Writer and producer Jackie Bennion has written for The Financial Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian newspaper in London, and is a former managing editor at Wired magazine and politics editor at Wired News. Jackie got involved in video production when she co-founded an award-winning digital entertainment company, traveling and filming in remote places around the world. She's a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and lives in California. She doesn't own a car.
POV: In your work, you consider the notion of 'borders.' What is a border to you?
Jackie Bennion: A border to me is going somewhere new whether it's ignorance, curiosity or serendipity leading you there. Once you've stepped out of your comfort zone, you've already crossed some invisible line.
POV: What borders did you encounter while working on your pieces?
Bennion: For the POV's Borders videos, which are generally under three minutes, I looked at the limitations of the medium and tried to keep the stories practical and informative. I wanted viewers to quickly get a grasp of the choices these people made and why. I also looked at how to tackle a subject like the environment. It's easy to wind up preaching or just depressing the hell out of people, so I didn't want to add another voice to the sky-is-falling chorus. I wanted the stories to invoke a sense of possibility that here are ordinary people (Larry David being the exception!) going about their lives making small positive changes. It wasn't an ordeal for them, they weren't wacko card-carrying members of the Sierra Club.
Los Angeles itself gave me a different perception of beauty. It was fertile territory to search for stories and images. It gave me the chance to explore the sort of megatropolis many people around the world now live in and see what has and continues to shape where we live. Within 50 miles of LA, you're on 12, 14-lane freeways cutting through a landscape that's in total supplication to the car. I saw more car washes than supermarkets, more parking valets than parking meters, and everywhere you look there's this beautiful classic car-culture signage reminding you of a bygone era. I remember filming the skyline from the top of the Getty Museum and trying to capture the "smaze" [the locals' term for a mix between smog and haze]. Even when you turn on the car radio, the local NPR station pumps out just the right blend of trancelike music for those who spend literally years of their life stuck behind an endless current of blinking tail lights.
POV: What is possible when innovative approaches to narrative and Interactivity are combined? How is your piece different from traditional storytelling?
Bennion: I don't know that it is different. Certainly being a Web series, gives storytellers advantages. I liked the fact that you can read an in-depth interview with Chris Paine, who wanted the world to know that his fantastic car was being taken away in the most ambiguous of circumstances. You find out that he organized a mock funeral send-off for the car in Hollywood, but the bonus is you can click on the videos and see the funeral for yourself. You can watch and listen to Chris, catch the emotion in his voice, and it makes the experience a lot more real and intimate. And of course, with the Web, there's usually a way to respond to what you've seen and connect with others and take the story in new directions.
The one traditional device I purposefully avoided was a voiceover. It's fine for longer narratives where all sorts of threads and characters need binding together, but I really liked the ordinariness and simplicity of one person introducing themselves, talking to camera, and sharing their stories with little or no interruption. It's like watching "The Office" on BBC America. There's no laughter track and that's sometimes a good thing.
POV: What, if anything, was exciting or challenging about those differences?
Bennion: Making and watching videos on the Web is always exciting and challenging. You prepare yourself for all the quality issues and technical constraints when you're producing them, knowing that when they're finally compressed and playing in a window that resembles a postage stamp, there's been a horrible but necessary pact with the digital devil. I try to minimize the heartbreak by not watching the 56k streamed versions!
POV: Expand our borders. What's a book, movie, piece of music, website, etc. that challenges or engages with the idea of 'borders' that we should know about but perhaps don't?
Bennion: I'll watch and recommend anything that offers a different perspective or a multitude of perspectives. Foreign language films, English language films shot in remote places; any sincere works that spend time documenting cultures and points of view different from our own; foreign news outlets as opposed to domestic. Whether it's news or entertainment, the less mitigated and flattened into a palatable formula, the better. I'm a news and media junkie but I'm more interested in what writers and artists have to say about the world than pundits and reporters.
POV: What are you working on next? Where can we see more of your work?
Bennion: I really don't know where my work will show up next. I've been asked to write a couple of art guides, and invited to film a road trip documentary later this summer. Right now, it feels strange, because I don't own a video camera. I sold the one I used to shoot the POV's Borders series to pave the way for buying the new Panasonic everyone is raving about. I just haven't pulled the fiscal trigger yet.