LOOKING BACK: Vintage, yet timeless advice

While working here and there on updating the tags on older “tip of the week” posts on this site that date back to 2010, I also had the opportunity to re-read them as well. Pages after pages of advice about attitude and aptitude, both of which have roots deep within our history.

So for this post, I went digging through my archives to pull examples of advice of the same nature given to generations past from names that were once as well known as their modern counterparts on this site are today.

1916 – Paul Hugon, managing editor of Pathe News in a booklet written by him called “Hints to Newsfilm Cameramen”:

“THE GOLDEN RULE

Make as good a picture for others as you would like others to make for you.

Nothing but the best is good enough. Think and think hard how you can make the best picture. Put it all down in writing in advance; plan your scenes…

There is plenty of room at the top of your profession, but you will not get there by standing about or just grinding away.”

1956 – Norman Alley, cameraman for Hearst’s News of the Day newsreel and freelancer for CBS News in an American Cinematographer interview containing his views on the transition photogs were facing going from theatrical newsreels to TV news:

“..today’s newsreel cameraman must be first a news reporter and second a good photographer, capable of putting a story together in sequence as he shoots it.

…the news photographer today must have, in addition to imagination and initiative, the determination to knock on doors, to “dig” to get results. Above all things, he must omit the phoney. It’s too obvious.”

1957 – Ted Genock, former Paramount News and March of Time cameraman in an interview for a USAF newsfilm training course:

“…Again, I come back to the phrase I have used before, “think vicariously.” Get some facts about what material will be available for photography. Then, develop a story just as you would were you a reporter on a newspaper: the why, the how, the where.

Now we come to this controversial question of “continuity.” A newsreel has continuity; it has to have continuity. It must because of the shortness of screen time. And this is what I referrer to in my opening definition. We need to get the information across in the fastest possible way. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to break continuity. If we do, then we need a bridge to make this break more acceptable. How do we do it? There are two ways: there is the “cut-away” and there is the “cut-in.”

The “cut-away” is a scene of people’s reactions, either watching the main event, or handling the equipment – something which will bridge the time-gap between those two shots which do not have continuity.

The “cut-in” would be a close-up of the particular thing that is being worked on or looked at. These things present themselves within the story. Remember, a large number number of close-ups adds impact and excitement and importance to the subject.

Thus, when constructing the newsreel story, we move from the establishing shot, to report shots. And finally as in any essay, we must build to a logical conclusion. The final shot should have some visual strength of its own. If it isn’t there, try to plan it.”

1960 – Leo Willete, WWL-TV news director in an RTNDA-sponsored book he authored called “So You’re Gonna Shoot Newsfilm”:

“In covering any kind of calamity, remember the story is only as good as its human equation. The burning down of an empty house may be good footage. But a similar blaze in which a family is forced to flee with only a handful of possessions is a human story. On all stories, shoot the people first and fullest. The wrecked train, burning house or whatever will still be around, minutes after the human factor is beyond camera range.

The news cameraman-director-editor-script team should also digest one more reminder: People are most interested in other people.

The human denominator is the best known and often least-used device to which to explain a community problem. Imagine a water main rupture. An entire sections of the city is without water service. How does a family adjust to living without water? Where do they get this commodity which we take for granted? These are the human aspects to the story. These are the angles that will sink in and make an impression on the viewers – not the reams of statistics as furnished by the Water Board.”