Standups, and be Counted
October 1st, 2001
One of the ironies of doing these installments on voice and
performance is using this written medium to describe a live
performance that is three dimensional, filled with nuance
and meaning; but then that just challenges our skills as communicators.
I thought it might be a good idea to do a brief primer on
doing effective stand-ups. Interestingly enough, these ideas
apply in similar ways to both radio and television reporters.
1. When you do a stand-up, interact with your environment.
This doesn’t always mean touching or moving through the environment,
but at least acknowledge it, look at it and relate to it.
Frankly, if you don’t relate to the environment you are standing
in, there is little reason to do the stand-up; better to just
track the segment in a studio.
2. Speaking of moving, of course moving through an environment
can add real interest and excitement in your stories. However,
as in real life, there has to be a kind of logic to the movement.
In our real life, we don’t wander aimlessly (unless we are
drunk, dazed, or crazy, and some might say that describes
the news business, but I digress...) We always walk, move
and gesture with some purpose or goal in mind. The more we
use this reality in our stories, the more natural these ‘moving’
stand ups will seem. Instead of simply walking with the camera
following the reporter, take the viewer and show them, for
example “...the car came from here...and swerved across the
sidewalk here...and ended up in this ditch...” You add not
only movement, but real practical information.
3. Constantly challenge yourself to exploit your immediate
environment for interesting interactions. Try coming up an
escalator into your camera’s shot, or have your videographer
rack focus on the camera as you walk into near focus behind
the hurricane fence, or have the camera pull out to reveal
another important element of your story.
4. This is a great trick: one reporter from Rochester whose
work I have reviewed, was told that she couldn’t get within
camera shot of a collapsed building. (This applies in spades
to New York right now!). Instead, she had a model maker build
a simple box-like model of the adjacent buildings, and standing
on location as near as she could get, she showed viewers how
the building collapsed and what it left behind. She couldn’t
interact literally with her environment, but she could symbolically.
5. In another nifty example, the same reporter had acquired
a document that described a toxic waste dump. The document
came from the city hall, and the waste dump was miles away.
On camera in front of the city hall, she holds the document
up in a 3/4 shot. The camera cuts to a close-up of the document,
but when the camera pulls back from that close up, we are
at the waste dump with the reporter holding the same document.
We use the technology to move our audience in an elegant and
6. One way of doing this with audio only, imagine this: reporter
says “Commissioner Smith said that if the city wanted to...”
and you then cross-fade [not jump cut!] to Commissioner Smith
who contiues “...wanted to purchase six trucks, then we would
have purchased them!” There are dozens of creative ways to
use audio to transport your audience.
I’ve cited just a few examples. If you tickle your imagination,
you can come up with dozens more. This kind of thinking about
stand-ups or on-location actualities makes each story you
do a creative expression as well as a journalistic one. Don’t
let the stand up simply be a show of virtuosity, but rather
use them to really pass on important information to your audience.
In the meantime, breathe deeply!