Natalie Jeanne Plumb: An Illustration of My Life

Journalist, photographer, musician, dancer, writer, francophile. My passions, your laptop.

Georgetown French Market: A Tune to End a Tale

Or really, a class.

I had a lot of fun making this video about the 10th annual Georgetown French Market April 19 and 20 in the Book Hill neighborhood of Georgetown. More than 40 boutiques, antique shops and restaurants displayed their goods on the area’s Wisconsin Avenue patio at discount price, with participating shops stretching from P Street to Reservoir Road.

I hope this video lives up to that end-of-the-semester “pivotal” project status that we all know, love and hate. According to the unwritten rule, this video is supposed to be the best of the best of the best that I have accomplished all semester. You can decide for yourselves if it’s quite that life-changing. I just thought it was fun. That’s probably in part because the package is in French 🙂

A reason to believe that it may be better than my past videos is that it’s shorter than any other video I’ve made this semester, clocking in at just over one minute and thirty seconds. Wisdom tells:

“I can always tell when you guys are getting better when your videos start to get shorter.” -Rob Roberts


“If I had more time, I’d make it shorter, my dad always says.” -Bryan Bello

Take a look and let me know what you think. Is it the best video I’ve produced all semester? Comment and criticism welcome!

When shooting the piece, I concentrated a lot on close-ups. I stayed at the event for a lot of time to get different characters and shots. I felt like I related to a lot of the people at the event, which is why I think I could get so up close and personal with my camera. People seemed to feel comfortable throughout.

But when I first arrived, and noticed few things that were French, I thought I couldn’t do the project. I thought there might not be enough footage to make an interesting video. But I guess I was wrong because when I got to the editing booth, I found a whole lot of good shots I could play with, added a beat and the rest flowed like melted butter.

After the initial edit, I spent a lot of time re-editing this piece. I think that really paid off. I saw something different every time, whether it was something jarring or overexposed, repetitive or out-of-sync.

Class feedback on Tuesday helped a lot, too. I made cuts less jumpy in parts and held some of my better shots longer than others, rather than changing at every accented beat in the music. I think it looks better now.

All in all, this video provided a great ending point of the semester! I feel much more confident in my editing and presentation skills. I’m happy with the product, and I hope you enjoy it!

Oh, and you should be able to understand it even if you don’t speak French 🙂

Bonus, woo!

I published a few photos of the market on Take a look! Click on the image below to see them.

Click here to see more photos.


My Friends Could Hate Me for This

Using video I took, a song I wrote and sang, I made this:

Instruction was to make a “viral video,” the type that people laugh about and spread like wildfire. Because of these guidelines, it was a joy to make. And I didn’t even violate copyright law!

Making the video took longer than I anticipated. At the same time, I found myself barely counting the time. It was a fun project because throughout I was envisioning people laughing, feeling like a part of the dance party, or whatever the case may be. At least that was my goal.

If I could redo it, I would get better raw video. The camera I took these various videos on is a small Canon. It generally shoots in a terrible quality. Not that most videos on YouTube are a better quality than this video is, but I generally want to make a better quality video than this.

I’m also not sure if the framing is correct. I exported the video every which way, but black sidebars appear on some screens when the video is played in expanded form. I wish I could get rid of that, but I think it’s inherent with the way my camera records.

Naming not only this blog post, but the video itself was a process that I enjoyed, too. Hope they dragged you in 🙂

Cabaret: “A Mature Production”

Indeed it was. I entered American University’s Greenberg Theatre and expected nothing less. Scantily clad thespians ran across the stage in stark anticipation of opening night. But it wasn’t just any show: It was the show. The show that was performed 10 years ago on opening night of the Greenberg Theatre. And here they were about to do it again.

After coming down with a cold, I decided I needed to cover something that day before my sickness got worse. I’m very fortunate in that I know Gail Humphries, the director of this production, because she worked with my mother at Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pa. I sent a quick email and was rapidly accommodated: confirmed as attending and as covering, via a video camera that no one else in the audience was permitted to have, a show I had never seen. Ever.

