very helpful, and move on.
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier The sub-text of this introduction sequence is to show that I’m working, and serious, committed to my job, and that I need some help getting the information I need to do a good job.
  • Mark Neumann
    Mark Neumann In the preface to Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion makes a comment about interviewing that’s always stuck with me. She says that one of her advantages as a reporter is that she is physically small and unobtrusive. I think that people have a tendency to talk more if you build in some protracted silence between questions. In other words, I’ve found that people getting interviewed tend to try and fill up the “dead air” between us, if I’m smart enough to be quiet and patient, and just let them talk. I discovered some of my own problems with interviewing, when I recorded audio interviews. I could hear myself trying to push things along…affirming with “yeah” and “uh-huh” and I was generally just too present in the exchange. From that I learned to just keep my mouth shut and silently nod to let them know I am hearing them. And when they seem to be finished responding, I don’t say anything, I just look at them and wait a little longer–almost to the point where it’s a little uncomfortable with neither of us speaking–and usually the person I’m interviewing will start talking again, add something new. It’s not a matter of abandoning control of the interview. Rather, it’s a matter of letting the silences create a kind of space that gets filled up. Unlike Didion, I am not physically small and I can be a little too present. So I try to get small. I try to be quiet, and become a little more shy than I might otherwise be when talking to someone. I find it works well in getting people to talk a little more than they might otherwise do in such a situation.
  • Laura Kate
    Laura Kate Interesting point, Mark – I think I often do the “uh-huh” as well. I like the idea of waiting to the point of near-discomfort. It’s a technique that some portrait photographers use, notably Annie Liebovitz, to wait until the subject is somewhat uncomfortable… and she gets to the point where she has surprising, impressive portraits. (Though perhaps this might feel if not unethical, at least impolite.)
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert Silence is often very dramatic . More is said in silence than with words. The same goes for movement VS stillness. There is a limit but a long silence with only breathing is a good example of what we can feel is happening in someone’s head. Nice point.
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert About the pictures. They are bound to ask us where the pictures will be used and if they will be available for public viewing… If I were to say: I might use the picture on a Facebook page… Then forget it. Most will not agree. It is a question of perception.

    James Ayers I’ve just been telling them that I have to take a photo in order to prove to my instructor that I indeed did the interview. All were happy to oblige.

  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier On the photos… you should be upfront and honest. The photos will appear on a Facebook page. If they don’t want to do it then OK, try someone else. This assignment is a photo-journalism experience and without the photo it doesn’t really work. But I understand that it’s not easy to get someone to let you take their picture, especially these days. Actually, none of this stuff is easy. It just looks easy after it’s done.
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier I understand Alain’s concern about photos appearing on Facebook. Facebook I guess owns the photo or something. You don’t know where it’s going to appear or in what form, you lose control over it. These are serious changes in the way our media works. The changes will cause people to not trust reporters or journalists. I’ve actually already encountered this. It’s been getting worse ever since 9/11, mainly because I look like a liberal media person. This Facebook ownership thing is different but the result is the same. It makes our job more difficult.
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert Indeed. I think it’s best just to let them know and decide. If they decide not to I have an idea… well I’ll see.
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert I just finished my first interviews. I went to an adult learning center. A lot of young adults, which made it easier for me to approach them. Great way to break the ice! As for Facebook, it can work as long as we are clearly saying it. It will be a good way to evaluate this aspect of the tool. Finally, for me, it is quite a challenge to write and listen at the same time. I will now transcribe everything while it is fresh in my mind.
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert I just finished transcription of my notes. I’m staying quite close to what I heard but I am also probably adding words in order to gather the sense and meaning of the interview. I can see that I could easily do too much because of my enthusiasm and interpretation of what I heard. I have to keep the original feeling.
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert Taking notes: I took some notes during the interviews. Most where single words with arrows to other words. Very small phrases with keywords. In my notes I put on top of the page the name of the person. I took pictures in the same order of the interviews so it was easy to remember which picture was related to a specific interview. I gave them full control of the pictures taking multiple shots and showing them. If I had a preference I would point out what seemed good. Most of the time they would agree. By doing this I was able to take many pictures because they felt, and were, in control and they also had their say. I told them I would make the final choice but they already had trashed what they didn’t like. I tried to make them comfortable with the camera by telling them my own experience with the camera.
  • Ivy Tzur
    Ivy Tzur I have approached seven strangers… it’s a tough question to ask because it does take thought. I felt careful about invading someone’s personal time when they were lunching at a park bench and forcing them to think about what they were afraid of. I did get a variety of responses in the end; some short, some long, and one that’s very interesting. But it was harder than I thought it would be… and I was shyer than I anticipated.
  • Charlie Knower
    Charlie Knower So far, 1. Loss of spouse, 2. Not being good enough. 3. Harming someone. 4. Public humiliation. 5. Embarrassment. More tomorrow, I hope. I am learning to wait for more in depth answer. Finding that I tend to want to rush to the end. This is hard work, folks.
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert 1. Scared of crocodiles 2. Scared of death 3. One teenage scared of clowns 4. Scared of height 5. Doesn’t know.

