Hey, Documentary Filmmakers! We Need YOU on September 17th–and Beyond (with video)

Saturday, September 17th will be a new page in American history, as pockets of Americans from Wall Street in Lower Manhattan to Los Angeles (and numerous points of light in between) rise up nonviolently to protest, occupy public spaces, and declare one simple demand: “One Citizen. One Dollar. One Vote.” The planned non-violent direct action in Lower Manhattan will be the first attempted occupation of Wall Street in American history.

But don’t count on this historic day being televised. That’s why your help is needed. Do you have a digital video camera and a good microphone? Sure, there will be plenty of cell phone cameras, but good video with quality sound are very important. Video is crucial for a number of reasons, in case you didn’t know:

1) Monitoring police interaction with activists makes it less likely that law enforcement officials will deviate from procedural rules and violate the civil rights of nonviolent activists.

2) Filmmakers bear witness by recording and, with the help of social media networks, amplifying the voices of activists. More on recording events below.

3) Filmmakers aren’t just observers of historical events–they’re active participants. Just as the late Howard Zinn once urged scholars to engage, to take a side, in matters of social and economic justice, so do filmmakers have a duty to stand up and fight with image and sound for a better, more just and equitable society. The cult of objectivity can do little to cure injustice.

General Tips for Recording Events:

For those of you shooting on cell phones, it’s probably not necessary for you to read this. It’s crucial, however, that you monitor police interaction with protestors, as well as any provocateurs attempting to incite violence. Remember too: you have every right to film the police, even if they tell you to stop.

With that out of the way, below are some guidelines and instructions on how to create a short film for online distribution that will keep your audience engaged. You will need editing software.

1) Make a list of shots you want to get before heading to the scene. This might include establishing shots of street signs (to give the audience an idea of where the event took place), wide shots of protesters marching down the street, as well as chants, signage, and public reactions. You’ll also want to interview people and ask them their personal reason(s) for being at the event. And lastly, an old rule in documentary filmmaking: It’s important to get as much b-roll (non-interview shots) as possible, so it’s not one interview after another. Intersperse this b-roll to put some space between interviews. If you decide to put narration in later, you’ll also be glad you shot additional footage for the narration to go over. The information from your interviews is important, as will the narration be (if you decide to use this), and making it as aesthetically palatable as possible is just as important.

2) When editing, keeping the film to under five minutes (three minutes or so is optimal length) is important. Most viewers will usually click away to other things after this. And if you’re going to include narration (good for conveying facts, such as: “Protestors are organizing in part because of Wall Street’s stranglehold on agencies such as the SEC, which has failed repeatedly to regulate powerful corporations…”) it’s usually a good idea to write the narration after you have the film close to finished.

3) Finally: once you’ve posted the video on You Tube, Twitter, Facebook and Google+, send it to online outlets such as the The David and Goliath Project, GRITtv, The Public Record, and others. They’re always hungry for well-produced, aggressive short films. The key is to get your work into circulation. And with enough of us putting material out there, the message activists are trying to convey on September 17th (and beyond) will be amplified exponentially with the help of activist filmmakers like you and I.

If you plan to commit to documenting the US Day of Rage, please email The Project or US Day of Rage (site down for maintenance until September 2nd) with the following so we can begin creating a list of contacts:

1) Your name, city and relevant contact information;

2) Whether you’ll be using a digital video camera or cell phone;

3) Whether you’d be willing/able to UStream with a laptop computer and webcam, or cell phone (laptop preferable for connectivity issues.)

In case you want a short film example using guidelines I listed above, this film documents a health care reform sit-in at Blue Cross headquarters in downtown Los Angeles in 2009:

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