Eva Gilliam: creating emotional impact in audio slideshows

Eva Gilliam in Kenya shooting

Eva Gilliam is a freelance producer and videographer in Cape Town, South Africa. Various news agencies and NGOs, including UNICEF, hire her to create audio slideshows from photos and sound recordings gathered by reporters. Last year she worked with photojournalist Kate Holt on a powerful audio slideshow, “Inside Somalia: Violence Against Women and Girls,” published in The Guardian in October. The audio slideshow presents three Somali women who describe violence in the refugee camps. Gilliam spoke to Soundslides about three stylistic choices that give this audio slideshow its distinct personality.

Once Holt delivered the images and sound recordings, Gilliam listened to the audio, reviewed the pictures, and discussed the storyline with Holt.

“A 2-to-3-minute audio slideshow will have between 15 and 20 images,” Gilliam explained. “Kate gave me 25-30 images and heaps more audio.” Interviews, images, captions, ambient sounds and background music must work in concert to support the narrative story and its emotions and message.

Audio, images, music

Gilliam prefers stories in which the people being profiled do all of the speaking, rather than having a hired reader recite a voiceover. “Raw sound is more powerful,” she said. “I edit the audio to tell the story, and then find the pictures that fit to the story.”

Audio is captured by the photographer or hired journalists, stringers or fixers. If they haven’t gathered enough ambient sound, Gilliam may use ambient recordings that she’s made at the same location for other projects.

“I look at and listen to all the material and play around,” Gilliam said. “I match things up, and if something doesn’t work, I fire it and bring in a new idea or a new shot. I really pay attention to the audio. I have the audio speak to me and create that story. What is that person really trying to convey? What is the emotion behind it?”

Here are three production choices that make the violence in Somalia audio slideshow sing:

1. Improvised music by The Color of Sound

“Finding music is key,” Gilliam said. “The tone, style and speed of the music create 30 to 40 percent of the emotional pull of the piece.” She usually uses open source music, but in this case she asked The Color of Sound, an improvisational music group in the United States, to compose something new.

Gilliam provided the musicians a list of the emotions she needed the music to convey. “I asked if they could play through the list of emotions for certain periods of time,” she said. The group created five pieces of improvised music for her. She spliced together parts of three of those to achieve the combination she wanted.

2. Image fade

In the audio slideshow, each Somali woman is introduced with text placed over an image that fades to dark rather than not black. Not jumping to black creates visual continuity, and also contributes to textural variety, as the images seem to sink behind the text and then re-emerge.

“Going to black screen would have dropped the energy,” Gilliam said. “The pictures in this piece are subtle and soft, and not distracting to the text.”

3. Certain slideshow photos drift

For further dramatic effect, certain images were made to shift almost imperceptibly sideways.
“For the portraits of each women, there’s a slight movement of the picture,” Gilliam explained. “It’s subtle. The single image moves something like 2 millimeters across the screen.”

Of course, it helps to have gorgeous, evocative photos. “Kate takes amazing photographs, so I had some wonderful material to work with,” Gilliam said.

Check back to the Soundslides blog this month for Gilliam’s guidance on a audio slideshow checklist for reporters heading out into the field.

Read Eva Gilliam’s blog.

See more of Kate Holt’s audio slideshows in the November/December Soundslides blog posts Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

 — Interview and story by Laura Read


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