I had little time to prepare, but I knew what I wanted: backstage. I thought my final piece would largely concentrate on the cast’s getting ready, the jokes told in the place unknown to many and the general chaos that behind-the-scenes footage would produce. I found myself finding an odd balance: with intros and outros to that effect, but with a middle that is both descriptive, yet simply musical. Because the story told itself. A voiceover would’ve taken away from the richness of the sound that a production like this supplies.

I did a lot of interviews that never were shown in this final piece. I think people were quite busy throughout the show and were nervous about making their cues and staying focused, so a lot of them didn’t turn out that good. I could only use the best of what I captured. I’m so glad I got Humphries’ introduction just before the show started. She really helped me set the groundwork in explaining a lot that my video audience may ask in watching my piece. Overall, I think it worked out for the better because if I had gotten more, that would’ve created a potential for too much information. Trying to cut down a two-hour production, plus the cast’s getting ready and the show’s aftermath, into just minutes is already a challenge.

Throughout my reporting, I tried to be a fly on the wall, not a distraction. I succeeded to the extent that I was able to capture on film quite a few details and “untold” backstage stories that I hope have made you, as the audience, laugh.

If I were to do it over again, I think I would make this video into a trailer. Trailers are always quite captivating, as they’re designed to be. I couldn’t do that this time, even though I thought of doing so at first, because I think trailers need a lot more banter between characters than I captured with my one camera. And they need to tell the story more than I think I was able with what I captured this go-round. I got mostly musical shots and close-ups of the main faces in the production. I was able to capture a few funny things, and the emotionally moving scenes within the show were so obvious that I got those, too.

Overall, it was a success and I really enjoyed producing and editing the piece. Cabaret provides a great visual, audio piece and drama. Picking this topic definitely made my job easier. The people in it were also quite fun. I just wish I could’ve made the video longer 🙂

Annual 2013 D.C. Pachyderm Parade: Elephants, Horses and Clowns, Oh My!

Elephants, clowns, horses and a parade: sounds like the perfect video opportunity. The annual D.C. Pachyderm Parade March 19, commemorating the start of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus tour to the Washington area, certainly was. There was seemingly nothing missing.

This project proved one of my more challenging. The parade was at night, and it was inherently a very stupid idea not to bring a light kit. But taking one downtown with a moving parade and a lot of moving people is impractical and equally as illogical considering it could break with ease. Our other option was renting a light that acts as a flashlight which attaches to the camera itself, but we found this out after-the-fact. If I were able to do this project again, I would use that light in a heartbeat. It’s too bad we were ignorant of its existence prior to setting out to cover the parade.

Most of the shots you see are lit by an iPhone flashlight app. I am eternally grateful that we had that at our disposal. Our shots without it were pitch-black and color-correcting them through Final Cut makes them grainy, discolored and unclear. We were out of luck there.

Panic ensued. Without proper lights, getting everything else right was extra stressful. Had we not had two cameras, I’m sure parts of the parade would have been completely missed simply because it went by so quickly. Being flustered at the get-go made getting everything else right difficult. On top of that, we were cold. Forgetting to ask for names or put the lavalier mic on interviewees were just some of the rookie mistakes we made that I thought we’d grown out of by now. It’s amazing how much a changed plan can create chaos (though it’s all psychological).

All in all, I think our stand-ups provided debriefing time, for one. Our interviews were also quite pleasant. In theory, it was an easy event to cover, had it not been for the weather and lighting issues and hectic interpretation of those issues. We did what we could and I’m pretty satisfied with the video that resulted. It’s fairly evident that a video’s quality dramatically degrades at night, and I’m hoping the viewers can accept that and enjoy this video report all the same.

