How to Get Started in Conservation Filmmaking: An Interview with Morgan Heim
Expanding your skills from photography into filmmaking comes with all kinds of rewards and challenges. Morgan Heim pulls back the curtain of her own journey and lessons learned as she made the leap and added filmmaker to her professional resume.
If you've been curious about pushing your boundaries as a still photographer, and diving into the wide and wild world of filmmaking, then today's episode will totally be your cup of tea.
Moving from still photography into video is an amazing way to challenge your creative mind and learn a whole plethora of new skills. But it also has some hurdles and stumbling blocks, both when you're in the creative planning stage and most definitely when you're behind the camera.
Today's guest is someone who has been there done that, and has become an award-winning filmmaker and a much-in-demand professional hired by nonprofits and companies alike.
Morgan Heim takes us back to the days when she was moving from still photography into filmmaking, and walks us through some of the big hiccups to pay attention to. She also explains why the hard work is absolutely worth it, and how filmmaking can catapult you into a wide range of fresh opportunities you'd otherwise not have.
- The biggest muscle memory habits you have to break
- Why filmmaking seems Zen-like, yet really, really isn't
- Ways that filmmaking lets you embrace your inner child and goof off
- How to build sequences (instead of shot lists)
- The importance of staying present with your subjects
- The simple strategy to remove complexity from the learning process
- The ways that filmmaking can make you orders of magnitude more hire-able as a professional
- What parts of filmmaking you can do yourself, and which tasks you can hire out to experts
This episode is sponsored by:
Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy trains photographers and filmmakers who are passionate about conservation and science.
We are the only online education platform designed specifically for conservation photographers and filmmakers. Our ever-growing selection of robust online courses, in-person workshops, mentorship programs, and membership community are designed specifically to address the unique skills and resources you need as you focus on documenting environment, science communication, and conservation issues. We help you follow your passion to be an effective, successful, and joyful conservation visual storyteller.
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Episode 073: How to Get Started in Conservation Filmmaking - An Interview with Morgan Heim
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
Hey there, and welcome back to another episode of Impact the conservation photography podcast. This is kind of an extra special episode because one of my dearest friends and someone I deeply admire is coming back onto the podcast for a chat, and that person is Morgan Hime. She came on a few weeks ago for us to have a conversation about three myths that tend to hold back really amazing conservation photographers. And it was just such a fun conversation style episode, we just settled down on the living room floor with a couple of beers and just chatted, and it was so much fun that we decided that's gonna be kind of a regular recurring thing.
0:00:38.7 JH: And so this is the next episode, that is the happy hour style conversation with Morgan, and in this episode, we are talking about moving from still photography into filmmaking, because that kind of transition actually is really fun, really amazing, but also has some stumbles and some hurdles. And so Mo takes us back to the days when she was moving from still photography into filmmaking, and kinda walks us through what that was like for her and some of the big hiccups to pay attention to. And really importantly, we have a really amazing announcement to make. And so toward the end of the episode, you're gonna find out about a really fun, really amazing opportunity that Morgan has waiting for you. Alright, let's dive in.
0:01:31.3 JH: Welcome to Impact the conservation photography podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing, and everything in between, this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.
0:02:04.3 JH: Well, welcome back to the podcast Morgan, this is your third episode, so you are officially the most common guest on the podcast, so far. [laughter]
0:02:14.5 Morgan Hime: Awesome.
0:02:16.5 JH: Well, so I'm excited to have you back because we're talking about a subject that I'm getting more and more excited about and that you're already an expert in, which is conservation filmmaking. And so even though this is our happy hour style conversation, you have your whiskey, I've got some wine. It's gonna be mellow. We're still gonna be diving into some pretty fun conservation filmmaking concepts, and so I appreciate you being here and just kinda chit-chatting with me.
0:02:46.3 MH: It's always a pleasure. You never have to twist my arm.
0:02:52.1 JH: Yeah. Well, so I am, as you know, as some other folks know, I'm starting to dip my toes into filmmaking, and that is no small thing. It doesn't really feel like dipping my toe, it feels more like when you walk up to the edge of a pool and you don't know how deep it is, and you go ahead and step in and then just go...
0:03:12.1 MH: Well, I was gonna say you're doing a cannonball.
0:03:20.6 JH: Either way, it doesn't feel graceful, [chuckle] but it's interesting to go from being a still photographer into the filmmaking side of things, because it's really different. And I feel like however much I thought I might have mastered or at least got an experience in some levels of still photography, now it's brand new territory, my camera is a foreign object to me all of a sudden, even though it's the same camera that I use for stills.
0:03:51.9 MH: Yeah, I remember you sitting there going through menus that you didn't know existed. And we were picking out the best things to choose, and I was like, "Holy crap, this camera does this... This Camera's been around for a while, and so it was pretty impressive that it had some of the settings that it had, but yeah, that was kind of fun to watch you dive into that.
0:04:13.9 JH: Oh yeah, it's an ancient Canon camera. It's a 1DX, which I mean is not that ancient, but in the world of digital cameras seems pretty ancient. And honestly, another thing that feels really different to me is it feels really damn heavy for filmmaking, like carrying that thing around for some reason when you're planning on using it for stills, it's almost like you're braced for the fact it's gonna be heavy, but when you're trying to be so much more mobile in filmmaking, that thing's a beast.
