Top 10 Tips for Filming #Occupy Protests, Arrests & Police Conduct

Posted on November 14, 2011 by Chris Michael

Update: Download the Top 10 Filmmaking Tips Flyer to share, remix and add to!

We have seen some great videos coming out from the Occupy movement around the country – from documenting mass actions to capturing police misconduct and abuse. Many courageous filmmakers, first timers and experienced professionals, are using best practices to record what is happening, and it is paying off. See this most recent example of video being used to help hold a Dallas officer accountable for shoving a protester off a ledge:

However, with the new sea of Occupy video footage (check my colleague Tanya O’Carroll’s recent post), it is more important than ever to film and share with intention – and of course film safely and effectively. This is not only to help record what is happening, but to help ensure that the video you record may be optimally used for advocacy, raising awareness and potentially supporting legal cases.

Here are our top 10 tips, which we invite folks to add and enhance below in the comments. It is a starter list, and made to be adapted over time. So, what have you learned while filming OWS events, or any demonstration or event? What do you wish someone told you when you started filming and sharing social change video?

Please add to this list, and share this post with your video4change allies – particularly those who continue to document OWS around the country and the world. Remember: We have the legal right to film police in the state of New York – what about in your state?

  1. PREPARE: Know your equipment. Turn off features to maximize battery life (e.g. wifi search on phones). Have charged and extra batteries, use empty memory cards and bring back-ups. Use a camera strap or tie your camera to your wrist. Where possible, turn-on correct date, time and location capturing features. Write the National Lawyer’s Guild’s phone number (or other legal support team) on your forearm and save in case you need legal support. (In NYC: 212.679.6018) If arrests occur, call in location, time and name of anyone arrested.
  2. FILM WITH INTENTION: Hold your shot steady (minimum 10 seconds), pan VERY slowly, avoid jerky movements and zooming – move closer when possible. Get multiple angles – wide, medium and close-up. Film for those who aren’t there – what do they need to see to understand what’s going on? If violence or abuse occurs – KEEP RECORDING.
  3. ALWAYS CAPTURE: Date, time and location (intersections, street signs, landmarks.) Get various angles when documenting the size/behavior of the crowd, number and formation of police and any weapons they are holding or using. Record any police orders or permissions given and the time and officer’s name and badge number. Record when police are creating or moving barricades or orange nets. Record any police filming protests or protesters.
  4. CAPTURE DETAILS – INCIDENTS: If there is an arrest or violence, attempt to capture the entire incident, including: time, location, number and identities of involved individuals, and broader crowd or police presence/behavior. Film or say names of officers, badge numbers or helmet number into the camera. Work to get faces of those affected on film. Be agile: Film from above if possible, or low through officers’ legs to capture what’s happening. Consider verbally adding noteworthy facts of what was happening before you started filming to give context while you film.
  5. WORK AS A TEAM: If filming, have a partner to watch your back, help keep you safe and alert you of other potential shots you should capture. If more than one of you is filming, try to get separate angles of the same incident – ideally keep each other in view. If you are at risk of arrest and want to keep filming, consider giving media card to friend for safe keeping and replace with empty card and KEEP RECORDING.

SHARING AND UPLOADING YOUR FOOTAGE FOR IMPACT

Regardless if you are uploading unedited or edited footage, it is essential to provide the following information so your footage can be found and coordinated with other footage. There are hundreds of videos on OWS, but some lack this essential, useful information. Before uploading, do a search for related videos and news like yours to help select useful title and tags – always tag your videos! Select a Creative Commons license when uploading so others can remix your video for advocacy purposes, and so it can be collected and archived by others. Follow these tips.

