A river that needs crossing political and tech blogs - On the political side, there is arrogance and ignorance, on the geek side there is naivety and over- complexity

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Entries with tag action .

(S)hell - Last minute filming of artistic direct action

DRAFT (needs a spell check)

The was little preparation for the filming of the action beyond asking a film-maker a week before the event. No information on what the action is or were it is, I come an hour early to the meeting place with equipment I think I might need.

It turns out to be a activist quire taking over the auditorium of the Shell sponsored Royal Festival Hall to sing a political song to the huge ordnance before the main concert comes on.

OK I have a a load of extended battery’s, good small qaulerty HD video camera, a short directional mic, a MP3 recorder and a good mobile phone with HD video camera.

Decide to place the MP3 recorder on the body of the person sitting in the middle seating of the quire to get soled sound. set-up the video camera on a fixed shot in front of the group then hand film with the mobile phone, with short mic to make shore I have cutaways/reaction shots and close ups.

Half an hour before setting off to shoot I discover the a second camera man is coming to film as well, he will be shooting stills with one camera and long shot video with a second stills camera in video mode. I would have liked him to take and use the good quality HD video camera as he is seated across the stage so would be in a good position to use the zoom – as nearth of his stills cameras have a good zoom. The issue is that he would not be formiler with the video camera, this together with shooting stills at the same time means this option doesn’t work out.

With the run though of the song it turns out the is no time/focus to find and attach the MP3 recorder to the central quire member, it ends up in my pocket. While looking at the seat allocation it seams its going to hard to setup the video camera on a fix shot as the is nowhere to put it, only a drop onto the stage.

Arriving at the venue, the is a reluctances to bring out the cameras, mics, cables etc. as this would bring attention to the nerves group of activist am sitting next to. I have no idea when they are going to start singing, I don’t think they have a common agreement eather (:

Looking around the is no place were I can get good video framing, in front of us is a row of narrow occupied seating then a drop to the stage, off to the side is more close set seating full of ordinary ordnance members. Behind me is a exit and a bored looking usherette.

As the humming of the song starts, I turn on the MP3 recorder and drop it on top of the quire members bag next to my seat. I shoot some establishing shots of the ordnance and auditorium using the mobile phone as if it were a stills camera.

The is no time to setup the video camera so start the mobile phone video rolling, soon discover that its to dark for a good image, but the song has started and I would miss half of it if I switched to the video camera that is still in my bag. Keep the phone camera rolling but am much to close to the action in my seat, even holding the phone arms leagnth away, this also creates a lot of bad wobble as it has so image stabilisation.

Hoping that the second camera man has his camera on and steady, after 45 sec I move out of my seat and across the isle and squeeze into the next row to get a wider shoot, The usherette lucky ignores me, though I get hissed at by the people am obscuring, they quieten down when they realise am filming. Am off to one side so still don’t have good framing even when holding the camera out at arm length over the stage (more wobbly cam). Its the best I can do, as the banner drops (surprise to me when it happens) I capture the audience clapping, then the group of young people behind me join in with clapping, spin round to film them. The song comes to an end, and the quire shuffles out sing as they go. I interview a usherette who is supportive then the theatre manager who is not, she puts her hand over the lenses and pushes me out of the theatre. It was all over in 3 minutes, a very successful fun action.

We retire to a café to exchange video, Hew missed the first 30 seconds due to focusing issues but after this he has a good wide shot and some nice cutaways, his sound track was also useful as both my mics were to close to the singing to capture the wider auditorium atmosphere and the clapping of the main audiences. I lay all 3 mic tracks over each other to get a fuller sound and to try and hid that the MP3 recorder was accidentally set to a fixed sound level rather than AGC so suffered from clipping of the sound during load bits of the song. Towards the end of the song Huw dose get into a discussion with his naber which is recorded onto the track , I have muted it down but you can still hear it on the finished film (:

I have to go and film a NUJ conference early the next morning, that’s another story (;

When it came to the edit I was in a rush – set the project file to 25FPS which is standard European video format, the editing package crashes every 5 min becouse of the bad formating of the stills camera video, produces a ruff edit, drop some draft titles over it, sleep on it then tweak and send off to the group – I still do not know what stories they wont to tell. Would be happy to just do a ruff edit and get it out as I have all the NUJ conferences stuff to do, but it was a good action and the is a good film in there so give them the option of a more polished piece. Come back to it after a few days, humm the sound is auta sync, looking at the sources files the mobile phone video is at 29.97 FPS and the stills camera video is at 23.976 FPS and the project is at a standard 25 FPS no wonder we have sound/video sync issues.

I had synced all 3 sound tracks up then locked them in place, then cut up and moved the video around... to do the draft edit, this was now not easy to fix and the more editing I did the harder it would become. I tried changing the output frame rate to 23.976 which didn’t help then to 29.97 which didn’t either. In Adobe Première you cant change the project frame rate for a project after you set it, so what to do. Looks like I have to re-do the edit from scratch (render both badly formatted video's into one good to edit format before starting). Or live with some video/audio syncing issues. Other matters were pressing.

How to film this action well

Be in on the planing of the action, and build camera angles and sound recording into the action from the start.

Have 2 people filming:

* One - long shot on mini tripod, then second hand held camera for audience reaction mashore of good auditorium sound on the first camera.

* Second - fixed action sound with recorder in quire and mobile camera/sound for medium/close ups.

Good to have a 3ed person responsible for makeing shore security dose not interfere with filming/action.

