Sarah Mann: Learning to focus

Media Credit: Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

Media Credit: Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

Each year, graduating editors are given 30 final column inches – “30” was historically used to signify the end of a story – to reflect on their time at The Hatchet, published in the final issues of the year.

Making sure your lens is focused on your subject is so simple and so straightforward, but it’s one of the biggest (and most frequent) mistakes newly minted videographers can make. It’s the first thing you do when you’re setting up your shot, and the absolute last thing you’re supposed to consider when you’re shooting.

But there’s so much more to think about. You’re setting up the camera, positioning the tripod, managing the audio, asking the questions and tweaking things along the way. But is it too loud? Or is it too bright? Is this person even looking in the right direction? Did you follow the rule of thirds? Oh, and don’t forget to hit “record” (that only happened once, and it still haunts me).

And before you know it, the interview’s over. You had your shot. And you move on, letting your subject get back to their life, and you get back to getting shots of whatever else is going on around you. Then, when you’re sitting on the Metro reviewing your footage on the way back from, quite possibly, the middle of nowhere (my favorite place to find stories), your heart sinks when you suddenly realize that your interview – that interview you spent so many seconds setting up, aligning, checking, re-aligning and checking again – is completely and utterly out of focus. There’s a crystal-clear tree or poster in the background that you couldn’t care less about while the person on camera, who is possibly pouring their heart out to you (my favorite kind of interview), looks like a ball of fuzz.

And it sucks.

Eventually, focusing became second nature. As I lugged my camera and tripod around D.C. more and more, the anxiety of screwing up melted away. Learning to focus (and maintain that focus) on a subject took time and a lot of practice, but eventually I was able to get past the nitty-gritty details and concentrate on the “big picture” – that, and learning to do a million things at once (being a videographer requires “a very particular set of skills”).

A lot of us show up at the townhouse – or are dragged up its steps by well-intentioned friends – with a desire to learn how to write, shoot, edit and design, but we’ve got a million other things going on in our lives. We have that chemistry class we really couldn’t care less about. We have internships and jobs where we learn more than we do in the classroom. We have our own lives. We’re busy people.

There was a lot of trial and error before I learned to focus on what mattered most. I had to weed out a number of student organizations and activities to find out what my “thing” would be. There are only 24 hours in a day, and only about 12 of those hours are well-lit enough to shoot a decent video. I decided to use that time wisely.

No matter how busy my week was, I knew I could get away from it all by picking up a camera and a tripod and setting off to interview anyone from pants-less runners jogging in the dead of winter to a Filipino immigrant working as a fishmonger at Eastern Market. Instead of focusing on myself, I got to focus on the lives of others. Video was, at first, a fun and distracting way to spend my free time, and ultimately it developed into a passion. I think those kinds of things tend to do that.

So I pursued it. I got better at it. I went to a documentary film festival and got inspired by it. I went abroad for a semester and missed it. And as soon as I arrived on campus, I threw myself back into it.

It took me a while to find out how much I loved video and journalism and storytelling, but that love blossomed because of The Hatchet.

And now that it’s over, I know my focus is going to shift to bigger and (debatably) better things (hint: it already has #gradlife). Sure, video has become my side hustle, but I wouldn’t want to be shooting for any organization other than The Hatchet.

I’ll see you all in my clips packages.

News: I have absolutely no clue how you guys do what you do every week and how you find so many things to write about on any given day. But whatever you do, keep doing it. You hold the behemoth that is GW accountable in so many ways. Also, I seriously admire your ability to write so much when I could barely write a video summary (or this). I salute you.

Photo: I think that you’re the one section that gets us the most. It’s incredibly hard to tell a story that’s really not visual through photos, yet you guys manage to do it every single issue. I feel like we get the easy way out since we get the visuals and the audio all rolled into one. And Desiree, thanks for taking my photo. <3

Sports: Yep, still don’t understand what “inside the paint” or “shooting from the field” means, but every time you guys record a voiceover for us on a basketball video, you make it sound incredibly exciting. I admire your love for and genuine desire to cover basketball – free pizza is usually the only thing that can get our section to those games. Keep it up.