Scott Carrier

Scott Carrier

I’d like to introduce a guy who is going to be following this workshop and making comments from time to time. His name is Mark Neumann, and the reason I asked him to help out is because he’s an excellent teacher (a professor in the communication department at Northern Arizona University) and an expert in the realm of documentary history and theory (co-author of “Recording Culture: Audio Documentary and the Ethnographic Experience). He’s also one of the best interviewers I’ve ever met. I’ll ask him to write a few words and post some links to his work.

September 24 2013
  • Mark Neumann
    Mark Neumann Thanks, Scott. I thought it might interesting to post this piece I did with Barrett Golding. I was teaching in Paris and I started hanging out at Père Lachaise cemetery. Specifically, I was hanging out at Jim Morrison’s grave, making portraits of fans who came to stand over Jim’s bones. I started recording interviews and collecting sounds, and Barrett Golding produced a nice sound portrait from my tape. It aired on (the now defunct) Savvy Traveler show.
  • Mark Neumann
    Mark Neumann I thought this would be a good one to post because it’s basically the same assignment as everyone is working on. I was at Jim’s grave asking strangers: “What are you doing here?” And I made photos of them. All those little interviews could then be assembled into a larger portrait of a place.

    Mark Neumann And here’s another piece I did in Tampa called “Bottle Diggers.” I was riding my bike through Ybor City and noticed these guys were digging a long trench in the backyard behind a house. They were looking for old bottles. It turns out, the houses in the Ybor City neighborhood are built on top of a late 19th century city dump. These guys are amateur archaeologists/treasure hunters, sifting through the garbage from nearly a century ago. http://tcjournal.org/drupal/vol3/bottle-diggers

    Mark NeumannAudio Documentary Bottle Diggers | Technoculture
    tcjournal.org
    Prior to the widespread use of plastics and other engineered materials, most trash was biodegradable. Without rubbish encased in plastic bag time machines, and before chemical food preservation (consider that 50-year old hotdogs and Twinkies have been found in mid-century municipal dumps), a lot of…

  • Barrett Golding
    Barrett Golding And here’s some of your photos, Mark:

    Mark NeumannJim’s Grave [Mark Neumann]
    hearingvoices.com
    Audio interviews and photographs of the people who pilgrimage to the Père LaChaise cemetery in Paris to visit the grave of Jim Morrison, the “Doors” lead singer. Since 1997, Professor Mark Neumann, (then) of the University of South Florida Communications Department, has been traveling there to recor…

