Roger Klein, PhD
University of Pittsburgh
It’s about 7:00 AM on a beautiful Spring day and I’m standing in front of Bartle Elementary School in Highland Park, NJ, waiting for the arrival of my camera crew. We’re scheduled to shoot a video about social-emotional learning, featuring Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., a Rutgers psychologist, a Rutgers undergrad who works with Elias on-site at the Social and Emotional Learning lab, 28 third grade children, their teacher, the school principal, and a district superintendent. I flew to New Jersey the afternoon before, from Minnesota, where I had produced five psychology videos the previous week. I landed early enough to drive my rental car past Bartle, so that I would know how to get there quickly. I’ll be working today with a camera crew I have never met, featuring a researcher and school personnel I have neither met nor spoken to (email contact only). Hopefully, at the end of the day I will end up with sufficient material to produce a 5-7 minute professionally shot video—that will educate and entertain undergraduate psychology students. My employer is Cengage Learning, a major publisher of psychology textbooks, and I have been doing this work for them since 2003. My job is to recommend specific psychologists/video shoots to them, approach researchers, set up the shoot, hire the crew, appear on-site to conduct the interviews, produce, write and narrate. I learned my trade while working as a part-time health reporter for the local NBC-TV affiliate in Pittsburgh, a gig I was lucky enough to get shortly after receiving tenure at the University of Pittsburgh. Now, when there’s a 3-week break between the end of the Spring term and the beginning of Summer classes, I am free to go produce videos.
The first question—as 7:15 approaches is—will everyone show up (they do), and the second—will I be able to quickly establish a positive relationship with the crew—and the interviewees—to make this all work. The crew relationship is key—because they will be my eyes—and they will also make numerous production suggestions, even though they have no idea what the finished product will or should look like, nor will I have any contact with them again, once this day is over. While I try to hire crews (from a professional agency) who can be with me for a week’s shoot, or, when possible, travel with a Pittsburgh-based videographer I’ve known since my TV days, that’s not always possible. Today’s crew consists of an off-duty, full time news videographer, from a local NYC station, and his buddy—who will man the boom microphone. We bond immediately—as we all grew up in NYC. I have just 5 minutes to fill my crew in on exactly what we are doing, what the scope of the shoot is, how much I will value their input—and how they should “yell” at me if I am doing/suggesting something idiotic (which I always do), that might come back to haunt me in post-production. I understand virtually nothing about the technical aspects—even suggesting that if the videographer fainted—I would have no idea how to turn the camera off.
One critical, but obvious goal, is to get good video. To do so often requires that I literally “write” the script in my head as the day progresses, so that I can let the videographer know what to shoot. A second goal is to insure that the adults I interview describe the processes we’re focusing on in non-psychological/educational jargon. To limit the natural desire to use jargon I often instruct interviewees to speak with me as though they were explaining the concepts to a child. Needless to say educators rarely have trouble doing this. It’s psychologists, especially researchers, who sometimes give us trouble. Their expertise is in writing journal articles, read by their peers, so they often have had little practice in communicating complex ideas on a very basic level. Interestingly, I discovered years ago that physicians (most of my TV features were medically based) were quite good at providing simple explanations— possibly because they are primarily practitioners, rather than researchers, and thus responsible for communicating complex procedures directly to their patients in simple language.
Despite frequent requests, I do not provide interviewees with questions in advance, as spontaneity is also important. What I do provide is some estimate of the amount of time needed to complete the day’s work. Some researchers believe that a 5-7 minute video should take no more than 2 hours of their time. On average it takes about 8 hours, and this day, at Bartle School, was no exception. Fortunately, the interviews went exceptionally well at Bartle, and even the children who provided input were stellar (we are, of course, required to get parental permission, both to shoot video of—and to interview children).
When I first began these shoots for Cengage I was very concerned about the complexity involved because there were so many unknowns. However, I have learned over time that most people/researchers seem to genuinely enjoy the process, the camaraderie, and the opportunity to work together, to create a product that can have a meaningful impact.
At 4:30 PM, I thanked and said goodbye to the crew, headed back to my motel, ate dinner, and began preparing for the next day’s shoot—with a different psychologist, a different crew, and a brand new topic—false belief. All that I knew about false belief resided in 4 journal articles sitting on my bed. My task that evening was to forget everything I had just done over the past 10 hours, and immerse myself in the next day’s shoot. Oh—and to hope that my new crew, two children, two moms, one graduate assistant, and Rutgers psychology professor, Alan Leslie, would all be there (they were). Amazingly, over the course of producing 75 videos, from California to Florida, not a single researcher has ever canceled, and all “participants” have shown up. Kinda neat—and very lucky.