Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Interviewing In Translation

My house was filled with Nicaraguans.  The sounds of Spanglish and laughter rose and fell like waves on a beach. 

A group of five Nicaraguans were visiting St. Louis for a week. They live in a small village in the mountains called Plan Grande Dos. Eight years ago my two adolescent sons and I traveled to Plan Grande Dos with the Nicaragua Community Partnership, a St. Louis based group. We’ve been going ever since. And every other year a group from the village visits St. Louis. 

When asked about the trips I often hesitate. They’re not about building houses, or wells; they’re about a process of accompaniment. We make tortillas together, we thrill at the progress of their coffee plants, we create a “spa day” with the village women. When the “delegation” recently visited St. Louis we made sandwiches together and walked down to the local funky retail strip. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together, and had ice cream before bed.

It’s a powerful relationship that has shaped all our lives with understanding and love.

On the last day of the group’s visit to St. Louis, I interviewed each of them on camera about their experiences.

I have been doing on-camera interviews for many years. I have worked hard to become good at it. My projects tend to have warm, lively interview footage as a result. I consider it a specialty.

Interviewing in translation poses special problems.

I always use a translator for interviews with non-English speakers. The rhythm of the interview and the rapport are critical. The translator normally sits just off to one side, preferably at my shoulder. The camera is positioned off my other shoulder. I ask the question in English; the translator repeats the question in the native language. I maintain focus on the interview subject as the question is being asked. The interviewee then responds directly to me. I never break eye contact even though I have no idea what is being said. I smile like there’s no tomorrow, keeping the focus and energy moving between the subject and me. I have the translator repeat the answer in my ear. Even as she is translating, I never break eye contact with the interviewee. When it’s done well, the conversation is seamless, a wonderful triangulation of words and expressions.  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Web Video

Statistics claim that web video, when executed properly, can triple your opt-in rate at that critical moment when viewers decide to explore or leave your site, and that viewers are far more likely to pass the word to others via viral marketing.

This is essential information for higher education clients.

Recently a prominent University ask us to create a series of web videos—and I was reminded of a recent web video campaign we produced for Washington University School of Law.

The School of Law had a beautifully designed website full of essential information for prospective students. However the University is located in the Midwest, and applicants from the East and West coast believe buffalo still roam the streets. Our charge was not to recreate information on the website, but to showcase St. Louis--the city, parks, and neighborhoods.

We shot the videos on a Vericam with Dave Rutherford as the DP. In the example you’ll see below, we focused on neighborhoods. I love the opening students quote, she's walking by her favorite Chocolate shop--Bissingers.

In the end the client was pleased. Mary Ann Clifford, Assistant Dean of Admissions, said “When I‘ve been traveling around the country visiting with prospective students who have not been to St. Louis, I just tell them to take a look at the videos to get an idea of what it is like here. They really highlight so much of what is wonderful about Washington U, our students, and St. Louis.”

Let’s hope the next series produces the same reaction!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Last Interview

This summer I produced and directed a program for Clayco, a major design-build firm headquartered in St. Louis. Clayco has worked with Washington University in St. Louis for years; the program celebrated several of the outstanding buildings they have created together.

As part of the project, we interviewed Dean James McLeod, a man I’ve known for nearly twenty years.  

Dean McLeod hired me that long ago to direct a video for the John B. Ervin Scholars Program. This nationally eminent program began as an effort to foster a diverse educational environment on the WU campus. Over the years the scholars were consistently challenged to lead and to commit to an ethic of service. I produced many programs for the Ervin Scholars. More than once I heard Jim quote Dr. Ervin to the incoming scholars: “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Like Dr. Ervin, Jim always gave of himself with intelligence and compassion. He touched the lives of thousands of students—including my own two sons.

The university recognized his contributions by creating the McLeod Scholars Program, an undergraduate scholarship endowment. In May of this year three students were named as inaugural McLeod Scholars.

I am so sad to report that Chancellor Wrighton has just informed the Washington University community that James Earl McLeod passed away this afternoon.

The news is devastating.

Yet I know that his legacy will live on.

