Stringr Interviews: Stephen Valdivia

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.

Stephen Francisco

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?
ValdiviaStuff 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?
ValdiviaLights 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?
ValdiviaNot 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?
ValdiviaIt 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?
ValdiviaTake 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?
ValdiviaIt’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.

Tips for Shooting Presidential Campaign Events

by Kaitlyn Mitchell

We’re only halfway through 2015, yet the Presidential campaigns are already revving up for November 2016, a full 16 months before the 2016 Presidential Election. The GOP certainly craves the public’s attention, with 14 candidates officially running for the nomination, compared with the Democrat’s meager four. Four Republican candidates announced their entry into the 2016 Presidential race in June — Welcome to the club.

Hill's ubiquitous pantsuit.

Hill’s ubiquitous pantsuit.

Below is a list of the current candidates and a sampling of the campaign slogans you’ll encounter incessantly over the next year:

Jeb Bush rocked a casual button-down at his campaign announcement event.

Jeb Bush rocked a casual button-down at his campaign announcement event.

Clinton’s campaign is headquartered in Brooklyn (near Clinton Street, nonetheless), so New York-based Stringrs can expect to see her making copious appearances in and around New York in the near future. But keep in mind where political campaign events take place — whether the venue is public or private will critically impact your ability to shoot. Just last week, Clinton spoke at a fundraiser featuring performances by Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett at The Plaza Hotel — while it was a flashy affair, this is a good example of an event that required a special ticket and wouldn’t have been worth covering. Political events that happen at public places like libraries or the local BBQ joint are excellent opportunities to capture up-close-and-personal footage of a candidate in a more casual setting.

Today, Ted Cruz will begin his ” A Time for Truth” book tour in Houston, Texas. In May, Rand Paul campaigned in Chicago, Hillary was in Dallas in early June for a fundraiser, and Bernie Sanders recently made a stop in Denver — you’ll see campaign events often in every Stringr market over the raucous next 17 months.

If you’re not certain how to ascertain whether a certain event is explicitly private based on location analysis, you can always contact Stringr seven days per week, between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., via our curation desk phone number at (347) 862-9241.

DT

Today in D.C., the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility will respond to the anti-Latino statements made by Donald Trump.

Keep in mind that candidates will be called upon to make statements about current events and breaking news during campaign season. For example, the Charleston shooting prompted candidate Rick Perry to make a statement calling for the removal of the confederate flag that is still flown in South Carolina, while Hillary Clinton made a statement that the confederate flag “shouldn’t fly anywhere.” The unrelenting news cycle can often it give candidates more incentive to make public statements.

As usual, make sure to arrive at any Presidential campaign event about a half hour early to give yourself time to survey the venue, and what your best vantage point for shooting will be. Try to avoid standing in a location where the tops of people’s heads are visible at the bottom of your shot — if you can elevate yourself somehow, that’s always preferred. We look forward to viewing your footage throughout this lengthy campaign season — there will certainly be plenty of opportunities for it!

Technical How-To: How Long Do Clips Need to Be?

by Kaitlyn Mitchell

This week at Stringr, we’re tackling a question that Stringrs frequently ask: How long does a submitted video need to be? And what does it mean to submit only “raw” footage?

At Stringr, the quicker you upload your video, the more newsworthy it is. This makes it more likely for your video to be promoted to our customer.

The only way you can get your video to us as quickly as humanly possible is by NOT editing your video footage, as tempting as it is for you perfectionists out there. We see you there. We NEVER promote video submissions that have been edited to include subtitles over the footage and music over the natural sound. Our customers employ their own professional video editors who will edit your video to their liking — so there’s no need for you to.

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You will regret over-editing. Leave the hard work to us!

By unedited footage, we don’t mean a 20-minute video that shows your subject AND the inside of your coat pocket while you’re not actively shooting.

At the curation desk, we prefer to see your clips separately uploaded. If that means you submit 10 or more different video clips, no problem! You can actually group a set of clips — See our video on the Stringr home page on how to do this.

Many of you have asked — What is the proper video length of each footage request?

