Archive for the ‘This American Life TV’ Category

Question No. 20: “Seriously?”

October 22, 2009

Ira Question Written by Nathan Mattise

This weekend we have a project for my web journalism class that’s largely based on sequencing (basically the idea of storyboarding out your video, but applied to documentary/journalistic video).

The issue with storyboarding out something journalistic is that you don’t have creative control over pure documenting.  This leads to the lure of staging shots in order to complete your ideal vision.

It’s not the most ethical practice, but in the commentary for “Reality Check” episode from season one of TAL TV,  Ira Glass admits the crew uses fishing wire to lead the bull around the yard to complete the background aesthetic.

For real?

What are your thoughts on staging visuals to complete your stories? Is that one of the reasons you opted to stop doing the TV show?

Links: Mastering Multimedia | YouTube

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one.

Question No. 13: “Where did you move the furniture?”

October 12, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

Describe that picture in one word.  Is it Storytelling? Pretentious? Memorable? Awesome?

This American Life on radio has the iconic soundbite – Ira’s self-admitted slightly nasal, a bit too quick delivery of the “It’s This American Life…” intro. After Season One of TAL on TV, Ira Glass sitting at his Ikea-chic desk in some remote and scenic location seemed to be the frontrunner for the show’s “defining image.”

They opted to ditch it all in Season Two however. The new intro was Ira on a handheld video camera, taping himself in the middle of some organic experience (on escalators, driving in cars, etc.). I understand that Ira never wants to be the focus of the program, but if he is the face that people recognize and then sit down to listen to (inevitably leading them into the entire program)…

…what gives?

In this age of meticulous marketing and branding, why would you opt to move away from having a defining image (Ira at the desk) for the television series?

Links: n/a

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one.

Question No. 7: “Will you be quiet?”

September 29, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

In less than 48 hours, I have a two-minute multimedia pieces due for class. It’s something the school values highly –  making all their new grad students produce one within weeks of coming to campus. Some do it successfully and others not so much. I’m hoping to be included in the former.

Naturally I sought out some of TAL on TV to inspire me on the production end (I wish I could find content like they do, my reach is simply not as far or as thorough at this point in time). Along with the multimedia work over at, there’s one immediate difference between what I saw and what I was instructed to aspire for…me.

This American Life uses narration in nearly everything. I can only recall an episode here or there that relies on old tapes to tell the story without a TAL storyteller. On TV (closer to the product I am trying to produce, it’s a Soundslides project), only the urban horseback riding story from Season II comes to mind as a story done solely through the source.

Faculty would laugh at me if I wrote a print story comprised only of quotes. I think my broadcast compadres would echo that sentiment. However, with Soundslides I am supposed to allow my sources to speak without filter or structure on my part. Yet, the folks I admire as storytellers are doing similar projects but repeatedly opting for narration.

I’m a bit confused…

Why do you opt for narration in a majority of your pieces on This American Life? If given ideal sources and an ideal story, would you still opt for it or is the Utopian goal a piece that stands solely on its own?

Links:| NHInteractive| Knight Digital Journalism

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one.

Question No. 6: “Is Dad home?”

September 28, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

The great thing about the Season Two DVD of This American Life is the additional content. Not only are the stories unbelievable (dental floss?) but there is commentary from Ira and the producers giving insight into the ideas and production on certain episodes.

However, even with that extra exposure, at least one question from that season really looms.

There is a very memorable episode entitled “Escape” that centers around a man with an absolutely crippling physical condition. He is bed-ridden, breathes and eats through tubes, talks via a computer monitor. The story focuses on the universal idea of wanting independence and breaking away from your parents’  home through his very unique lens.

We’re introduced to the man, his girlfriend, his caregiver, his mom and his… (wait, were you expecting “dad” here? My friends and I were too).

Now obviously the traditional nuclear family isn’t an assumption as if it were the 1950s, but in a story so focused on breaking away from  home wouldn’t it make sense to thoroughly lay out what that home is composed of? It’s understandable if someone declines to participate, but if they’re intimately tied to the subject matter do you have to at least mention their status? It’s worth asking…

How you determine when a bit of traditional information (specifically, the status of dad in “Escape”) can not only be left out, but can be completely ignored within a piece?

Links:|| TV Guide

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one

Question No. 1: “Why Ira, why?”

September 21, 2009

Ira Question | Written by Nathan Mattise

This entire blog/project was sparked by the This American Life: Season Two DVD .  Specifically, my friends and I were moved by the John Smith piece.

My colleague who worked in broadcast journalism commented it was one of the best produced pieces of television he’s ever seen.  The other one simply warned me he cried during his first viewing.

As an aspiring journalist, everything This American Life does impresses me in terms of idea generating, execution, storytelling, emotion evoking, etc.  “The Life of John Smith” was no different.  The piece ultimately helped Season Two win two Emmys. It also has the distinction of Ira calling it, “…one of the best things we’ve ever put on, on TV or radio.

In light of all that, today’s question:

With the success of This American Life on TV and your continued pursuit of more challenging and innovative journalism, why put that project on hiatus and return to radio only?

Links:| Amazon|| WBEZ Blog

E-mail us if you have a question for Ira Glass to discuss or if you have insight on this one