VIDEO: Connected Through Loss

Visual journalist Erika Schultz found the incredible story of two military widows and their sons who have bonded over a shared sense of loss, and we published it for Memorial Day. I filmed it along with Erika Schultz and Corinne Chin, and I edited the story.

Two young military widows find strength in their shared stories as they struggle to keep the memory of their husbands alive for their 8-year-old sons. (Erika Schultz, Lauren Frohne and Corinne Chin / The Seattle Times)
See full story with text by Jack Broom on seattletimes.com

Coaching NPPA Multimedia Immersion 2014

UPDATE!
Check out this nice article Seth Gitner wrote in the current issue of NPPA’s NewsPhotographer magazine about Al Tielemans’ experience at this year’s workshop. Al was one of my students this year and it was such a pleasure to work with him.

I was fortunate enough to be invited back to coach at the NPPA Multimedia Immersion workshop again this year, now my second time coaching the workshop, May 11-18. I really love this workshop for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of the amazing kinship and bond everyone develops by the end of the week. The workshop is all about opening yourself up to learn new skills, being vulnerable, and supporting one another. It’s also a crazy busy week full of seminars and practice and shooting and editing and staying up all night to finish on Friday night, in time for the community screening on Saturday. That lack of sleep and delirium might also contribute to the overwhelming gratefulness and positivity at the end of the week.

The interesting, and probably most challenging, part of Immersion is that everyone starts from zero. People come in with varying experience with video (from a lot to never using a camera before except for their iPhone), so we start at the very beginning. And by the end of the week, every single one of the 40 participants publishes a story. So we see some major transformations over the week. It’s incredible. And exhausting. But so worth it.

This year, I was paired up to coach with Jeff Bradbury from SUNY-Oswego in upstate New York. We had four students: a commercial photographer who specializes in hospitality and food, a former magazine director of photography who recently launched his own production business, a web editor for the Newhouse School website, and a longtime shooter for Sports Illustrated. It was a group with varying skill sets and experience. And yes, I did stay up until 4am again helping the last of them finish.

While we typically don’t come out with award-winning masterpieces from this workshop, I can say that the skills and experience the participants gain and the amazing network of new colleagues and friends we all build — coaches and participants alike — throughout the week is really worth it.

Here are their stories as they premiered at the end of the workshop:

Open Society: Voices from Europe’s Working Class

Western Europe has undergone significant transformation over the past 40 years. Major manufacturing has given way to service industries, while the provisions of the welfare state have been rolled back. Debates about marginalization or inequality in Europe tend to center on its minority populations. But research by Open Society found that the majority in an economically deprived community could also be marginalized and victims of inequality -— in different ways, but with many of the same results.

ROLE:

  • Producer, story development, pre-production
  • Video editor for a total of 12 videos including an explainer on the issue

This multimedia project aimed to capture the voices of those in marginalized native or white working class communities in Manchester and Amsterdam who grapple with inequality, disenfranchisement and stereotypes in their daily lives.

Because of the sensitive nature of the project and the often negative portrayal of these communities in local media, access to the subjects was tough and limited. To solve this, we aimed to capture “video portraits” — short videos under two minutes that captured a sense of the person and focused on only one or two issues, rather than telling the subject’s entire story. The video portraits were filmed by Adam Patterson of Panos Pictures based out of Belfast, Ireland. Adam worked hard to find subjects in the communities, interview and make portraits of each participant. Below is a selection from the series.

Higher Blackley, Manchester: Hayley Courtney

Blauwe Zand, Amsterdam: Hennier Brouwer

Higher Blackley, Manchester: Jo Courtney

OVERVIEW EXPLAINER

See the rest of the Manchester portraits here
See the rest of the Amsterdam portraits here.

At Open Society: An Interview Series

“At Open Society” is a video series highlighting the people and ideas that are inspiring Open Society’s work and changing the world. Seeking to make the most of the myriad leaders, influencers, researchers and advocates who come through our building in New York, I worked with my colleagues in the Communications office to develop an interview series with a look and feel of its own. In it, we aimed to explore new ideas and perspectives in a highly shareable package. It provides a platform for a diversity of voices and topics as well as a constant flow of video content for Open Society Voices posts. For each video in the series, we work through how to package, write headlines and provide content for optimal shareability on social media platforms.

