Kate Schmidgall

5 Essential Crew Conversations Before Story Trips

In just a couple days, a Bittersweet crew (Brandon Bray, Steve Jeter and I) will be heading to Jordan and Palestine to tell the story of the world's largest unemployment crisis—67 million Arab youth in the Middle East—and an inspiring organization solving the problem(s).

We've settled into a prep rhythm that carries us through the couple months leading up to departure. Here are the five essential conversations we have in preparation for a story trip:

  1. What problem is the organization solving and for whom? This quickly gets us into the 'why' and 'who' of the story, which anchors our research and concepting leading up to the trip. 

  2. How do we want to tell this story (with what tools)? We don't assume that photo essays and short-films will ALWAYS make for the best creative approach. Or if they are, then what style, method, focus do we think will be most effective? We've also experimented with creating music to tell story, or photographing poetry, or weaving in audio interviews. We'd like to continually question/challenge our default approaches and expand our toolbox. No disrespect to our client work, but full creative license and autonomy on these projects is part of the fun and what makes them life-giving to our crew.
  3. What are our roles? Who's doing what? Story to story, we each bring something slightly different to the table and have varying angles of intrigue and interest. I personally swing (hour to hour) between story editor, film producer, audio tech, writer, gear camel, and client manager. Jeter and Bray flex and flow through script-writing, location/talent scouting, photography, directing, camera operating, technician-ing and gear management. Eating and sleeping happens from time to time, we're not sure how.
  4. Where and when will we have the best chance of capturing the essence of the work? This is when logistics and feasibility get hashed out. Where do we need to go? What challenges will we face bringing film gear there? How much time do we need on the ground? How much will travel cost?
  5. What will our schedule look like on the ground? This is the silliest question of all because whatever we plan beforehand is never really how it happens, but it helps our gracious hosts know what to expect of us and gives a bit of guidance as to when staff/external input will be helpful/necessary to arrange (interviews, specific b-roll, etc). 

    There you go. A glimpse at our pre-travel conversations to make sure we are making the most of every story and the most of everyone's time and talent.