  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier These are excellent examples of audio documentaries, and we are basically audio producers, so the question might arise, ‘Why is this workshop set up to explore photojournalism and video journalism, not just audio alone?’ The answer is because the web has changed things so that now we need to be able to produce in all media, not just audio. We need to learn about the recording equipment, the production software, and the various story forms in each medium. At least this is the underlying assumption. It may not actually be possible to become fluent or proficient in all media. Nobody really knows yet because the web is so new.
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert The title for this piece is really nice. I was wondering how many interviews where done and what ended up in the final documentary. Ten hours of recording for 13 minutes ? I can imagine the people going to visit the grave must have been quite varied and at the same time have strong personalities. We can see that in the pictures. If you walk into a cemetery there are always tombs that have a life after death and others that become time capsules. This is definitely not a time capsule.
  • Mark Neumann
    Mark Neumann Alain, the ratio was probably close to that, maybe higher. Since I wasn’t sure where this project was going to go (photos? book? audio doc?), I just kept collecting images, sounds, and did many more interviews than would be necessary for a 13-minute piece.
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert I’m interested to know how you then make order with all this material. Is it like film: Good – OK – Rejected etc… Do you rename the clips to know what to use? Color code or simple folders with appropriate names. You maybe need to extract some audio from a long file and then rename that small clip… Quite a big job of listening and choosing.
  • Mark Neumann
    Mark Neumann Barrett Golding might want to weigh in on this one, since he edited the piece. The interesting aspect of this is that he was not in Paris, and only had the tape I gave him (after I made an initial cut of what I thought was the most interesting). Yes, it is a big job of listening… over and over again to see if something holds up. When editing with ProTools, I typically name a larger file and then create a sub-name for a particular portion. I’ve been trying to learn Final Cut X, which I used for the Bottle Diggers piece. What Barrett is so good at is creating an atmosphere in time that gives sonic shape to a place and the people who are there. He keeps changing directions with new sounds and voices so as not to linger too long. I think it’s an intuitive sense that comes with listening, building sound beds that give texture and punctuate a longer piece like this. I try to emulate his style as I try to come up with my own. But Barrett can probably articulate this better than I can.
  • Barrett Golding
    Barrett Golding I edit most pieces the same. But I don’t think others work like me, and I don’t think folk have found it helpful when I describe my methods. But here goes: I listen and pick out the quotes that most grab my attention. I group them into topics/sections (the sound itself, as regions; ie. not text). I place possible section-starting quotes near the group’s beginning, and quotes that might connect two topics near the end. I listen again, tossing everything that’s not as good as the rest. Then I hope the gems that are left can be juggled into a cohesive story: they usually can.

Laura Irving

Laura Irving

“I was a twelve-year-old boy, flying in the back of a biplane with my father. He said, get up on that wing boy and when you jump, for goodness sake don’t forget to pull the rip cord. Nowadays, the only thing that I’m truly fearful of is fear itself.”
Richard W

TOW-Laura_Irving-biplane

September 29 2013
  • Emile B Klein
    Emile B Klein Laura, great photo (ala Little Prince librarian). I’m curious, how do you see the image and the quote connecting? Is it that his fear is a Franklin D. Roosevelt quote, and thus literary?

  • Laura Irving
    Laura Irving Good point Emile B Klein- to be honest, I’m not sure there is a connection, other than I took a picture of the guy as I met him, in his own environment. He’s owned this market stall selling old stamps for 35 years… which is probably a more interesting story than the quote he gave me for the assignment! I found that quite a lot- people told me really interesting stories that weren’t relevant to the assignment, so choosing three lines and omitting potentially great stories was tricky. I wonder if anyone else had a similar experience?
  • Emile B Klein
    Emile B Klein Laura, you’re not alone… Here’s The Kitchen Sisters on just that, check Segment one:

    Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound

  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert Yes indeed. Choosing is difficult sometimes. You ask a question and then suddenly the person goes into another direction and more questions brings up more possibilities.

  • Laura Irving
    Laura Irving Hey Emile, thanks very much for sharing- crazy snake tales! Alain Boisvert I agree- for me a nice takeaway from this assignment has been to discover that stories are there to be found if you’re open- it’s exciting that it can be left field. I don’t want to jinx it- perhaps I got lucky… fingers crossed people are just as open and interesting for the next project.