0:04:47.0 MH: Yeah, I would say it sort of rivals the weight of actually using a dedicated cinema camera from a Sony FS5 or FS7 or something like that, which will mean nothing to a lot of people unless you're already a filmmaker. It's like a much bigger camera than even your Canon camera, but it somehow it seems still way about the same. [chuckle] It's filled with lead, I don't know. [chuckle]
0:05:19.7 JH: The models mean nothing to me, but I'm envisioning one of those sort of boxy looking cameras that you sometimes see.
0:05:27.6 MH: Yes. It's probably at least two or three times the size of your camera, but weighs about the same. Yeah.
0:05:33.4 JH: Fun. No wonder my arms feel tired. Well, so one of the things that I wanted to chat with you about is, I wanna take you back down memory lane into when you were kind of in my shoes, 'cause I think that for you, it was stills first, film second, right?
0:05:52.0 MH: Oh yeah, definitely.
0:05:55.5 JH: So what was it like for you to transition from still photography to film? And by the way, before we dive in, I need to plug something. So for those of you who are new to the whole happy hour style podcast conversation, and you're used to my much more structured interview style, we do have wine and whiskey involved, it's gonna ramble a little bit, but you do wanna stay until the end, because we have a very exciting announcement that Morgan's gonna make. And this announcement it's really good stuff. So you really do wanna stay until the end, even if we do seem a bit rambly at the moment.
0:06:32.3 MH: I wonder what it is.
0:06:37.5 JH: Well, so Mo will you please take a trip down memory lane. Let's play as if this is your life, and go back to when you were starting to move into film. First of all, why did you want to?
0:06:53.7 MH: I think a big part of why I wanted to was because I could. I was just curious about it. So when I was in grad school back in 2009 is when I graduated, that makes me feel so old. But when I graduated in 2009, I actually, for my master's project, I did a multimedia project. We had learned about multimedia in school, and at that point in time, it was just starting to become a thing, and really multimedia meant you were doing still photographs and collecting ambient sounds and doing audio interviews and maybe incorporating some music, you didn't necessarily have any video, the cameras didn't even really have that capability yet, that people were using on average. So, I was actually the first grad student in my program to do a multimedia piece as my master's thesis project. And so I did that and I created a bunch of stop-action photography, I would shoot in burst mode, like an oil derrick going up and down or I would have a person, one of my subjects walk by my camera and I would just be like...
0:08:20.8 MH: And shoot 20 pictures of him walking by, and then when I edited the piece together, I kind of put it together like a flip book almost, you know. And that was really fun, but I was often like, "God, I so wish I could have had some video in there too." And so when I finally got a camera that had that capability, I just started playing around with it, and I knew nothing about shooting video. I was just like, "I got the setting and I'm gonna turn it on and go." It was just like, I had no idea about rules. [chuckle] And so I just shot things, I had wrong settings, like my exposure was good, but as a photographer, you'll quickly learn that photo settings do not translate to video settings, so stuff will end up looking kind of weird if you just think you can hit record and go, no, that's not how you wanna go about and do it. But it got me started.
0:09:21.9 JH: Yeah, I do remember you, I think it was several years ago, where we were in Chicago to do some coyote stuff and you were doing a crash course to get film clips, and I was like, "Oh yeah, I have a video on here, I just flipped a little lever over and go, right." And you're like, "Well, no."
0:09:41.6 MH: If it wouldn't cost a bunch of money, I still have dreams of being like, "No," and smacking the camera lens. [chuckle] But I don't wanna be on the hook for needing to buy you a new 1DX, so I held back.
0:09:58.3 JH: Well, I love the idea of just being like, "Oh, I don't know what I'm doing, and I'm just gonna go for it." And what were some of the big lessons that you learned? Well, for instance, some of your footage can turn out a little bit junkie if you're not using settings that are proper, 'cause I have thought the same thing, I was like, "Oh, if you flip it to video mode and your exposure looks good, you're good to go right." And you're like, "Well, no," there's frame rates, and you wanna pay attention to how you're adjusting your exposure and this and that. So what were some of the big mistakes that you made right out the gate that you also very much noticed?
0:10:32.7 MH: Yeah, well, definitely the whole concept of what's the right shutter speed for a film versus stills was a huge one. And if you do the wrong thing, you might not notice if you're just casually looking at your footage, 'cause I think you're so excited about having captured video. But if you actually look at footage, if it's filmed at a too fast of a shutter speed, for example, you will be like, "Oh, there's something very kind of almost uncanny valley or alien about the way this is looking." Like things are way too sharp. When an animal moves, when I normally watch an animal move on a TV show, it feels smooth and silky, but when I'm watching this, it looks like hyper-sharpened and it's almost like your eyes start to vibrate in their sockets, it's just like it feels weird, like you're a little bit on drugs.
0:11:34.8 MH: Not that I've done a lot of drugs you guys, just FYI. But yeah, so it just feels not right, when you watch it. So that was a big one that I did. And then another one was that, you know, you just get so excited about what you're seeing, and you're just like, "Alright. I got this, oh, I got that. Oh, there's that over there." All these things are happening and you're just flailing that camera around like nobody's business. And when you watch it later, God forbid, if you show it to anybody else, you're just like, get the barf bags ready. Okay, so it's just like don't do that.