After our interview in June, Jim laughed and wrapped things up by saying, “It’s time for me to go.” And then this charming, gracious man picked up his black umbrella and headed out into the rain. Off he walked in the direction of Brookings Hall. An essential image of Jim McLeod.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

PTSD in Older Veterans

I’m proud to say my father-in-law was a JAG or Judge Advocate General’s Corps just after WWII. He’s been on my mind as I recently finished a program for the Veteran’s Affair’s Medical Center titled “PTSD in Older Veterans.”

The program, designed for caregivers, takes my breath away. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or “PTSD” can occur among members of the armed services who experience combat, have been exposed to injured or dead comrades, or who have suffered other traumatic experiences.

Although my father-in-law has no symptoms of PTSD, one of the main concerns of the VA is that our Veterans often go years--or decades--before they can admit to the symptoms. They are in great need of our support and understanding.

The series was directed by Bobby Miller, I acted as executive producer. If you’re interested in more from this series, just let me know.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

HealthCare: Aging In Isolation

Several years ago I received a grant from The Quality of Life Committee of Alexian Brothers of Missouri to produce a program on Aging in Isolation. My collaborator, Joan Johnson, introduced me to the critical importance of social contact in late life and together we sought to tell this important story. The short documentary is titled "Aging In The Shadows."

Casting was a difficult challenge. We wanted the program to have emotional depth and feature individuals impacted by living alone. We sought seniors from diverse socio-economic and racial backgrounds while considering the various “causes” of isolation such as physical, circumstantial, family related or personal. Lastly we evaluated the ability to bring connections into each life to make a difference. In the end, "Aging In The Shadows” featured three individuals whose life challenges were significant.

Our "casting" included Charlie, an 87 year old man who recently lost his wife. Charlie lived in a nursing home surrounded by people but his hearing loss was accelerating, damaging his ability to participate in conversations with his daughters, family and friends. He sat by himself in a room full of people.

William had a son who “stole his money” and abandoned him. His resentment was passing but he still had issues of trust.

Donna earned a doctorate degree from Washington University in St. Louis but was without a husband or children. She was living alone in an apartment and I soon discovered—drinking every day.

Aging In The Shadows features the insights and experiences of faith leaders, healthcare professionals, social service agencies, gerontologists and caregivers who are becoming increasingly concerned about the growing issue of isolation in our aging population. It’s a program that demonstrates how community comes together to break down attitudinal barriers about the elderly. In the end we hope viewers will discover ways to enhance and enrich the lives of our older adults…and one another.

The DVD can be ordered free of charge from:

Alexian Brothers of Missouri
c/o Alexian brothers Sherbrooke Village
4005 Ripa Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63125

Monday, July 18, 2011

Branded Entertainment for Ford Motor Company

I’m excited to share one of my current Branded Entertainment webisodes created for Ford Motor Company. Designed to promote Ford’s Transit Connect compact commercial van, this innovative web series goes beyond traditional advertising. We created an immersive brand experience by providing relevant and entertaining content to a targeted audience—small, mobile, business owners.

DRIVEN: Business Advice from the Road introduces host Mario Armstrong to small business owners across the country. He spent time observing their business practices and and provided valuable advice. The webisodes are running on over 250 small business websites including ItsYourBiz.com

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Why didn’t I think of starting a blog sooner?  Perhaps because I’ve been busy making programs for clients, schmoozing Hollywood contacts, and generally working my tail off. Now, here I find myself, with a new opportunity, creating a new creative company to produce onscreen stories and branded entertainment. Blogging here I come!

What to blog about?  In my case the easiest thing to write about is production, because that’s what I do. I’ve been a producer for a long time. Just after college I started producing and directing. (I’m the oldest of five siblings; it came naturally.)

I’ve been lucky over the years. I've produced a reality series for Lifetime titled I Married a Princess.  I've directed the communication efforts of the X PRIZE Foundation. I've documented the grim reality of aging in isolation for the Alexian Brothers Foundation; that show, Aging in the Shadows, garnered an Emmy nomination.

But the key is persistence. A good friend, Robb Weller, says “We’re not in the production business, We’re in the rejection business.” Tenacity is a prerequisite.

Images: Mike Melvill celebrates atop SpaceShipOne on September 29, 2004, having completed the first leg of the Ansari X PRIZE competition. Photo by RenegadeAven.