Since viewers really only get one chance to see a TV news story, it’s important to create them simply. Don’t make your viewers think too much. One of my “little rules,” (thank you Jonathan Malat, for coining that label) is to always show a tight shot of a person’s face when his or her name is mentioned by the reporter. If a name is said, and visually, it is unclear who that person is, you’ve lost your audience – at least momentarily. In that instant, your viewer is left wondering who is who. And in the confusion, he or she potentially misses important information you are trying to convey. It’s actually best to go one step further to include introductory nat sound from that person. Ideally the person says something, then stops talking, the shot remains steady, has no lip flap, and the narration with the person’s name is delivered. Jonathan and Boyd Huppert call this the “handshake shot.”
((One variant I prefer is to include introductory nat sound from the person, nat sound cutaway, back to the person’s face for the name to be said. Lip flap is the enemy here. Say “no” to lip flap!))
In our drive to create character-centric stories, this could be the most important little rule you develop.
If you’re not in the habit of following this rule, you’re not alone. I see it broken daily, and often by the best photojournalists in the country. If you want to stand out, follow it in every story. Don’t confuse your viewers.
But sometimes I shoot myself into a corner with it too. This example is from last week. In it, a few on my list of little rules were in direct competition with each other, including today’s TIP OF THE WEEK. The others – I don’t like my opening shot to be a headshot but I also don’t like the first words of a story to include a person’s name. Yes, reporters, I’m so high maintenance
(BONUS TIP OF THE WEEK – develop a list of “little rules.” Maybe Jonathan can expand on this next week??? Matt? Assign it now?)