January 7th, 2011

I love looking at other people’s work, especially multimedia. Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele, a husband-wife creative team, recently produced a piece on chert. “Chert?” you might ask. Yes, chert. It’s a rock that’s easily shaped into stone tools historically used by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest, and there’s a stash of it in the heart of the rugged North Cascades.

Benjamin and Sara are using the new tools of today’s evolving media industry, and I was noting the techniques they used, the pacing, the music, and how the story gets told. Afterward, I wanted to know about the business end of it; how did they get the work? How did they budget it? How did they manage the multiple roles?

While it’s still a tough time for the editorial market (and commercial, too), it’s also exciting because of multimedia, social media, and the hardware and software allowing small teams to become full production studios.

It’s about tools, style, and…chert. Read the interview and learn about the tools from today, and days gone by.

Watch the video and click through the jump for the interview! Post to comments if you’ve more questions.

How did this project come about? Were you sought out or did you pitch it?
The Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission (SEEC) contacted us. They were interested in a piece that would further their mission to promote education, research, collaboration and cross-border stewardship of the Upper Skagit Valley. We pitched the idea of Hozomeen chert as a story that would meet their objectives and provide a tangible access point to the area.

What is the planned distribution for this project? Do you feel the client is maximizing the potential for multi-platform distribution of multimedia?
The piece will be featured on the SEEC and Park Service websites as well as distributed via DVD and shown in live presentations. They were excited by the multimedia approach as it provides an agile set of storytelling tools that can be leveraged across a range of platforms.

Was there a marketing and/or social media plan behind it?
Not that we’re aware of, as the primary audience is existing stakeholders.

009SEEC1582How did the funding come together?
Costs were shared between SEEC and Seattle City Light.

When you developed the budget, did you work from a traditional still photography budget, a video budget, or did you define something specific to multimedia?
Our multimedia budgets are usually divided into fieldwork and post production. We try hard to keep the field costs low and create incentives for multiple shoot days. This enables us to increase our coverage, build deeper relationships with our subjects and have more scenes to build the story from. It also helps to differentiate our work from the tight deadlines of traditional journalism. Ultimately, we think more field time provides the client with a more thorough, authentic and compelling story.

How well did the client understand the budget; were they more interested in broad strokes or minute details about costs?
Our client was fantastic to work with and did not micromanage the project in any way.

How did the scripting work out for you and the client? Were you given true documentary freedom or did the client have a list of points and require revisions?
We had a great amount of documentary freedom. Early on we outlined the main themes, key characters, locations and scenes. They accompanied us on one of the first field days, and a few months later we sent them the finished piece, which was immediately approved. From our perspective, it was ideal!

How did you decide to use video or stills?
I knew from the beginning of this project that we would have a lot of visual time to fill because of the amount of information we had to communicate. It was also clear there would be very few action scenes that would produce good sequences of stills. Thus I shot more video than I typically do because of it’s ability to fill out the story.

007SEEC0288You and your wife, Sara Joy Steele, work as a team; how do you break down your roles?
In the field, Sara works as the producer, leads the interviews and records all the audio. I create the images and video. In post production, Sara transcribes and cuts a radio edit that we refine together before I build out the visual sequence in FinalCut. We’ll often shake things up and change these roles, too.

Many multimedia producers use stock RF music, and can spend days looking for the right piece. Your brother, Nick Drummond, is a singer songwriter; did he compose the music specifically for the piece or had he already written it? If he composed it, how was it to work with a musician?
Working with Nick is amazing! In this case he wrote the music specifically for the story after reviewing the radio edit. We’ve also dug through his ever-evolving collection of unfinished motifs and melodies to find something appropriate for a story we’re working on. For me, the most exciting step of post-production is laying in the music; it’s often transformational and incredibly emotive.

You’ve used time lapse in some of your other work. Is this a visual tool you like to employ for landscapes? What do you feel it brings to a piece? Are there other visual techniques you like to use?
Time lapse is one tool among many, and as with all tools, there should be a reason for using it. In this case, we wanted to evoke the passage of time, because the Hozomeen area has been used by people for over 10,000 years. The aerials also helped us give a sense of scale and the greater landscape, though we had to contend with tricky flight restrictions due to Hozomeen’s location near the Canadian border.

010SEEC2293What’s next on the horizon for you?
We’ve just finished a short piece for the National Park Service and have four new pieces in production for our new Facing Climate Change series. There are a number of exciting projects lined up for 2011 – we’ll have more to share soon!

(Post to comments if you’d like to ask Benjamin, or Sarah, more about this project).

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  1. […] Tim Matsui interviewed Benj about our new story for his blog, The Chronicles. I love the connection Tim makes between old tools, like the ones made out of Hozomeen chert, and […]


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