Reverse averse

When I went through the TV sequence in journalism school (U. of Mo. ’79), they issued guidelines for shooting TV interviews.  Among them:  When the interview is over, shoot a two-shot, then shoot a reverse.

In recent days, I’ve learned that ol’ Mizzou got it completely wrong.

Fig. 1: Bad TV

The two-shot shows the interviewer and interviewee together, typically a wide shot framed from behind the reporter’s head. The reverse is the same shot, framed from behind the interviewee.  It’s a shot often lampooned, typically showing the reporter gazing thoughtfully at the interviewee or nodding his head inappropriately.

Until I worked at WXIA, most photographers with whom I worked were of the Mizzou mindset:  Shoot the two shot and the reverse.  It’s a no-brainer.

As a newcomer, I noticed WXIA photogs never shot reverses, unless the reporter specifically asked.  Such a request would typically lead to a snort / smirk that non-verbally said:  Oh, you want to see yourself nodding, eh pretty boy?

I finally questioned this with a well-respected, exceptionally-talented WXIA photog, a guy with NPPA credentials who nonetheless waves the NPPA flag very guardedly.  He was blunt:  I don’t shoot reverses.  Never have, never will– unless the reporter specifically asks for it, or unless I’ve concluded that there are extraordinary circumstances that demand a reverse.

It’s lousy TV, he said.  If you need a cutaway — a shot that conceals an edit during an interview (not to hide the edit from viewers, but to give the story a cleaner look), I’d rather use video from the story to cover the edit.  There’s always a better way to cover an edit than by using a reverse.  If your story requires a reverse, then your story is probably visually flawed from the outset.  I strive to avoid that.

He also said reverses are “staged,” and look it.  If the reporter’s presence in the interview is important, then shoot the interview with two cameras.

Why on earth would you want a reverse? 

Four reasons:

- Sometimes you don’t have a better option editing-wise, if you need to use a cutaway during an interview clip.  I’d much rather see a reverse than the overused white flash, for example.

- Sometimes you don’t want to divert the story, visually, away from the interview at that particular moment by using b-roll.

- Reverses maintain / add the presence of the reporter in the story.  This is local news.  It ain’t Frontline, and we rarely do two-camera shoots.

- Why not?  You’re there with a camera.  Shooting a reverse takes almost no additional work.  If you need it, you’ve got it.  (If you’re a one man band, shooting a reverse is pretty impractical.)

My opinion:  Shooting the reverse should be the default procedure, unless waived off by the reporter.  It eliminates the awkward “hey, shoot a picture of my mug” moment in front of an interviewee.

The photog, a great American whose work I admire and whose company I enjoy tremendously, was completely puzzled by my piss-poor reasoning.  “I learned it in J-School,” I stammered as my flawless logic and persuasive abilities dissolved into a pathetic heap of mush.

“They sure didn’t teach that at the University of Georgia,” he answered.

Welcome to the SEC, pretty boy.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form, zero, zilch, nada. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

13 thoughts on “Reverse averse

  1. turdpolishertv

    I hate the 2-shot and the reversal! They are the laziest, most boring shots in all of television. They serve little purpose other than to badly cover a spliced bite. That said, I always shoot a 2-shot just in case I’ve got nothing else. It almost always ends up on the cutting room floor.

    Unless specifically asked, I never shoot the reversal. You’ll get your facetime in the stand-up.

    What I will do, is change focal lengths and camera angles during the interview to vary the look. Sometimes it’s a wide shot of the guy at his desk, or standing in his field, or doing whatever he’s doing. Sometimes it’s a shot that includes the reporter. Sometimes it’s super tight. It’s all about variety and how the story feels. I’ll also shoot a couple questions at him (sometimes some of the same ones the reporter asked) while I’m shooting video of him doing whatever it is we’re there to shoot. The answers are usually better, and again, it gives me another option in the edit booth.

    Both of your shots are in my gadget bag, but I do everything I can to never use them.

    Reply
  2. BudV

    A reverse shot is a tool like any other. Well executed and used, it’s an asset, poorly executed and used, it’s an SNL routine.

    Reply
  3. Bill Hartman

    The guys at 60 minutes aren’t faking it. They are shooting reporter with second camera. Reporter reaction to a sound bite actually happens.

    Reply
  4. Zach

    I one-man-band almost every day and about 75% of the time shoot a two shot, but never do a reverse. It’s really easy with a flip screen, so why not? If I know my story my be visually challenging, I know I have that one shot that can help me out. Something I’ve been doing a lot more of lately in the same vein, is putting the camera on the ground, going wide and walk and chat with my interview subject towards the camera. It’s essentially a two shot but always much more aesthetically-pleasing. Sometimes I even get another good sound bite out of him/her, too.

