WORK: Piecing Together "My Driving Force"
Yvette Williams lost her son in 2016; he was just 21 years old. Williams did not know her son had a substance abuse issue, but she’s using her heartbreak to help others through raising tens of thousands of dollars for police departments in her area to have a life-saving drug in the case of overdoses, Narcan. It’s a powerful story.
Alexa Liacko and I pulled up to Williams’ house, briefly introduced ourselves and invited ourselves inside. We brought in the following equipment: an ENG camera with wireless lavalier mic, a 6D Mark II and Dracast light.
We started the shoot with the interview. After getting a quick tour of places available inside to shoot, I sat Williams on her sectional in the living room. Giant sliding glass doors faced her which gave the room a soft, even lighting on this sunny day. I turned off the interior lights to avoid contrasting color temperatures and set up my Dracast light on the far side of Alexa. This light gave her a subtle punch to bring her out of the background and add dimension to her face. In the background were giant bookcases with family mementos and decorations.
I used the ENG camera for a tight shot and the 6DII for the wide shot. ENG cameras are great for news-gathering but struggle with capturing a small depth of field like a DSLR naturally does. To get the ENG camera to match my 6DII when doing multi-cam shoots, I primarily used it for tight and extreme tight shots and keep the iris between f/2 and f/3.4.
After the interview, I asked them to keep talking while I get some interview shots that I can cut between - shots of her eyes, hands, her out of focus with her son in the background, a wide shot of her in her living room, etc from two or three different angles. These are called handshake shots. They help me show the subject in different ways while the reporter introduces her for the first time or talks about her in the piece. She was still wearing the mic, but they talked freely because the audio from this wasn’t going to be used in the story unless underneath.
The three of us then walked over to her dining room table in the next room to shoot all of the b-roll for the package. Alexa and Williams sat beside each other with another large sliding glass on the other side of the table. I directed Williams to thumb through the photo book she had of her son and talk to Alexa about what she was looking at. This was our chance to get our video of her to use with the story.
I set up the ENG camera on a wide shot on the two of them while Williams was still wearing a mic. While that camera was rolling and getting audio/video of the two talking, I took the DSLR mounted on a slider over to the side then around the table to grab a few stylized sliding shots that moved from side to side. That was it for the DSLR in this story.
I put the DSLR out of the way then started grabbing shots with the ENG camera. The conversation had died down at this point and Williams’ was lost in her own train-of-thought while occasionally musing to herself about good times with her son. I could naturally pick up great audio of the pages flipping and her hands moving across the pages from the lav she was still wearing. I tried to shoot as tightly as possible with a wide aperture - f/2 to f/3.4 - to match the natural bokeh of the 6DII on the wide shots.
When shooting stories like these with very limited natural action, I stick to an empirical method of shooting - grab one wide to extreme wide shot, two medium shots and four to six tight to extreme-tight shots, move to a different location then repeat. Once I get what I think I need, I shoot a little more because I cannot come back for more b-roll.
By this time Williams’ had forgotten she was wearing a mic, so I took it back from her. We then proceeded to load up all of our equipment in the car, say our goodbyes and make our way back to the station. We were there for an hour in total.
Editing started with laying down the skeleton -the sound bites we wanted to use from Williams and Alexa’s reporter track. After that was on the timeline, I scrubbed through the audio at the dining room table to find nat-pops of the pages turning and Williams’ comments while looking at the photos to weave in-and-out of the story. This helps immerse the viewers in the story - to make people feel they are inside the room with us.
Now that we have a skeleton for the story, I move on to laying down the b-roll. Here’s what we had at our disposal when it came time to put all the pieces together for the story: an interview with the mother, video of her thumbing through a photo book with Alexa, some video her non-profit had shot last year at the golf tournament and file video of Narcan.
I chose to start the story with nat-pops of pages turning and some comments she made while looking. I wanted to have it start with the son’s face in the book because his death is the impetus of this story. The fourth shot trucks to the left to reveal Williams’ face. I went to her eyes next as a cutaway and to show the powerful emotion behind this story. Then we moved back to the book. 12 seconds in, we stop on the picture of Dylan at the end of the dining room table with flowers in the foreground. We sit on that shot for eight seconds while it slowly zooms in with a little rotation to let the sorrow sink in.
Once we see Williams’ sitting in her living room for the interview, I decided to use the majority of my handshake shots to keep from bouncing back and forth between rooms. After this point, the audience is hooked. They want to know what is happening.
Although I had video of the golf scramble, Alexa and I decided not to use it because the piece was more about what she was doing with Dylan’s memory than some generic shots of people driving golf balls down a fairway.
We chose not to go back to her sitting at the dining room table until the very end. I usually like to book-end stories - to end a story where we started off. It makes viewers confront this feeling that the story is resolving itself, but somehow it doesn’t feel the same as it did at the start of the story.
I didn’t mind going back to Williams’ interview on-camera one final time because it was a very powerful statement - “I know my son is sitting there going ‘That’s it, Mom. Go. You’re doing a good job.’” I chose to use nat-pop to bring the viewers’ attention back to the book and his memory. Although the video seen isn’t actually of a page flipping when you hear the sound, the motion and the sound help mask that cut.
I then bring back that sliding shot that I briefly lingered on in the beginning but used the shot trucking in the opposite direction while she’s in focus. The shot quickly comes back in-focus again at the very end to reinforce the idea that his tragic story is the reason Williams ever embarked on this journey to save others.