People With Passion: Chris Cascarano

People With Passion: Chris Cascarano
Chris Cascarano, Chicago News Cooperative.

A People With Passion series

Chicago journalism

September 21, 2011: Chris Cascarano

In the 11th installment of Jack M Silverstein's Chicago journalism People With Passion interview series, Chicago News Cooperative videographer Chris Cascarano discusses his career path to the CNC.




I spent a long stint in New York just working jobs. Just doing whatever I could to get by. I was a carpenter. I was a waiter. Geez, I did anything. That whole time, I was practicing my writing. I was reading constantly. I was taking a lot of photos, which was interesting because in New York things that happen right on the street are sort of national news. I was shooting photo essays. And I’d want to write a story about it, but you can’t do a lot with a story and nowhere to publish it. Blogs weren’t quite as big as they are now. A straight journalism news story doesn’t have a lot of legs just put out on the web for nobody, so the photo element started to appeal to me.

I was shooting some really cool things. There were some major, intense protests over the bailout. There was a major meeting at the U.N. when the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to the U.N. It was this major rally. A lot of action. It was fun. I was shooting, and once in a while I would get little opportunities to travel. If I was abroad, I would sneak out when no one else was hanging out and go shoot something in the city. I shot a little photo essay once of a circus in Mexico. I was seeing a lot of the value in the visual element.

Meanwhile I didn’t have a lot to do with the video part. But right around that time, this organization MediaStorm, they were really pioneering multi-media. They were doing these innovative pieces combining photo and audio interviews. They were dabbling a little bit in video, but it was mostly photo put into video. They were really, really powerful. I took note of that. Slowly I started to learn video in my free time. That was the beginning of how I started to be a video journalist: I saw that there was this interesting way to combine print journalism and strong visuals.

Right around that time, the quality of video started to grow. It’s funny to mark it on a camera – it might sound odd to an outsider – but this really revolutionary camera came out about that time. It’s called the 5D Mark II. It’s a Canon camera. And that was a camera that givesthis unbelievable cinematic look to anything you film. It was stunning. I remember watching the first videos that came out with that before it had worked its way to news, and thinking, “This doesn’t seem real. Is this actually being done with this camera?” That started to pique my interest.


I was learning Final Cut Pro. I was really into multi-media, still working on my print, writing as much as I could on my own. Just crazy. I found some opportunities in Chicago. And I thought, First of all, doing anything outside of waiting tables, being a busboy, whatever kind of miserable jobs I was doing, was great. Secondly, if I can learn video, that’s even better.

So I came back to Chicago and started with small things. Spent a year and a half from as soon as I woke up in the morning until I went to bed at night learning video. I was sucked in. I took every course available. I did everything I could do. I was just drinking it. I couldn’t stop. I was obsessed with learning video, and these skills that were really empowering. Video was starting to become ubiquitous across the web. It was all really happening. New York Times was starting to put their video department into high gear.

I started to see a couple of video journalists doing amazing things. Travis Fox of the Washington Post was one of them. He was doing these videos using DSLRs. The quality was amazing. The storytelling was great. It was conveying these really amazing places and experiences. I put my head down and started doing any story I could find on the street. I would just approach anybody and say, “I’m going to do this story. I don’t have anyone to give it to or anything, but I’m going to make this video and this story about you.”

I started approaching anyone I could. “No one’s doing video at your organization. Why don’t you let me do some video?” People were pretty chilly about it. I got the same response: “We don’t have the budget.” Things like that. I kept approaching the CNC because they’re forward-thinking. It’s clearly a well-focused organization. I’d tell them about my stories, send them emails, stuff like that. They weren’t crazy about my story ideas and rightfully so, but eventually they said, “You can try an internship here and help us out with some video and we’ll see how it works out.” And it eventually evolved to me working there and doing all of their video.

Jack M Silverstein is an oral historian working in Chicago. His non-fiction novella Our President about Barack Obama's inauguration is available at Amazon. Say hey on Twitter @ReadJack.




Enjoy this interview? Click here for a longer version with more video, as Chris discusses the innovation of Canon and how a CNC story goes from brainstorm to finished product.

Check back every Wednesday at Eye on Chi for more of Jack M Silverstein’s People with Passion interviews with Chicago journalists. Coming up next week: Andrew Huff, Gapers Block.


(NOTE: The dates below refer to the date of the interview. The order is the date they were run.)

September 30, 2011: Christie Hefner, Playboy

September 15, 2011: Alden Loury, Chicago Reporter

August 17, 2011: Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune

September 13, 2011: Kimbriell Kelly, Chicago Reporter

August 26, 2011: Chuck Sudo, Chicagoist

August 17, 2011: Clayton Hauck, photographer

August 18, 2011: Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times

August 15, 2011: Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader

December 12, 2008: Alex Kotlowitz (re-edited August 15, 2011)

August 10, 2011: Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune

August 4, 2011: Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune

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