Tips on Filming a Live Event

Preparation and Safety

When filming a rally, or any other mass political event, the first thing to be aware of is your own safety.  You should try and bring someone with you to keep an eye out for problems so that the cameraperson can focus on filming.  Also think carefully beforehand about appropriate camera-people – choose someone who is not a public figure, and will be able to film unobtrusively.

If something happens that threatens your safety, and you need to run away, and if it’s possible not to turn off the camera, it’s better to keep recording everything.  The recording will no longer be your priority – your safety must be prioritized – but sometimes even an ultra shaky image can be used in the editing or may be usable (see more on safety and security).

Where to Be

After assessing your safety situation, remember that the closer you are, the more audio and visual information you will be able to capture on camera.  Ideally, it is good to have both wide shots at a distance from the event, as well as shots from within it.  A close shot, has more emotional strength, as the audience will be confronted more powerfully with the expressions of the participants.

However a wide shot, gives more of a contextual sense of the event – how many people approximately are enrolled in it, where is the rally taking place, and so on.   For this reason the wide shot is also called establishing shot – it gives the viewer an overall sense of the place where the event is taking place.   It is unlikely however that this kind of establishing shot will collect usable audio of specific events in the rally, instead they will capture the audio of action happening immediately around the camera.

Handling the Camera

At eye level: When you position the camera at eye-level, you capture images from the same perspective as we see them in real life, the lens of the camera become an extension of the eye of the spectator.  It’s as if s/he was there watching the event, or as if the camera is a person on itself.  Since the spectator is so familiar with this kind of perspective the viewer’s attention is likely to focus more on the issue dealt with on screen, than on the camerawork itself.

At belly level: This position is good to either get a close overview of the rally, or to follow a character.  Pressing the camera against the belly gives it more steadiness, which is especially good when filming and walking at the same time.  When shooting from this position, try to shoot from a diagonal angle in relation to the subject, so we can see a wider depth-of-field.  When you are shooting a subject from a distance, this position also lets you portray persons in their full body image or at least – and most of the time preferably – from their knees up, aka cowboy shot.

With the camera raised:
You can get an overview of an event by getting on a roof, filming outside of a window, climbing a tree, or just raising your camera as high as you can and film the scene.  If you have a rotating viewfinder on you camera, use it – and try not to walk for this shot in order to minimize shaky footage.

Shooting from a Distance

Shooting at distance is commonly used only for establishing shots.  Just don’t keep zooming in and out constantly.  Keep the frame for a good period of time – aim for 10 seconds at a time.  Also never use the digital zoom, or any digital effects while filming.  The digital zoom simply magnifies the maximum image achievable with an optical zoom and can be replicated in editing.  If any digital effect is to be inserted it can be done during the editing, never during the recording, otherwise the editing can be limited by these effects.

If a tripod is available and if you stand in a safe place – where you won’t need to be hiding yourself, nor do you need to disguise the fact that you are filming – use it.  Especially when filming closer frames – zoom in images – having the camera stabled is essential. If a tripod is not available, it’s recommended to support either your elbows or the camera in some sort of surface.

Choosing What to Shoot

When you think of the shooting you have to think of how to collect images and sound that will help provide the most comprehensive information to the future viewer.

Here’s a possible list of shots to get an event.  Please adapt it to fit your specific needs.

Key Speakers: Shots of the leaders of the demonstration, rally or event.  Usually leaders of a rally have strong and eloquent advocacy speech that can help convey the main ideas of the rally.  To capture what they’re saying, try to get up-close and find a stable position.

B-roll: Never underestimate the power of images to support your storytelling process.  Film a good range of different images and activities within the demonstration that will best illuminate the composition and size of the participants.  Capture as much b-roll as you can, these are the loose series of shots that will serve to portray through strong images the feeling of the demonstration, and will also help smooth the editing process by allowing breaks in action or in speeches to be ‘covered’ by other relevant shots that do not feel out-of-place.

This is the method using in television reporting when a reporter and cameraperson ask an ordinary person on the street to spontaneously state their views on a subject.  You can ask them quick questions about the event, and why they are there, as well as anything more personal relating to the advocacy of the event. It’s good to make some b-roll (see above – shots of them in action) of each of subject after the interview is completed. Vox-pops are important to show that not only the leaders are conscious about the situation advocated, but that the people who form the mass of the event also have their own opinions and point-of-view – and these point-of-views should not be neglected.

What Next? Safety and Security

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