J. Wilson

Intro from Jay Allison: Producer Emile B. Klein offers a video portrait of J. Wilson, who has lived a lot of life for a young man. Emile produced the video as part of an assignment for the pilot session of our Online Workshop and has included some helpful, concrete notes on process.

About J. Wilson

This was my first “story”, and by that I mean a narrative with sequences that construct a beginning, middle, and end. Until now, I’d left producers to do the magic: send them a raw recording, and voila! There you go, co-producer! Now I was on my own, without an editor to find my story arc, the onus was on me. But the varied and inspiring life J. Wilson’s led inspired me. This piece is based on This American Life’s You Can’t Go Home Again or (really stretching it) Oedipus. It’s a classic trope, almost a cultural lullaby:

Protagonist does his/her best — Faces unforeseen adversity — Makes unforeseen decision –Happiness results (or doesn’t) — Repeat — (Increase power to taste)

That being said, David Weinberg set the standard for me with 131 East 5th St., the strongest, most surprising, shortdoc I’ve heard.

Listen to “131 E. 5th Street”

(I listen to this at least twice a month, and have to stop myself from listening to it right n… whoops.)

This was my first video narrative. Being a newbie I looked to small works, focusing on Errol Morris’s ads for Adidas and Levis, as well as Somesuchandco’s varied productions. If you have, like I had, no idea where to start, give those a go.


The music for my “J. Wilson” video came from WFMU’s Free Music Archive, where hot musicians make their work accessible to the public. Again, a newbie, I wanted to find a warm womb tone, but being inexperienced (read: timid) I chose sounds that furthered the simple emotional narrative- feel good, feel sad, feel good, positive reflection. Check out Cosmic Analog EnsembleXPURM, and Fulgeance.


Camera: Olympus El-P1 and borrowed tripod
Recorder: Sony M10 with Sennheiser ME64 shotgun mic
Lighting: Plein Air easel, construction lamp, 5500 Kelvin bulb
Editing: iMovie 9.0, Reaper (learned on youtube)

Notes for My Fellow Newbies

“A clever cook can make good meat of a whetstone.”
— Erasmus (via Tamar Adler’s lecture, The Clever Chef)

Piero Della Francesca's Nativita
Natività (Piero-della-Francesca, 1470)

Cobbling things together is mad fun; it’s like gathering dimes and nickels from jacket pockets and couch cushions when you’re dead broke. Plus, cobbling is in vogue, just look at Zeega’s engaging, bombastic medleys, SoMe’s hit Barbra Streisand, or lyricist Paul Barman*. Sure, there are meals where you need just the right ingredients, but often you crave stone soup.

Mistakes pave the way for invention, something I realized after forgetting to film J. Wilson’s account of being shot. Rather than fret, I found a readily available simile, a sunset, which served to dull the visual noise so the listener can focus on the audio. The stillness was a bit bland, so I agitated it with scrap scenes from the interview; good scraps are like glue. Would I have thought of this if I’d had the footage? Nope.

Gawk This Way!

“Buhbuh dah dah, da dah dah, bum”

Every time I see Piero Della Francesca’s Natività I swoon and forget why I’m there, which is rotten — because I don’t want to bask in Pete’s artistic prowess, I want to steal it. Our killer taste leads us to scads of good work, it’s our personal, aesthetical-witching stick; but don’t expect to quench your thirst by playing around with your divining rod, if you want to drink, you’ve got to dig. The same is true of our taste; it is not enough to listen to the work we admire, if we want to know what led us there, we have to dig in.** So, if you’re out to learn, lurk the libraries, the airwaves, the net (most especially this site) with intent.


Big thanks to the folks at Snap Judgment (especially Miss Foo), who started me off on this road with a camera and a recorder (and introduced me to Transom); to Transom Online Workshop guides Scott Carrier and Barrett Golding, who provided a reason to experiment and the environment in which to do it; and to J. Wilson, whose work is changing the story of a nation.

