I recently got a chuckle out of the “Gary Vosot Vain TV News Reporter Reel” on You Tube. The cadence, type of voicing, and formatting are dead on. You watch and laugh because he does a great job of poking fun. But you should also realize that many actual TV news standups really do sound like Gary Vosot’s parodies to viewers. Standups are a big seller for reporters and stations. So I want to let you in on a few easy techniques so you don’t get a chuckle, unless you really want one.
You probably already know the basic rules of “why” you use a standup in a story. But, it’s always worth hearing again. We all need reminders from time to time to keep our awareness and skills sharp. So, here are a few of the basic rules to keep in mind for when you include a standup in a story:
- As a bridge from one distinct thought to another
- As a bridge from one location to another
- To impart information for which you do not have video or sound
- To flow into or out of a particular sound bite
- To show that you were actually there during an important news event (i.e. – you travel to a distant location to cover a big event or breaking news)
Are there other reasons for which you sometimes include a standup? Yes. Should you always include a standup? No. Sometimes a standup can actually distract from good storytelling. Remember, the story is not about YOU, it’s about the subjects you are covering. However, the reality on this last one is that many stations essentially require you to include a standup. Many of us hate this kind of rule. But there really is some sound logic to it. First, your station is paying you to be on TV, so they want to see you. Also, there is a LOT of research that shows TV news viewers tend to gravitate to the stations with talent they like and identify with. Therefore, a big part of your job is actually being seen on TV and doing your part to build these kind of “relationships” with your station’s viewers. Don’t forget, the more visible you are the, more well-known (and hopefully liked) you will become with your station’s viewers and in your community. This helps build job security. So, if your station requires standups, just do them. But, make them sizzle. Make them memorable. Make them work for your stories, your viewers and your career!
The tendency of most reporters is to just pop in front of the camera, stand there, and talk for 5-10 seconds to satisfy the need for a standup. We all do it from time-to-time. But that does not mean that it’s the best thing. I think we would all agree that the better the visuals and sound in a story, the better and more memorable the story, right? So, why should the same thinking not apply to standups? Try to make them as visual and memorable as possible.
How do you do this? My first rule when I want to jazz up a standup is to shoot it in multiple parts. But make sure there is a reason. For instance, if you’re going to do cut with a camera turn, try to make it reveal something. Here’s an example:
“The robbers then took off running down this sidewalk… they made it to about this spot
(TURN/CUT) before they ducked through the door of this old boarded up storefront. (TIGHT
SHOT OF PULLING DOOR KNOB) (COMING THROUGH DOOR TO INSIDE) But when they got
inside… the place was not empty like it probably looked.”
Just like you and the photog should be thinking visually about the b-roll in your piece, you should also be thinking about the visuals of your standups. Look for different angles. Look for nat sound to put in the middle of your standups. (Nat sound grabs/keeps viewers attention.) Heck, you can even look for VERY quick sound bites to put in the middle of your multi-part standups.
Don’t forget when you are trying to come up with an interesting standup that you have a visual expert as a partner in the process. Brainstorm with the photographer you are working with to come up with visual and creative approaches. When I ask a photog for ideas, I often get a common question in response: “What are going to say in your standup?” I like to think of things in a different way. The visuals and sound are what drive great stories. So, again, why shouldn’t they drive great standups? I usually come up with a general idea of what I want to do with my standup as we’re working a story. But I wait to “write” it until we have come up with a good idea for the visuals. Let your visual standup drive the verbage you use. Learn to do standups this way and your stories will be better.
Another of my personal rules: Don’t shoot a standup until you know where and how it’s gonna be used in your story. This is very important. Write a shell of your story, either in your head, on paper or your laptop/smartphone. At the very least write up until the point where you want/need your standup. Ever seen (or shot and used) a standup that in hindsight just did not seem to make sense in the piece or seemed like it was put in just to be put in? The technique I’m laying out here is how you get around that. Do it and your standups will always have a reason to be where they are in your stories and they will never seem meaningless.
Finally, have fun! Now, I don’t mean put a goofy, smiling standup in the middle of a serious story. (Remember Gary Vosot!) What I mean is that you should have fun with the creative side of standups. Make it a challenge to outdo yourself. If you are in a newsroom that values good photography, editing and storytelling, then have some friendly competition with your fellow reporters. And again, when your story airs and it has a finished standup that you are proud of, find your photog and tell them how much you appreciate their efforts to make it that way. It’s your face on TV but it’s the team that creates standups that truly sizzle!