For Steve Riggs of the Butterfield Ward, Tucson West Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2013 holds many memories. One of them is the day he received an Emmy.
Steve is a videographer and film editor. He has been plying his trade for 14 years, both in news and freelance work. He worked on the PBS series American Heartland for five years, where he filmed at times “hanging onto the side of a combine or letting a Holstein lick his camera lens.” He has also worked on pieces for the History Channel, the Military Channel, Discovery, Oprah, Dr. Phil, CNN, and Fox, to name a few. He has shot video in 12 countries and 47 of the 48 contiguous United States. He brought his skill and his passion to Tucson two years ago, joining Arizona Public Media (a.k.a. KUAT) as a senior videographer/editor.
It was one of his stories for KUAT that won awards. Both he and Mitch Riley, who edited the footage, won for “Passionate Barista Spreads the Gospel of Good Coffee,” a piece they created for the Arizona Public Media program Arizona Illustrated. “Barista” first aired on October 24, 2012.
A few months later, nominations for the Rocky Mountain Chapter Emmy Awards were submitted and Riggs was notified that he was on the list. He attended the October 2013 awards banquet, honored to be there.
“That night, as I looked at the program and looked at who my story was up against I didn’t think I had a chance at all. My coworker Bob Lindberg had a nomination in the same category for a documentary piece about the Dust Bowl [Arizona’s Dust Bowl: Lessons Lost ]. His video is beautiful. I was salivating over it when he shot it. Epic video. So I knew he would win. Then another nomination in our category had been winning all night long…for writing, and producing and editing, [so] I knew it would win in our category.
“My coworkers had told me that they had seen multiple Emmys given out [in past years]…. I thought that would be OK for two Emmys, but not three in the same category. Thankfully, I was wrong.”
When it was announced that he had won, “I did a double take,” Riggs remembers. “’Did I hear my name, really?’ It wasn’t until my colleagues at my table and one of my favorite reporters from KSL, [whom] I worked with in Salt Lake City, were looking at me and were excited for me [that it really sunk in].”
With a wry grin, Riggs also mused, “It’s nice to be recognized by my peers…. Over the past 12 years as a videographer I have had several stories that were a good representation of my work—stories I am proud of. Some of these stories never received a nomination, so I find it very ironic that…an LDS videographer gets his first Emmy [for a story] about someone who makes coffee.”
Speaking particularly about this shoot, he explains that Luis Carrión, Arts Producer for Arizona Illustrated at Arizona Public Media, came across the subject, Noel Trapp, at Exo Coffee, where Noel works. “I like the story with Noel because of his passion. That passion does have to do with coffee…but his passion, drive and overcoming struggles are what anyone can learn from.”
Noel Trapp has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a condition characterized in his case by extreme focus on areas of interest. In the course of the story, he talks about how this has affected his life.
While filming Mr. Trapp, Riggs was himself intensely focused. “I get in a zone when I am shooting….It is great fun and more addicting than a cup of coffee—I think, ‘cause I never drank a cup of coffee.”
He explained some of the thinking behind his technique. “A good videographer has many styles that he/she should be able to pull and adapt to, depending on the story and its style…. My ‘inspiration’ came a week before working on ‘Passionate Barista.’ I had dug up some old Ray Farkas videos that I had. Ray Farkas is probably one of the best ‘slice of life’ storytellers. His unique approach to just let the people talk provided me ideas of framing and interviewing…. That…was what guided me during the initial shooting process.
“Early on in the shoot I sat back [and] captured Noel playing a record. The shot is from his back and is a wide shot. I knew the day would be special because the framing just showed up in the camera, and most importantly I let the camera sit there. As much as I wanted to hustle and anticipate action and people talking, …I needed to be patient…. Noel grabbed a record, walked off to clean it a bit and then returned. I let the shot sit…. Normally as soon as he left the original frame to go dust off the record, I would have stopped [and] hustled in to get him putting the record back on the player. I didn’t. I stuck to my guns of letting the action happen in a single frame …. It sounds trivial, but I knew early on that the shoot would be a good one….
“I did not feel like this piece was going to be an Emmy award winning piece at the time. It [seemed] like an ordinary ole piece…. [But then] I don’t [get up in the morning and] tell myself, ‘today could be an Emmy award winning day.’ I do tell myself to be content with what I am shooting. Every time I turn on the camera I work to do the best that I can, because as you watch [a] photographer’s pictures, it is their ‘John Hancock’ signature that they are putting into their composition and storytelling….”
His philosophy is,” Do the best you can under the circumstances or don’t turn the camera on.”
Riggs’ faith plays a major role in the passion that he brings to his work. “What I do as a cameraman is try to mimic what our eye does. The creation of our eye from our Heavenly Father is absolutely amazing. I [work] hard and quick to see a shot, point the camera in a spot, manually zoom in, quickly focus, quickly check exposure, record and hope that I did things quick enough to get the shot. Follow, follow, follow, while looking for the next shot. Boom. Stop. Swing the camera around and repeat the process.
“Your eye can do this instantaneously; plus your brain is an unbelievable hard drive. It stores, edits, organizes footage, recalls and on and on and on! Amazing! I work right now in HD [high definition], just over 1,000 pixels. In Japan right now and soon on the horizon for us is 4,000 pixels. 3D has come [and gone] again. Our brain’s perception is well above 4K and 3D combined. Unbelievable!…
“There is an all-knowing God of us all. My work reminds me of how grateful I am to Him who let us come down on earth to experience this.”