Past and Present – The Protest Films of Then and Now (ASSESSMENT – ‘PROCESS / DEVELOPMENT)’

One year ago, I made a film about the student protests that occurred in London, ending in the infamous Millbank incident. It was my first ever media artefact that was longer than five minutes, and was an experiment into my abilities as a documentary maker, and also in my ability to construct an interesting narrative that held the audience’s attention. The link to the film can be found below:

The ‘Demo-Lition’ Protest March film

The film finished at around thirty minutes, and it explored several approaches to film making. Not only did it document the protest through my own eyes, with the events being seen as they unfolded, but it also voiced several opinions of the students who were down there. Some interviews were taken by myself, some by my reporter buddy who I met down there. The genre shifted from documentary to reportage at several stages, the white balance was off, and some of the editing was decisively sloppy. Overall, I heavily criticized the finished piece, and considered it something to learn from in future projects.

Here in 360MC, I’ve made a power artefact based primarily around the protest march that took place on the one year anniversary of the original film. Sure, the ratio of protestors and riot police were almost one-to-one, such was the expected violence. The only interview on my six minute feature for this module came from me. Putting the more obvious aside though, how must I have surely developed regarding the filming of such demonstrations?

Technically

On basic principles, the original film was shot on a PDX10 camera, the reason being that if the camera got broken, I wouldn’t have to pay such a heft fine. This time round, I used a Z5 camera, as my confidence in my ability to protect my equipment has grown. I still used the tactic of putting my equipment in my backpack and running around various locations, deploying as and when, but this time it was particularly hard to get interviews, as a Z5 camera almost requires two hands to film with, meaning I was unable to hold a microphone up to people’s faces and interview them.

With the white balance, it can be argued that it is still an issue. My skills instructor told me that the white balance should be updated frequently, yet in situations such as riots – where it is much better to keep the camera rolling – there is rarely time to perform such tasks. The sun appears and then goes back in. Clouds appear then break up. Sometimes you’re in a tunnel. Sometimes you’re in a square. It rarely occurs to me to change or update the white balance settings, so for future events such as these, using the automatic function of WB may go in my favour.

I experimented a lot with the Z5 slow-motion feature this time around. This function was not included in the lighter PDX10 counterpart used previously. The idea was to film the ‘action’ scenes in slow motion (i.e slow motion projectiles), but the only action shots I really managed to get on the day of the march was that of the helicopter. Whilst filming, I thought the slow-motion detracted from the flurry and the ‘panic’ of what happens when a protest turns into a riot. Unless what you are taking a video of is very clear and defined, putting it into slow motion hardly makes any sense. The slow motion shots of people walking along were just – in one word – boring. I can understand the use of slow-motion, but the benefits are few and far between for a camera that is significantly lager and heavier than lighter alternatives.

Alas

The Z5 also had several other benefits the PDX10 didn’t – primarily, one would argue, the option to film in HDV1080i high definition. This just made the film look more cinematic and clearer, and although this meant I had to re-calibrate all of my Final Cut Pro editing suite and compress files a lot more to get them onto Vimeo, ultimately the footage did looks a lot better. Shooting in HD is something that I have done with both my power and spectacle artefacts, and have lead to various issues that I knew I would have to face sooner or later. However, I managed to overcome all the differences, and I’m now quite able of shooting and editing in both HD and DVCAM, which being a media producer, is quite a good skill to have!

Here is a separate video I made identifying the various parts of the first film that went wrong – I’m pleased to say that none of the mistakes in the first film were a problem the second time around!

Demon-Lition’ – The Bits That Went Wrong!

Creatively

I didn’t grade any of the footage in either video, as I like the edginess of the bleak colours. Arguably, the dodgy white balance on both pieces means that grading may well have benefitted one if not both pieces. The natural feel to the footage I think adds to the realism – I am not going for a ‘filmic’ look, that would be more important in the intercutting interview footage.

In actual terms, one things I did learn in terms of logistics this time around was how to stay close to the action whilst avoiding getting sealed into danger areas by masses of police officers or riot squads. Given the protester-to-police ratio, it was quite difficult to avoid falling foul of ‘kettling’ at the recent protests. I had to climb around a construction area with my camera hanging out my bag at one point in order to bypass a crowd and slip down a side alley. Being caught in a projectiles fight between rioters and police is the worst place to be – there’s no point in getting good footage if your camera is going to get broken in the process. For this artefact, you may notice that I have positioned myself far from the action, and tried to use steady hands and the zoom to get closer to the action. This was a similar tactic from the first film – I will need a little more experience with protests before I decide to get closer to the action.

It’s a shame I haven’t managed to get any interviews with any protestors this year yet – that was the original intention. As a result, although my skills as a camera operator have been maintained, I have not developed creatively as much as I could have done on this artefact. I’m sure that as my FMP continues I will learn invaluable lessons in media production, but in terms of this media artefact, all I essentially did was film various shots, which (being a camera operator last year) I have done rather a lot of.

Going to the BBC Radio studio was a great experience. It was down to a tip-off from a friend inside the industry itself, whom I now owe a big debt (or drink). The place was unusually relaxed – I spoke to Mark Kermode once about radio studios, and he explained about how hectic and fast-paced they were. I was a little perplexed by the calm morning-show studios I walked into. One thing I have noticed about the BBC though is that they’re all really friendly, be it in London or in Coventry. They were welcoming and accommodating, but luckily having hosted my own radio show for a year on my local student radio channel, I was quite familiar with my surroundings, which helped to keep my nerves better in check, so I could focus on the questions. I think I should use less fillers in my talking next time… something that will only come with experience!

Academically 

It has occurred to me that I ‘may’ have ‘slightly’ misread the brief for 360MC, and that my artefacts are generally unrelated to the left-wing research I’ve been conducting. However, this artefact around the powers of the bourgeoise and the proletariat is certainly relevant to pretty much everything I’ve been researching. Everything I have done for 360MC will benefit my FMP into the riots and protests in some way or another. My research influenced the way I answered the questions on the radio, and helped to decide how I was going to approach my FMP, and indeed my power artefact for this module. I am representing the proletariat, without official institutions getting in the way. I find what I find – either they’re all crazy, or they’re normal people with a genuine desire for change in this country. If I can represent the latter, it will be a success.

As for myself and my own academic benefit, all this research into this FMP artefact has also benefitted me in terms of my 305MC essay, which I have created some posts to explore in more specific detail. It’s strange how my course suddenly became left-wing and political, yet I can see the relevance to us as media producers at this stage of our career – academia is finally leveling with us. They are part of a capitalist institution, the industry we are entering is part of a capitalist institution, and we now have a choice to make that will affect each of our lives – are we with them or against them?

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One response to “Past and Present – The Protest Films of Then and Now (ASSESSMENT – ‘PROCESS / DEVELOPMENT)’

  1. Pingback: 5 Assessed Blog Posts | Adam Broome's Final Year Blog

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