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Saturday, August 22, 2009


Fire Season News Video

It's fire season again.

Time for the annoying news video of every brush fire in the country, shown on every major network and local news channel, each showing just about everything except the actual fire. Here's how it's done by the pros.  

First and foremost, be sure the reporter (TV news personality and likely a member of SAG) stands squarely in the middle of the picture so that when he says, "As you can see behind me..." we won't be able to see a damn thing because he's in the middle of the picture and thinks he's the reason people are watching and that they want to see him as much as possible. 

Secondly, be sure to run a banner across the bottom 25% of the screen, ensuring that the most important moments of the visuals will be pretty much completely obscured by it. This banner should say something like BREAKING NEWS - MAJOR FIRE IN POTRZEBIEVILLE. Just above that banner, add a smaller banner that says something like LIVE - INFERNO ON THE PLAINS or some such panic-inducing title for what's sure to be a multi-day epic.

And make sure the cameraman frames the action so the important stuff that we really want to see all takes place right where that banner sits. This is especially effective when airplanes make water drops. Having the water hit its intended target right where that banner sits, that's how it's done by the pros.  

Oh, yeah, and don't forget that news crawl that runs along the bottom of the screen just under the banner, so you can read what other news is going on in the world.

In the upper left corner put something like Ben Dover Reporting Live From Flaming Potrzebieville. And just above that, squeeze in the capitalized words LIVE FROM POTRZEBIEVILLE. 

In the upper right corner put your station logo, in big letters so people will know what station they're watching. Oh, and a clock, so we'll know what time it is. Maybe even throw in the temperature so we'll know if it's as hot in our living room as it is near the fire.

The occasional teaser for an upcoming show riding across the screen is good too. It's best that it's a comedy, with lots of happy graphics to punctuate the promo.

This should leave about 50% of the screen for showing some images related to the news. That's a good time to do a split-screen, with the "on location" reporter on the right half of the screen and the "in studio" reporter on the left. 

The "on location" reporter should talk as fast and breathlessly as possible to lend an air of urgency, panic, danger and pending death to the broadcast. Be sure to tell us what we're looking at (because we're never going to get a chance to see around you) as if you were reporting on the radio. But DO NOT abandon you position in the middle of the screen.

If they cut away to some action not involving the reporter in front of the camera, be sure it's an extreme close up of a branch burning and refer to it as the forest fire. Or show close ups of fire fighters in yellow jackets standing next to a big red fire truck. That's also good. Adds a little color to an otherwise dreary news picture. And be sure to show those residents who all have an opinion about how it started. I always love it when they're asked, "What went through your mind when you saw the fire roast your farm animals and level your house?" 

Whatever else you do, never, NEVER show an establishing shot so we can get some idea of the scale or location of the fire. If you are back far enough to see anything, be sure to ZOOM IN as soon as possible and as close as possible to a burning branch or smoldering outhouse. Stick to the news helicopter hovering overhead, the fire fighter in the yellow jacket, the big red fire truck, the shimmering red lights, the cool sirens and close ups of people watching the fire. 

Use key phrases like:
"People are in shock... Suspicious origins... The alleged arsonist...The tinder-dry vegetation...It's hot  out here...Winds are gusting up the canyons...People with asthma should stay away from the area..." and the inevitable closing salutation, "Reporting live from the Potrzebieville fire watch command center where raging brush fires have surrounded the community and threatened everyone who lives here, this is Ben Dover, KJRK, back to you in the studio."

Of course the "in studio" reporter wraps the whole thing up by telling us, "You've been listening to a live report from reporter Ben Dover reporting live from Potrzebieville where a brush fire has surrounded the community of Potrzebieville."

If you really want to see the news and can wait a day, go to YouTube and watch all the raw footage before it was edited down to a series of close ups, before all the reporter-yakking was added, before all the banners, crawls and graphics were added, before the obvious was spelled out for us as if we were in front of the radio, and before the one-man show featuring the "on location" reporter who can hog the spotlight and upstage everything was added.

Just wait 'til the rainy season gets here.



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