Breathe: Anatomy/Anxiety of a Field Visit

Disclaimer: I swear, I really love my job.


Doorbell rings, it’s breakfast (masala omelette + coffee). Eat, shower, get dressed, check bag against list of required supplies, get picked up, make small talk in car, go to organization, greet everyone you’ve just met, meet up with your translator, sort out your plan for the day, meet first interviewee, remember to smile, you are a stranger about to ask this person about all aspects of their lives. Try not to scare them.

Pick place for interview, set up camera, invade personal space and attach mic to collar, step back, remember to smile, sit down behind camera, explain to interviewee who you are – wait should have done that before putting a mic on their shirt – do I stand up now? Do we shake hands? Grimace/smile at interviewee, they get it, right? Remember to breathe. Ask first question. Wait, the interviewee started speaking before the translator stopped, asked them to say it again. But don’t interrupt, that’s rude. Breathe. Ask the next question. Wait, you forgot the list of questions. Check list on phone but make sure you’re not looking at the phone too long so they don’t think you are weird.

Mid-Interview at Literacy in Gurgaon, Haryana. Picture credit: Fair Trade Connection.

Remember to write down a physical list to hold for the next interview, after the interview is over. Wait — what did they respond? Ask next question. Listen to five minute long answer, listen to twenty second translation. Ask translator if that’s the word-for-word translation. Gently ask translator to pause the interviewee every couple of sentences, so they have a chance to give fuller, more accurate translations. Stay firm, but polite. Keep going. You start to find a rhythm. Ask simple, direct follow up questions: why do they feel that way? Take notes on potential b-roll opportunities

Pause. It’s been ten minutes, Stop the recording & begin again, for the sake of…memory cards? Accept that you still don’t understand why this is a thing but remember how much it helps in the editing process. Remember the three three claps to line up the microphone and camera recordings on your video editor. Remember that you forgot to do that at the start of the last recording. Don’t grimace, just keep smiling.  Breathe. You’re good at your job.

Remember you like fellow humans, keep going. This is the part you love, let yourself love it.

Myself & part of the leather production team @ EMA.

Interview ends, clap for the interviewee. Their job is harder than yours, after all. Explain that you want to take their picture, remember to remove their microphone first, because #aesthetics. Take the picture, show them the picture. Try to snap a picture of their remnant smile. Show your face after you’ve focused on theirs on the camera, so they see that you’re human. Remember, you’re just human.

Thank the interviewee for their time, explain to the interviewee that you want to get shots of their work, of the things that you talked about in the interview, ask if we can go to their work station now, or if not, ask when we can.

We’re not done yet. Breathe. (thank you – @artidote – 1:49)

Anita Das (right) and Anima Mondal (left), in EMA’s leather workshop.

Okay, b-roll time. Film them at work, at multiple angles, multiple shots. Wide, close-up, horizontal, vertical, mid-sized. From above, from below, from behind, from in front, at an angle, over their shoulder, with their work in front of them, with them and other people — don’t stay in a shot spot too long or too short. Take photos and videos, 2 shots of/at each, 15 seconds. Ask your translator to take a video on your phone of you at work.

Wait. Did you set the white balance? Fix the white balance. Forgot to use the light reflectors. Use them next interview. Smile. talk to them, how are they doing? You’re both just human. Hmm, note: this is a weird angle. Have I been taking too long? I think I’ve been taking too long. Do I have any interesting shots or motions? Would Pete McKinnon approve? Check the material, share with the interviewee. Try to grab that smile. Make a joke. Try your broken Hindi. Remember that you’re in West Bengal. Remember later to look up Bengali phrases for ‘smile’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘thank you’. Or are they the same as in Hindi? Try to stop grimacing. Remember to look up ‘Sorry I am an awkward girl-child’ in Bengali.

You think you have enough shots. Chai break. Time for the second interview. Repeat above. Stay firm in your tasks, you know what you’re doing. Be directive, you are leading this show. If you’re anxious, people around you will be. Try not to grimace. Forgive yourself for grimacing.

Time for lunch. Destroy the lunch. Laugh at the dahl stains on your kurti. After lunch, take a few minutes to plan out b-rolls for afternoon. Afternoon is b-roll time. Get going, don’t just chill there. See above about angles. Walk around the compound. Interact with people, remember you’re human. Remember how lucky you are. Let yourself be surprised, let yourself laugh.

B-rolls are done for the day, time to rest. Remember to enjoy. Get to know people. This is fun. Pack up your stuff, time to go home. Get in car, small talk. Get to room, breathe. Dinner first, then editing. Plug memory cards into computer, go grab food as it loads. Grab food quickly from the dhaba down the street, try the dosas, accept the you are not in south india and that it will likely not be the best. Remember to get fish tomorrow, you’re in West bengal after all. Remember: it’s great to be in West Bengal.

Label and select best photos for the day. Edit best photos (could be 10-30 photos. How do I decide this from 300 photos?). Upload best photos to dropbox. Label b-rolls and interviews as photos upload. Back-up everything. EVERYTHING. Continue to ignore the texts you have ignored all day. If it’s not half past 1 am, listen to interviews sped up to get ideas for b-rolls. Make quick list of b-rolls to get for tomorrow.

Shower. Play ukulele. Brush your teeth – did you brush your teeth this morning ? Sleep.

Repeat. Anxiety lessens, repeat again.

The front of EMA’s Development Center in Baruipur, West Bengal.

I wrote this before my first field visit on my own, thinking that itemizing the process would relieve my anxiety about the inevitable unknowns. That is the scariest part, isn’t it, the unknown? But I realized I forgot what I love about each organization I visit: the people. This time described above I got to get to know and film at Equitable Marketing Organization, a fair trade organization based in Kolkata. I spent five days commuting to their Development Centre in Baruipur, West Bengal, 40km outside of Kolkata.

The majority of the details I imagined came to fruition, but if I could rewrite, I would add the moments hanging out with Debi, who became my partner-in-crime and interpreter, taking the train in with Kakoli, a member of the the EMA marketing team for ten years and my train ambassador, and drinking chai with Nagda, the head color-mixer for EMA’s textile products. I would tell myself: remember things will not go to plan, trust that it will be all right. My visits to Fair Trade Forum-India members are short and intensive, typically only five days at a time. However, they are not impossible, due to the help of small teams of employees of the organizations who are just as excited as I am to have the stories of their work be told.

Without their faith in me (instilled by their faith in the organizations I represent, FTF-I and media organization Fair Trade connection, and, to an extent of which I am not certain, because I am a foreign, self-proclaimed communications expert), my work would not exist. It is not a one way street: I need to build their trust and place my faith in them in return.

No matter what, my day will not exactly go to plan, and each day of work and each video I make will be so much better for it. I don’t need to know how my day will turn out from the start: I need to be flexible, creative, and humble.

So next time I prepare for a field visit, I won’t visualize the entire day in my head (or on paper). I’ll research the organization, charge my batteries, stock my backpack, and remind myself to breathe.

Kara, a recent political science and international affairs graduate of Northeastern University, fell in love with India during a month-long academic trip focused on the impacts of climate change and resilience efforts around the subcontinent in 2014. She returned the following year to lead the next group of students. Armed with her appreciation for storytelling and journalism experience at an anti-corruption media organization in Bosnia and Herzegovina and for an environmental organization in the U.S., Kara will work with Fair Trade Forum - India and Fair Trade Connection as an AIF Clinton Fellow to amplify the voices of fair trade organizations and their impacts on the artisan and farmer communities around the country.

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