    Reply
  5. Kiet Do

    It always irked me when photogs accuse reporters of trying to get more facetime. Trust me, it’s not about that with me. I’ve done plenty of stories with no liveshot and no standup. So stop playing that ridiculous card. That said, I’ll ask for a reverse shot, only if I hear two bites that I know I will have to butt together. It doesn’t bother me that photogs don’t automatically shoot it. And I do agree that it does look fake sometimes.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Take a drink of booze everytime you Laura Logan in a reverse shot or a walking shot..you’ll be drunk within 5 min.

    Reply
  7. Tavo

    I think that in a TV universe that increasingly relies more and more on pool or affiliate video or when the reporting is done by producer/photog, it is good practice to at least have a two shot showing the reporter with the subject to establish his or her part on the story. I also like it better than a stand-up. When I was a photog I knew the two shot would come in handy in quick edits but it did annoy me when the reporter would ask that I used the reverse shot instead of better broll. Now that I’m both, behind and in front of the camera, I try to get the two shot to establish that I did the reporting because I rarely shoot a stand-up.

    Reply
  8. Jon Samuels

    Hello there, I’m the difficult, non-reverse shooting photojournalist in question. Doug & I thought it would be valuable to post my position in a little more detail. Here ya go:

    1) I have and do shoot reverses. My opinion is not absolute. Reverses are a tool, like any other in storytelling. And of course, I think there’s a time and place for them.
    Big sit-down interviews, where you’re questioning the subject for example. Reversals just aren’t a standard part of my shooting regimen. Meaning no, I don’t shoot them every time I shoot an interview. Sometimes, there are other, better ways to convey presence. It’s not laziness. It’s a choice.

    2) Presence. It doesn’t have to be the obligatory over the shoulder shot of the reporter nodding in approval, long after the interview is over. When we want to hear what the reporter is saying as well as see them, sure, that can be a reversal and probably should be. But, it can also be a well-framed 2-shot from a different angle.
    You can get out of the office, to a place that makes sense for the story. It doesn’t have to be so compartmentalized. And if you’re stuck in a office, and you’re just sitting there, not asking questions in a reversal, I think some creative cutaways show just as much presence and look a bit better. Sometimes we all get caught in that automated trap. Interview, 2-shot, reversal. Ok, we’re good. When in fact, maybe it isn’t so good.

    3) Ultimately, it’s about good storytelling. If shooting a reversal helps achieve that goal, then reverse away! I contend that there’s almost always a better way. If you’ve boxed yourself into a corner and you’re only choice is to put a white flash or a reversal between two butted bites to avoid a jump cut, then likely yes, I think you’ve done an exceptionally poor job constructing the story. Both reporter and photojournalist. It’s both their responsibility (hopefully as a team) to find a better way to visualize the piece.
    And that communication starts long before you sit down to edit. Of course, there are exceptions. When the story is extremely limited visually and you’re extremely limited on time. Even still, I think there’s better option than reversals.

    4) It’s all about the story. And the communication. Any discussion that challenges your way of thinking about your craft is a good one. Reversals are a tool. And sometimes an effective one. Of course, once upon a time someone thought the Flowbee was an effective tool too. I’m just saying…might be time to update that tool belt Richards.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    A little late to this.. but as a broadcast network reporter in town, have to say that the photographer who hates reverses would never make it on my side of the street. Our people are VERY big about reporters appearing in our stories, and the bigs often prefer a reverse or an interview on two-shot, to a regular standup.

    There are five million ways to tell a story, and it’s presumptious of anyone to say that their way is best. Sometimes the story is strong enough to carry itself. Either the pictures, or the sound. And sometimes during an an interview, especially an emotional one, just a short cut-away of a concerned or sympathetic reporter can ADD to the moment and make it better televison. It’s a quick and efficient trick that works.

    I, for one, am tired of two sound bytes broken up by an errant piece of video on the local news, where a simple cutaway to the reporter would have done the trick.

    It’s time we drop the idea reporters are air hogs who often need to be contained. Viewers remember reporters.That “Belcher guy,” for example. Keith Whitney, with the streak in his hair.. Or the really loud investigative guy at WSB. They’re part of the brand, and it’s good when they show up inside a taped a piece…no matter how simple the shot.

    Look at your networks and see.

    Reply

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