MediaStorm: Prime Time Publishing
Producers start by cutting audio, creating a “radio edit” of the story. Then they work with the journalist to craft a working narrative. A cohesive story emerges, and then it’s time to pair the images with the audio. For that, they use Final Cut Studio.
“Final Cut is our workhorse”, says Storm. “Our producers live inside Final Cut all day long. It’s a simple and powerful tool. It does everything you need it to do, yet I can teach a new producer how to create our type of project in a day”.
Images are exported out of Aperture at twice 1080p resolution, giving producers the flexibility they need to experiment with shots. “We pull everything into bins in Final Cut, and we use a lot of labelling to organise it”, says Storm. “It’s very simple: We use green for a picture that’s in, red for one that’s out, blue for a maybe. We have a very visual environment inside Final Cut to get things done quickly”.
A MediaStorm story can be like a flipbook, a series of stills strung together in sequence that animate an idea. But some are also sprinkled with storytelling video. “We work hard to make the seamless transition between the power of a still image and the immediacy of video”, says Storm. “Final Cut is a great tool for those transitions. It allows us to do a lot of experimentation. And with ProRes, it can handle all the different video formats we get from photographers”.
Raw images and video footage are often enough to keep viewers riveted to a MediaStorm piece. But sometimes you need a little animation to illustrate a point. Producers turn to Adobe After Effects to craft imagery for stories, from simple text to extensive graphics. “We created a wonderful map for ‘Kingsley’s Crossing’ that showed his path across Africa and into Europe”, says Storm. “Tools like After Effects let us put the finishing touches on a piece that can make a big difference”.
Music is a major part of any MediaStorm piece. “Music is so important”, says Storm. “At times it becomes the primary narrative of a piece. There are moments in the stories where it’s only music and pictures. The choice of music becomes very important to establishing the tone of the piece. It drives the pacing and emotion as much as any of the visuals”.
Producers usually work with independent composers and musicians to create soundtracks for their pieces. Music and vocals come together in Final Cut Studio and are tweaked and massaged with Soundtrack Pro.
MediaStorm is beginning to experiment with scoring its own pieces. “We’ve worked primarily with independent musicians and sound studios in the past, but we’re using Logic for the first time to score a piece that’s in production right now”, says Storm. “That’s what the tools are enabling us to do. With the Macs and Apple apps, we have tremendous freedom. Before, you may have needed 35 pieces of music gear and years of professional knowledge to even try writing a score. Now it’s just one piece of software [Logic Studio]. I think it’s enabling a creative approach that we’ve never seen before. It’s never been possible to do all the things that can be done now”.
Technically, a MediaStorm piece can be published or broadcast in any medium imaginable—from full 1080p HD to QuickTime. “In the end, everything we produce is a video file”, says Storm. “That allows us to produce a full-fidelity broadcast version. Then we encode it for the web, for iTunes podcasts, and for mobile devices like the iPhone. Most of our time goes into producing the project. Once it’s done, we can encode it and distribute it across multiple platforms. It’s a key element of our strategy”.
If every MediaStorm piece is ultimately a video, then why go through the trouble of using still photographs? “Still photographers spend quality time with their subjects, they have this fly-on-the- wall approach”, says Storm. “They end up capturing moments that you remember — they’re searing. Video is powerful, but it can be fleeting. Still photography allows you to contemplate a picture. You have the time to understand and reflect on a moment”.
It’s a formula that works extremely well. “Winning an Emmy for the ‘Kingsley’s Crossing’ piece was pretty important for us”, says Storm. “Essentially, the broadcast industry validated the power of still photography, and acknowledged that our technique can be a moving approach to storytelling”.
Storm is spreading those unique storytelling techniques to journalists and producers. MediaStorm offers several advanced workshops that teach the studio’s philosophy. “We focus on approach”, says Storm. “The workshops aren’t so much about learning how to use the tools, but how to craft compelling stories with them”. Storm also travels the globe, giving presentations on MediaStorm’s storytelling approach. “I hope it’s inspiring for people”, he says. “We can show them that it’s possible to create successful pieces without the backing of a huge publishing company. All you need is an idea and a Mac”.