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AP releases mini-documentary package about the US opioid crisis

Kyle Graves, in recovery for opioid addition, sits in the home he shares with his mother in Franklin, Tenn., June 6, 2017. Graves' troubles began more than a decade ago when he was prescribed the opioid oxycodone for degenerative arthritis in his hips, shoulders, feet and back.(AP Photo / David Goldman)

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How best to capture the story of recovering opioid users?

Chicago-based medical writer Lindsey Tanner and Atlanta-based photographer/videographer David Goldman teamed up to produce an intimate look at a diverse group of people – among them, a lawyer, a businessman and a trucker – who got caught up in the worst opioid epidemic in U.S. history.

Their package – Tanner’s story and Goldman’s photos and a 9-minute mini-documentary – earn the Beat of the Week.

Tanner began developing the story several months ago during several conversations with a pain-and-addiction doctor at Vanderbilt University who had been recommended for another opioid piece that didn’t pan out. It became clear during those calls that the doctor had been personally and professionally touched by the epidemic – he’d lost his brother to a possible drug overdose and was now helping people from all walks of life recover from opioid addiction.

That set in motion an ambitious project: to document through the words of these one-time opioid users their struggles and their journeys from rock-bottom to recovery. Over two to three months,Tanner had several phone and email conversations with the patients. When she sensed she’d developed a rapport, she’d ask each to describe their low points and those stories helped drive the tone of the writing.

Goldman made video the priority, aiming to produce a documentary-style piece with patients’ voices driving the narrative.

Goldman decided to experiment with storytelling.

Instead of packaging a traditional AP video, he aimed to produce something more personal – a documentary-style piece with patients’ voices driving the narrative. The Broadcast News Center was on board and moved a 9-minute video along with a 2-minute breakout of the doctor. Then this full-length version was posted on AP’s Digital Products YouTube page:

Here’s how Goldman describes capturing the documentary look: “First,I shot whenever possible with a shallow depth of field to give the visuals a moody feel. With the subject in focus,blurring out the noisy background gave it more of a cinematic look. This is something we do often for photo stills so it’s as simple as applying the same principle. Second,I used a Glidecam to be able to shoot motion relatively stable. This allowed me to move with the subject to capture candid footage without having to stay stationary with a tripod or handhold the camera which can create shaky video. Third,I used still images when I thought it was stronger than B-roll footage. Fourth,I tried to keep talking heads out of the piece as much as possible. Unless the person is showing strong emotion,to me it’s always more interesting to listen to someone’s story while watching them doing something interesting or at the very least,something mundane they are doing but shot in an interesting way. Lastly, I created some background music which I thought would tie the piece together and gave each person’s story their own music to reflect their situation.”

Goldman says he didn’t know how long the piece was going to be until he sat down to edit the interviews and found it very hard to keep them tight without losing crucial elements.

“The idea for the intro came just from trying something different,” he says. “I was curious what it would look like to introduce the viewer to each person as they sat in their own space with themselves, not saying anything and not doing anything. And then to contrast that with each of their own statements about hitting rock bottom. Hopefully it was engaging enough that people would want to keep watching past the intro.”

Goldman says he made video rather than stills his priority for this project. “I always feel it’s helpful to pick one,never both equally. I find it usually doesn’t work when you’re equally committed, that moments get missed and it’s far too stressful.”

For their illuminating package that combined powerful text and photos with a haunting mini-documentary, Tanner and Goldman share this week’s $500 prize.

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