Lydia Petrigova: Professional Ballroom Dancer

I had planned on shooting simply an interview of Lydia Petrigova, the professional ballroom dancer who has the following titles: U.S. Open National Professional Ten Dance Finalist, Ohio Star Professional Rising Star Latin Champion, U.S. Open Professional Rising Star Runner-up, Youth European World Finalist, Two Times 2009 World Pro-Am Champion, National Judge, NDCA Certified Adjudicator.

I had the idea of a larger project on ballroom dance. I wanted to simply capture a few sound bites from her to give the project an expert perspective. But one minute quickly turned into forty, and before I knew it, Petrigova was my profile subject.

You can see why. She’s dynamic, interesting, beautiful, talented and humble. And she spoke in clear, full sentences, making it simple to use only her narration in this piece.

This project was, in my opinion, the most challenging we have been assigned so far. But, it was also my favorite. I’m a dancer and started ballet at age five. I’m actually a ballroom dancer, too. I started that in college about three years ago. So not only is dance an intriguing topic for its visual elements, but I found that since I understand the topic in detail, I could be selective in my shots. I could anticipate and I knew what I needed to shoot well before the selection process in the editing booth. I think I shot way too much b-roll and going through that took quite some time. But all the same, I found this topic so interesting that it didn’t feel much like work.

If I could redo anything, it would probably be to shoot footage at a more high-profile competition. I was lucky that this one was going when it did, and locally. Local competitions are rare and I didn’t do enough planning ahead to get footage at a more renowned event. It didn’t make much of a difference in the end. In fact, it’s quite possible that because this was a friendlier competition located at the University of Maryland and only for syllabus dancers, as opposed to Open dancers (meaning for preliminary level-dancers who are only permitted to dance certain moves; Open dancers generally have much more extravagant choreography) it may have been for this reason that I could get so close to the dancers and talk to them so easily. Thus, it may have been for the better. I’ll probably never really know.

I had so much fun with this assignment. I’d do it again.

Social Media Experts Weigh in on Facebook Lawsuit

Covering the Saturday post or the Pope’s retirement seemed too easy. So I gave myself a challenge and picked a completely non-visual  story. Looking back, I don’t regret it.

It was challenging. I had a very difficult time filling a lot of the b-roll and avoiding metaphors (the handicap sign at the end is tame considering what I initially had…being more creative was tempting and I had to change a lot of my original choices).

I also was hoping that graphics and interviews could easily replace a lot of my b-roll needs. That proved to be partially true: With crisper, more enticing interviews, I filled time quickly and found that the video didn’t drag where it otherwise would have because of the lack of visuals. Where interviews would have been too much, I tried text elements that kept the viewer engaged. I love how this turned out. It was a painstaking process, but I am now much more accustomed to just how time-consuming graphics and effects are, which I think is valuable.

To “solve” the b-roll problem, going with my gut served me well. When I saw an interesting landscape (such as the one that has text flying across it, listing the 14 groups that Facebook will give money to should their prove to be too many claimants come May), I went for it. And stayed there. Holding shots longer than necessary never fails me. Holding them for too little time always makes me cringe out of disappointment later in the editing booth.

All in all, throughout the making of this video, I hated myself for covering something challenging. But I think in the long run I learned a lot more than I otherwise would have from a “one-stop shop” story. I’ve never tried creating a video like this before, I’m proud of the results and I learned a ton about editing and about what it means to pitch a piece like this.

I know now what it means to think creatively when the visuals of a story are not obvious. I know now how good questions and quality people fill a story with life when it is otherwise depicting a dead, bright computer screen. I know now that if I can dream something that I want to edit, I can more often than not learn how to execute that element in Final Cut Pro.

I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it!

Vearning from Video

One guy thought it was a commercial. Another an American University promo. Yet another a prank. But nope. We were just trying to catch the essence of a question.

What can a question do to you? Why don’t we just answer with anything? Why the pondering, waiting and wrinkling of brows?

This project was fascinating. It could not have been more fun.