0:12:24.1 JH: Alright. So you would recommend the pocket too, for the little Osmo in order to have something really easy running gun style for when I'm out and about. And so I took it out to go play with it, and my dog was running around in the fans, and I just thought that I was being so creative and profound and thinking, "Oh, well, I'm just gonna pan like this, and oh, that didn't really work, so now I'm gonna try it again like this, and oh, maybe I'm gonna pan it like this. " Oh my God, when I watched the footage. [chuckle] It was really eye-opening to find out that what you think you're creating, when you have no idea what you're creating is not at all what it looks like when you actually play it back. Like when you watch it, it is so much faster when you're watching it than what's going on in your head when you're filming it. So it's almost like in sneakers when Robert Redford has to move at less than two inches per second. [chuckle]
0:13:20.9 MH: I love that movie.
0:13:21.5 JH: That's what it feels like. [chuckle]
0:13:25.1 MH: I remember when that movie was like, "Oh my God, they're hackers, I can't believe what they're doing." Anyways.
0:13:35.9 JH: Yeah. It feels like you have to be going so molasses speed when you're filming, because when you're a photographer, what I know I'm noticing is I keep wanting to re-compose the scene depending on what's going on in front of me. And when I watch the footage back, it just looks shaky and crappy and terrible, I'm not doing it any favors by trying to re-compose.
0:14:00.2 MH: Exactly. Yeah, and you have to just really dial it back and slow down, and I think you... Sorry, I just burped while was talking, you're welcome. [chuckle]
0:14:16.9 JH: I'm not gonna edit that out either.
0:14:18.5 MH: I've actually been doing that a lot lately, it's just not a nice habit to have developed, I don't know what is going on.
0:14:27.8 JH: It must be a COVID thing, you've just kind of let your guard down.
0:14:30.6 MH: Just let myself go. [chuckle] Okay, so what was I saying? You have to slow yourself down, and you also have to really meet peace with the whole FOMO, like the fear of missing out, like it's just... You're gonna start filming something and then you're gonna realize halfway through, because your subject moves, that, "Oh, no, now they're not like... It doesn't look as good as it did when I first composed the shot." And you're gonna wanna re-adjust. And it's not that you can't, it's just that you have to do it slowly, you have to do it with a nice kind of fluid motion rather than jerking it over to re-compose. You might be lagging behind a little bit when you do that readjustment, and just know that that's gonna be more forgiving than if you jerk it around. And then there might be times too, where something moves, you've set up a shot and it looks nice for half of the shot, and then something moves and now it's not as nice and it's just like, you know what, you're either gonna let the thing complete and just let it be, let the shot itself be very nicely shot, but what's in it is a little less perfect. Or you cut the shot and you restart a new shot and you may have then sacrificed what you had filmed in the first half of that shot, because you now have an incomplete motion. So you have to just make choices and be really able to make those choices in the moment.
0:16:18.4 JH: It honestly sounds like between the idea of slowing way down and removing yourself from FOMO and making choices that you need to just be content with and letting go, it sounds like filmmaking is this very Zen art. Is that what it actually feels like?
0:16:37.6 MH: You lovely, lovely, human. [laughter] I mean, that's how I feel about people who get to sit for hours and wait for an animal to show up, or for the animal to actually stop sleeping and do something interesting. It just sounds like, "Oh, isn't this nice?" It's like you get to be still and contemplative and wait and just like Zen, and it's like, "No. You never get to relax." You're actually not really philosophizing about anything. You're basically stressing out a lot of the time. But I mean, it's fun, I don't want people to think is not fun, but you're kind of constantly re-calculating the situation, but you're creating this very comic, stereo facade. And there can be times where it is a little bit more Zen-like.
0:17:37.2 MH: Especially if you just get to sit and be, it does teach you to be like, "No, I know that I am watching a lion walk here," and then, "oh no, it looks like, oh, the cubs are playing over here." Which by the way, I've never gotten to film that, if anyone wants to have me come film that, just give me a shout out. But it's like you still might shift over to the kittens or the cubs playing, but you're not gonna just drop it and run, you're going to approach it more thoughtfully, and make sure that you give the moment that you're filming the attention that it deserves. From that standpoint, I think it is a really good lesson in learning how to stay focused and just let moments have their time.
0:18:35.1 JH: Well, so speaking of moments and planning as best you can, one of the things that made me really excited to move into film-making was because... So for just to kind of catch up the audience, I lived with Morgan through nine months of COVID and just recently moved. This is the first time that we're having our happy hour not in the living room, which is such a bummer. We're having our video Zoom, but we lived together. And so I was there when you were making a film and you asked me to assist. And I was like, "Yeah, I'll do that." And one of the things that got me really excited about wanting to move into film-making was because we sat down and started making sequence ideas and shot lists and building out the concepts. And the whole exercise of that was so much fun. It got my brain thinking in this whole new creative way. So talk to me a little bit about what it's like to move from very much building shot lists for a photo story, to building sequences that have a bunch of shots for a film.
0:19:43.0 MH: Yeah. So A, I'm so glad that after going through that process, that you're just more excited to get into film. So yay! I didn't scare you away.
0:19:52.7 JH: Oh, yeah, after dragging random cormorant decoys around floors, and kneeling in cormorant poop, and picking up a lot of dollar bills, we're gonna have to... [chuckle] This is part of the announcement that's coming later on, but there's a really amazing short film that Morgan made that I got to help with that is just such a joyous piece of short filmmaking. But it was so much fun, and it was just inspiring and enlightening. It opened me up to this whole new realm of how we can be really effective with our creativity.
