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Old June 16th, 2010, 10:58 PM   #1
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A question about video ethics

I was shooting documentary footage at a recent bodybuilding contest. As you all know, that meant that I was everywhere. Not just taping the show itself, but also the back stage preparations.

One of the winners, upon hearing the announcement of his placing while onstage, gave a "wait a minute" gesture to the audience and ran off. Journalist that I am, I too went backstage to find him vomiting into a trashcan surrounded by fellow competitors and backstage handlers.

I began to film this, hoping to show the lengths to which these athletes push their bodies in order to win. Or maybe just to show that the dude was very nervous!

While I was taping the promoter grabbed my camera and roughly pointed it toward the floor. "Don't shoot THAT!", he said.

Moments later the bodybuilder regained his composure, returned to the stage and claimed his trophy. I saw it as a triumphant moment but the sequence was marred by the promoter's interference.

Was the promoter right?

Before you answer, consider this.

I was reminded that night of one of the greatest sports photographs of all time. At the 1984 Olympics runner Mary Decker was accidentally tripped during the 3000 meters final when Zola Budd, half a stride ahead of Decker, moved to the inside lane, inadvertently crowding Decker, who collided with Budd and fell spectacularly to the curb.

The resulting picture show the anguish of a competitor who had trained her entire life for this moment only to have it taken away forever. It is a powerful document of the competitive nature of human beings, and a moving portrait of loss.

http://i347.photobucket.com/albums/p...ett_port5o.jpg

Now consider the question...was the promoter right?

What is the responsibility of a journalist in a situation such as this? What are our rights?
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Old June 16th, 2010, 11:34 PM   #2
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Quasi random thoughts:
- If I were in the same situation as you, I would have TRIED to shoot it and also covered my butt by shooting a segment that showed the athlete running into the washroom (or wherever the trash can was) so I would have the option of cutting AROUND the "expulsion"
- If I were the promoter, I would have done exactly as he did to protect my property - the competition.
- You say you were shooting a documentary - this does not IN AND OF ITSELF make you a journalist, although you may be one - this makes you a documentarian. There is a difference. A journalist works for a recognized agency telling NEWS. Docs can be news but they don't need to be. Fine line... you don't AUTOMATICALLY have the rights of the press, whatever they may be
- the Olympic example you give was in PLAIN SIGHT of the crowd and was replayed in slow motion time and time again by legitimate news agencies and host broadcaster - in your situation this happened back stage where one MIGHT assume they have some semblance of privacy (whether correct or not...)

What do I believe? I probably would have tried to document the "intent and spirit" of the moment while trying to be sensitive. I also come from a smaller market and we aren't very paparazzi-ish at all. Your story probably contains all the human drama it NEEDS, do you need the sick-to-the-stomach reaction to tell that story? No. Would your story be stronger with it? Arguably no. Would some people be interested? Arguably yes. Where do you err? On the side of YOUR ethics. You need to decide whether enforcing your "rights" (real or assumed) gets you further than the respect you would earn by being sensitive to the athlete and the promoter.

Your call.

And I've been backstage at bodybuilding competitions - they are an interesting experience.
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Old June 16th, 2010, 11:40 PM   #3
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Depending upon who hired you and why you were there and to do what, you're both right. You have a right to try to shoot it, and the promoter/victim has a right to try to prevent you from embarrassing them.

But who's to say it wasn't the winner's moment that was marred by your interference?
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Old June 17th, 2010, 03:25 AM   #4
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Admittedly, my first thought was to ask if you have the audio of the promoter saying "don't shoot that". To my mind that adds a kind of value to the not-so-pretty backstage nerves.

I don't think competitor nervousness shows badly on the running of the competition. Maybe the promoter was still in the default mindset of not wanting to have anything illicit shown from the back room and hence the default reaction before he had time to think the situation through more thoroughly.

Just some initial thoughts.

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Old June 17th, 2010, 04:46 AM   #5
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Is that incident an important part of the story being told?

Did that individual sign a release in advance or afterward? Were the people involved aware of how the material you were shooting might be used?

The definition of "journalist" becomes increasingly blurred as digital media expands and evolves. A blogger can be considered to be a journalist, depending upon the nature of what they write. The audience reached is what makes a difference, and now almost anyone has the potential to speak to huge numbers of people without being affiliated with a traditional news organization.

If you're creating something for broad consumption, whether it's for a major network, cable or the internet, you have the potential of having the same influence as any other established journalist.

And with that power comes the responsibility of careful reporting.

As for shooting it: I'd say go ahead. It's harmless. But exercise judgment in editing afterward. Because "publication" is where undue harm can be inflicted. Recording an incident means nothing until it's distributed.
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Old June 17th, 2010, 09:16 AM   #6
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Not sure what you mean by "Was he right?"??


Was he right in that you were wrong to shoot the guy throwing up? No. Was he right in that he did the right thing pushing your camera & telling you NOT to shoot it? No. He did it though, that's all that matters.


