The life of a visual storyteller is based on one hard and fast rule: you write to the video you have, not the video you wish you had. Our unscheduled shoot at Guide Dogs of South Australia and the Northern Territories was a reminder that whether you’re the last reporter on the scene and the police are rolling up the crime scene tape or filming an around-the-world documentary about what it’s like to explore the world in the midst of losing your eyesight, the rule is the same.
For this, I couldn’t be happier.
The challenges facing my shooting partner and I could hardly have been more daunting. We had been on the ground in Adelaide for less than an hour. We hadn’t unpacked our gear or even checked that everything was all in one piece. We had just traveled thirty hours,, in a direction so far around the world that it would have only taken another four hours of travel for us to have been heading back around the other half. There was also the small matter of the fact that the people at Guide Dogs SA/NT didn’t know who we were or what we were doing.
To me, that last one was the least of our problems. After all, we didn’t know who they were either… we’d get to each other together. I had been a reporter for almost fifteen years before I moved on to the production world. Showing up where I wasn’t expected and somehow coaxing a story out of the people I found when I got there is the particular bicycle I have never forgotten how to ride. What? You say it’s 2 p.m. on a Friday and that nobody is in the office? We can deal with that. You say there’s an awards ceremony that night and anyone who could possibly help is at home to get ready? We can work around that? You say there aren’t any actual clients who use guide dogs comigcoming in today? Totally not a problem.
What you learn as a reporter is when you need to get the story, there really is no such thing as an obstacle. You wear your most patient but persistent and hopefully endearing smile and you never take it off. You solve problems and get the story because… well, you need to get the story. To me, it didn’t matter that until we passed the signage for this organization, we were totally happy with the story we were telling and the places we had chosen to tell it. This was new information, a new angle and it all of the sudden was impossible to tell the story, the real story, without it. We were getting those interviews and our video… whatever interviews and video we could.
Reporting is sometimes about being persistent in the name the greater good. Sometimes the greater good is a story that will make air so that your producer doesn’t throw things. Sometimes the greater good is getting the news out so that people will know what’s going on. Sometimes, as in this case, it’s being able to go home and say we found every story we could while twelve thousand miles from that home. This is part of the story we found in the middle of Adelaide, Australia on a Friday afternoon in March 2015.
The fact this story, in the midst of the larger story, came together is what keeps me going. I’ve found the storytelling gods to be a pretty forgiving bunch, and they seem to know when to lend a hand. The executive director might not have been on hand when we were here, but there was a real, live orientation and mobility instructor right down the hall, which turned out to be even better. It didn’t matter that in a perfect world, the interactive center shown in this story would have been filled with school children. That world, today, was a parallel universe. So our logic… had to be… all the more room for us to wander and play without having to get permission slips from dozens of school children. in the absence of their parents. It certainly didn’t matter that there were no guide dogs anywhere nearby at the guide dog center. That was a problem to be solved later. Which, as you can see in the video, it was. Granted, it was the next day, and we came upon our subject by pure chance and while shooting something else entirely. We were ready for random acts of fortune… and I’ve also found when you’re looking for something, you tend to find it. We set out that next day with the idea that we were going to prioritize locations where people wihtotu cars would likely be on hand. Tram stops, sidewalk markets and the like. In other words, we pushed the odds in our favor… and we got a lucky break.
I can’t fully express how good it felt to be wearing my reporter’s hat again. In a small, little accessed room in my mind, I sometimes wonder if it would even fit if I could find it. I did not expect to find it in Adelaide, Australia, but there it was… sewn right into the fabric of my brand new filmmaking hat. Wonder of wonders, it was just as comfortable as I remembered.