Copy: Please make us exempt from those copy quizzes. Actually, don’t – I can still barely write a nut graf, so we probably still need them. And thanks for fixing all the errors in this piece, which is the first and last thing I’ll have ever written for The Hatchet that’s longer than three sentences.

Culture: The paper is so lucky to have you ladies leading the section. Keep up the amazing collaboration with video – you make our lives infinitely easier with that budget of yours. Thanks for giving me a list of things to do, places to visit and stories to send our videographers to do each week. Keep ‘em coming.

Colleen: Fearless leader of the paper, thank you for an awesome year on staff. I know I’ll see your name when I’m pulling clips for many years to come. Thanks for letting me stick around a little longer than a December grad should, and for taking so much interest in (and understanding) the content that our section produces.

Ellie: I have no doubt you’re going to do an amazing job leading this paper next year. Your writing is superb, and you have some great ideas for improving our section. I can’t wait to see what Vol. 113 has in store!

New Kids on the Block (of Hatchet Video): Yes, I am making this name up now and no, I have never been so impressed in my life. Seriously. A lot of you came to our team this year with a ton of experience, and some of you came with none, but you have all surpassed my expectations by leaps and bounds. Your talent and eagerness is inspiring, and I hope everyone knows how lucky they are to have such a great crop of newbies (I know they do!). Keep making great videos for us. Trust me, it’s worth it. Remember to focus (but I don’t think you’ll ever forget after reading this). And I’ll be watching.

Jake & Matt: Welcome to the team! Both of you are going to do an amazing job leading the section. Jake, never change, and Matt, thank you for helping me out so much on the engineering project this year! It’s been great to see you both grow as videographers in such a short amount of time, and I can’t wait to see what you produce.

Halley & Deepa: You two are a team of overflowing idea machines. Every budgeting I’ve seen you both come with awesome pitches, and I know that will never change. Keep being curious and ambitious and continue killin’ it in video (and life in general).

Blair: You’ve done an amazing job leading the section this year, and I know you’re going to keep doing so next semester! You’ve got mad skillz in the multimedia department and will continue to teach the babies how to be boss videographers. I’m going to miss going on with you about how great they are (and will be). You’re quite possibly one of the funniest people I know, and we should really try to take up matchmaking as a side gig. P.S.: We’re all terribly jealous of that little blue check mark.

Diana: You were the coolest Hatchet video mom and an amazing mentor. Thanks for dragging me out to Anacostia on a Saturday morning for one of the most inspiring videos I’ve ever done and showing me the small joys in battling Final Cut Pro late into the night. Your vision for the section is what inspired me to do better in every piece.

Zach: Thank you for being a grumpy, old man trapped in the body of a 20-something wearing a Buzz Lightyear jacket that convinced me to join the video team. I haven’t regretted it since (and you’re eternally welcome for Metro Voice). While I’ve hated you at times for being so nitpicky, you’ve helped make our videos great. I’m going to miss the home you’ve made for video at The Hatchet. Let me know when you want to borrow my boyfriend for dinner and some craft beers.

Andrew: I could write a lot about you and all that you’ve done, but I’ll leave it at this: Thank you for always supporting me, cooking dinner when I just can’t be bothered to, ruthlessly editing my homework, letting me rob you of your sleep, food and space, and understanding my love for The Hatchet. Here’s to many more loaves of bread and bottles of wine. Let’s finish an episode of 60 Minutes next week. Maybe I’ll stick around to help you do the dishes this time.

Mom and Dad: First, thank you for letting me try everything from ballet to piano as a kid. I know it took a while, and I quit almost everything, but I think I’ve finally found something I’ll actually stick with. Second, thank you for buying me my first real camera – I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done here without knowing that you believed in me. And finally, thank you for inspiring me and encouraging me to pursue this passion. In your own ways, you’ve each shown me how important it is to focus on achieving your dreams and do what you love.

―30–

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.