  1. TITLE WITH INTENTION: Keep titles brief and descriptive. Add date, location and time. Use words you or one would use to find your video. E.g. Occupy, New York City, Protest
  2. DESCRIBE YOUR VIDEO: Always include date, location and details of what happened BEFORE, DURING and AFTER recording. Consider starting with a URL for viewers to find more info, e.g. http://www.occupywallst.org – November 12, 2011 | Brooklyn, NY |  then video description.
  3. TAG YOUR VIDEO: Always add these tags -> date, time, city, specific location, occupy wall street, occupy, ows. Use common tags found in your search: ‘police brutality’ ‘arrest’ ‘pepper spray’
  4. SAFETY or SECURITY CONCERNS? If you think faces need to be blurred or feel the video may harm someone’s case or dignity, think twice before uploading. Contact the volunteer legal team for advice.
  5. SAVE AND NAME YOUR VIDEO: Do not rely on YouTube or other sites to save and preserve your footage – it may be taken down and valuable technical information is lost in the upload. Save original footage to your computer and back up to an external hard drive. Name files and organize so they are easy to find – add date, location and tags.

Please check out WITNESS’ filmmaking tips and guides, and add your favorite resources – and ideas on how to enhance this list – below. Also, I’m looking forward to compiling the best practices for livestreaming video – if you have some tips, email me [chris @ witness.org] or share via Twitter at @WITNESSchris.

Big thanks to my colleagues Marisa Wong and Chris Rogy for their work and insights on this!

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  12. Susan Livingston December 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    I love your tips and tutorials, but I’m extremely unhappy about the exclusive focus on incidents of intimidation and violence. Such a focus supports the perpetuation of a Culture of Fear and the perception that the movement is devolving into just another protest. More than anything, this is what is driving hardcore nonviolent and subtle activists away from the movement, scaring parents into staying home with their children, keeping the curious but uncommitted 88% in front of their TV or computer screens instead of attending events, mobilizing increasing resistance on the part of the forces of repression, etc.

    I am a communication specialist (psycholinguistics, framing/messaging, Nonviolent Communication, and Transition Towns culture). Consider the following: We protest against injustice in the existing system. Movements shape new systems. Seeing themselves as powerless, protesters make demands of those they perceive as powerful or that they blame for societal dysfunction. Seeing itself as powerful, a movement co-creates its own solutions to societal dysfunction. It’s ludicrous to watch the likes of Amy Goodman struggling to squeeze flash mob action, for example, into the protest frame.

    Another example: The coverage of Pancho’s arrest was very thorough, in spite of the fact that it occurred before sunrise and was very poorly lit. I wonder why there was so little interest in covering the vigils by the Connection Action Project and others, the countless acts of love he committed while incarcerated, the resulting shifts in perspective of his hosts (“oppressors”), the tens of thousands of People around the world who worked tirelessly over a 48-hour period toward his release, etc. I sat alone in his living room to welcome him home, and there was exactly one Spanish-language media person who interviewed him on camera later that night.

    There is so much beauty in Occupy Everywhere! While I agree that documenting incidents of excessive use of force by the police are a valuable contribution to accountability, appealing to people’s outrage to energize a movement is not sustainable. How can we wage peace if all you show is urban warfare? Where’s the inspiration? Vision? Balance?

    • Katrina Taylor January 6, 2012 at 1:44 am

      This is a very interesting and important perspective. It’s important to balance our desire to keep the authorities accountable with the need to encourage sustained mobilization. As we consider the advice of #2 (film with intention), we should keep Susan Livingston’s points above in mind.

      @Susan: If you have any more specific suggestions for what kinds of inspirational scenes or scenarios we should look for that would be helpful to capture and post, please share in a follow up post.

      Thanks for your thoughts! The culture of fear can be difficult to shake. But we can be proud that occupy has chosen the ballerina on the bull for the main pic of the movement.

