Pay Attention

I began listening to podcasts back in early 2007, I think. The term was self-explanatory, as opposed to blog, which took a few passes before I understood. In those days, the iPod was king. These were radio shows that you could listen to whenever you wanted; that’s a pretty easy concept to grasp.

I listen to podcasts the way other people listen to audio books: In the car, mostly, or out on a walk. On a plane, certainly. Podcasts wouldn’t surprise anyone 40 years ago, even if the delivery system might seem awfully fancy.

I listen mostly to interviews. A lot of political talk, or at least in the past (I’ve cut back on those). Interviews with interesting people, authors and actors and musicians, that sort of thing. I get the appeal, even if I’m not sure why the medium has exploded in the past couple of years.

But I think about this a lot lately. What’s the best way to tell a story? I’ve always been a fan of the spoken word, but there’s a lot to be said for reading the thing yourself. News is read in this household, not watched, but I guess there’s a preference for everyone.


And so we come to video. I was hooked from the beginning, and I know the beginning. Mr. Emmons’ Spanish class, in which the upper class members got to make a video at the end of a semester. We’d write sketches (in Spanish, of course; sort of the point) and record them on the primitive equipment our AV department had, reel-to-reel tapes and bulky cameras.

That’s when I discovered it. We were goofing around, feeling our senioritis big time and pretty much having wrapped up the year. With the video camera temporarily not in use, and no one paying particular attention, I took it and started shooting video of the class. I just panned the room, stopping on individual students as they wrote or read or talked to someone else, unaware.

And then, before we had to give the equipment back, we played our recorded sketches to the class, and at the end, tacked on, was my attempt at vignette.

People cried a little. You have to imagine it; a lot of us has been taking Spanish from this particular teacher for four years. Same people, same classroom.

There’s even an oblique reference to my “photography” skills in a yearbook note from someone I’ve long forgotten (actually, I just thought of her name. Keep me away from Facebook), and that Spanish class guerilla filmmaking was the reference.

So I caught a little of the power. And it’s the power of images, really; doesn’t have to be a moving image. But I got a bug then, and spent a lot of hours daydreaming of being able to afford my own rig. I finally got one in 1984, just in time for my daughter’s birth.

And of course today everything is different. We’re all videographers now.

I keep trying, though, and I’m getting better. I’m doing a stewardship thing for church, trying to get people to tell some of their stories about this particular church community, how they came, what they get out of it, etc. My first subject was a 22-year-old, someone I enjoy immensely, a great sense of self along with an upbeat, witty way of looking at the world. And she had good things to say, and my new PC made editing it into a couple of minutes a snap. For the first time since I’ve started editing (which really began back in the 1980s, hooking two VCRs together), I was able to finesse this in real time, no lagging or syncing problems that aren’t caught until the film is rendered, a process that used to take serious time.

Yesterday I did a short interview with my wife, looking for some gravitas to match the millennial ambience of my first. Wandering through the footage, trying to get a sense of how to edit it, I realized I’d made a big mistake.

I’m tempted to talk about decreased attention spans, although I can’t because I’m not sure it’s a real thing. I mean, the internet is pretty much designed these days for people to read and see quickly. It’s a skimming medium. It doesn’t mean we won’t sit for longer, because obviously television is hugely popular and movies are hanging around, too. As well as the above-mentioned podcasts and audio books.

It’s online video that begins losing its grip after about 2-1/2 minutes. There’s just so much more to do, who has the time?

And 2-3 minutes of one talking head, even a familiar face telling a compelling story, begins to lose its appeal after a minute or so. This was little epiphany, and once I realized I needed to have several people speaking during these videos, and that I could edit them around similar themes, I could smell a concept.

So off today down south for more filming, then to spend the afternoon with an old friend, I suppose my oldest friend in certain definitions. It’s been too long, and a lot has happened. We’ve got stuff to talk about, so here’s hoping our attention spans are capable of conversation.

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