0:20:33.3 MH: Yeah, that is something that I really love about filmmaking, in particular, even more than I think lots of times, the stealth photography process is there are so many elements of it that do you feel like embracing your inner child. And you get to see other people have to embrace their inner child as well, in ways that I think they never expected. So that is always, at least personally, a great joy to get to impart into the world. So I like that about filmmaking.
0:21:04.3 MH: And now, I'm forgetting about the... Oh, building sequences versus building the shot list for stealth photography. I think that's a huge, huge thing. You obviously, you do, do both when you're doing stills and shooting film, but it is very different. So I think with stills, you might make a list that is sort of like it's the... When you've made a shot list for a photography project, I feel like you've made half the shot list for the film project. So with the stills project, you might be like, "Okay, I know that I'm gonna go... " I'll just use a real-life example 'cause it's easier for me to think of examples that way. I am gonna go to a fish hatchery. And this fish hatchery is raising salmon, and then they release the salmon, and then a bunch of cormorants come down and eat all the salmon that these people have just spent the last year trying to get to the point where they're able to be released and have a chance at living out in the ocean. So yay! [laughter] How fun is that for the people?
0:22:25.6 MH: And so I am thinking about: What kinds of shots do I wanna get out of that situation? I don't know which one is gonna be for a stills project. The shot, I have an idea of one of the shots, but I am thinking of 10 different shots. So I'm thinking about they release the fish at night, and so are they gonna wear headlamps? Well, I, let's say yes, they're gonna wear headlamps. So I wanna get a shot, these guys, like I want them, I want a wide view shot of these fish hatchery workers standing at their different stations and pulling the net up, and then their head lamps illuminating the pieces of the net or the water. And you've got like maybe it's a little bit of a longer exposure, so you have the night sky also showing up. That might be one shot. Another shot might be to spend time at the hatchery during the day when the cormorants are all loitering about in hopes of finding fish that they can go after. Another shot might be an underwater shot where they've opened up the net pen and the fish are pouring out of the net pen from underwater. So I'm creating just very diversified individual shots.
0:23:47.0 MH: And with filmmaking, you have to think about shots that will allow you to make a sequence of a single moment. So take for instance that shot of the people pulling up the nets to open the nets to let the fish out. Well, I want a wide shot of that, that gets the scene-setter. But I don't want someone just staring at that same angle for 10 seconds or 20 seconds, unless it's a really compelling thing that's happening. So I'm gonna also wanna get a shot of maybe a close-up of their hands that are illuminated as they're pulling up just a section of the netting. And I might wanna then get a shot of their face that's somewhat illuminated by the headlamp on their forehead and show the exertion on their face as they're pulling out this heavy, wet net. And then I might want a shot of the water that's kind of a mid-shot that shows some of the net pen in the water and the net going into it. And all of those shots together make up one sequence that might make up 10 seconds of the film.
0:25:00.8 JH: What your outlining reminds me a lot of... I have the e-book, so Episode Seven, free e-book for Six Must-have Shots for a Photo Essay. And it outlines the hero shot, the characters, the detail, the context, the takeaway, all of these elements that you wanna bring together into a photo essay. And essentially, what you're saying is you're bringing together elements like that into a single sequence and you're doing that again and again and again in order to create a film. And I think that that's kind of what got me excited. So when I helped you out on the cormorant film that we'll talk about at the end, and I'm gonna link to in the show notes as well. We sat down. You were making dinner and I had a notebook. And I sat down at the counter with you, and you just started brainstorming the sequences and then the shots that you wanted for the sequences. And so the way... And that whole exercise was, I feel like that was the turning point for me where I was like, "Oh, this is fun. This is a new way of thinking about building story and one that I'm super excited about."
0:26:06.8 JH: And you said, "Okay, well, we want a sequence of the cormorant's keeper coming to her enclosure in the morning and greeting her, because this is part of their morning routine." So we're gonna do a shot of her exiting the main center and walking across this lawn area. And then we're gonna go inside and we're gonna do a shot of her opening the door from... We're gonna be on the inside and she opens the door, and we're gonna do a shot of the cormorant waiting for her. And we're gonna do a shot of this little greeting dance at low level. And basically, all of these different things that will come together for that five-second morning greeting. Then we're gonna do a sequence about blah, blah, blah."
0:26:47.7 JH: And so it was all these things, and it was really fun because during the filming process, I was in charge of making sure that we got the shots for each sequence as we moved through the day and managing that. And it was such a really fun, interesting challenge to balance that. And luckily, I had nothing to do with the editing process, because that's this whole other thing entirely. But yeah, I love the way that you think through elements, because when you're coming from a still photography side of things, you don't even realize what you don't notice about how much is going on inside of a film that you watch.
0:27:26.0 MH: Yeah, absolutely. And if a film is done well, you don't want people thinking about that. I think as you start making films, it becomes a lot easier to start to fall into that reverse-engineering mentality, even when you're just watching stuff for fun. You're like, "I'm gonna watch this TV show to relax," and then you're finding out you're like, "Oh, I've been thinking about how they compose that shot and that sequence, and the way they use light," and you're like, "Oh, no!" [chuckle] But I do think that one of the things I like about filmmaking, and sometimes, it's a little bit like being a stills photographer, and then just raising it to another level of obsession. So I think what's so important with still photography to make wonderful frames is that you're very present, that you're so comfortable with your equipment that you're not paying attention to it; you're paying attention to why you're raising the camera. And I think with filmmaking, it's similar. And it can be, I think, a bit easier to feel even more so because you are really paying attention to all of the micro parts of what goes into making a big thing happen.