ROLE:
Series development, interviewer, videographer, sound recordist, and editor.
I also work with our lead copywriter to write accompanying blog posts for most of the videos in the series.


Why Do People Stereotype Black Men? Ask Your Brain. – Alexis McGill Johnson At Open Society


Torture: It Can Happen Anywhere – Juan Mendez At Open Society


A Young Filmmaker Shares His Past to Overcome It – Richard Memminger At Open Society


A Freedom You Can’t Take for Granted – Novelist A.M. Homes At Open Society


For Roma Families, a Racist Myth Returns with a Vengeance – Jim Goldston At Open Society

MORE:
A Modern-Day Robin Hood Takes Aim at Poverty – David Hillman At Open Society
The Tool for Success Every Student Should Have – Jake Hayman At Open Society

National Geographic: 101-year-old Weather Observer

Richard Hendrickson began recording weather observations for the National Weather Service when he was 18 years old. That was 84 years ago. Honored as the longest-serving weather observer for the United States, Hendrickson says, “It’s what I do for my country.”
Full story on NationalGeographic.com

Our fellow UNC alumna, Eileen Mignoni, hired Jessey and me to film for National Geographic with the amazing Richard Hendrickson as he received this award for his service as a weather observer. We traveled out on Long Island to the National Weather Service station in Upton, NY, and spent the day filming the festivities, the award ceremony, with Richard and his family, and also conducted an interview with Tim Morrin, the observation program leader. Eileen and Nacho edited the final piece, which offers an uplifting glimpse into Richard’s life and the meaning behind his service.

The Boston Globe: A Place to Grow

From her home in Newton, Mass., Filis Casey has traveled the world, lifting children out of the shadows and into adoptive homes. She has never seen anything like the problems plaguing Haiti, where the overwhelming misery can easily make an orphan’s plight invisible. But in the town of Kenscoff, buoyed by money from Casey’s foundation, a new orphanage is rising a few hundred yards from where children dwell amid a cluster of dusty buildings with leaking roofs and unfinished walls.

FULL CREDITS:
Camera and sound: Lauren Frohne
Photography and reporting: Suzanne Kreiter
Reporting: Brian MacQuarrie

Featured on The Boston Globe June 24, 2012.

Getting memed, upworthied, buzzfed, going viral… two years later…

The year 2013 was a definite reminder that stories published on the internet never die. It’s a new era in how news stories are seen and shared. Social capital is everything. Sometimes stories make the moderate, immediate splash within their newscycle. Sometimes the internet only catches on months, or even years, after it was originally published — typically because of new socially-amped sites like Upworthy and ViralNova. Sometimes, because of an update and real-time sharing tools, they resurge two years later to the open arms of the inspiration-hungry Twitter masses and a whole new audience is born.

The latter happened in the case of a story I worked on with reporter Billy Baker for The Boston Globe in December 2011 called Bus 19: The Way Up. It documents the experience of two teenaged brothers. Born to Vietnamese refugees, they were not only surviving in deep poverty and in a dangerous neighborhood, but also thriving in the top high school in Boston. They were steadfast on a path to success because of their own willpower and the help of some dedicated friends and mentors.

A few weeks ago on December 16, I got a text message from Billy: “George just got accepted into Yale. I can’t stop crying.” Tears. Lots of them.

On Twitter, he started rehashing his experience with the story and where it went once he published it. It was an open, genuine and moving account of just selfless human interest. Billy had a lot of followers then (he is known for finding the most interesting, bizarre, extreme and fringe stories in the newsroom), and he gained a lot more as his series of tweets was retweeted, favorited and Storified by thousands of people.

He linked to the story and the video. It was incredible how much it spread over the course of one evening.

The original story, when it was published two years ago, was met with an outpouring of support and donations to the boys and the youth center from the community in Boston. If I remember correctly, it only ran in its entirety on the subscription-based BostonGlobe.com, rather than the freely accessible Boston.com, so the audience was local and small. We thought it made a huge splash. The video had about 500-600 views, which was good in terms of our typical numbers.

By the middle of that week — December 18 or so — two years after the story was originally published on YouTube, the video had more than 80,000 views.

It’s really exciting. Their update and an interview, along with pieces from my video story, ran on the NBC Nightly News. People around the world learned their story, congratulated them, felt inspired and wanted to help them even more. It was amazing and humbling and I’m glad I was able to make a cameo in their lives so I could share in the joy of this moment with them.

