by Kaitlyn Mitchell
This week, Stringr chatted with Chiara Norbitz, a news researcher at NY1 News. Norbitz was born and raised in New York, and earned her undergraduate degree in political science at Mount Holyoke College. She received her masters degree in Documentary Filmmaking from New York University in 2015, where she conceived of an filmed an original documentary, “Hire Me,” which is about highly skilled and foreign-educated immigrants who are struggling to survive as new Americans; including scientists, doctors, and engineers with years of experience who are more likely to drive a cab or nanny than work in their professional careers. The inspiration for her documentary came from Norbitz’s four years of work in the non-profit sector at Upwardly Global, doing philanthropy and fund-raising.
Stringr: Describe your duties at NY1.
Norbitz: I was first hired as a freelance news assistant for NY1, and the job responsibilities for that role are either working independently, or going out and shooting things for vosots (a video with a sound bite), which are small packages that the editors will put together, and the anchor will read a script over. So you’re gathering the video and sound elements that will be used for smaller packages. A news assistant would go out and shoot independent video and sound elements for news pieces, and would also work with reporters, gathering elements for their packages, and helping them shoot their stand-ups, live hits, and stuff like that. As a researcher, I work with what news we are going to be covering that day — working with the news directors to decide what needs coverage, and then organizing crews, including the reporters, the news assistants, and the satellite trucks, and managing them in the field.
Stringr: What’s a typical trip into the field like for you as a videographer?
Norbitz: For example, say there was a gang-related shooting, and the assignment desk really doesn’t know too much about what happened. It’s our job to go out into the field and try and gather both information and elements. So what we would do is we would do is we would drive out there as fast as we can. The issue is sensitive both in terms of people who may be involved in the shooting, and the people who are not related to it are obviously nervous about there being a shooting in their neighborhood. We would and approach people, very sympathetically, but I would have my camera tucked away, because you don’t want to scare people off. We’d try to get people to talk to us, and relate on a personal level. For example, I’d say, “I’m sorry that this has happened, do you know something about this?”, and try to get as much information as possible. In the field, we’re really the eyes on the ground, and sometimes we will be able to find out much more information by talking to people, versus the people who are at the assignment desk and are basically calling the police and trying to get more information that way.
Stringr: What technical details do you need to keep in mind while shooting on location?
Norbitz: Your responsibility as a cameraperson while the reporter is handling the one-on-one with the subject is to be both sensitive to the fact that you don’t want to shove a camera in someone’s face, but you also want to make sure that all your settings are okay, and when it is that moment and you need to quickly get your camera up, you don’t have to do any adjustments. As soon as we arrive on scene and park the car, I’m fixing my settings as we’re moving. So I’m finding something in the field, on the ground or whatever, to white balance off of. That’s the most important thing. So then I’m managing the settings, making sure that my exposure is not overexposed, underexposed, making sure that I do have an attached microphone, and that those sound levels are good, and making sure that all of my settings are on manual so that I can easily adjust them, like the focus, when I am in the field. It’s really important to do that as you’re running and gunning it, so let’s say that the reporter finds someone that immediately can speak: you don’t wanna be there for five minutes, adjusting your camera, and that person gets bored, or becomes uninterested and walks away. The most important thing about being a camera person is to act like you’re not there. You don’t want people to be spooked by you, but you also want to manage your camera settings, so that when it’s ready for you to come into action and start filming, you’re ready to go.
Stringr: What about when you’re shooting b-roll for a situation that isn’t necessarily breaking news?
Norbitz: Let’s say I’m by myself, and I’m shooting something for what’s going to become a vosot: a minute to a minute and a half-long script that someone will write, and they just basically need images that both will cover the script, but also illustrate what’s happening, and then preferably sound with either MOS (man-on-street interview) or natural sound. When you’re shooting something like that, it’s really important to get a variety of shots so that the editors have the opportunity to mix and match what they can use visually. Always make sure to get tight, medium, and wide shots at different angles. When working for a news organization, I’m not going to get super fancy with my shots, but it is important to get a few shots that are called beauty shots, which are those pretty shots that you see where there’s a rack focus, where whatever’s in the foreground all of a sudden comes into focus and it looks really nice. Or having something blurry in the foreground, and in-focus in the background – you can get a few of those, but don’t go crazy. Think about how the person is going to write the script, and get the images that will correspond.
Stringr: Do you have an example from the field?
Norbitz: We didn’t end up covering this, but it was the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped in Japan, so there were a ton of different commemorative things happening around the city for that. So let’s say it was your job to go out and cover that for a vosot. Think about what types of things the producers are going to want to say in that. They’re gonna want to talk a little bit about the history of Japan, the atomic bomb dropping, and the actual event itself: who was there, who spoke, and why it’s important. With all of those things in mind, think about which image would go best with that information.
Stringr: In what situations do you and don’t you use a tripod while on the job?
Norbitz: MOS (Man on the Street interview) – that can be handheld, because really it’s kind of cumbersome to deal with having the tripod. When you are using handheld, try to be as steady as possible and try to frame your shot with the three-quarters rule, with your subject in three-quarters of the shot.
When you’re shooting and you have a little bit more time, let’s say there’s a bunch of people speaking, in that instance, I would always, as a rule of thumb, put my camera on a tripod, because it looks so much better when shots are completely steady, and you’re not distracted by it moving slightly. When you have a little bit more time in the field, always put your camera on a tripod.
Stringr: Describe an equipment snafu and how you handled it.
Norbitz: One time I was sent out to cover a presser (a news industry term for press conference) at a very small community organization’s office, and I left without thinking about what the lighting situation was going to be. When I got there, it was a very very dimly lit office. I tried to the best of my ability with the settings built into the camera to increase the exposure as much as possible to get a usable shot; but what I really should have done was just bring an extra light kit — that would have illuminated the shot, and would have prevented it from looking kind of grainy, which is what happens when you overexpose the shot with the camera settings. That was a good lesson to me, that no matter where you’re going, even if it’s in the middle of the day, always have a light kit. You never know what kind of situation you’re going to be in and whether there’s going to be enough light there.
Stringr: What advice do you have for amateur videographers?
Norbitz: Always ask questions. There are no stupid questions. If you try and figure it out yourself, it will take you longer and you could learn bad habits that way. The great thing about the videographer world is that there’s so many people with so much information, and they’re willing to share it because it’s their area of expertise. If you’re independent and don’t have a connection with a group of videographers, I would definitely say mine the internet for answers to your questions. It’s so much better to learn from mistakes from other people’s experiences, rather than try to go it alone, make your own mistakes, and potentially not learn as quickly. That being said, making mistakes also helps you learn, like with my lighting kit circumstance, but you want to minimize the amount of mistakes you’re making.
Stringr: What’s the best experience you’ve had while shooting breaking news footage?
Norbitz: I liked shooting the Greek Day Parade by myself in the spring of 2015. For a lot of more experienced shooters, shooting parades is just a very hectic and time-consuming day. For me, it was really fun because I was active, I was running around, I was getting certain elements as they were happening. Everything was happening in real time, I had to be really present, and it was fun to talk to people who were celebrating and commemorating their heritage.