The Hudson Villas video is probably my favorite story I’ve produced since starting Your Story Media (YSM) in the spring of 2015. Our goal is to take a documentary style approach to every video regardless of length. So whether it’s two minutes (like Hudson Villas) or an eight-minute production, YSM is always looking for ways to tell an engaging and emotional story…something you might even see on the big screen.
Hudson Villas is the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless’ permanent supportive housing program. It helps individuals and families transition from being homeless to living on their own. The residents have to meet certain guidelines before they get their own place. Needless to say, it’s a huge improvement in their lives and something of which the Day Center is extremely proud.
The Message the Day Center Wanted to Communicate
Sandra Lewis, the Executive Director of the Day Center, had two goals for the video.
1) Showcase the facility
2) Celebrate the residents who are turning their lives around
To accomplish this, we decided the most effective way to get the message across was to talk to the residents. We interviewed two residents, Carol Denny and Jeff Harden. I was very moved after hearing their stories. After talking to them I discovered that Carol has battled depression for most of her life. It got so bad she lost everything and had to learn how to live with the depression and start over. Jeff became homeless 30 years ago after the tragic death of his wife and unborn child. He spent the last three decades roaming the country and mostly living under bridges. Both of their stories were extremely moving and personal but we only had two minutes to tell the story so, as a producer some hard decisions get made in the editing process and some details had to be left out.
The Way I Produce Videos
I spent nearly 25 years in radio and television and have had the opportunity to interview hundreds of people. Actually, “interview” doesn’t really describe what I do because basically, I just had conversations with people. I don’t pepper an interviewee with questions, we just talk. As a result, I quickly learned how to listen…why do people feel the way they do, what are they proud of, what does their story mean in the big picture? Something all good journalists also pick up quickly is recognizing a good sound bite. In this case, when Jeff started talking about the comparisons between living under a bridge and living at Hudson Villas I knew exactly how I would start the video…show a bridge and paint a picture in the viewer’s mind about how uncomfortable it would be to live like that. I then made sure to transition to Hudson Villas and show the warmth it gives its residents.
Finding the Right Bridge
I had the perfect bridge pictured in my mind, I just didn’t know where it was. I knew I wanted a bridge that had active traffic above and little traffic below. The less traffic below it, I thought, helped show desolation and solitude.
The Right Music Can Make All the Difference
All the while I was planning the opening sequence I was thinking of the music bed. I wanted something that started out almost mysterious but then built to a positive and powerful end. Finding music can be one of the longest processes in making a video, you literally have to listen to song after song after song until you find the right one. However, in this case, I was extremely lucky. I only listened to a handful of songs before I found what I wanted. It was a little longer than I needed but I knew that could be fixed in the audio post production process. When you watch the video you’d never know that nearly a minute of the song was cut out of the middle.
So now I had a song and the opening sequence planned. After about an hour of driving around, I found the bridge I was looking for on the west side of Tulsa, Highway 75 and 41st St. The street below was wide enough to safely set up a camera and the scene underneath the bridge was, simply put, dreary.
Adding Emotion to Video Using the Elements and Environment
I shot the video around 7pm, late enough that the sun was setting but still high enough in the sky. I then chose to shoot into the sun. Usually, you shoot with the sun at your back in order to have light on your subject. But in this case I wanted the sun to be uncomfortable in the viewers eyes, plus it provided long shadows that added to the overall desolate scene.
I decided to use a long shot that slowly rolled into focus (rack focus is the industry term) to start the story. I thought it went well with the music and spoke to the loneliness of living under a bridge. It took me several tries to finally get the shot I was looking for, a smooth rack focus with only a few cars driving under the bridge. One of my favorite shots in that entire sequence is near the end when you see the whiskey sloshing around, inside the bottle. I had tipped the bottle over to pour out some of the whiskey and decided to keep the camera rolling, I just got lucky that I placed it back into frame and that just enough whiskey continued to loop around the bottle opening. I never even noticed it until I was able to look at the video during editing. A great example of how luck beats talent every time!!!
Using a Drone in Video Production
This video also marks the first time I used drone footage. I partnered with a former KOTV photojournalist who started his own aerial photography company, Midwest Drone Productions. Todd Ruffin had recently purchased a new drone and was anxious to test it out. We met on a hot and humid July afternoon outside Hudson Villas. We discussed a number of shots and had a lot of fun flying the drone over and across the facility. The thing with drone footage is you only need to use a few shots to add a little spice to the video. I’ve learned that if you add too much the viewer quickly gets bored, too little and the viewer wants to see more, so you have to find the right balance. Incorporating drone footage in a way that enhances your video truly is an art.
The Video Editing Process
The editing process for this video didn’t take as long as I anticipated. I already had the opening sequence planned, I just need to make sure the timing was right, and I knew which sound bites I was going to use from Jeff, Carol, and Sandra. It was important for Sandra to show the people living at Hudson Villas so I made sure to include lots of shots of people just doing what they do…there was a life class, a resident sitting at a computer, Carol working in her garden, etc.
I was really pleased with how the final product came out. There was only one sequence that didn’t make it to the final product because of time constraints. It showed Jeff walking to his mailbox and beaming with pride that he had an actual mailbox with his name on it. You don’t have mailboxes when you live under a bridge. Luckily, I was able to use that sequence in another video for the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless.
This video was definitely a labor of love for me. It challenged my creative soul and I was able to meet some people who are beginning new chapters in their life. It was an honor to tell this story.
And without further ado, I present The Tulsa Day Center: Hudson Villas video:
Thanks for reading & watching!