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Old August 22nd, 2008, 04:02 PM   #1
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Shooting during demonstrations or riots

Hi all,
For the theatrical documentary I'm working on, we may be shooting under conditions of civil unrest as some protest concerts could degenerate into moderate or heavy rioting.

We shoot 2.35 widescreen with the 251 and DR-HD100 (+tape as back-up), mattebox and followfocus, tripod if needed. I have a portabrace raincover from an old Sony somewhere which more or less fits the cam. Sound is separate. I don't know yet about the choice of lens: a mid-range prime or a TV zoom ?

Now some of you guys in this forum have probably been confronted with riots, tear gas, water cannons and police forces who club anyone who moves.
I have a press card, for what it's worth. We'll probable be three of us. Location is Switzerland.

Any tips for shooting decent filmstyle images and for relative crew safety you can give me ? And which lens ?

many thanks- Claude
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Old August 22nd, 2008, 04:54 PM   #2
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I shoot a lot of breaking news situations with my stock lens. SWAT team operations, bank robberies, standoffs, hostage situations, etc. I get ok pictures with the stock lens, but there are many times when I wish I had the wide lens. Oh, I also have a ballistic vest labeled "MEDIA" on it. It actually has a higher ballistic rating than what our local law enforcement uses, about the rating of the SWAT vests. Hope that helps.

here is an example of some pictures off my stock lens.
YouTube - SWAT operation
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-11iWENW1iU
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Old August 22nd, 2008, 06:00 PM   #3
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Hey Claude,

I reckon I can help - I've been getting into these situations since the student riots in the UK in '86, and have been tear-gassed, water-cannoned and baton-charged for a living across four continents and two decades, from Uzbekistan to Havana. Also I train television journalists and operators in Hostile Environment Survival strategies - one of our course modules is on working in riots and demonstrations.

Definitely go for a wide lens. the fuji 13x would be great, though a Century or similar zoom- through 0.7 adaptor would be fine.

Carry as little kit as you can manage - bin the matt box and tripod before the riot kicks off. Go light, carry a couple of spare batteries and tapes in a backpack. Nothing else. The operator leads, the other two are his eyes and ears. I would not use a separate sound man in a riot or demo - record sound on the camera. It'll be fine. The sound tech is more useful to watch the operators' six in a hectic situation. And if you get separated you won't be any use. That said, the sound tech might use something like a Beyer M58 or other similar limited radius mic, with a radio transmitter on the end, linked to the Receiver on the camera. That way, you might get some useable sound bites from people in the crowd.

Take lots of water to drink - you'll get dehydrated and make bad decisions if you don't. And energy bars or muesli bars or chocolate - you burn a lot of calories shooting a riot.

You can get hard baseball caps to protect from stones and batons. In Switzerland, to be honest, I would not even consider ballistic protection. No one is going to be shooting at you, and it'll slow you down and make you dehydrated faster.

I wear body armour in Iraq etc. Not in riots and demos in Europe, though in some places a stab vest is a good bit of kit.

If it kicks off, your phones may well be useless - the authorities might shut down the network, or everyone is trying to make a call and the network shuts itself down, or it's so noisy you can't hear a thing. Every ten minutes or so make a collective decision on a RV (rendevous) point - that doorway over there, by the clock tower, under the bridge, etc. If you get split up, head for the RV point.

If there are petrol bombs flying, don't hide in doorways - the blast can kill or at least seriously burn in confined areas. Outside in the open they are no big deal.

Don't wear anything nylon or synthetic - not even goretex jackets. Jeans and leather and cotton doesn't burn. Anything plastic does.

Water cannons will kill your camera, though they won't really harm you. Stay out of the way of them, for your camera's sake.

Tear gas is a nuisance, but in Europe (unlike Asia and Africa where they use a much more powerful compound) it is only a nuisance - it'll incapacitate you for a couple of minutes. Gas masks can be ok, but the rioters may want to help themselves to your gas mask.

If you want good pix, check in with the guys in black jackets and jeans. They'll be the ones who kick off the riot. When they start putting on balaclavas and face masks, it's about to go down.

Also look out for MacDonalds, KFC, and other US franchises - the rioters love nothing more than to kick in the windows of an "American" store front.

