Chi Yin Sim | 2014 Her World Young Woman Achiever Award

I make many dozens of videos every year, about dozens of different people. However, very rarely are these people my friends. This fall, that changed.

Both my current contract and schedule don’t allow me to do too much work outside of The New York Times. However, recently my friend and colleague Chi Yin Sim won an award and I took a day off to help film a short vignette which was played during the award ceremony held in Singapore.

The Her World Young Woman Achiever award was launched in 1999. The annual award recognizes a young woman who aims higher and reaches further to achieve more. Her achievements have surpassed existing boundaries, inspiring those around her and paving the way for others in the future. She has also demonstrated the potential for attaining a higher level of success in her chosen field.

The Her World Young Woman Achiever 2014 goes to Sim Chi Yin, 35, an award-winning freelance photojournalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times,
The New Yorker, TIME and Le Monde.

See Chi Yin Sim’s web site
Meet your new Her World Young Woman Achiever 2014 | herworldPLUS

7 Days, 6 Videos and very little sleep in Hong Kong

When I got the call to go to Hong Kong, I was on China’s far western border with Kazakhstan.

I had been driving for two days straight, trying to find a Kazakh eagle hunter (more on that later). But on the far opposite corner of China, in Hong Kong, students and demonstrators had taken over areas of the largely independent territory, demanding greater democracy form the central government.

Four hours of driving and three plane rides later I landed in Hong Kong. This is in fact how I learned that getting from one side of China to the other actually can take as long as it takes to get from China to New York.

In the seven days I spent in the city I shot, edited and published six videos, which works out at about one video every 28 hours. While most of my work with The New York Times is in the enterprise, investigative or feature form, a couple times a year I am left to deal with the reality of real news deadlines. This was one of them. While TV crews and wire services have teams, this is a difficult situation to deal with as a solo operator. However, the passion of the students and protestors — made this an amazing bit of history to see.


Voices of Hong Kong’s Protests: Hong Kong residents reflect on the recent days of protests.


In Hong Kong, Protesters’ Demands Denied: Outside of government offices, tensions ran high as Hong Kong’s leader refused to resign.


Scenes of Chaos in Hong Kong: Violent skirmishes broke out between pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and the men who tore down their encampments on Friday in the Mong Kok neighborhood.


Hong Kong, One Week Later: Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong held one of the largest rallies of their campaign Saturday evening, a gesture of defiance following attacks on their occupied areas.


Dreaming in Hong Kong: In Hong Kong, Deflated Hopes for Change: As the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong recede, one young woman reflects on the outcome and how it forced her to confront the inequities she sees every day.

Movidiam: The Facebook for Filmmakers, Will Do Much More than Just Connect

A new social media infused project management platform has opened its digital doors for preregistration. Its called Movidiam and if you’re an independent filmmaker, production company or even brand — I think you have a lot to be excited about.

We’re seeing multiple sites offering creative collaboration project management systems pop up these days, such as Frame.io and Arc 9. I believe this shows a real hole in the market — a product that’s missing. And based on my work flow which is largely based on email and Google Docs, I see why.

Before you brush this off as “yet another creative collaboration site,” pay close attention to the description above — this is much more than a site to improve workflow. Movidiam is both a social network as well as an interactive project management system made for filmmakers (by filmmakers). Think of it as Vimeo + Linkedin + Facebook + WordPress + Mandy + a project management system.

“We are living in a connected and mobile world where the traditional agency model is challenged, where remote freelancing is becoming the norm and where the demand for brands to create a constant stream of quality films has dramatically increased,” says co-founder George Olver.

“Movidiam was created to address these challenges by providing a streamlined and collaborative production process from concept to completion.”

So: What is Movidiam, how does it work and what can it do for me?” I had these same questions and while I had seen some talk of the upcoming system at IBC it wasn’t until I sat down with George Olver to take a tour of the preproduction system where I truly got a better understanding of its potential power.

