Multimedia Storytelling at Food Blog South

fbsI, along with two of my classmates, volunteered at Food Blog South in Birmingham this weekend. I did not expect I would learn as much as I did because I am not a food blogger, even though I would love to learn to be. I don’t write about food and will more than likely never create my own cookbook, but I gained valuable tips from a session on just that. I have never tried my hand at food photography on anything other than my iphone, but I had a wonderful conversation with a photographer who inspired me to try with a real camera. Yet, what I found most helpful was a session on multimedia storytelling. If you are at all interested in this type of journalism, keep reading for a few inspirational lines and tips that I picked up while there.

Joe York is a filmmaker who works with the Southern Foodways Alliance to “tell the stories of the culture behind food.” He opened the session by admitting that he wouldn’t be talking about blogging, but that using multimedia to tell a story can add depth to anything. After watching a few of York’s films, I completely agree. As a writer, it can be daunting to realize that today’s readers might want more than just words on a page, but it doesn’t have to be. Writers should be excited that we have the tools to share our stories in such innovative ways. York really made this point clear to me when he read an excerpt from  Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and asked us to imagine the way the story might have been told if James Agee had access to multimedia tools when he was writing it. (If you don’t know anything about the book, here is an interesting article that can fill you in.)

York shared the following excerpt with us:

If I could do it, I’d do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement. Booksellers would consider it quite a novelty; critics would murmur, yes, but is it art; and I could trust a majority of you to use it as you would a parlor game… As it is though, I’ll do what little I can in writing.”

When I read this, I get the feeling that Agee was afraid he wouldn’t be able to accurately encapsulate everything that he saw with printed words alone. He wanted his readers to feel as if they were there, and to see the things he saw. What he wished he could produce, as York pointed out, was a form of multimedia. In 1936, Agee couldn’t have foreseen the tools that writers of the future would have at their fingertips, but had he had them, I’m almost positive he would have used them. Realizing this has inspired me to push aside the fear of learning new ways to tell a story. York said, “Multimedia is about perspective. You have a perspective that they don’t.” As a journalist, I thrive on giving someone a new perspective, and gaining one myself. Multimedia tools make it easier to see something in a way you hadn’t before.

Here are just a few of the things I learned from York’s session:

1. You don’t have to live by the 3-4 minute rule for video. It depends on the subject and your audience. York, for example, showed us a film that was a little over 9 minutes. In this case, a longer film worked, but in other cases, it might be best to keep it short. The point is that it is all up to you.

2. People will forgive bad video if you have good audio. York said that the audio in a video is the most important part. He recommended using a zoom microphone to record the audio instead of the built in microphone on your camera.

3. Learn by doing. York believes the best way to learn is just by picking up a camera and giving it a try. He said, “Interview your kid. Interview your grandmother. Interview your dog. You never know what they might say.”

4. Study your subject before you start filming. You should be passionate about the story you are telling, and should learn as much about it as you can. York showed us a film he made about a Louisiana woman named Alzina. When explaining what it means to become an expert on your film’s topic, York said, “Alzina is a foreign language, and it’s my job to be fluent in Alzina.”

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