Have redundant sound recorders in the action. Make shore all equipment configured and is working at same frame rate and timing.

ClimateCamp Media

The Ratcliffe Swoop prosecutions caused a backlash against activist media that reverberated around the Edinburgh climate camp. We were not present at the Ratcliife Swoop, and played no part in the gathering of video there. When we saw footage posted of identifiable activists doing criminal damage, we were astonished, as throughout the history of video activism this has been an absolute "no no", without the express consent of the activists pictured. We immediately took this material down from visionOntv accounts where it had been posted, and told the Ratclifffe media team why we did so. Regrettably the footage was later re-posted by the producers to accounts outside of our control.  Having said that, as of writing, we have been unable to find out any details of the prosecutions and exactly which footage was used.

But as a response I (perhaps naively) thought it might be helpful to try to do consensus/affinity group process with activist film at the Edinburgh climate camp. To kick this off, we showed a sneak preview of END:CIV on the Saturday to a crowd of around 50-70 people which sparked off a good and respectful debate about aesthetic of activist film and the old spiky/fluffy debate about effective action. People came away challenged and thoughtful.

The next day after the action on the RBS HQ we showed the rough edit of it to get feedback and make sure it was OK to put out. It was enthusiastically received but there was also a very forceful verbal attack of “you must do this” “do it now, or you are endangering activists” and a refusal to answer simple questions about “why” in exchanges with one person. Finally, after some bad feeling, I found out that she had seen an “object for causing criminal damage” being held by one person in the film. OK, that is a genuine issue, so I agreed to look at it again. I asked her to show me where it was in the film but instead she rushed off to tell everyone that climatecamptv had refused to remove the “weapon” and that we were putting out films that were endangering activists. This led later to many different groups and individuals coming along to have their say over the next day about how the film should made.

See later where this led.

I had watched the film 3 times during editing for legals, and had shown it to to a number of other trusted people. After we had packed up the screening we looked at the “object” on the video and found it to be a plastic horn not an “object to cause criminal damage” at all. Humm... a storm in a teacup you would think, but read on.

Let's briefly go through it - the film of the action had a few legal issues.

* The pushing on the bridge (possibly assault) leading to the earlier dressing-up sections (unmasked) being possibly incriminating of this possible assault.

* We had no video of the breaking of windows (criminal damage) thus this was less of an issue in the film. Nor did we have film of any identifiable possible perpetrators.

* There was one additional shot which could potentially have been "creatively" used by police to prosecute an activist.

* The bridge-pushing was problematic as all the activists were unmasked, with all the FIT team on the roof and 3-4 corporate media TV/photo actively filming. Many photos/images would be available so on the one hand it was clearly done in the open, and therefore accountable. On the other, if they were charged, our video would likely be used in the prosecution, both for and against the activists. It's an issue we face many times and it unless we know otherwise we have to have to err on the side of caution. Without the opportunity to ask them whether they were accountable thus OK to show it or not, we decided to blur this section – rendering the need to blur the early stuff irrelevant as we now had no incriminating video of this “crowd” action.

The other potentially incriminating shot was removed, at the request of the individual filmed.

After running it past the affinity group made up of CCTV/visionontv crew and some trusted legal support we left it to a volunteer to polish the final edit for showing that evening before putting out to the web. In my experience you can never run a film past an audience too many times before it's finished from both a legal and an aesthetic point of view.

The day of action was very busy, and we were all running around filming. While we were out and about a number of people came in to look at the earlier action video being edited and asked the editor to make changes – he responede to their requests and made a lot of changes to hide and obscure many details throughout the film.

When we saw the film in the evening just before the screening we were shocked. Editing a film by committee is always a disaster and the film was now an incoherent and sinister mess making climatecamp look like a bunch of criminals. We now had a film we couldn't put out. This wasn't our volunteer editor's fault, it was a problem with the process we had begun but were not around to control. To top this, at the end of the day the editor had found the people who were at the front of the bridge-push and they had made it clear that they were unhappy being blurred out as it was the best thing they had done in ages. They were willing to be accountable for their actions, so we didn't need to thus put any obscuring in the finished film.

We now had to re-do the film from an earlier version. It was dark and we were late for the nightly screening, we had one computer to gather all the films up and convert then to the right format and re-edit this film – we decided it wasn't possible to screen the action film and concentrated on showing the other 9 finished but less exciting films we had ready. We started the screening with non-action films to cries of "we want to see the action". So an old version of the action film was rush-encoded and was ready half-way through the screening. Unfortunately this contained the ptoentially incriminating shot we had earlier taken out, and was screened to about 40 climatecampers. NOT good. Another person had a very solid go at us...

What did we learn from this?

Should protesters never trust any video/photo on an action OR should they trust video activists as THEY know what they are doing?

For me, not trusting experienced video activists leads to the very real danger that through bureaucratisation it pushes the working affinity group structure underground and renders it ineffective – the option of bureaucratic/consensus process isn't an option with film which is at its best a skilled creative story-based process.

But now we have to deal with the rumour mill which quickly churned around the "weapon" / plastic horn issue. Rumour has more power than truth when there isn't a functioning media. I heard the misinformation that we had put out footage of window-smashing weapons three times while leaving the camp to get home. And that's why I wrote this post as this rumour could distort the very real pro/anti-media debate in activism which needs to happen in a constructive way.

On the subject of social media and underground/wannabe mainstream film-makers/photographers, there are very real dangers that is the subject of another post.

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