Nicaragua– land of lush rainforests, pristine beaches, and active volcanoes. This is Dan Robinson’s backyard.
Dan works with Amped for Education, a non-profit organization that improves access to education for students in need. His latest project follows a team of high-school baseball players from the US who visit Nicaragua to help build a primary school and to play some ball with the locals.
I sat down with Dan to talk a bit about this project and his role as the storyteller.
Dan, origin story. Go.
I am 22 years old, grew up in New Jersey, moved to Massachusetts for school, and now living in Nicaragua building a non-profit organization called Amped For Education which creates educational opportunities for students in need.
When I was growing up I always had an interest in art and technology. Luckily I had opportunities to play around with products such as Adobe Photoshop at a young age so as I got older my understanding of computers and creative programs grew as well. In high school I was making short action sports videos with my friends of skateboarding, snowboarding, dirt bikes– whatever was interesting and exciting to film.
By the time I attended college in Massachusetts I had a good understanding of editing videos, taking photos, and designing images. I became very involved in the UMass Ski and Board Club producing videos of our trips.
The founder of Amped for Education, Jeff Pluta, had seen some of the work I did with the UMass Ski and Board Club and extended an offer to join the organization in Nicaragua after graduating.
Tell It Like It Is: The Story
First, why do you tell stories?
Telling stories can inspire and enlighten people. A story can make someone think about situations differently or escape their own reality for a period of time.
Stories can also teach morals, concepts, and ideas. I think education is one of the single most important aspects to growth, and stories play an intricate role in that.
I also love listening to inspiring stories so it motivates me to create my own to share with others.
What’s the background on this story about high-school baseball players going to Nicaragua?
Amped for Education is expanding quickly here. We purchased land just a few days ago where a new community learning center will be built. This center will be a place for students to come to for help with their homework and English tutoring, among other resources. We start construction this Monday and plan to open in October.
The way we reach these goals is by organizing and running volunteer trips for students and individuals that want to have a meaningful and fulfilling travel experience. The baseball and volunteering trip that was showcased in the video took place just 2 weeks after I arrived in Nicaragua.
Why was telling this story important?
Over the course of the trip, I saw how the American students transformed and had meaningful, perhaps even life-changing experiences. I really wanted to capture that transformation as well as the energy and fun we had during the trip.
I wanted viewers to get the same excitement and feel motivated to do something similar.
Process: The Production
How much were you able to plan prior to the shoot?
There wasn’t much pre-production involved in this project. It was my first time producing a video for this organization so I really had no idea what to expect.
I filmed events and locations as I saw them and tried to make an edit to match the feel of the trip.
What was production like?
Production was always on the fly and in the moment. None of the shots you see are set up or designed. They were all things I saw unfolding before my eyes.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend filming this way since it is much more labor intensive and calls for you to be out filming constantly through the day.
I was up at 6am each morning to prepare the cameras and gear, filming until around 7pm, then downloading and organizing footage until about 11pm or later. Then waking up the next day and doing it all over again.
What was the turnaround time for this project, from production to post-production and delivery?
There was a 2 week turnaround time because I had another shoot scheduled in Pennsylvania just a few days after this project finished shooting in Nicaragua.
After the trip ended the real task of post-production began. I used Adobe Premiere to edit, Adobe After Effects for titles and graphics, and Adobe SpeedGrade for color correcting.
I would say I put about 20-30 hours into post-production from organizing all the footage to final product.
Deal With It: Challenges
What were some of the challenges during production? Were there things that you didn’t plan for?
Sure, technical things go wrong during production all the time. Batteries dying, lenses out of focus, memory cards full, etc. The best way to deal with that is to bring backups of everything just in case.
Getting shots of the local culture can sometimes be difficult. I am still new to Nicaragua and the cultural norms, not to mention the language barrier can still be difficult since my Spanish needs improvement.
I usually compensate by just throwing myself into different cultural scenarios. Sometimes that results in awkward or embarrassing situations but I usually walk away learning something new.
However, aside from technical problems there weren’t any major setbacks or problems that arose. I often try to get really close to the action which sometimes puts myself or my equipment at risk but thats how you get interesting and unique shots so its all part of the job.
Story Driven: Getting Good Interviews
The story is largely driven by the teens’ interviews. What was your experience working with and interviewing them?
The students on this trip were an absolute blast to hang out with. They were a great group to host in Nicaragua.
Do you have any tips for getting good interviews?
Interviewing teens, or anyone for that matter, can be a little tricky; the camera and microphones can be intimidating for the interviewee.
I try to always make my interviews very casual and relaxed to get genuine responses. I will set the camera a little off to the side and sit in a chair in front of my subject so they are focused on our conversation rather than the camera.
Then I try to make the questions flow naturally as if we were just hanging out talking. I’ll ask questions that I wont necessarily use in the edit but I ask just to loosen any tension and create a comfortable atmosphere.
Level Up: Experience & Lessons Learned
What was your experience on this project? Are you satisfied with the final product?
The artistic side of me is never satisfied and always wants to improve the work. However, professionally I understand deadlines need to be made and the product needs to be presented in a timely manner.
Overall I am very happy with the final product but I know the next one will be even better.
What were some of the lessons you learned from this project?
Over the course of this production I learned a lot of new skills. During production I became much more comfortable using the Glidecam as well as anticipating where there may be some exciting action before it happens.
I also learned how to use Adobe SpeedGrade and Adobe After Effects more in-depth.
Finally, I learned to manage my time effectively and work on tight deadlines too.
Where do you feel you need to grow as a storyteller?
I have recently become interested in exploring new types of storytelling. Although film and photography will always be my favorite medium, I have also started experimenting with writing. I try to write a few times each week in the most descriptive way possible.
The written word is a powerful form of communication that– if done well– can illustrate images and ideas that images simply cannot do. I have found that trying different forms of storytelling and experimenting with a number of different mediums helps my creativity all around.
Moving Forward: The Future
What are you working on next?
We have 2 more Amped For Education trips planned for the coming weeks that I will be filming and I am also putting together some short form videos (10-15 seconds each) about the local students here in Nicaragua which will eventually be part of a larger project down the road.
I also have a few passion projects I’m really pumped about working on in the future. One will be with a tattoo artist based out of San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua that does some awesome water color style tattoos and the others will be some surf and yoga projects with resorts in the area.
So be on the look out for a lot of new content coming out soon, I’m so excited to continue creating and sharing more with everyone.
Gear Up: Production Equipment
What type of equipment did you use on this project?
For lenses I use the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 Ultra Wide Lens and the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 lens. I find that the Glidecam works best with the 14mm since the wide angle compensates for any unwanted motion and makes everything appear much smoother. The 14mm lens also closely resembles GoPro’s perspective so it makes blending those shots in the final edit easier.
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