Friday, April 06, 2007

Power of Picture

Radio show host Ira Glass has gotten me to think about the power of videography.

This American Life is delving into visuals. This American Life has been a radio show on Chicago Public Radio for a long time and features the lives of everyday people. It’s a time when normal citizens tell their stories, and the listeners are inspired, humored or sometimes disheartened. The new television series recently debuted on Showtime network and follows the same format as the radio show.

Being a faithful NPR listener, my dad received a sneak peek DVD of This American Life's new TV series, which he then gave to me to watch.

The DVD features a man and his love for his pet and business partner-- a bull named Chance. Eventually (to sum up the story) after a cloning and a couple attacks, the man ends up with 80 stiches in his crotch and fractured spine.

“I’m going to walk out of here tomorrow or the next day and get right back out there and give him a bucket of feed. I mean that’s what you have to do. If it was easy, there’d be a bunch of kids out there taking care of bulls.” he says. He’s talking from the heart. His voice is compelling.

But seeing the man’s face adds another dimension. When the man’s quote is played again with video, we see that the man is in a hospital bed. He has gray hair and dark circles around his eyes. His eyes look down every so often and a look on his face betrays to us that he might talk tough, but he’s worn out.

Despite my skepticism at first, I think the show will succeed because of its innovation.

Like the radio show, the anecdotes that are told are true-stories. They're presented in a way that is a mix between films and typical news packages. Ira Glass narrates the stories and the story is driven by the interviews and the visuals. But the stories transcend the norm. The interviews aren’t conducted against a studio backdrop, music and sounds affects are added in at times and the narration is much more casual.

Surprisingly, the cinematographic elements in the story are as impressive as the narrative itself. Another example is a story that was inspired by a Death Cab for Cutie music video. The stories are sometimes shot wide-screen; There are scenes where still graphics are layered on top of each other to add more movement.

It was good-timing in terms of watching this DVD. Working on a Web cast this week, our group had to try and figure out how to get away from an ordinatry newscast and integrate more creativity into a story. I'm so used to watching local news and their typical news packages that are many times just thrown together because of deadline that I was amazed at this other way of visual story-telling. Ironically it's show that originated in radio.

Host Ira Glass says, "I had realized just how dumb I had been," when he talks about using images. I think the same applies to me and my realization that there is power to the different ways of showing pictures.


At Friday, April 06, 2007, Blogger KY said...

My film classes delved into this subject and I have also always been interested in the power of visuals. We talke a lot about visuals actually spark all senses, in the sense that all good pictures provide the taste, smell, and feel of the subject. A good visual story stimulates all senses and I think it's really advantageous for Chicago Public Radio to join this movement. It also means that the media is integrating more creative ways to tell stories, which is a process that people generally take for granted.

At Friday, April 06, 2007, Blogger MK said...

Having the benefit of seeing some of this program, I was very encouraged by what I saw. For a show with rather normal content - someone's story - the move to TV means they need to push the boundaries visually. It will be interesting to see if they continue to use different directors to bring about a unique vision while still maintaining a consistent feel for the overal series. But there are great opportunities to vary the style episode by episode. I was never a huge fan of "This American Life" on radio (mostly because I don't like Ira's voice), but the little I've seen of the TV program was fantastic. It's a winning formula that will hopefully keep evolving and pushing convention!

At Saturday, April 07, 2007, Blogger MW said...

Don't forget, the greatest filmmaker in cinematic history came from radio.

When Orson Welles went over to RKO, he brought with him innovations that were originally developed on radio, but he wasn't blind to the fact that film was a VISUAL medium. Granted, he also had a theater background and incorporated that into his filmmaking, but many filmmakers before him also had theater backgrounds, and unlike them, he didn't direct his features like he was filming a play.

It seems like This American Life is avoiding the same mistakes others have made when crossing over to other mediums - instead of just doing a "TV version" of their radio show, they're actually exploring the visual possibilities of television, and they're doing it with the same level of creativity and taste witnessed in their radio programs.

To be fair, Glass has the luxury of time. That first episode took years to make, and while Glass is set to make 30 more episodes, those will spread out over the next 4 years. Then again, the amount of time you give someone doesn't matter if they don't know how to use it; fortunately Glass hasn't wasted the opportunity.

At Saturday, April 07, 2007, Blogger mm said...

I adore This American Life. The radio program's deliberate pace and crackling soundbites made me laugh, cry and think. But I'm not sure I can have this intimate experience with a cool medium, such as television.
A theorist named Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, "The medium is the message." He said radio was a hot medium that engaged your senses intensely, while television allowed for more cursory consumption. The more I think about his ideas, the more I believe he's right. This American Life has to learn how to translate well on the small screen.
I agree with ky, the producers of the TV version of This American Life could achieve glittering success. But they'll have to continue to use visual aesthetics to keep viewers' attention.


Post a Comment

<< Home