Transom Online Workshop Notes

Emile Klien video: J. Wilson.

[Editor’s Note: Emile wrote the following notes on how he made this piece and shared them with his classmates in the Transom Online Workshop. We thought they were so useful we want to share them here as well.]

“J. Wilson” was my third assignment in the first Transom Online Workshop. Scott Carrier and a couple classmates asked about my workflow on this video. I’m not Murch, nor Morris, but here’s my method:

Part 1: Gathering story

  1. Brainstorm types of fear. (morning)
  2. Research types of fear within the context of the geographic area, reach out, schedule interviews. (1 day)
  3. Pack the night before, make sure you have all tools* for the job, double check. (1 hour)
  4. Arrive at Interviewee’s place; find ideal audio/visual recording space. Set up lighting; make sure you and the mic are out of the camera’s line of sight. Check levels. (20-30 minutes)
  5. Start recording/filming. Change the camera’s location, whenever you get a pause in the story, this will provide you with a varied set of shots. (2 hours)
  6. Once you’ve finished recording the audio, set up and record stills and actions that might be relevant to the direction you see the story going. Try to do these without conversation so they can be inserted at audio editing breaks. (5-10 minutes)
  7. Thank the subject, pack up, leave.

*-Camera (Olympus PEN E-PL1), Tripod, Recorder (Sony PCM-M10, Sennheiser ME64), Lighting (Plein Air easel, construction lamp w/ 150 5500K Kelvin bulb), Justincases (extension cord, spare batteries, iphone)

Part 2: Editing

  1. Create a project folder, and two separate folders for audio and video.
  2. Upload video to editing program (IMovie 8.0.6) Watch video first, listening and looking for best bits, moving all excess to the bottom. Now go through the excess at the bottom and look for any shots of the subject silently in action, even a nodding head can work. Group all these silent shots together; create a hierarchy within them, based on length, emotion, action. You’ll use these later.* Now you have the roughest idea of your storyline, so you’ll know what audio to look for. Close video editing program.
  3. Upload audio to your DAW (Reaper v4.52), listen to everything, marking the sections relating to the video. Find every clip that might relate to the most apparent storyline and organize. Find any repetition, any excess — get rid of it. Close the program.
  4. Go do something else completely different and come back, reopen the program and listen again. Delete those big sections of excess you didn’t hear before. Close the program. Write out the storyline again. Go away.
  5. Do something else, come back, look at the written-out storyline, find problems, reopen audio, cut again. Render file (just the narrative at this point).
  6. Open video editor, upload audio file to match the video, cutting the video to sync with the audio; you can do this by raising the audio from the video and the recorder to full volume; the two overlap near perfectly when done right (and echo when they’re not), once they’re matched you can turn down the videos audio. Are there places where the visual transitions are too jagged for the audio? No problem, track the disparity in time (I used my phones stopwatch) and insert one of those silent action shots from your stockpile below, hopefully one that relates to the storyline.
  7. Is there a huge important section of video missing for crucial audio? Think of something that represents the idea of the audio, like a visual womb tone (a landscape, a color, an animation) and insert that. See when pauses are needed, when you’ve stopped paying attention, when you’re not waiting on their next word, when you think you know what is happening. Fix all those things. Now you have the rough video. Go back to audio.
  8. With what you you’ve just learned change the audio again add pauses; get rid of the newfound excess. Think about the emotional arc of the piece and start looking for the right sound, I used Freemusicarchive.org as my resource. Close your eyes and listen to the audio; is it cheesy? Go back. Are you bored? Go back. All ready? Good, render the finished audio. Close your DAW.
  9. Open video editing program. Upload finished audio, match video to new audio. Shift video brightness, contrast, color. Add credits; try to sync to sound. Export HD format, place in project folder.
  10. Upload video to Vimeo (you can upload one HD video a week for free). Choose your thumbnail frame in Settings. Save.
  11. Go get some sleep.

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


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  • Sally South



    Really great piece!

    • emilebklein



      Thanks, Sally.

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