On a the most basic level Movidiam connects content creators, agencies and companies. A brand looking for a filmmaker can search the system’s geobased database and see filmmaker profiles, complete with embedded videos, a free blog custom designed for the site and see the filmmakers credentials, history, awards and collaborations.

Profile_V02

Down the line, the metadata of your films, projects and credentials will also be searchable. So a company could put out a brief and have it sent to only people or agencies who are actually qualified. Alternatively, a freelancer, producer or agency would only receive the brief, if that brief meets their set financial quantifications and profesional qualifications.

For all parties involved, this can make posting or responding to a brief much more efficient. Instead of having an enormous list of poorly paid jobs, like we mostly see on Mandy, this could potentially cut some of the bullshit out.

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From within a project on the site, one can also search production team members. You might see a video with great lighting but a poor story and want to track down the gaffer. This system connects production team members digitally, much like Facebook or Vimeo’s credits. However, you’ll be able to find out a lot more professional information about those crew members with this system.

This is a quick over view of the social side of Movidiam.

While this is great, it’s the production side of Movidiam which I’m more excited about.

Project_V02

The project management system has many of the tools we really need in a single location, in a clean and simply designed user interface. Things like production timelines, budgets, storyboards, crew locations and contact details are all in one place.

One feature I’m personally interested in comes in the form of revisions. Unfortunately, most of my revisions happen via email. Ill send a draft of a video to an editor and they will send back a long list of time codes with comments or issues. And when you get 500+ emails a day and a working on multiple projects you can really waste a lot of time trying to simply update videos and find the information you need, when you need it.

Movidiam allows editors or clients to view videos and add comments in real time and on specific areas of the video. This might be a comment such as “can we get a different grade on the lamp here” where a user would then see these comments come up in real time and on a specific X/Y coordinate, on the video.

Users can then scroll through or navigate through a video via the comments and simply move directly from one comment point to the next.

Project-Overview_NEW

Furthermore, if you’re like me and usually have 10-20 projects going on at any given time, this system can give you an overview of all of them. A user can see all of their projects and quickly see at what stage in the process they are all at, how the budget is holding up or where deadlines are across many videos.

This is where I see huge potential for video newsrooms. Potentially, an editor or director of a newsroom of 50 video journalists could see an overview of where all of the projects are, see storyboards, scripts, budgets, deadlines or story ID information which might correspondent to other parts of the newsroom. That editor could see current drafts of each of those projects and without having to send a mass email out to all of those 50 journalists, would be completely up to date on where each project was at and what each employee was doing.

This is a basic outline of what the site aims to do. Its a bit hard to tell what place it could have in the industry, but I see huge potential in it from getting gigs to connecting with other filmmakers to simply having more organized and streamlined productions.

Movidiam will have two main options for users: a free site and a paid subscription. The free account allows users to profile themselves, create portfolios and blogs, be searchable and work on any existing project that they have been invited into. The pay wall unlocks all the production management tools and will be on a subscription basis of $25 a month. Its great to note here that even free users can use paid services, if they are invited by a member who has subscription services. Multiple user accounts, corporate, agency and enterprise group accounts will also be available.

I do think the site will be more powerful with a bigger user base. If there’s more filmmakers on it, it will be a more realistic place for agencies and brands to search find creators. Movidiam is offering two free months of full access to those who preregister for the beta site, so I encourage everyone to sign up here, as more users can actually benefit us all, across the industry.

Formula E, Carbon Free

The first carbon free, fully-electric racing championship was held in Beijing on September 13, 2014. The race aims to promote electric vehicles and clean energy technologies. Beijing was the first to host one of ten, Formula One style races around the world. Races take place in city centers of major destinations throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas.

See “Beijing Hosts Debut of Formula E as Engines Whir Rather Than Roar.”

Surrogacy: ‘Better than Prostitution’

The executive at Baby Plan Medical Technology Company Knows the camera is on.

“Working as a surrogate mother is better than being a prostitute, right?”

He says to a 30-year-old farmer turned surrogate mother in Wuhan. The comparison gives a small glimpse about how the surrogacy industry see’s itself: better than prostitution.