We here at Stringr ask that individual clips are no less than 10 seconds each, and ideally we are looking for about two minutes of footage. Unless you’re shooting action-packed breaking news, five-second clips are too brief to interest our customers.

But if you’re shooting plain old b-roll, it’s best to make each clip you submit at least 15 seconds to one minute in length and that you should provide a variety of shots at different angles and vantage points. The rule of thumb with b-roll is: the more you have to work with, the better.

While there is no time limit for your videos, note that the longer your video is, the longer it will take to upload from your smartphone using the Stringr app. So it is best to cap really great footage at one minute or so and submit another clip if you want to show more of the action. A fantastic feature of the Stringr app is its ability to upload your video in the background while you continue to shoot more clips on the app. It will then upload those clips separately.

Let us be clear: we do not frown upon editing your video clips together in a separate app before uploading to Stringr if it is done well and shows a variety of shots; however, if that prevents you from getting us your footage as fast as possible, it may not be worth the extra effort.

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Stringr footage from Chicago flooding in mid-June.

Happy Father’s Day, Stringrs! Stay dry — best to avoid taking your car for a swim like these unfortunate folks from Chi-Town.

To Cover or Not to Cover? Seeking Out the News

by Kaitlyn Mitchell

The team at Stringr’s curation desk in New York City is hard at work around the clock, actively monitoring breaking news in our 10 live markets. But there’s no need to wait for requests. We want you to be on the lookout for newsworthy events too.

As an enterprising Stringr, you ARE allowed to submit a video that is not associated with a specific footage request. But to avoid wasting your own time covering something that won’t interest our customers, we recommend you follow the guidelines that we ourselves stand by as to determining if an event is newsworthy.

  1. Crime: Unfortunately, crime impacts many communities. Our customers are interested in crimes that involve innocent people: think children, parents and individuals who should not have gotten caught in the cross fire. If you happen to be witness to a crime before police arrive, ALWAYS call 9-1-1 before you take out your camera or phone to film anything. Safety for you and others should always be your number one priority.

    NEVER EVER TAMPER WITH EVIDENCE. A still from

    NEVER EVER TAMPER WITH EVIDENCE. A still from the film “Nightcrawler.”

  2. Motor Vehicle Accidents: MVAs are also far more common than you may realize, and don’t generally constitute news. Again, go by the “unusual” rule of thumb — for instance, if the accident seriously impacted traffic on a major route, if a vehicle is on fire, if a large number of people/vehicles were involved, if pedestrians were involved or if a car crashed into a building. Please note, if you’re driving by an accident scene, NEVER film while driving. It is dangerous and against the law. Rather, safely pull over to the side of the road and exit your car before filming anything, and as always, make sure that emergency personnel have been contacted before shooting video. Also, make sure that your involvement will not have any further negative impact on emergency efforts or traffic.
  3. Protests: For excellent tips on how to shoot a protest, check out this week’s video blog. This week one of our Stringrs from Texas captured vehement words being exchanged between different groups of protesters at an elementary school in McKinney, Texas, where police activity at a pool party earlier this week has flared racial tensions in the area.

    A still from video of the McKinney protests.

    A still from video of the McKinney protests.

  4. Weather: Weather events generally have to be extreme to warrant coverage; think flooding, tornadoes, water spouts, hail, dramatic lightning, etc. We’re interested in weather video that shows the weather’s effect on people: how they live, work and commute. Check out our video blog on shooting weather. A terrific example from this past week is our Texas-based Stringr, Dominic Nagella’s video of the Trinity River flooding over a roadway near Dallas. His video showed the river flooded over a roadway, but it also had a compelling subject — a young boy standing on a road barrier, fishing in the floodwaters. The cars and trains moving on the highway near the horizon of Nagella’s frame provided additional interest for the viewer. His b-roll footage was purchased by one of our customers.

    A still from video of the Trinity River flooding over a roadway in Texas.

    A still from video of the Trinity River flooding over a roadway in Texas.

At Stringr’s curation desk, we have access to news wire services that allow us to hear about breaking news first! If you decide to seek it out on your own, please remember to follow the letter of the law and stay safe.