Utilising Technology As Mobile Media Units To Ensure Public Right To Democratic And Ethical Television
Video activism is born from frustration with the limited interests of the established corporate media. Mainstream media dis-empowers the individual by dictating what issues make or don't make the news and reports are biased towards the large corporations who offer advertising and economic cooperation with the stations owners.Hand held video recorders or camcorders have revolutionised accessibility to the structures of media production and as such has allowed for grassroots issues to be supported through the ready accessibility of visual documentation.
The media is modern man's most effective tool of persuasion, now dominating the role of storyteller and teacher. The current monopoly of media ownership and information distribution is in the interests of the power and wealth of the few controlling elite. Effectively dissenting voices are squashed and instead we must watch what we are told to watch. The failure of mainstream media to adequately cover social and environmental issues leads to massive ignorance by the public about issues not deemed worthy of coverage.
The de-centralisation of the media would allow for more widespread coverage and increased awareness. Recent improvements in equipment allow a single person to provide broadcastable footage with less technical baggage between themselves and their subject, allowing them to uncover stories larger organisations can or will not. Television stations rarely attend blockades in remote areas and often only provide one camera crews for relatively short periods of time at events such as Reclaim the Street because of the large costs involved. Video activists working for free and able to sustain longer coverage of events, are often the only camera present when conflict arises.
With or without a camera present activists risk violence from retaliation from right-wing groups such as loggers and police. Camera's discourage violence or may be essential to proving liability later, thus offering security for all involved. For this reason though the video activist can become the targets of angry people and should not arouse conflict but take an observational role.
Video activists bridge the gaps in corporate media by utilising new technology to convey what would otherwise be unseen and thus can be integral to redefining political agendas. Their are multiple other avenues available to video activists to get the more complete picture shown. Contributing footage to mainstream media by supplying television stations with footage is a great way to get publicity for your campaign. They are usually only interested in high action footage, and will pay between $50 - 100 per station or larger amounts for exclusive footage. Pre-negotiate pricers before handing over tapes and never give them your originals! Video activists can also get involved with community television stations by either submitting footage or editing and broadcasting their work. Compilations of stories in the form of video zines such as News Unlimited or Undercurrents, or projecting footage at dance parties are other effective non-corporate avenues to reach audiences. Community groups are also often pleased to have screenings at fundraisers. The internet is beginning to accommodate video footage although at present a series of stills or slides taken from the footage is much faster and more accessible.
Video activists can also provide media training for others. Practicing interviews and training others to use equipment greatly empowers the group and shares responsibilites. Two cameras is always better than one to cover an action. It is important to involve other members of the group in decisions about the intended purpose of all footage and to find out what the real needs of the campaign are. Involvement will ensure more effective use of time and tape stock when gathering evidence and testimonies and finding the right people to articulate about the campaign. Many activists are hesitant to be filmed but I think it is important that people get comfortable with cameras and utilise their presence by informing them about what is actually happening. Often it is very hard for a viewer that was not involved to understand the situation unfolding before their eyes without some narration from those involved. With this intimacy however video footage is often more compelling than that a corporate television crew could provide.
It is important not to forget that the most persuasive pieces are still objective. Try interviewing a miner, logger or locals about how they feel. Experts on the local regions biodiversity also provide much needed balance to the passions of activists. Your number one objective of documenting your story is to persuade your audience, and not to provide propaganda.
Corporate television with its vested interests has probably already done that. The video activist has to be more tactical if wanting to change peoples opinions.
News is always relatively subjective because it relates the interests of the filmmakers as they provide information. Mainstream media would love us to believe their myth of objectivity. It is the video activists job to find the real story forgotten by big budgets, advertising and target audiences. A video activist may take six months rather than half an hour to complete a story allowing for much greater coverage . Your video is of great value to the community because it provides a voice for the major minority.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED TO GET GOOD QUALITY FOOTAGE
- Broadcast quality camera - Video 8 with Hi8 tapes is higher quality, Hi8, SVHS, Mini DV, Betacam
- long life batteries in a belt pack/bum bag
- headphones to monitor sound
- wide angle lens and filter to protect your lens
- directional/cardioid microphone attached to camera
- lapel microphone
- Don't cut off peoples heads, rather give them some "looking" room i.e. some visual space in the direction in which they are looking
- Try to use a lapel microphone or a cardioid/directional microphone attached to the top of the camera....camera microphones are usually poor quality and your video is 50% sound 50% vision. Don't underestimated the ability of poor quality sound to ruin the effectiveness of your work and make audiences tune out and off!
- Don't interview people in front of windows! The contrast is too much for the camera and audiences eyes!
- Use manual instead of automatic focus unless you are unsure of you abilities. Automatic white balance and focus is easier to use in high action sequences.
- Try to keep some distance between yourself and the main action. If you are right in it you probably won't be able to see what is happening and there is a large chance your equipment may get broken.
- Don't ever get your equipment wet or dusty or sandy! It will kill it! Try to get a dust/rain jacket or at least a clear plastic bag. You can make covers out of clear pvc. Or get a friend to hold an umbrella over you. Some cameras can be fitted into a splash proof case (Sony have released a range). This is a good investment to protect your baby!
- Cameras should be serviced every 3 months to clean the heads etc. Head cleaning tapes strip the heads so use infrequently.
- Take out Personal Effects Insurance as it covers your equipment for lost, theft and damage anywhere within Australia.
- Always take more batteries and tapes than you think you will need!
- When the action is happening let the camera role because conflict erupts in seconds!
- Two cameras is always better than one!
- Ask people to explain what is happening. Interaction is exciting viewing.
- Try to Log your footage on site or as soon as you get home. All it takes is a notepad and you'll need one anyway to get all the important information and names (especially of dodgy cops).
- It takes 3-4 seconds for the human eye to understand what it sees so make sure each shot is long enough and still enough. You also need extra time to edit with so don't cut shots too short!
- Tripods are good for interviews but no good for action because you simply don't usually have time or space. Practice holding the camera as still as possible. Zoom aggravates hand shake so move up to the action yourself and stay in wide shot if possible unless you are confident. Practice makes perfect!
- Police may try to confiscate your footage so have it well hidden or convoyed out by people you can really trust. Never give Police or T.V. crews your master tapes!
If you get good enough sound recordings on your video you can provide radio as well as televisions stations with your footage. Getting good sound effects and atmos ( 1 min of background noise) helps editing footage later.
Most captial cities have Channel 31 as their dedicated community televsion band width. Melbourne Channel 31 has a highly successful fortnightly environmental activist programme on Monday nights called Access News (ph 03 9663 6976) and Actively Radical Television in Sydney run a fortnightly environmental activist program called GreenSeen. They seem happy to edit footage, run stories or even train up those willing to be serious and dedicated and will provide a copy of the finished story.