SUMITON – Have you always wanted to visit some place in Alabama, or attend an event but can’t seem to find time on your calendar? You might want to do the next best thing and visit Flora J. Freeman’s Life in Bama YouTube channel.
She has over a 100 mini-documentaries that make you feel as if you were there. She was at both the Frog Festival and Foothills Festivas this year. She also documented the Greek Food Festival in Birmingham, and the Christmas Tree Festival in West Jefferson. It’s a fun way to travel without leaving your living room. As an added bonus, there are several how-to videos.
While Freeman was a junior at the University of Alabama-Birmingham studying mass communications, she got an opportunity to get behind the camera for one of the engineers of the department.
“I was scared to death that I would mess up,” Freeman said.
But she did pans, zooms, and other camera maneuvers that impressed the engineer. He told her one of the reasons she did so well was the fear. She’s not afraid anymore, but she said she always feels a sense of excitement each time she does a project.
“You’re capturing a moment in time. If you don’t get it, you won’t have it. That moment is lost forever,” she said. “If you’re recording a football game and you miss a touchdown, some kid will never get to see himself making that touchdown,” Freeman said.
Freeman had worked with still photography while at Dora High School. She took pictures for the yearbooks at her alma mater. Her father, James Ellenburg, was the yearbook sponsor for Dora High School for years, so this work came naturally to Freeman in the days before digital photography.
“Big B Drug got most of my money in those years because they processed my film,” Freeman said.
During her senior year at UAB, she did internships for a number of firms around Birmingham. She worked with Dale Short at Raintree Media, Don Early, who now owns Alabama Cable Network, and Mr. Gattis’ Pizza.
It was at Mr. Gattis’ Pizza that she learned to video sports videography. She would go out to a soccer field and shoot a match between two young teams, and then afterward the teams would have a pizza party at a Mr. Gattis’ Pizza. This was a paid internship. She earned a few dollars for each game, but she also got meal tickets which made it worth the effort.
She graduated from UAB with a degree in mass communications with a minor in art studio. She landed a job for a Birmingham communications company that produced original local content and showed it on their public access channel. The success of the TV skit and the movie "Wayne’s World" gave a boost to local access channels. During those years, Freeman produced, directed, shot video, produced music soundtracks, and edited the footage into the content people saw on television.
The work at the communication’s company gave Freeman an opportunity to work with the latest video production equipment. “That equipment is antiquated now, but at the time it was leading edge,” she remembered.
They shot content in the studio, but the company also had a van which made the operation mobile.
The company entered one of the team’s projects in national industry competition. When their boss got back from the convention, he said you won the “Hate Award.” Freeman was crushed until the boss explained that it was the Hadyt Award, which was a national award for excellence in mass communications.
“I thought they hated us, but it was an honor to win a national award,” she said.
Freeman was there for the dedication of the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham. She covered the Miss UAB Pageants several years, as well as high school sports. “Games at Rickwood Field were just beautiful,” she said.
This job played out after 33 years, and since then she does local projects that interest her. She has a YouTube Channel called Life in Bama, and she now has over 100 programs on that channel. Her first program on that channel was the Veterans Day parade in Birmingham last year. One of the latest videos was of the 2018 Frog Festival in Sumiton.
The Life in Bama Channel gave her an opportunity to put a personal element into her work. She does local free or low-cost events which give her an opportunity to talk to people, which is what she loves doing.
She’s learned while doing segments on her YouTube Channel that you can’t make the videos too long. Many people watch the videos on their phone these days, and they’re not going to watch all of a long video. About five to seven minutes are what she shoots for.
When shooting places, those videos have historical value because places and things are always changing. “These videos become a historical record,” Freeman said.
Shooting video events are fun, but after shooting the footage, it has to be edited. Each five-minute story can take upwards of 12 hours to edit, caption, and create the original music.
“It’s a tedious process. You have to review all the footage you shoot and pick out the pieces you want in your program,” she said.
Drones, cell phones and other modern inventions have changed the nature of videography, according. “Everyone carries a video camera in the pocket,” Freeman said, noting tools and software are available for anyone who wants to do a video.
Freeman lives in Sumiton with her husband, John Paul. Together they have two children, Sarah, and Jesse Freeman.
The Life in Bama YouTube channel is free and available to the public.