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Bill Johnson

MMW 13: Nov 2012

Bill makes images for people who enjoy dramatic moments in nature. He is a fine art landscape photographer transitioning to digital documentary multi-media work.


As a landscape photographer, he combines the traditional large format camera, scans large format film transparencies and prints archival digital exhibition prints. He has also learned traditional hand bookbinding and prepares individual art books of his photos in clamshell boxes.


Bill began photography almost four decades ago in Honolulu, Hawaii. Perhaps because of the natural beauty of Hawaii, his work has always emphasized natural light and landscapes. Bill also paints based on this photographs with oils and acrylics to increase his sensitivity to color and composition.


As a multi-media photographer, Bill is using the latest Nikon D 700 and D 800 cameras to capture stills and video clips to combine with recorded interviews and environmental sounds into slide shows and videos. He works in Adobe Premier Pro CS6 and Final Cut Pro X to create videos for presentation on the internet.


Personal Vision


Bill sees profound beauty in nature: ancient trees on desert mountain tops; the contest between sea and rocky coasts; wind blown trees; artifacts of man; and , shifting sand dunes. He especially enjoys the quiet and solitude of waiting for the light before dawn.


Bill also sees great dignity in individual lives, and this is what has led him to capture conversations in multi-media presentations. Current multi-media presentations include Sea of Souls: Skid Row Los Angeles, Times Square: Cross Roads of the World, and Mariachi Plaza: East Los Angeles.


Bill participated in the November 2012 MediaStorm Storytelling Workshop. He had the following to say about his experience:


The MediaStorm Storytelling Workshop came highly recommended and exceeded my expectations. The team from MediaStorm included Eric Maierson, Rob Finch, and Leandro Badalotti under the guidance of Brian Storm. It was clear from the start that all involved had a tireless passion for story telling and worked extremely hard to tell the best story possible.

The effort started upon being selected for the workshop with the push to find a compelling person to interview. I learned a lot about researching stories, who makes a good candidate, tracking down contact information, and enjoyed cold calling to help line up the story. We set a new record for pre-workshop emails as my teammates Marcin Szczepanski and Markel Redondo, along with Eric and Rob, dug in to research and debate story ideas.

The first day of the workshop was Brian going over his approach to story telling, the structure of the week, and a detailed review of past workshop videos to get an understanding of what makes a great story work. It was clear that our objective was to tell the person’s story to the best of our ability. The video we were to produce was a gift to the person being interviewed and brought the responsibility of getting the story right.

Rob led the effort in the field, and did a superb job of explaining the technical side of setting up shots. Rob was diplomatic and persistent in getting the subject of our video, Benny Villanova, to allow us personal access into his daily routine.

Eric led the effort of editing and constantly bounced ideas off others to get feedback. Brian focused on the narrative and provided guidance on which sections were most meaningful and the sequence of the story.

Leandro was a workhorse editing hours and hours of B-roll shots, researching music clips, and maintaining back up copies throughout each step of the process.

The strength of the MediaStorm approach is the use of dual tracks -- written narrative and video editing – to hone in on the story line. The written narrative or dialog set the primary arc of the story based on a formal interview with Benny. The written narrative was edited down to a tight sequence of plot points, and illustrated in Adobe Premier Pro by the layering in of B-roll shots taken by Marchin, Markel and Rob.

As a workshop participant in the editor role, I watched Eric’s approach to editing that can only be described as a blizzard of subtle adjustments to audio and video tracks. The edit in and out points were constantly refined and checked with the written narrative. I found it particularly insightful to see how Eric overlapped transition points and adjusted changes in volume to good effect.

There were two teams working on different stories during the week. The final event of the workshop was the screening of both stories. It was helpful to see the differences in the way the teams shot their stories and to discuss the challenges both faced in getting to the personal motives of their subjects. There was healthy debate about whether or not we got the story right and the ethics of showing the result to the world.

Just as the one-week workshop was preceded by a month of preparation, I am finding that reviewing the pages and pages of notes made during the week is a continuing learning tool.

Most importantly, I enjoyed my time immersed in the family of passionate storytellers that is MediaStorm. It was like drinking from a fire hose, and I will be reliving the experience again and again to gain a better insight into dramatic storytelling.

Thank you Brian and the rest of the MediaStorm team!

The American-Made Benny by Marcin Szczepanski, Markel Redondo and Bill Johnson

Benny is a “certified” garbologist. He collects what others throw away. Benny is also at war with his family. Here is a man sharing a house with his wife but living as a stranger. This is a household on the edge.