One of the initial reasons I became interested in journalism had a lot to do with people. Journalists see people. They photograph them. They talk to them. They understand them. Sometimes they laugh with them, comfort them and give them the voice that no other sought to give. Journalists interactions with people are powerful. Snippets of giving life to those who, more likely than not, otherwise don’t frequently step foot in front of the camera: These fragments of video, of interviewing, of answering, of interacting can emote some of the greatest of meanings.

All the sappiness aside, I think I would actually approach this video a lot differently with a second chance. I might change the question, for starters. This question was perhaps slightly too open-ended, providing some lack of repetition. We cut the video to make it repeat, which makes it funny. It could have been better had we had more subjects who reacted to the question the way those featured in these clips that make up the above video did.

Also, we made the mistake of giving some time to think about the question without rolling the camera, while we didn’t give others the same luxury. That meant that half of our subjects went through the daunting “Oh, gosh, I’m on camera, what on earth am I going to say?” thought process, with added fidgeting and lip-biting. The ones we didn’t make this nervous look overly prepared, as if they’re doing a cameo in a commercial. And that’s a disservice both to ourselves and to them because no one wants to watch that. It’s not interesting, different or meaningful.

Second, I would change the framing of a lot of the shots. I think a two-person shot is fine initially, but it needs to have a central focus, whether that happens through blurring a bit the other subject or “zooming” (on foot, not using the camera, of course) on the face of the one talking. Not only that, but next time, I will better utilize the rule of thirds.

My classmate and co-videographer and -editor, Yiyi Yang, manned the camera more so than did I for this video. I think we should have challenged ourselves more than that. I think we needed to switch roles and make the work 50-50. I flagged down unsuspecting interviewees, asked most of the questions to said subjects and thereafter interacted with them to keep their focus on myself and not the camera (which was not always successful). That, too, I would change. For this project, every subject could have looked either at the reporter or at the camera: either was fine, but both was not effective in the final cut of our video. As a result, we have differentiation in shots that shouldn’t be there. All in all, I think I needed to give Yang a chance to be the reporter and myself a chance to be the videographer. Often in the field we’re both, after all. Better late than never, I guess!

Looks aside, putting together this project about the Study Abroad Fair at American University was rewarding.

I started by picking something I knew I would enjoy. My classmate, Yiyi Yang, and I both have international interests. I, for one, would love to someday be a correspondent in a different country. Or perhaps I’ll just end up teaching English as a Second Language somewhere to add more living abroad experiences to my repertoire. She is from Beijing, and will be back there, or elsewhere, someday. Either way, we picked the Study Abroad Fair, which took place Jan. 24 in the School of International Service’s Atrium.

As you can see, close-ups were our cup of tea. The balloons, (prominently featured in this video) candy, faces of volunteers, staff and students strike me as the most compelling. If I could do this project again, I would get more shots akin to these.

For this project, we were equal in the way we shared the camera. We both had control of it for equal amounts of time. But no interviewing was involved with this assignment, so that, unfortunately, was Yang’s loss in this go-round (not in the next, and certainly not in assignments in the past, though :).

Another shot I would particularly strive to reproduce more in future video projects would be the sequencing shots — the ones in which first there is a shot of a person talking or doing something; and then the next shot is the person doing the same thing or the next inherent thing following that action. The shots get closer and closer until the camera is so close you’re left asking how. While putting these sequences together in the editing booth, I knew our audience would find them appealing. And Yang did most of the close-ups of faces, so, in this case, I want to do what she did!

Overall, it was valuable working as a team so I could understand different editing techniques, learn various new keyboard shortcuts and in general just have someone with whom I could reflect during our first-shooting experience within the context of Backpack Video Journalism. I think we could have afforded to alternate roles a bit more, challenging the other to get out of his or her comfort zone and delegating tasks other than those to which our thumbs are already accustomed. That said, bring it on one-man band!

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