The woman listening, a 30-year-old divorcee, surnamed Kong is renting her womb to the surrogacy agency for roughly $24,000.

While it is illegal in China to implant a fertilized egg into another woman’s womb, Baby Plan Medical Technology Company avoids the issue by sending its surrogates to Thailand for the medical procedure. “All is permissible unless prohibited,” says CEO Zenan Yang. While the company exists in a legally gray area, opinions about surrogacy on the street seem less gray.

In “China Experiences a Booming Underground Market in Child Surrogacy” Ian Johnson explores the murky world of surrogacy in China.

Real World Uses of Canon C100 Dual Pixel CMOS AF for Video Journalists and Documentarians

A few months back at a music festival in Beijing a man walked by me dragging a cabbage. Perplexed and trapped between two mediocre metal bands, I asked my friend what the deal was. She told me that the cabbage symbolized economic inequality and the act was a form of protest.

In China the cabbage has quite the history compared to other vegetables. In harsher times, it was the main source of sustenance for many and having cabbage actually symbolized wealth — because you could afford to eat.

However, when I got home I started seeing reports online with other explanations. “Lonely teenagers in China who feel life is pointless and who struggle to find friends have taken to befriending the lowly vegetables as the perfect, undemanding companions,” said the Austrian Times, complete with quotes from psychologists and Chinese teens.

Within days, lots of explanations started surfacing. But a quick Google search actually showed that this was something of a performance art and it wasn’t a new thing at all. In fact, its been going on for over 10-years by the Beijing-based artist named Han Bing. A couple of text messages later and some quick networking and I found the guys contact details and decided to give him a call.

A week later, I spent a day with Mr. Bing to get to the bottom of it. After all, how often would I get a chance to strap a GoPro to a cabbage?

While this video is relatively simple there’s a couple tech details going on here of note. It was filmed with the Canon C100’s relatively new Dual Pixel CMOS AF upgrade. When Canon announced this was going to happen I actually had mixed feelings about it. I asked myself if I needed, or even wanted to autofocus at all. Would it be better to have auto focus? or use the Zeiss primes I have grown to love?

I let my curiosity get the better of me and paid for the upgrade A couple months after getting the installation the answer is very clear: if you shoot journalism with the C100 the update is an absolute necessity. I’ve found the feature useful in number of common situation for solo video journalists. With my Glidecam I can not only follow people with a much more shallow depth of field, but I can change my position in relativity to the subject and still maintain focus without a focus puller and wireless system (not that I have ever had those in the field).

Another tremendously useful use is the ability to track things at longer focal lengths. Tracking a fast moving cabbage at 300mm is simply much easier now. With video journalism, we tend not to have the ability to ask subjects to do things twice, so getting a shot on first take is essential.

Breaking news environments is another scenario where I’ve found the feature to be extremely valuable. On a recent assignment in Hong Kong, I attended a protest where over 500,000 people voiced their concerns about Chinese growing influence in the territory. The video was filmed, edited and published within 48 hours. There wasn’t too much tracking or focus pulling going on, but in a large crowd I could get shots quicker and more accurately with the AF. It was a tough situation to navigate and the AF just made life easier, which actually helps meet deadlines.

The feature has become invaluable to me but I do hope for continued firmware improvements to it. Currently, the system does not allow you to change the point of focus within your frame – unlike cameras like the Panasonic GH4 or Canon’s own 70D. This means you can’t chose what point the camera is tracking – it is always in the centre. I’ve reprogramed my camera’s buttons to have a quick focus lock, I can focus and recompose if needed, but it would be nicer to have more control here.

The C100 set up for an interview
The C100 set up for an interview

Being able to control the speed at which the camera focuses would also be very useful. Currently the AF is so quick it can look a little bit unnatural – perhaps lacking emotion. Having the ability to tell the lens to pull focus more gradually would give you the ability to change focus with a little more style.