0:28:54.2 MH: And one of the dangers could be that you get so focused on, "I need this shot and that shot," that you stop thinking about your subject and your character in the moment of what's happening, 'cause you've just overanalyzed the heck out of it and you're now getting selfish and just thinking about what you need. But if you can somehow find that balance of really paying attention to how to think about the different parts of a single moment, while also caring and remembering that you are being let in on something by the person or animal that is allowing you to film them. You can find this new, almost like nirvana of being present and having empathy for the subject that you are trying to share with the world.
0:29:52.2 JH: Oh, I love that idea. See, there is something kind of spiritual and meditative and philosophical about filmmaking.
0:30:00.8 MH: Yes. It's like a little nesting doll. It's like a hot mess that's on the... There's calm on the exterior, then a shell of hot mess, and then calm on the interior, just like different layers. [laughter]
0:30:18.0 JH: Yup. But okay, so we kind of are... I'm hoping, getting people excited about exploring filmmaking if you haven't yet, or if you are a filmmaker, just enjoying conversation about the process. Why is this something, for a creative, a visual storyteller, to even get into? Because if there is this calm exterior, then shell of hot mess, and then calm exterior. If there's someone out there who's kind of curious about it, but not sure, why do they wanna dive into that hot mess?
0:30:57.0 MH: Good question. [laughter] No, I mean, obviously, I'm a very bitter person from it. It has ruined my life, don't do it. [chuckle] So there you have it, you can stop listening to the podcast now. No, I'm just kidding, don't do that. No, I just think that, well, one, I think don't get into it because you think you should. Do it because there is just, by nature, there is that kernel of interest as, "This is something I want to explore." So you need to have that. There's lots of practical reasons to incorporate video, but I still think at the end of the day, do it because that's something that you are genuinely, just by nature, interested in. And then know that it is a beneficial talent to have, a skill to have. If you can incorporate video into your projects, it means that you can just add another layer to any project that you're working on. So many conservation stills photography projects do you benefit from having some form of video in it or multimedia in it, adding those layers of sounds that creates this immersion into the environment. Sorry, I burped again. [chuckle]
0:32:25.0 JH: You're forgiven. [chuckle]
0:32:26.0 MH: Thank you. So I think, see, think about how it will benefit what you wanna do. And if you feel like it will and you have an interest in it, then what's the reason not to explore it? And you can decide to what level of complexity you wanna do it. You might wanna just be able to know how to make nice video clips that you put together in a reel, and then maybe add some music, and there's not necessarily story there, but it just creates another layer of engagement for your audience. And that's totally fine if that's the extent to which you want to engage with video. And pick the parts that you want to learn, too. I learned how to do everything. Well, I learned how to do some form of everything. I'm good at shooting, I'm good at story, and I'm pretty good at editing. But I'm serviceable at a lot of other things. And when I can, and as I get bigger budgets, I hire other people who specialize in sound finishing and color correction. And there are people who that's a profession. That alone, those single things are professions. And pay respect to that and know that you can hire and enlist other talent to do the parts that you don't wanna do. So you can still incorporate it into your workflow, in your projects, if you want, without having to learn how to do everything yourself.
0:34:08.5 JH: Well, I am a big fan of the idea that you get into something because you love it, because you have a passion for it, because you have a genuine curiosity. But frankly, there's also some pretty practical reasons to also learn the skill of filmmaking. I am a freelance photo editor for a publication that really loves using video clips inside of articles that mostly use still photography, but those video clips are pretty critical. I've been an assignment photographer for publications that ask, specifically, "If you can get video, get it." So talk to me a little bit more about just the practical reasons for having at least a basic understanding of how to create clips or reels, or bring in video into your workflow in some way.
0:34:55.0 MH: Yeah, being able to do both and being known as someone who does both, it makes you orders of magnitude more hirable and desirable by organizations, editors, other clients. Even if you don't do all of those things yourself, having assembled a network or a team of people that are really good at fulfilling those requirements is something that's gonna work really well in your favor. And I do it all myself, and I've gotten to a point where I can work on projects where I'm able to hire people for different things and I love that. Because it feels really good to write someone a paycheck, and it feels really good to know that I get to concentrate on certain tasks at a time.
0:35:54.7 MH: But I find that most outlets today, they do want you to be able to get everything if they need it. And so I was just on a call a few days ago, and they hadn't originally mentioned video when they were asking me to do the assignment, but it came up in our initial conversation, kind of diving into what they wanted to capture. And so they're looking at all the possible combinations, whether it's adding more days for me to spend more time in the field to get video, in addition to stills. Or paying money to have someone come out with me who can be shooting video while I'm collecting stills. I think that you should learn how to shoot video because you're gonna have more opportunity to be hired if you know how to do both. It's just the fact of the matter, and sometimes, it'll mean you get hired to do both in one assignment, it sometimes might mean you're hired to do just one or the other. But either way, it's increasing the number of opportunities you have to get hired, if people know that you can do both, so it doesn't hurt you to know how to do both.