But the other half of all this — as a content creator/filmmaker/journalist — is a humbling confrontation with the fact that every bit of content you put out there will live on forever. So you better be proud of every molecule of it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you should feel confident that you put everything you could into it. No regrets.

I will admit that I am slightly self-conscious about this video being so widely watched two years after I made it. Two years is a lot of time in an industry undergoing such rapid change. I was also the rookie at The Globe (I feel like I’m a rookie still now). It was a tough story that I had two weeks to work on (which was, in fact, a luxury at the time, the blessing of TWO FULL WEEKS in the world of a daily newspaper!). The reporter spent two months reporting it. There are parts I definitely could have shot better. Maybe I should have spent more time, could I have probed in the interview more, could I have dug deeper? I know I tiptoed a little through the documentation because these were high school kids, grappling with big issues, and trying desperately not to draw attention to themselves while they got through it. And there I was following them with a camera to school. About to publish their hardships and hope in a major metro newspaper.

I think I learned then, and again now, that the sacrifice of a few minutes of mutual discomfort and self-consciousness is worth it to do the thing right. Each scene you shoot builds a story, which portrays a message (intended or not), adds to a conversation or visual dialogue that affects the way people think about things and how they act toward others. And it’s not over the day it comes off the front page. So you better have worked your ass off to do it right. Because it is about real people with real lives to lead, it has your name on it, and it will live a lot longer than you.

Make it good. And then make it better.

And then let it go.

Up For Debate: Debate league steers students on a path to success

SUMMARY
Deverick knows how his life could have turned out if he hadn’t stuck with his studies: prison, drugs, or even death. Instead, he became a star on the Baltimore Urban Debate League team and went on to college. Now he coaches students like Kaela, who often come from complicated lives but are striving to be successful academically.

Many students, especially those in areas with a high degree of crime, like Baltimore, are pushed out of the classroom by “zero-tolerance” policies and into the juvenile justice system. These approaches harm all students, particularly children of color, students with disabilities and students identifying as LGBT.

Research shows that creating safe, nurturing learning environments where students can succeed helps divert the path away from negative outcomes. The Baltimore Urban Debate League helps students develop meaningful interactions with adults in their schools in addition to finding their own voice and expressing themselves.

FULL CREDITS:
Camera and sound: Errol Webber
Editing: Lauren Frohne
Music: Getty
Producers: Lauren Frohne and Maria Archuleta

– – – – – – –

This week, I declare victory on a long-fought battle. Getting this video published was among the greatest challenges so far in my time here at OSF. I won’t get into the details, but I’ll say that I’m proud of how it turned out. It’s come a long way.

Check out the post on the Open Society site : Is Harsh School Discipline Necessary? That’s Up for Debate

It was filmed by Baltimore-based cinematographer Errol Webber (www.cinnamontography.com), who did a nice job capturing moments as well as compelling scenes and well-composed interview set-ups. I edited it over the course of a couple months. The end result was a great indirect collaboration.

Unexpected stories in unlikely places

A few weeks ago, I helped out on a shoot with Talking Eyes Media. A client had asked them shoot an interview to be used in a video for their annual fundraising gala.

On the surface, that doesn’t seem like the most exciting thing in the world, but it’s always fun to get out of the routine and work with other people. Then I learned it was an NBA basketball player, which for someone who appreciates the stories within sports but does not at all follow professional sports, isn’t crazy exciting either.

It turned out to be Metta World Peace, otherwise previously known as Ron Artest. I had heard about him in the past, because he had some notorious encounters earlier in his career that you just hear about even if you don’t follow professional sports. But, I had no idea of how deeply his personal story ran or how much he’s worked to help young people who are growing up in circumstances like he did or his dedication to the issue of mental health.

That’s a really cool part of working on stuff like this, you stumble into some of the most surprising stories.