While I hope Canon will give us these features with an update (ed – don’t hold your breath), the Dual Pixel CMOS AF already makes the C100 more valuable for video journalists and documentarians. It has in fact changed the way I shoot and sped up my workflow in fast paced environments.

Of course I also took my GoPro for a ride on the cabbage
Of course I also took my GoPro for a ride on the cabbage

Web Video Beats Broadcasters in Journalism Contest Category Called “Broadcast”

I’m very happy to announce Promise and Peril, a documentary I made last year with Patrick Winn has won the The Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. The award given by The National Press Club recognizes excellence in reporting “on diplomatic and foreign policy issues. Entrants must demonstrate an understanding of American foreign policy and how foreign affairs affect those policies.”

The award is given in two categories: print and broadcast. To me, the award symbolizes the increasingly roll video made exclusively for web is playing in the changing news industry. If web based video operations with small budgets can compete with major broadcast operations spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on production, then video technology has become accessible to the point of leveling the playing field, between news outlets.

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The People’s Religion

“Buddhism and Daoism are embedded in Chinese traditional culture,” the Rev. Matthew Zhen said after an early morning mass in Latin at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing. “But Islam, Christianity and Catholicism have a relatively short history in China. People need time to accept them.”

Although Christianity entered China well over a thousand years ago, the recent destruction of the Sanjiang Church in the eastern city of Wenzhou underscored Father Zhen’s point — more time may be needed. Whether it is primarily a question of time or ideology, however, is debatable.

“The government feels more comfortable with the so-called traditional religions in China — Buddhism, Daoism and folk religion,” said Ian Johnson of The Times’s Beijing bureau, who has reported on religion in China for more than 20 years. “They think those are less threatening than those that have more outer-world links such as Christianity, including Catholicism with ties to the Vatican, or Islam. Overall the government is a little uneasy about the growth of Christianity. It sees it as something that is a little bit out of control.”

In “Church-State Clash in China Coalesces Around a Toppled Spire,” Mr. Johnson explores the current state of religion in China and what conclusions can be drawn from the destruction of the $5.5 million, year-old church in “China’s Jerusalem.”

A Restoration Puzzle


It was 1974 when a provincial archaeology institute was doing an excavation in a small village in the heart of China’s coal country. The team had lost a cap to one of its measuring tools. They asked a local resident, Zhang Juncai, if he could make another.

He did, and it fit perfectly.

This was the beginning of Mr. Zhang’s career as a restoration technician. Forty years later, without any formal education, he has become a master of piecing together ancient Chinese artifacts that have been damaged and buried in China’s rough past.

One day last month, Mr. Zhang was piecing together a 900-year-old ceramic pot from the Liao dynasty at the archaeology and restoration department of the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute, in Datong, Shanxi Province. The pot, discovered 12 years ago in front of Grotto No. 22, was once used to store food.

“When I first came here, they asked me to change the plaster color,” he said. “I said I would rather quit than do that.”

While restoration efforts in China often involve making old things look new, Mr. Zhang, 65, believes the principles of archaeology require relics to stay true to the form they are found in.

“You need to separate the real parts and fake ones,” he said, a cigarette holder in the style of Hunter S. Thompson dangling from his mouth, as he held the pot together. “You can’t color the plastered parts brown. Those parts should remain white so people can tell it’s been restored. If you change the color, you’re faking it.”

Edward Wong’s full story on how Chinese officials and preservationists like Mr. Zhang have embarked on an ambitious effort to protect historic sites from industrial pollution is published here.

Back in Burma with More Light: A Review of the Ice Light

We are working in an era where technology is fueling our passion to create powerful multimedia. However, the market is so saturated with constantly evolving technology that, in my short career, I’ve found that the gear purchases I make are often completely obsolete for me six months later and almost certainly one year later (here’s where you picture a club full of manufacturers smoking cigars and drinking scotch that I’ve paid for).

Today, I’m six months down the road from a purchase I made this year at NAB, and I’m just as excited about it today as I was then. It’s the Ice Light from Westcott.

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Visual Journalism | 视频记者 Cinematography