Find out more about past and upcoming POV films!

Did you know? Many POV films are available free to stream online and on mobile devices. Visit POV's Watch Video page or download the PBS mobile app for iPhone or iPad, and see which films are available today!

POV Hackathon: Know Your Hackers, “Op-Video”

by |

Op-Video

Op-Videos are short-form mixed-media essays about current public affairs.

The POV Hackathon team members working on the Op-Video project have deep experience re-imaging traditional forms of journalism for the digital age. I spoke the two team members, Joe Posner and Lam Thuy Vo, to learn a little more about them.

Posner works at the intersection of documentary film, motion design and music. His work as a mixed-media director has appeared in Newsweek, The Daily Beast and APM: Marketplace, and he has contributed motion design to several documentary feature films.

Vo is a multi-platform journalist currently producing infographics, videos and animations for The Wall Street Journal and NPR’s Planet Money. She is an instructor in multimedia and data journalism and has spoken at conferences and universities around the world.

Joe Posner (photo by Ian McAlpin)

Joe Posner (photo by Ian McAlpin)

POV: Could you explain the project that you’re working on?

Joe Posner: For the past year I’ve been making these things I call Op-Videos. It’s a translation of the op-ed columns that I grew up with into a web video. I work with a writer, I interview them and add a lot of context and illustration via hand drawn illustration and music. I started with one that I made on my own, and since then Newsweek and The Daily Beast have asked me to make them there. I worked on feature-length documentaries before, and I loved working on docs. It was an amazing experience working with some incredible directors. One thing that I took away from it was that it’s such an amazing format for discussing public issues, especially when you compare it to what’s on news TV. They’re just such thoughtful, oftentimes opinionated, but well-considered opinion essays. And I wanted to do the same thing, but not spend two years on it — just spend a month on each piece.

This project stems from that, but will also incorporate the expertise of the people I’m working with and bring it into interactivity. The plan is to look at measures of unemployment and explain them in an interactive way, and also present a different perspective on what they mean and how they’re used and applied. Lam works at Planet Money, that’s a topic that’s really in her breadbasket, and we’re all excited to gather insights and explanations from the people we know. And also to gather opinions, because how you measure and look at these employment numbers kind of determines what you think should be done, as well.

POV: What do you hope to get out of the Hackathon?

Posner: The Hackathon is so connected with what I hope to do with this project, which is to consider what I would do instead of a feature documentary. This seems like such an incredible way to use a developer network. I’m really excited because I don’t know what exactly the outcome is going to be, but I know that I’m going to learn an incredible amount from the people I’m working with, and from the other teams, I’m sure. It will put my idea of reimagining the documentary into a very real place. You’re learning and collaborating with other people who have done really incredible work. It’s not like I’m directing this in the way that I would direct a video. We’re pretty much all reporting and all creating aspects in addition to having our own technical expertise. So that’ll be an exciting, if indeterminate, part of it.

Lam Thuy Vo

Lam Thuy Vo

POV: What interested you about participating in the Hackathon?

Lam Thuy Vo: I’ve always been interested in hackathons, especially because I believe there’s an untapped field of documentary coming together with coding, while video and coding is segregated a lot in newsrooms. Infographics are one thing, video is another, and having all them come together is something that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like to see. There are definitely more people that are technically capable of doing all of these things — there are more “one-man bands” that can work on their own. There are also more people who are consciously choosing to be coders in the newsroom. Whereas before it was like, oh, do you know code? Maybe you’re a computer scientist who has interest in news. More people are choosing that track, doing computer science and journalism together.

I think with this specialization, people are either becoming more versed in coding or becoming better as a videographer, so there’s a sort of segregation of the newsroom. But because it’s become a more normal story mode there are a lot more people willing to work together to make it into one large, multifaceted, interesting project. I see that in the doc world now too, where people are bringing work to the next level by working with coders. That’s a trend that’s new and emerging more so than in news, where there have been more coders for a longer period of time, and where people have been doing infographics earlier. I’m very encouraged by that development in the doc world, because documentarians explore subjects in depth and for a long time. They have the luxury of time, which news people don’t most of the time. That’s really powerful, to be able to work on a project for two years and then incorporate that with online elements as well.

POV: As a developer, what are you hoping to get out of the experience?

Vo: I’m sort of a jack of all trades, I do video as well. Now I’m working as an infographics person. What I want to do is work with really capable people and reach that potential I see, to take it to the next level. I want to actually be able to do all of the things that I see in my head but am only half capable of coding.

Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs!

Rahul Chadha
Rahul Chadha
Rahul Chadha is a Brooklyn-based journalist and filmmaker interested in the convergence of coding and documentary arts. He is a past participant of several documentary programs, including the UnionDocs Collaborative and the Maysles Institute's Filmmakers Collaborative.