Take a couple of pressure-dressings each, gauze and crepe bandage, (and know how to apply them). Note where the nearest hospitals are, and maybe make comms with a local doctor and a lawyer beforehand - the doc if you get whacked on the head, and the lawyer if you get arrested. Also make sure you have a number and name at your Embassy in Switzerland.

And remember, if it gets too hot at street level, there are often great shots to be had from an elevated position - so if the location is pre-determined, see if there's a high point you can get to away from the zone.

Good luck, and have fun!

Rob Adams
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Old August 22nd, 2008, 10:19 PM   #4
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I second the recommendation of the Fujinon 13x3.5 zoom for your 1/3" cam. You can go very wide in a crowd situation or while running and still effectively document the situation.

Rob you've got all great suggestions and I think this thread should be shared with the whole dvinfo.net community so I've moving the thread to our "Home Away From Home" forum.
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Old August 22nd, 2008, 11:04 PM   #5
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Great, Tim.
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Old August 23rd, 2008, 09:03 AM   #6
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Wonderful tips, many thanks. This board is just amazing, so many people willing to share !

Robert, we'll take all your advice on clothing, caps etc and stay away from the watercannons. and look out for elevated spots, didn't think of that at all since I'm more the in-the-middle-of-it kind of director.

Carlos - are those night shots available light only, or did you use lights ? Or a Frezzi-type camera light? Did you use a Pro-HD cam ?

To all of you: any specific tips for 2.35 widescreen ? I'm worried about excessive camera motion, looks OK on TV but not in the theater. Some is OK for realistic look/feel but too much can be too much. Would a sturdy monopod be of any use ?

Also, sound-wise, what about a stereo mic (ok, we could also dub the sound in post), onboard or, with the sound guy like on a revolver grip instead of boom and recorded separately ?
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Old August 23rd, 2008, 10:54 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Claude Mangold View Post

with the sound guy like on a revolver grip instead of boom and recorded separately ?

I don't think this sounds like a really good idea during any civil unrest, let alone a full blown riot. Anything that looks even remotely like a firearm could make you a target of both the authorities and/or the rioters.

Unless I'm misunderstanding you...

--Andy P
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Old August 23rd, 2008, 12:51 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Claude Mangold View Post
To all of you: any specific tips for 2.35 widescreen ? I'm worried about excessive camera motion, looks OK on TV but not in the theater. Some is OK for realistic look/feel but too much can be too much. Would a sturdy monopod be of any use ?
The first film I shot in 2.35:1 I found that my close-ups (which would have been normal on the small screen) were just too close for the wide theatre screen. The director was also from a TV background so we both had a tendency to get too close.
As a general rule go wider than you think you have to. Everything will get blown up for the small screen when you do your 4x3 pan & scan or 16x9 centre cut.
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Old August 23rd, 2008, 02:33 PM   #9
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wides

Completely agree with Tim on the business of not getting too close for theatrical release - I've just DoP'd my first doc with a serious feature director, after twenty something years of shooting news and docs for TV. In the first couple of days he was constantly reminding me to pull back.

I think if you have a wide angle you'll find that when you're in the melee you will only use it at it's widest setting. Remember Robert Capa's great advice on shooting action - "if your pictures aren't good enough, it's because you're not close enough". A wide lens draws you into the action, and is a lot more forgiving of movement. I don't think you'll use a monopod, though it wouldn't hurt to have one strapped to the side of your kit bag.

I would personally suggest your sound tech carries as little as possible. A Rycote pistol grip on your mic should be ok - but I think you'll find the most valuable mic on the end of it is a limited radius unit, as I mentioned earlier, not a shotgun. It gets REALLY noisy in the heart of the action.

The point about the elevated position is to give you a fall-back position if the situation on the ground gets untenable. I'm a in-the-middle-of-it kind of guy too, but it's always nice to have a Plan B. Bridges are great.

Last edited by Robert Adams; August 24th, 2008 at 12:49 AM.
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Old August 23rd, 2008, 02:51 PM   #10
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My mate Dave, who i am staying with tonight on the way through Nairobi, and has all sorts of stuff in his past that we aren't allowed to know about, suggests you get clear wrap-around glasses - Wiley X make really good ballistic protection.