0:37:24.9 JH: Yeah. Well, it's so important, I think, to be able to have a varied skill set in this, and part of it is in what you can create for clients, so you're making yourself a much more hireable person, whether that is for non-profit organizations that you volunteer with or that you want to be hired by for marketing initiatives. Whether that's for assignments, with publications. But it also makes you think a lot more creatively about projects, like conservation visual storytelling projects, and what it means to use these different media assets to make an impact with your project. And I'm specifically thinking right now of Deer 139, so Dear 139 is one of my favorite conservation films ever. It recently had a YouTube public premiere and there were so many... So I teach conservation photography 101, and my students inside of that were raving about the film and watching it. And it is a really inspiring piece, but what was really fun was you were creating social media assets for that premier, while I was still living with you. So I was walking in, I was hearing random music going, as I was coming in and you were piecing things together, and then you showed me the package of these promotional assets that you created, which are freaking hysterical. And as you started to unleash these... So for everyone listening, if you can go back into Morgan's Instagram account and go back into some of the posts that she put up, you still have him on your account, right?
0:38:58.8 MH: I do. A lot of the videos were posted, I think as stories, although some of them actually, I did post as actual like IGTV, so they still exist in addition to the stills.
0:39:08.8 JH: Great. Okay. So go back and listen, I'm gonna link to Morgan's Instagram in the show notes as well, but go back and look at some of these, because basically, Morgan, you use your creativity when it comes to filmmaking to build a social media package that build buzz for this launch. And it was done in a really fun, creative, wonderful way that made a lot of sense, was also kind of surprising and silly and joyful, but made people really wanna pay attention and go to this premiere. And I think that when you're coming into filmmaking, even if it's for a gallery exhibit or it's for maybe a campaign that a non-profit's doing for public awareness or whatever it might be, filmmaking knowledge and that creative thinking that goes into it helps you to think about and strategize and create effective marketing campaigns essentially.
0:40:05.9 MH: Oh, absolutely. It diversifies your tool kit so much, and it provides so many avenues into reaching different kinds of people, and also just giving them fresh content. So it's like people are fickle, we all get tired of just looking at stills or just reading something. We want to like... This five minutes, we wanna watch a video, next five minutes, we just wanna flip through some pictures very passively. Our moods are changing all the time, and so if you have these things available to just really engage your audience from all these different angles, in very different ways, but it's still cohesive in the sense of the tone and the style, I think that's the important thing. You don't want to be all over the place emotionally or stylistically with a particular project, you want it to fit a theme. But they can just give you so many different ways of doing that, and it's also I think it makes it easier for you to wrap your head around, like, "Oh, this is how I'm gonna reach them right now," and it makes it less boring for you, and it makes it less boring for your audience. So I think it's such... And it doesn't have to be a big flashy production, some of the things that you're talking about, it was literally an iPhone recording of one of our characters in a deer costume eating a big bowl popcorn.
0:41:45.3 MH: You can make it as simple or complicated as you want.
0:41:50.6 JH: Yeah, I love that. One of the things that I'm really excited about for building filmmaking into my skill set is really for my ongoing project Watershed Sentinels, which now that I'm back in Newport... So I moved from Morgan's house in Astoria back down to Newport, Oregon, literally overnight. It was a crazy surprise experience, but now I'm back in the heart of where my project lies, which that's been on my mind in a big, big way since getting back down here. And the filmmaking part of it, is I feel like refreshing a project that I thought that I had planned out to do as stills, and now I'm thinking in a bigger way, and one of the things that I wanna do is to create essentially a trailer or a pitch that's in video format, to explain to people what Watershed Sentinels is all about. And to start to practice some of these and take that cannonball dive into filmmaking and play with stuff.
0:42:52.2 JH: But what's been really fun in sort of having that cannonball dive with you, in assisting you on some stuff and watching your process, is rethinking how I build the story that I wanna tell and thinking about, "Oh, I wanna get a drone shot that's doing this, and then I want, you know, some still stuff that looks like this, as you know, locked off and just really pretty, and then I want some pan of this." And it's all gonna build into the story that explains what's essentially a stills project, but we'll engage people and hopefully bring in supporters and an audience, and I don't know, build a whole new level of engagement inside of this project, and I'm thrilled to get to try that.
0:43:36.8 MH: Yeah, I'm excited for you, and it was really cool to see. I was so proud of you as you were reading your little first write-up of your treatment, as we call it, of the film you wanna make, where you're both describing the synopsis as well as specific shots. And I was like, "Wow," like you were thinking about; Oh, I want this shot where we start in close to a Culver, and then the drone rises up and reveals the whole landscape, and you see actually the town connecting to the forest. It's just like you had really thought things through, and I was just like, "Oh, she learned something," and I was so, so proud of you in that moment.
0:44:23.7 MH: I'm very excited for you as well. And I think that it's a really great way to think about how can video be used as a tool to help you as a still photographer. And you can decide to make it yourself, you can decide, maybe I wanna hire a friend to help me make it. But they're good companions, is what I have to say. Video helps still projects and all video projects have still photography peppered throughout the project, it's so needed for so many aspects of the outreach and the marketing and the distribution of those film projects.
0:45:09.4 JH: Well, I think that for those who are excited about the concept of filmmaking, it's time that we reveal something really exciting that's been in the works.
0:45:20.0 MH: I am very excited, 'cause I feel like I've just been swimming in it and I'm just like, "Oh my God, I hope this is useful to someone.