Scott Carrier

Scott Carrier

I was wondering if anyone has any questions about recording or editing sound. It’s a lot to learn in a short time. Is everyone doing OK?

October 2, 2013
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert I find that the greatest challenge is having to edit with only the voice. No frills attached. Making choices on what to use and how to make it into a short story. I just finished four interviews and will be listening to them tonight. Hopefully the sound will not be crap! Seemed OK with the headphones.
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier Alain, try finding the beginning, then find the ending.
  • David Andrews
    David Andrews Hello Scott. It’s wonderful to work with you this way. I’m currently 15 seconds over the two minutes (starting with a 5:07 minute interview). Trying to be “ruthless” in my editing–the way Ira Glass says we must be–do you have any suggestions on how to be ruthless while making the piece better?
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier David, first, look for information that is repetitive. Make a point and move onto another point, and don’t go back or linger on a point you’ve made. This is difficult because sometimes you think the point needs to be elaborated, but usually the listener wants to move on. I think this is what Ira meant by being ruthless.
  • David Andrews
    David Andrews Scott, I’m using Audacity to edit. Seems very linear in ways, now that I’m attempting to re sequence sentences and passages. Is there a free or inexpensive software that allows placing clips on a board, like a bin in film editing, to pull down and place in new sequences? And is there software that helps blend transitions in these new sequences? (I’m realizing I should record much more background sound to this end.)
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier You know, I just don’t know enough about it to answer those questions. Pro Tools has something like a bin thing, but it’s not free. To blend a transition I would try a mix between two tracks where you fade out one track while fading in the other, a cross fade.
  • Laura Irving
    Laura Irving Hey David, I’m not sure if this is of use to you, but I used Studio One- you can download a (legitimate) free version from Presonas… I’ve never edited before, but I started trying to use an old copy of Audacity and gave up… Maybe newer versions are better, but I found Studio One a bit more intuitive. It doesn’t have a clipboard (I don’t think) but it’s pretty easy to blend bits together. It also runs fine on my aged PC.
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert I find Reaper is pretty good and not very expensive. Both PC and Mac.
  • James Ayers
    James Ayers I’ve less questions about editing than I do interviewing! e.g. – how to get the subject to speak in a way that allows for good/ easier editing later – e.g., paraphrasing more succinctly or explaining more clearly, etc.? Plus those background noises on the street, etc. make the editing – for me at least – super tough.
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier James’ question on getting the subject to speak in a way that makes it easier to edit– I wish there was a way to do this. I think interesting people are easier to edit than boring people because if the person is not interesting then you’ve got nothing to work with. But editing is really pretty difficult most of the time. For me much of the time I feel like I’m whittling, which is not good, but I find myself doing it. I guess all I can say is just keep practicing and you’ll get better. That’s usually the way it happens for most people, I think.
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier As for background noises that make editing difficult–the standard practice is to record some ambience, about two minutes, that you can use to cover the edits. You lay down the ambience as a separate track and then lift it up and down in volume, covering the rough edits. You can also add space between edits this way, by bringing up the back ground noise to cover the holes. Maybe I should have said this before you guys cut your stories, but it would have been hard to understand without actually first recognizing the problem. This is a first attempt, it’s good you’re seeing these problems that come up, you can do it better next time.
  • Scott Carrier
    Scott Carrier I think everyone is doing very well, overall. You’ve done something very difficult to pull off and in only a few days. I hope you now see some of the problems involved and also feel like you can get better at fixing them. Perhaps some confidence where there wasn’t any before.
  • Laura Irving
    Laura Irving Yes, definitely- and it’s a really good feeling.
  • Alain Boisvert
    Alain Boisvert Makes me want to do more!

Thanks to the Knight Prototype Fund for supporting the Transom Online Workshop.

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