Stoppa Ltd Wiley-X Ballistic Eyewear

Last edited by Robert Adams; August 24th, 2008 at 12:47 AM.
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Old August 23rd, 2008, 05:35 PM   #11
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night shots

all of my stuff is shot with pro-hd, my night shots were taken out on a deserted hiway next to a cow pasture. if it wasn't for a search and rescue truck from the fire dept. my shots would have been pitch black. the rig was parked about 50 yards away from both my interview and the crime scene. I also had a 100-watt pro-light attached to my camera, but the battery was pretty much dead, so it was barely enough to get rid of the shadows. That was my first video to hit CNN, and I almost didn't go because of the remote location and how far out it was, but I was the only one to get the better pictures. I had a pd-150 that i loaned to the police dept. to shoot pictures for themselves as well, but I liked how my pictures turned out better. cocky, i know.
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Old August 24th, 2008, 01:34 PM   #12
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Some excellent advice from Robert there. We recently shot some military riot training. It can get very tasty!

I've also shot for a few London demos that went a bit hairy for various news organisations in the past.

My best advice would be to keep your left eye open ALL THE TIME when you find yourself in the middle of a pack of people where its kicking off. I've been clouted many times in the past or not looking, as you lose all your peripheral vision looking into that viewfinder! You'll need your wits about you at all times.

Go lightweight! Nothing worse than having things like matte boxes, top lights etc. Ditch all non essentials.

Small camera! I'd be inclined to hire a PD170 or Z1 or something. If you knock someone with your camera (which you invariably will do if it's crowded and kicking off) some people will not be forgiving if they are all fired up.

Get a wide angle.

Tear gas is OK as long as you are not in it too long. Maybe take a dust mask from a DIY shop and keep it in your pockets and the wrap around glasses are a great idea. They can deflect tear gas away from your eye sockets.

Do you really need a sound man attached? That will be a nightmare. I'd really never want anyone attached as they'll definitely get separated from you!
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Old August 24th, 2008, 05:09 PM   #13
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Do you really need a sound man attached? That will be a nightmare. I'd really never want anyone attached as they'll definitely get separated from you!
Having the sound recordist attached is manageable, I've had one attached on numerous riots. Experienced news sound recordists don't get separated, however, with one man bands being used on news these days, they're thin on the ground. Also. recording sound on programmes is much more interesting for sound recordists. For exterior work they always use the furry wind shields, so the mic won't get confused for a gun.

How close you get to the action depends on what's happening and if you're likely to be a target for one side or the other. Standing in the line of fire of a plastic bullet or baton round isn't a good idea, usually being on one side of the possible line of fire is better.

You should also consider protective head gear, I've had a sound recordist off work for a month after being hit on the head by a rock.

If the police wade in with batons whilst you're in the middle of rioters you are really relying on them not hitting the media. Perhaps less likely with experienced riot squads, but the red mist can descend.
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Old August 24th, 2008, 09:51 PM   #14
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In Montreal riots is becoming an habit for the youth, but police have the habit of seizing the media tapes(usually the day after). Then police put the images on their website and ask people for helping them find the rioters.
The Rioters knows it and at the past two riots, TV crews have been attacked and their camera broken or stealed(photographers also).And if you have a small camera(amateur or cellphone) the “kids“ usually scream youtube when they pass next to you.I have only experienced only 1 riots but used a small camera(Sony A1u) and the TV used my image since their camera was broken.
I used a lot the nightshot mode(kind nightvision) and wide angle.
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Old August 25th, 2008, 04:17 PM   #15
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Experienced news sound recordists don't get separated, however, with one man bands being used on news these days, they're thin on the ground.
I'm afraid I disagree with you there Brian. I only work with very experienced sound recordists and I'm yet to work with one who'd suggest it was OK because he was 'experienced'. No matter how much experience you and your sound recordist have, or how good your ability to stay together, you will invariably get some berk who insists on going between you, or forces their way between you, not having seen the umbilical. Should you be in a situation where fighting is occurring people could end up pushed, shoved or even felled in between you. When the camera operator has his back to the sound man it's a pretty hard job to stop these such people ending up between you, especially when the experienced sound recordist has one hand holding a boom pole or mic!
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