0:45:33.1 JH: Well, there's a big reason why today, as we're recording this, you need that glass of whiskey in front of you, because you've spent the entire day in front of your computer hooked up to a mic, creating something wonderful. Do you wanna reveal it or do you want me to. How do you want this to play out?
0:45:48.8 MH: No, I want you to reveal it, but I have to say, I have scientifically studied this now, talking equals more talking equals more burping, [laughter] that's like that's what I have determined, because I literally am like three sips into my whiskey, I'm not burping because of alcohol, I'm burping because I've swallowed so much air, because I've been talking so much.
0:46:17.6 JH: Yes. Well, Morgan has been, as you've enjoyed her random burps throughout this episode, Morgan has been talking so much because she is creating a digital course for you, all about how to create a film. So regardless of where you are right now in still photography or kind of like picking up a camera, whether you're a really experienced still photographer or you've been dabbling and you want to already move into film, and more props to you if you're like Morgan at the early part of her career, and she's like, "Well, I will, because I can." If you are ready to learn more about filmmaking, Morgan has a digital course available, we're recording this slightly before it's available for enrollment, so that's why she's in recording mode, but by the time this airs, you can enroll in Morgan Himes Conservation Filmmaking 101 digital course. Yeah.
0:47:16.5 MH: The crowd goes wild.
0:47:19.1 JH: So what's in the course Mo?
0:47:22.3 MH: Everything. No, not everything. It's everything you need to know to go from knowing not at all how to make a film to actually completing your first film. And it's actually, I would say it's like a course and a half, because it's pre-production, it's production. So pre-production's all the planning, all the story dreaming. Production, it's all the how to have all your equipment ready and with the proper settings and how to do all the cool shots and make all of the frames in the clips that you need to make to tell a story. And then post-production, I even walk you through how to completely organize and edit a film from start to finish. So it is really the basics of the whole shebang of making a good solid film. And then I even like throwing a couple of extras for you. And even that said, this is just gonna get you hooked on it, then you're gonna become addicted and you're gonna need to dive into other tutorials and stuff, not necessarily that I've created, you're just gonna start Googling stuff and you're gonna be like, how did I do this? [chuckle] Yeah, so that's what this does.
0:48:36.7 JH: So basically everything that we've talked about, the idea of, well, how do you figure out what you wanna create? How do you build sequences? And how do you shoot and make sure it doesn't look shaky and gross, and actually get into the mindset of filmmaking to get the shots that you need, and then how do you put those together into a film that people are not thinking about, "Oh, I see how they did that," but are totally immersed and engrossed and happy about. You learn all of that, inside of this course.
0:49:05.0 MH: You're gonna learn how to do all of that, and then I'm gonna sit back and watch you do it better than I do it. It's gonna be glorious.
0:49:12.7 JH: Which is the goal of every teacher.
0:49:14.0 MH: Yes, right, yes. And then you guys are gonna teach me stuff too in the process of doing that. So I'm very excited about it. I'm so excited to get more people out there and more diversified voices and see what you come up with, it's just gonna be a beautiful, glorious world. And then it's like we're gonna take conservation storytelling and conservation filmmaking mainstream.
0:49:40.4 JH: Oh, yeah.
0:49:40.5 MH: That's what all of you are gonna do as you embark on this adventure.
0:49:43.9 JH: Yes. Well, if this is something that you are super stoked to dive into, you can go to; conservationvisualstorytellersacademy.com, and you will easily be able to find Morgan's course. One of the really fun things that we did, there's gonna be another episode coming out very soon with Kika Tuff of Impact Media Lab, who created the visuals, the logo and the course badges and all this rad stuff. And so when you go to Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy, you'll see that each course has its own crater that is associated with the course. And Morgan, how will they know which course is yours?
0:50:22.3 MH: Because there's a beautiful, glorious double-crested-Cormorant on the front. Yeah, the just like, I never thought I would care so much about cormorants, but they are just winning my heart over and over again all the time.
0:50:41.0 JH: Oh yeah, big time. Well, the other thing about cormorants that I think we really need to mention, is that throughout May, we're gonna have three different live events in May. And Morgan is going to take you behind the scenes of the making of Cormie: The pickpocket Cormorant. And this is a film... Well, I'm just gonna set you up and then let you take it away. But this is a film that you made for a wildlife rescue center that is in your town, and its intent was to be a film that helped to basically build donations during their big fundraiser event for the end of the year. So you as a volunteer, this is such a common story for so many of us, as a volunteer, we fall in love with an organization and we wanna do something to help. Well, you made this short film that helped... Well, I'm not even gonna say, I'm gonna let you reveal what an impact it made for this rescue center. But in May, we're gonna have three events where Morgan is gonna take you behind the scenes of the making of that, so you can dig in even more into the storytelling process. But Morgan, will you talk a little bit about Cormie: The pickpocket Cormorant, and the making of that?
0:51:46.2 MH: Well, it would be my pleasure. And so I would say that this film, I feel like is still at the very beginning of doing what it needs to do to be helping with the center and with Cormie and all the animals that are there, but it's also the film that Jaymi helped me on, and in no small part. The center normally holds a gala event, and it's a live event, people get dressed up and they go have good food and they get to participate, engaging an MC that makes everyone laugh and they have a silent auction and they might play a movie. And this year, they couldn't do any of that, or last year they couldn't do any of that because of COVID, so it was all virtual. And this film in a single showing, it's a 10-minute film, and it helped the center in one event raise about $15,000 in a virtual event that lasted, in total one hour.
