by Kaitlyn Mitchell
This week, Stringr sat down to chat with Stephen Valdivia, associate producer at Fortune Magazine, where he has conducted on-camera interviews with the rapper-turned entrepreneur Curtis Jackson (AKA 50 Cent), Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, first female African-American astronaut Mae Carol Jemison, and FUBU founder/ABC’s Shark Tank host Daymond John. Valdivia was born and raised in Miami, Florida, where he studied telecommunications at University of Florida. While still an undergraduate, he worked in breaking news at an ABC affiliate station, WCJV. Valdivia then became the associate producer for a year at the Miami Fox affiliate station, WSVN. Valdivia moved to New York in 2013 to get his masters of science in journalism from Columbia University, and at the same time interned at the magazine tv show Inside Edition.
Stringr: What do you do in your role as associate producer at Fortune Magazine?
Valdivia: Basically, it’s two-minute documentaries. They’re not like news packages — they’re narrated by whoever our subject is. It’s a profile of a company, and the person who runs the company itself tells us what’s happening. I also do packages, and in-studio stuff, so it’s a variety of video things. Most of the people we interview at Fortune are high-profile people, the people who run the Fortune 500 companies. A lot of these things are one-man bands, you just go and do everything yourself. When these people come, I try and get a team with me, so at least two or three people, including a production assistant to help set up.
Stringr: How often do you experience equipment failures, and what do you do when it happens?
Valdivia: Stuff goes wrong all the time. That is the worst part of the job. Once we were at a location, and none of the mics worked. I had two wireless lavalier microphones with me, which I had used before, and they had always worked. So I had my two lavs, which were tested, and good to go. And I had one shotgun mic, that goes on top of the camera. It was supposed to be a two-person interview, I had no mic, so I just changed the way I was shooting the thing. In this case, it’s like one-man banding, I’m not only shooting, I’m producing. I had to try to figure out a different way to tell the story. The interview subject was the CEO of a credit card company, so he created this new kind of credit card technology. With the shotgun mic, I rigged it so it could pick up his audio, and he could show a demo of what was happening. Afterwards, during post-production, I had a reporter add my voice in.
Stringr: That worked out!
Valdivia: It always has to work out, no matter what. It’s my job.
Stringr: What other types of equipment failures have you had, and how have you dealt with them?
Valdivia: Lights don’t work, especially when you rent gear. I remember once, we got a battery for an LED light that wasn’t charged, and it turned off, mid-interview. For that, I just ended up using whatever light I had.
Stringr: Have you ever resorted to using your cell phone’s flashlight?
Valdivia: Not while other people are around to see me doing it. That’s happened, but it’s not an equipment failure, it’s mental failure. Like, I’ll run out to shoot some b-roll really quick, and forget to bring a light.
Stringr: What are your lighting recommendations?
Valdivia: It varies by what you’re shooting. I like LEDs, because though they’re not the best, they’re the most convenient: light, easy to pack, and they work in a fast environment. The old school lights, like the industry standards HMIs and Arri lights, those always make everything look great. They’re just so heavy and hot, it takes so much time.
Stringr: What advice do you have for videographers just getting started in breaking news?
Valdivia: Take your time. In breaking news, everything goes crazy and everybody is crazy. You’re also in the heat of the moment, so you’re looking at everything that’s happening. Say, for example, a fire. So you’re out trying to get shots of everything that’s happening: the building, the firefighters, the victims, everything. But you’re shooting so fast that you might not get a shot that’s strong enough. I still count in my head. And I know a lot of videographers with thirty-plus years of experience that still count their shots, like “one, two, three…”, because that’s how you make sure it’s right.
Also, if there’s movement, causing you to shake the camera while counting, you’ve got to start over. Count, get your shots right, slow down, because you might get a shot, but it’s not the shot. Slow down — if there’s stuff happening, it’s still gonna keep happening. If I bump the camera and I’m in the middle of an explosion, well I’m not going to start the explosion over. But if I’m getting a visual, like a car accident, and I know the car’s gonna be there for another five minutes, I’m just gonna re-do my shot.
Stringr: What other advice do you have for videographers shooting breaking news?
Valdivia: In breaking news situations, police officers are concerned for your safety, and you should be too, but because they’re trying to deal with a difficult situations they’ll sometimes ask – or maybe even demand – that you not shoot, even when you’re on public property. Know your laws. And have mutual respect. When you work breaking news a lot in the same town, cops become your friends and your sources.
Stringr: Any parting wisdom for our Stringrs?
Valdivia: It’s not about the equipment. It’s how you use what you have. It’s the person running the camera and the the knowledge they have.