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By Lynn French
Photographer KPNX-TV Phoenix, AZ
What Makes a Good One-Man-Band Story?
Okay, I know, I said the Q&A was supposed to be the last part. But I think I beat Kevin over the head so much with how much I enjoyed writing the first series that we are going to keep it going.
Christmas day at KPNX, there was one reporter assigned to work the entire day (the other one called in sick). It is days like that we can shine. I got the call at home I would need to be in early to go to the East Valley for a 1:00 shoot that would be a one-man-band package. It was a great non-traditional Christmas Day story. I have done ten Christmases of people who work on December 25, homeless people eating free dinners and church services attended by fair weather fans. The assignment desk told me I would be riding in an ambulance (I'm sold already) with a 95 year old lady. They would pick up Margaret at a nursing home and take her to her granddaughter's house for a few hours. The ambulance company was donating rides to families who's loved ones cannot travel by traditional means due to medical reasons.
I did all the normal stuff, it was a very fast moving story, completely off the shoulder grabbing quickie interviews when I could, everything was shot in under 30 minutes. I did not get to ride in the ambulance. No one accounted for me being by myself and I would have to stay with the Ambulance for several hours until they brought the little lady back to the nursing home which would not work well for a six o'clock deadline. But here is how it worked:
A quick nat pop of the EMTs assuring Margaret that she was okay.
Track: Getting strapped on a gurney is no one's idea of a good Christmas.
Nat of Margaret in ambulance: I'm hungry, EMT: You're hungry, that's good!
Track: An ambulance ride seems a bit extreme for an empty stomach.
Nat of ambulance doors slamming and pulling away and going out of frame.
Track: So what is the big emergency?
Nat of man walking up to ambulance: Hi Mom! How ya doin'? Merry Christmas.
From there we explain why she was in the ambulance and how this is the only way Margaret would be able to come home for Christmas. Run time of the package 1:02!
After the 6:00 show, I asked what I would be doing for the rest of the night. A remorseful 10pm producer informed me I would be going to the airport and doing a one-man-band package on Christmas day at Sky Harbor. To the producer's credit, he is very respectful of one-man-bands and lets me go hog wild on weekends on top shelf stories. However, tonight we had other people in the building who don't understand the solo crew thing and made him be the heavy in assigning crews.
Needless to say, this did not sit well with me. Once they figure out you can write, abuse is not far behind. So this is for all of us. This is a little guide to what makes a good one-man-band story scenario and what should be avoided.
Let me preface this with the fact that there are amazing one-man-bands out there who break all of these rules and can do any story put on their plate as well as any reporter/photographer duo. If you are in the Raleigh-Durham area, check out Rick Armstrong and Brian Bowman on WRAL. These guys do everything including liveshots and intricate multi-part stand-ups.
But for those of us who are not compelled to jump on a story about the redistricting of downtown industrial designations by the planning and zoning commission or reformation of Indian gaming laws in the legislative finance sub-committee, this will help define what works when you are flying solo.
A few years ago when I was at WRAL in Raleigh, I butted heads with an executive producer on one-man-band stories which prompted me to ask fellow one-man-bands what works and what does not. I received many replies from the NPPA Listserve about how one-man-bands are a scourge upon our industry and why we should run away from it. But then Rick Armstrong stepped up with a magnificent set of guidelines, and for that I owe him total credit for the following with a little Lynn French attitude thrown in.
WHAT ONE-MAN-BANDS SHOULD NOT BE ASKED TO DO:
COURT STORIES: First and foremost, there are a lot of places in courthouses that reporters can go that a photographer with a camera cannot. Secondly, no one I know of can be in two places at once. There are times the reporter can be in the courtroom while the photog has to wait in the hall for a break in the proceedings. While other times the photog may need to stay in the courtroom shooting while the reporter steps out into the hall to line up interviews or call the station.
MULTIPLE LOCATION STORIES: Think about how much time reporters spend on the cell phone lining up stories while you are driving to them. Especially now that some states are pushing to make employers liable if an employee wrecks while talking on a cell phone about company business, the last thing we need to be doing is dialing and driving.
LATE TURNING STORIES: It is amazing how much faster the hands on the clock move when it gets close to 5 o'clock. One-man-bands don't need field producers or audio techs, but they do need time. When you are live, local and late breaking, take note of how much your reporter gets done in the car while driving back to the station or while you are setting up the live truck. The devil is in the details---tape numbers in the run down, CG times, anchor lead-ins. With only one of you carrying all the details and the big stuff (shooting, writing, and editing), it is a recipe for disaster and high blood pressure.
THE BEST SITUATIONS FOR ONE-MAN-BANDS:
ONE STOP SHOPPING: One place with all your pictures and sound will buy you more time to write and edit back at the station or satellite truck.
STORIES SET UP AHEAD OF TIME EARLY IN YOUR SHIFT: Just being told to "go find it" instantly sets up a solo crew for failure. It's one thing if you have a reporter who can make calls or tap sources while you drive. But being left to your own demise of showing up and hoping the story is waiting on the pavement because "producer-vision" imagined it so will only lead to blank tapes and four letter words.
S-V-O SUBJECT VERB OBJECT: Somebody who does something. Margaret Rehill rides in an ambulance for Christmas. Broad concepts and abstract visions are hard to chase down in under an hour. New Year Resolutions or Christmas at the airport will take time to narrow down or build a story around that we normally don't have, but the people making those assignments probably have never been in the one-man-band shoes and need a little guidance in understanding that you need specifics.
These are pretty broad and I would love to hear your ideas or experiences to improve them. I can be reached at email@example.com or LEFrenchNM@msn.com.
Next time we will look at enterprising your own stories and turning your ideas into tape. LF
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