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|| News Item: Posted 2007-11-11

In The Bag: Multimedia Shooter Traveling In Beijing
By Nhat Meyer, San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Nhat Meyer's gear he took to Beijing to do both stills and video.
San Jose Mercury News reporter John Boudreau and I were sent to Beijing, China in June for two weeks to do stories that would run roughly one year before the 2008 Olympic Games are to start.

Two weeks may seem like a lot of time but it goes by quickly, we were working on five different stories, Beijing and the Olympics, migrant workers, Beijing Sports School, Beijing architecture and a travel story. I shot video and stills for each story.

We stayed at the Comfort Inn which was actually only 4 floors of a 12 story building which included a Hyundai dealership in the lobby and a karaoke bar on the second floor (I did not buy a car or go to the karaoke bar) and various other businesses on the other floors.

What did I bring with me:
Canon EOS-1d Mark II
Canon 20d
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 (doing a review for
Canon 16-35 f2.8
Canon 24-70 f2.8
Canon 70-200 f2.8
Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6
Canon 24 tilt shift f3.5
Sony HDV 1080i (the model I use was discontinued several years ago)
Edirol Roland R-09 audio recorder

On a daily basis I use my ThinkTankPhoto waist pack, but I wanted to be a bit more discrete so I used a backpack made by Under Armour, schwag from the New Mexico Bowl where the San Jose State University Spartans played and won their first bowl game in 17 years against the University of New Mexico Lobos. This is not "photo bag" and I had to make sure to pad it with clothing. The majority of the time I ended up taking the 20d and ditching the Mark II in the hotel safe because the 20d is smaller and more importantly lighter. I usually brought along the Canon 16-35 f2.8, 24-70 f2.8, 100-400 f4.5-5.6, audio recorder, both microphones and the video camera.

The majority of the time our "fixer" (a person who speaks the language and knows the city) named Ocean was with us to help guide us around the enormous city of more than 15 million. Some Chinese adopt English names while others literally translate their Chinese names into English and use them as their names. Part of our fixers name translates to Ocean, thus her name. One of her good friends is named Apple.

Beijing is really an urban suburban city - and I say that in the sense that it's really spread out like the suburbs but everywhere you go there are high-rises. We'd drive an hour or so and see nothing but high rises. I hear when Beijinger's visit the Bay Area they are surprised because buildings in the Silicon Valley for Internet Goliath's such as Apple, Yahoo!, Google, Cisco Systems, etc. are, for the most part, only four or five stories tall. The amount of tall buildings the Chinese are constructing is amazing.

Photo by John Boudreau / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by John Boudreau / San Jose Mercury News

Nhat Meyer in Beijing.
The Chinese government relaxed the rules for foreign journalists because of the Olympics. According to journalists I talked with you used to have to check in with government officials all the time and be approved by a government official to talk with basically anyone. For the Olympics they are pretty much giving foreign journalists carte blanche with whom they talk with (I'm talking in general terms of course, there are still many people that you still need to go through government channels to talk with). There is hope that once the Olympics are over that the same rules will remain in effect.

Most of the time John and I would travel around together. The main reason was because I wanted to gather audio and/or video from the people that he was interviewing to use with the videos I would be producing. I only wandered around the city on my own a couple of times. In the past this would not have been the case - I might have gone to some of the interviews but definitely not all of them.

We probably would have huddled a couple of times and made sure that we overlapped on our coverage - but when doing multimedia it's nice to have video and/or audio of the person the reporter interviews. I look at the multimedia as an accompanying piece to the story, not a mirror of it, that gives me quite a bit of freedom on what to focus on and how to build the piece.

During interviews I often took video and audio at the same time. I would record audio of the whole interview and take video sporadically. If the interview took an hour or more I didn't want to have an hours worth of video of a talking head - but I didn't know when the interesting quote would come along.

The majority of the time juggling between shooting video and taking stills wasn't too big of a deal because the activity would be on-going. One of the few times it was an issue was at the Beijing Sports School - we were given 15 minutes to shoot gymnastics and 15 minutes to shoot ping-pong. I didn't have the option of pulling stills from the video because the light was poor so I had to shoot both (pulling stills from HD video only looks good under ideal lighting conditions). Deciding which one to use is a lot like shooting in general, a lot of luck and a little bit of intuition.

For those of you lucky enough to go to Beijing for the Olympics, in less than a year, be prepared, It's gonna be hot - really hot, expect it to be in the high 90s to low 100s with quite a bit of humidity. We lucked out the first week because it was unseasonably cool - but the second week it was blazing hot. Also expect it to run a lot smoother than the Athens Olympics.

Photo by Nhat Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

Photo by Nhat Meyer / San Jose Mercury News

A group from the University of Puerto Rico has their picture taken in front of the "Bird's Nest" in Beijing, China on Tuesday, June 12, 2007.
To be fair it did run smoothly in Athens, but not until the second week! Expect Beijing to run smoothly from the second you set foot on the ground. Unlike Athens where they were still working on venues the day before the Olympics started, in China all venues are planned to be completed by the first of the year. Once the venues are completed several events are already planned which will allow them to practice for the Olympics.

Taxi drivers are required, yes required, by the government to learn some English. And many volunteers have been training for the Olympics since January of 2007, some even longer than that.

After working 28 days straight on Bonds watch (756), it ended on a Tuesday night, the next day I had four days to produce four videos - the first day was spent downloading and going through 13 tapes, close to 11 hours of video (I had done a little bit beforehand), and talking with John about doing some narration.

The second day was spent recording John's narration for the four videos: Beijing and the Olympics, Beijing Sports School, migrant workers and architecture (the fifth travel story is to run in December).

The third day was spent editing the narration and starting to assemble the stories together. The final fourth day, Saturday, a 12+ hour day, I spent churning out the videos so that they could go live by Saturday night - for Sunday's paper. I wish I had had more time to produce them and really make them swanky, but I did the best I could considering the time constraints.

To view the videos produced during the trip to Beijing:

(Nhat Meyer is a staff photographer with the San Jose Mercury News.)

Related Links:
Nhat's member page
Videos from Beijing

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