Thanks to video team, a new way to share Chautauqua


At top, video production team member Matt Cole shoots video of Track and Field Day at Boys’ and Girls’ Club. Below, John Liau, Laura Taflinger and Cole interview a School of Dance student. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

Like most Chautauquans, Matt Cole has seen a sailing race on Chautauqua Lake. John Liau has watched kids in the Children’s Club chase after watermelons and play in pools of foam, and Laura Taflinger has experienced a lecture in the Amphitheater. But unlike most attendees at these events, Cole, Liau and Taflinger’s perspectives were from behind a video camera lens.

Cole, Liau and Taflinger make up Chautauqua Institution’s video team and can be seen at almost any event on the grounds, from lectures to games to religious services. Because of their efforts, the Institution will be able to preserve the season’s events through vignettes and videos on the Chautauqua website.

In past years, the grounds cleared of visitors in September, but so did the website. Now, Chautauquans can celebrate and share their experiences at Christmas, Easter, birthdays and year-round, said George Murphy, vice president and chief marketing officer.

“When the season ends Sept. 1, I was worried that we don’t have the assets to properly celebrate the season that we just had,” Murphy said. “When the season ends, we kind of go silent from September to December. … So the whole idea was to give people the tools they need to relive the prior season.”

So Murphy sought out a video team and hired Taflinger as the team’s producer and Liau and Cole as interns.

Much like the friendships of many Chautauquans, the members of the video team would only have met in Chautauqua.

In early June, Cole was finishing up his final year of undergraduate study at SUNY Fredonia, scrambling with the rest of his class to find a job, an internship or even just a place to live. In fact, Cole said his colleagues envied him for even having summer plans.

Cole did not realize his passion for video, specifically documentary production, until a couple of years into college. Now, his dream is to work for a mid-sized video production company where he can work on different types of projects, ranging from music videos to documentaries.

Liau has a similar dream, but his love of video grew out of his passion for photojournalism. Liau was still in his first year as a graduate video production student at Syracuse University when he applied for a photography internship position at The Chautauquan Daily for this season and was hired by Murphy because of his video skills.

Taflinger, who grew up going to Chautauqua and worked as a reporter in 1998 for The Chautauquan Daily, also was facing uncertainty when she and her husband lost their jobs in London and were planning a move to America. Taflinger contacted the Daily editor Matt Ewalt about work for the summer, and Ewalt suggested her to Murphy.

“Then I just came here with a British husband and a half-British baby,” Taflinger said.

Taflinger and Cole’s backgrounds are in journalism, and their responsibilities on the video team are not so different from journalism. The goal of the video team is to simply record what happens on the grounds. There is not a special message the Institution is trying to promote, Taflinger said. In that sense, there can be things missing from articles or photos that video can capture more easily.

“It’s just about seeing the same people on the grounds engaged in what they’re doing. … With a photograph, you’re not getting the sound and the commotion and the people and the crickets and the birds,” Taflinger said.

Like journalists, the video team is simply telling a story, Liau said.

But often, it’s not clear from the beginning what the story will turn out to be, Cole added.

“You never know how it’s going to cut together,” Cole said. “In the editing process, you might discover another story (than the one you set out to shoot), one that’s better.”

For this reason, the team ends up getting a lot of footage they will not end up using. Cole said professors have told him that the ratio of footage gathered to footage actually used can be anywhere from 40:1 to 60:1, whether those numbers be in minutes, hours or even days. Taflinger said the members of the video team probably will use a very small percentage of the footage they gather but will produce several vignettes, videos about each school, short pieces about each feature and footage of lectures and events.

The job of a videographer is complex, though, especially in a place like Chautauqua. A lot of taking video is about knowing the kind of shot to take and then setting up the camera, staying patient and waiting for the shot to unfold.

For example, Cole said one of his favorite, and most difficult, experiences was taping a sailing race from a sailboat. While the video would not have been as interesting from land, it took patience and some creativity to keep the camera still while also capturing good images and audio.

The biggest challenge the video team faces, however, is one they didn’t quite expect.

“Right now, we’re just desperately shooting. … There’s just so much going on; we’re just trying to make sure we get it all,” Taflinger said. “I didn’t realize just quite how big the job was when I got into it.”

In less than a month, the members of the team will be going their separate ways again. For Liau, his next step is to return to school. But Cole and Taflinger are less sure. Taflinger will remain on the grounds through September, continuing to edit the footage and applying for jobs outside of Chautauqua.

Murphy said he expects videos to begin appearing on the website in mid-September, and that the team is beginning to tape less and edit more. Now, the team members are spending most of their time sifting through footage so that even when the grounds are empty of visitors, people can turn to the website to relive their own personal Chautauquas.