0:52:53.5 JH: That's just amazing.
0:52:56.6 MH: I'm very happy that it helped them do that, but I wanted to do way more for them, and they've used it also in... They briefly used it in a Facebook campaign, which raised I think another $3500 over the course of a few days. And I'm actually meeting with them tomorrow and we're gonna talk about other ways to use the film to raise funds. Right now they're trying to build Cormie the Cormorant, a new Olympic-sized enclosure that has a fancy new swimming pool. And I think that it will be really helpful. They've used the film also directly in some grants, so it's continuing to help them carve out chunks of a few thousand here and a thousand there, and Cormie has also made it into the DC Environmental Film Festival.
0:53:54.0 JH: Let's pause on that for just a moment really quickly, because I think that that's important for folks to hear and understand as well, is this short film that you made in an effort to help a wildlife rescue center earn funds in order to do a better job for what they do, as sort of this local conservation effort, that made it into one of the most prestigious film festivals for environmental filmmaking. So the small thing is a big deal because you put creativity and heart into it.
0:54:22.9 MH: Yeah.
0:54:24.3 JH: I think that we need to hear that and let that sink in sometimes, because we tend to gloss over the stuff that we do out of the goodness of our hearts, when it's like, "No, this is art level style stuff, this is a pretty big deal."
0:54:38.8 MH: And well, I have to say there's a big part that's like my heart in this, I will say they did pay me to make the film, but the film has more than earned back what the center spent on it to make it. And that's not what made me say yes, what made me wanna make the film was because I so love the center and I really enjoy cormorants, and in particular, this particular Cormorant, she's just a superstar. I want her to live forever. So yes, this film, it has so many different ways it can be used, to be helpful, and that's what we're trying to maximize now, and some of it we know ahead of time, and some of it we're coming up with on the fly. But the Environmental Film Festival, I think was huge, and it's a chance to... You take the fundraising effort, we're trying to raise money for a place, at the same time, we're trying to increase empathy for this animal locally, in a place where it's hated by a lot of people, because cormorants are seen as a pest, I'll just say that without diving into the details.
0:56:00.6 MH: And then you have it going to more national and regional and international outlets, and it's growing empathy for this creature on a larger scale. And here you have this very local, very specific story that is now having national reach, and there are cormorants all across the country, there's cormorants found all over the world, and there's a lot of similar issues that are tied to them. So my local story is still relevant to someone living in upstate New York or on the Hudson River or something, who sees cormorants and they're just like, God, these birds are just awful, and if they see this film maybe they won't think they're so hateful.
0:56:46.1 JH: That is what gets me so fired up, I'm just like, all of me is vibrating with energy, and that the idea that you can create this really fun, humorous, joyful short film that has a very clear intent for something local, but you can continue to push the intent for something to serve a bigger purpose on an even international level. And that is what we strive for in conservation visual storytelling, and we're watching it literally play out this local effort with international impact, play out with Cormie: The pickpocket Cormorant. And we're gonna be walking you through the making of that film. And so again, I wanna reiterate, conservationvisualstorytellersacademy.com, that is where you can find details all about enrolling in Morgan's course, that walks you through step-by-step exactly how to begin as a filmmaker and create your first conservation-focused film. And we're also going to be holding these three live events in May, and so just stay tuned at Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy, you'll see sign up forms. Follow Morgan on Instagram and Facebook, you'll see information there and you will see information at our Facebook group Conservation Photographers.
0:58:07.1 JH: Hopefully, you are already a member of it, if you aren't, you can subscribe in the show notes, there's a button in the show notes where you can subscribe to our Facebook group and you'll find details in there as well.
0:58:17.9 MH: Oh, I'm so excited. Yeah, I feel like this is becoming real now. Thanks for doing this. [chuckle]
0:58:25.3 JH: Yeah. It's so much fun. Well, Morgan, thank you for being just an inspirational rock star as usual, it's very weird to be doing our cocktail happy hour over video, but at least I get to see your face and we get to talk about fun, conservation, photography and filmmaking goodness.
0:58:43.0 MH: Yeah. Nothing will stop us from being nerds.
0:58:46.0 JH: Nope. Never. Alright, Morgan, well, thank you so much for being here yet again, we are sure to have another happy hour, philosophy, conservation, creativity conversation at some point in time, probably in the next month or so. You're now a regular, so just plan on it.
0:59:05.7 MH: I know. If it doesn't happen, that means one of us died, and that would be terrible.
0:59:12.8 JH: I'm gonna edit that out. No, no, no. It will happen, it will be some time in the next six weeks or so, after all of your incredible workload simmers down.
0:59:26.3 MH: Yes, hopefully, I don't burp myself to death.
0:59:33.7 JH: And on that note, I'm gonna sign off for this episode.
0:59:38.5 MH: You're welcome.
0:59:46.0 JH: Before we wrap up, I would love to ask you to do one quick thing, subscribe to this podcast. As a subscriber, you'll not only know when each week's episode goes live, but you'll also get insider goodies, like bonus episodes. You might miss them unless you're subscribed, and I don't want you to miss out on a thing. So please tap that, subscribe button, and I will talk to you next week.
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