I am on vacation — and out of commission — for the next two weeks, so I wanted to use this space as a vehicle for reflection.
Since I started the Telling The Story blog last winter, I have written extensively about lessons about storytelling. Many of those have been learned through my own work as a reporter for WXIA-TV/11Alive in Atlanta. Here are three of the moments that stand out to me, along with brief snippets from the posts themselves:
Tad and Mary, and the quest to capture emotion on camera: Last April I was introduced to Tad Landau and Mary Wood. They are not famous; they are not what my producers would call “a big get” as far as stories are concerned. But they do share a beautiful friendship — and an unusual one, at that.
Landau is a firefighter for DeKalb County in Georgia. Wood is an elderly woman in his district whose 911 call two years ago was answered by Landau’s team.
The 911 call turned out to be a somewhat false alarm, but upon arriving at Wood’s house, Landau met a woman with little means or support and no living family in the area. She needed help in many ways but did not feel she could turn to anyone.
Landau changed that.
He became a friend and de facto aide for Wood, coming by her house regularly — often on shift breaks with his team — to make peanut butter sandwiches and help her sort through bills. He continues to visit faithfully and, if he does not see Wood on a given day, he hears from her on the phone.
On this surface, this was a nice story about an unique friendship. But I knew it would only work on television if I could capture that friendship organically on camera — a challenge made even steeper when I learned from Landau that Wood was very nervous about it.
But once we started rolling, it all came together.
Wood turned out to be a firecracker of a personality — an irrepressible octogenarian who quickly got used to my presence and, at least outwardly, did not worry whatsoever about being recorded. And when she saw Landau, she started glowing — no inhibitions at all.
In fact, she took advantage of my presence, making sure she said repeatedly on-camera how much she appreciated this godsend of a gift in her life.
A few days later, I attended Wood’s 90th birthday party — which Landau had organized — and again found her totally unfettered by the presence of a camera. She stole the show, and more importantly for the story, the pair allowed their friendship to shine through in a genuine fashion.
I simply did my best not to fight it. I got to know Wood by spending time with her, and I allowed both people to get comfortable with telling me their story. Then I got out of the way; in the story, I acknowledged their various on-camera winks and nods while staying in the background when those beautiful, organic moments arrived. (more…)