Here’s the video that the nonprofit made from the interview we filmed:

Tourist Destinations: Niagara Falls

Sometimes, it’s just really nice to indulge in a real touristy destination. We don’t do this a lot. But Jessey and I recently took a long weekend and drove the 7 hours up to Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls is a strange place. The actual waterfalls are amazing. Like you’re staring at a edge of the world. You can’t help but think of what the people who found that place thought, what it looked like before a city and attractions were built around it. Then the area around the falls is totally packed with soaring hotels, casinos and a huge version of every chain restaurant you can think of. A stark contrast with the natural beauty of the area that gives it a bit of a Las Vegas tinge. We brought our bikes (which is probably the best way to see any place in the world), so we rode around, seeking places to eat and drink off the main strip. We found dilapidated shuttered hotels and restaurants and a ghost town of a Main Street on an early Saturday night. Overall, it was a creepy combination to be housed all in one town: bustling tourism, natural wonder, abandoned and degraded town; I found it completely captivating.

It was so overwhelmingly visually, especially from certain angles, that I was compelled to film it (stills couldn’t capture it fully) and make a short film about it. It’s 3 minutes, but worth the indulgence.

See more images on my Tumblr.

Looking Past the Poverty: Life in Roma Ghettos

Before I began working for the Open Society Foundations, I had never really heard of the Roma people. Not many Americans have, from what I’ve gathered. Over the past year, in my capacity as a videographer and producer for OSF, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few Roma settlements in Europe. The experience has changed my perspective drastically. My whole idea of poverty, of modern-day discrimination, of cyclical deprivation, all of it, has been completely altered. It’s a topic I’ve become deeply interested in, in hopes of contributing to a changing narrative for these extremely marginalized people in Europe.

I was able to write an article for the OSF website about the experience of documenting in such extreme situations, based on an interview with Bjorn Steinz who has photographed these communities with me. Check it out on the OSF homepage while it’s still up. Or click on the image below to be taken to the article on the OSF site…

More images (a combination of mobile and DSLR photography) from the settlements I’ve documented…


Two dogs in the Roma settlement outside Moldava nad Bodvou, Slovakia. November 16, 2012.


Man in the neighborhood in Moldava nad Bodvou, Slovakia. November 16, 2012.


Children in a settlement outside of Moldava nad Bodvou, Slovakia. November 16, 2012.


A house in a Roma village in Frumușani, Romania. May 9, 2013.


Bjorn photographs a girl at home in Frumușani, Romania. May 9, 2013.


Villagers with their horses in Frumușani, Romania. May 9, 2013.


A housing project for Roma in Stara Tehelna, Slovakia. November 15, 2012.


A housing project for Roma in Stara Tehelna, Slovakia. November 15, 2012.


The settlement in Moldava nad Bodvou, Slovakia. November 16, 2012.

To learn more about the Roma people, check out Open Society’s explainer on the issue.

Disability Rights and Open Society

One of the best things about my job is that it challenges me to think differently about how I approach society, people and life generally. It’s easy for us to accept things the way they are or not even realize that we marginalize people. Over the past few months, I’ve produced a series of interviews about disability rights in the framework of human rights, a space in civil society that persons with disabilities are often left out of.

This is a video I produced (with still images by Andrew Testa of Panos Pictures) about Elizabeth Kamundia, a lawyer in Kenya who decided to tackle the challenge of advocating for persons with disabilities in her own country by becoming an expert on the issue through one of the Open Society Foundations scholarship programs:

See also:
Boaz Muhumuza: I Am Not a Problem to Be Solved
Lawrence Mute: A Question of Rights, Not Charity
Gerard Quinn: Disability Rights: An Important Test for Open Society

Spilling Over: July 2013 Update

My partner Jessey Dearing and I just returned from another filming trip for our ongoing documentary project Spilling Over. As often as we can, we travel down to Buras, Louisiana to spend time with the Arnesens, the central characters of the film. Check out the post on our Spilling Over blog for more details.


Kindra and little David look out into the marshes from the top of the boat as they return from offshore fishing all day with David. (Image by Lauren Frohne)

Film Synopsis:
SPILLING OVER is the story of a family losing control. The Arnesens are a commercial fishing family in Venice, Louisiana. After the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico struck their community in April 2010, their future took a drastic turn. As years pass after the disaster, we journey with the Arnesens through intimate moments and difficult changes as they struggle to redefine their future and take back control over their lives.

SPILLING OVER is not a film about the BP oil spill. It’s not about fishing or the environment. It’s not about lawsuits, claim checks, cover-ups or health impacts. SPILLING OVER is about family, and what happens when a family is pushed beyond their limits.