    • Amy Doherty January 6, 2012 at 5:45 am

      I appreciate your comments and think you offer valid points. I think “incidents and brutality” has become the focus of mainstream coverage and the greater messages are getting lost. PawproMedia.com

  13. Janet Cross December 13, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    The police are supposed to protect and serve..They are not supposed to abuse their power and break laws themselves…The good officers need to stay..the bad need to go…lets weed out our garden…

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  16. Jerky treats December 5, 2011 at 1:28 am

    waste of time = troll

  17. Jerky treats December 5, 2011 at 1:27 am

    Khloe, you aren’t thinking correctly. A cop can not and should not push anyone off a ledge.

  18. Waste of Time November 27, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    “Occupy” is a silly non-productive exercise for hobos on a self-righteous, egotistical trip. Filming them only encourages this stupidity. Why don’t these hobos simply get a job, be an entrepreneur, or at least clean up the park or places where they illegally camp. This goes beyond free speech & assembly. Camping does not qualify. What do those hobos want? A free ride? I hope their anarchy and illegal occupation puts them where they belong – in jail.

    • Jonathan November 28, 2011 at 1:03 am

      Are you’re implying this website is also stupid? It’s undemocratic not to address the needs of the stupid! So democracy is stupid? Isn’t better if we all just remain stupid. So that the occupiers are all about? No use arguing with the stupid. That would be stupid.

    • Jason Lemieux December 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm

      “Why don’t these hobos simply get a job”

      You must not understand what economists mean when they say, “nine percent unemployment.”

      Anyway, I agree that reading aloud badge numbers and nametapes is huge. In cases where it’s hard to see visual detail (which it seem likely the cops are planning into their clearing ops) it will be the only way to identify officers later.

  19. Matisse Bustos Hawkes November 21, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Great related post published on AlterNet this weekend by Joshua Holland “Caught on Camera: 10 Shockingly Violent Police Assaults on Occupy Protesters.” One of the particularly relevant passages from the article reads: “But, as Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told AlterNet last month, “public video recording has dramatically changed the landscape of police accountability, no question about it. It’s a lot harder for police to sweep allegations of abuse under the rug when it’s on video and on YouTube.”

  20. Nicolas James November 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Does this Occupy eviction doc hold up?

    http://vimeo.com/32096258

  21. Nope November 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Yvonne is wrong. Renaming your files does not damage them, it only confuses police.

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  23. Tmack November 16, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Chris & Colleagues,

    These are invaluable tips for aspiring videographers working a social action event. Great guidelines and the thumbnail instructional videos are priceless. I have been amazed at the quality of work from livestreamers and photographers and feel that these images will live forever.

    I can’t emphasize enough the importance of copyrighting your work with a Creative Commons license to ensure that you own your work. And for those of us that may share someone’s picture, it’s really important to include the credit line so that the owner is named. Even if I do a screen grab, I take some time to find out who’s picture it is, where & when it appeared and include that information with the pic.

  24. HAROLD MICHAEL FOX November 16, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Good Stuff for all documentary type filming .Are there any more HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST out and about or have THEY got everyone named or locked up ?Just asking !

  25. Jane November 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    I thank you for this info. In regards too NYPD AND FDNY I respect them and Find fault with the mayor who action’s are totally anti union and working and out of work people. You may beat us down but you shall not not distroy our hope.

  26. Khloe November 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Well maybe the man wouldn’t have been shoved off of the ledge if he listened to the police officer, who is only following orders on the job that he is paid to do!!! It’s amazing how people hate cops until they need them

  27. Yvonne Ng November 15, 2011 at 12:22 am

    Hi Chris

    Great post! To your last point on “Save and Name your Video,” and re-naming files with date and location info, this should only apply to edited videos that folks are outputting, not to original footage.

    I would suggest that folks actually NOT rename their original footage files at all, but rather create folders to put the files in, and name those folders with date and location info. Renaming files alters the file, can break links to metadata files, and can disconnect media in editing projects. Also, folks should NOT re-organize footage nor delete non-video files from formats that have specific file structures like P2 and AVCHD. Messing with any of these files will make the media difficult to use.

    - Yvonne

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