Tips for VJs

In researching my book, Going Solo: Doing Videojournalism in the 21st Century, I interviewed several VJs from both TV and newspapers and discovered there are some things that help make them successful.  Here are some tips they gave me.

Heidi McGuire-KUSA

“You’ve got to want to do it.  I think that’s first.”

Heidi McGuire shoots an interview

“You need to be better at time management.”  “That was probably one of the first lessons that I had to learn, was good time management.”   “If I’m going to take an hour and a half to write this package, then I’m only going to leave myself 45 minutes to edit it.  You end up screwing yourself,” she laughs. “So, that’s been one very important lesson for me.”

“When it comes to certain things, after you do it for awhile, you kind of know your boundaries, so to speak and what you can get away with.”

Brian Clark-Hampton

“I think all too often people overshoot things.  They’ll come back and look at their footage and they’ll be overwhelmed.  Okay, I have all this stuff, what do I do with it?”  “I think it’s important to narrow your focus.  Have kind of an idea of what the story should look like.”   When you have 60 minutes of footage and 20 minutes of interview that you’re not overwhelmed…and you’re not spending 4 hours editing.

Brian Clark helps new VJ, Patrick Buchanan

“I think setting deadlines for yourself is good.”  “It’s all too easy to sit in front of this computer until midnight because I don’t like something and I want to change it. Or I can narrow the focus; I want the thing to be a minute 30 and get it in on time.” “You should have an idea of what you want, so when you come back, you’re not going to edit yourself into a corner, you’re not going to write yourself into a corner.  And since you already know what you have anyway, you’re not going to write yourself into a corner.”

Have a mental checklist:  “There’s nothing worse than showing up somewhere and not having a light or not having a battery or not having a tape.”  “If you have the right equipment and check the equipment properly then that’s the first step in having a good story.  I mean it’s not just picking up a camera and shooting, it’s actually making sure you white balance and making sure you focus.  There’s so many things before just shooting.”

“If you want to be a good VJ, you have to in essence own the material.”  “You have to look at the equipment and study it    “I learned that the more experience I had with the equipment, the better my material ended up at the end.”

“I didn’t go to school to learn the equipment.”   That’s the good and bad about being a  VJ.  “It’s one more thing to focus on when you’re in a story.  It’s like when we show up for a story, it’s not only do I have all the questions correct and do I have all the shots I need to get, is the white balance correct, looking back and over my shoulder to make sure I’ve got it all.”

Ben de la

Ben de la Cruz edits with Final Cut Pro

The simplest things are important, like make sure you have all the right gear.  “I mean once you get over that, it’s like oh,   “It’s really confusing in the beginning.”  “So just getting that down in the beginning is like , not messing up initially.”

“We learned early on, one of the lessons was, try to focus on one thing at a time and not try to do too much.”

Also make sure to make sure all the equipment is working before you head out on a shoot: batteries charged, lights, wireless mics and any other gear you know you will have to count on.

Dan Adams does a lot of multitasking as a VJ

Dan Adams—formerly of KXTV

The biggest thing is time management.   “Just be more aware of your time.”  “For somebody who hasn’t started in the business yet, like students, I would say go out and buy yourself a laptop computer, get yourself an editing program such as Adobe, or Pinnacle or one of those.  Get yourself a smaller camera than this.  And go out and be your family’s videographer; shoot your vacations; do what you find interesting and put it on tape.  And just do it and do it every day and start practicing and get an editing program, so that when you do get to a situation where you have to do something like this, you’re already ahead of what everybody else is doing.”  “In this business, there aren’t a whole lot of people who know how to do this.  In our newsroom, right now, we have probably, including anchors 25 on-air, 25, 30 on-air people at our station.  Out of those, I can count on one hand the number of people who know how to do this.”

“The reporting part to me is still more important than the photography part of it.  So you still have to be a reporter.  It’s more important to be a reporter than it is to be a photographer.”

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