One thing I've learned is people love picking on the video guy. Photography? They love having a moment in time captired. Video? They feel it's nasty evidence or will be leaked & bootlegged. Case in point: About 10 years ago I worked at a duplication facility. A guy walks in to have his bands concert videos dubbed (homemade, shot on a camcorder). Well, the guy doing the dubs comes up to me and say "Dude, that guys in Gwar" (For those who don't know Gwar was a pretty sick heavy metal band in the 80's & 90, never achieved mainstream success but were kindof like an underground Marilyn Manson before he made it bubble gum pop). Anyway, we watch the video & laugh. The guy comes in to pick them up, and we talk to him for a bit. He said he's leaving the band, moving up to Allentown, but wanted some copies made. He tells us he's playing in Philly soon & asks if we can shoot it. Heck yeah! So we get on the list, arrive, set up our camera & ready to rock. Now, we had a small setup, camera & tripod, but it was pretty apparent we weren't just sneaking in a camcorder. So this meathead Security guard comes up to us telling us to leave. We tell him we're with the band & on the list. He tells us "2 SONGS!!" as in that's all we can record. What logic is that & who gave him that permission?? We tell him no we're shooting the whole thing & sure enough we did.

I'm sur eI can thing of other examples, weddings etc.. but the point is for some reason when people see video they become suspicious & feel the need to take authority.
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Old June 17th, 2010, 10:15 AM   #7
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Maybe this explains why movie people have had a reputation for coming across as terribly self-important. Perhaps they are trying to work against this perception?

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Old June 17th, 2010, 10:43 AM   #8
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Good points, all!



A few points I think I need to make...

Backstage at a bodybuilding contest is not a private area. There are videos and photos for sale purely of the backstage activities. It is well known that we will be circulating back there and the contest entry form is also a photo release.

I do agree that we should always comply with the promoter's wishes, right or wrong.

I also think that had I gotten the shot and asked the competitor afterwards if I could use it he would have been proud to say yes. That's the way these guys are!

I would only use something like that if it was relevant to the moment and said something about the subject or the sport.

When I called myself a "journalist" I didn't mean to imply that I should have the rights of the press, only to say that that is my mindset when going into a situation like this. I am not there to present a "prettified" picture of the event, but the reality of it.
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Old June 17th, 2010, 10:49 AM   #9
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I remember GWAR! LOL!

Great story! Video paranoia is one of the biggest battles that I face from day to day. People don't even know WHY they want to ban you from shooting, they just think that they SHOULD. I have a couple of pro-sumer palm-sized HD videocams to use on certain guerilla location shoots where the presence of a pro rig would frighten people. I find it better to sometimes look like a tourist in order to get my shot!
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Old June 20th, 2010, 12:11 PM   #10
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The ethics of journalism/documentary making are a personal or corporate judgement made on the basis of the type of person or organisation you wish to be seen as. There are no hard and fast rules other than those enforced by law, and even those can sometimes be ethically challenged. Ethics will be derived from cultural and personal background and the culture that you operate in.

In many cultures pretty well anything is deemed to be fair game when filming in a public place yet in some this is frown on. In a private area, even if it is given over to a public event, a whole range of conditions and restrictions may be applied, whether you abide by them or not is again a personal judgement. For some people ethics are what you can get away with, for others it what you can do which causes the least hurt or disrespect.

So in my opinion you'll be the only one who can answer whether or not what you did was ethical, but I think it depends entirely on the basis on which you were there.
Was this a fully commissioned job with a designated outcome?
Had the promoter agreed to the coverage with the producer of the documentary (i.e. you or whoever you were shooting for)?
Had the contestants been informed that the event was being shot for a documentary?
Did you have a "Carte Blanche/access all areas" agreement?

If you were there on the above understanding then you were right to react to something you saw as relevant to the story, I'd even say you had a duty to do this (if you were commissioned to shoot a no holds barred documentary).
If you were there just winging it on a private project then I think you should be prepared respect the restrictions that the promoter places on you.

Broadcasters and publishers usually pay event promoters for concession rights to film/photograph events. These are well written agreements which give them the legal right to exploit the images they record. So the owners of the images from the 1984 Olympics would have the right to not only record them but to show them however they wished.

I've found that one of the reasons that videographers are held in such low esteem is that many just assume that they have every right to film anything they feel like and then use the footage in anyway they like, regardless of the wishes, or feelings of those they are filming. That's coming from my ethical point of view.
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Old June 21st, 2010, 09:09 AM   #11
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Excellent response George! You have given me much to think about!
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Old June 21st, 2010, 10:13 AM   #12
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I agree with everything that's been posted on this so far. Here's a look at it from a more pragmatic level.
What's your relationship with this promoter? Do you need him to secure releases for either past or future coverage? Do you intend to cover other events like this, perhaps by the same promoter, in the future? Would you like to work with this promoter to help publicize or sell your final piece? If this is someone with whom you may have future dealings, you may well decide to respect his wishes.

On the other hand, if everyone understands that you are working independently, you have no contractural relationship with the promoter or the contestants, AND it won't really cost you if this guy is ticked off, then you should do what's best to tell the story effectively and maintain the artistic integrity of your piece. As someone else pointed out, there's probably a middle road here. You have to show all of the vomiting in living color, but maybe just enough of the action to get across to the audience what's going on, and cut away before all the gory details.
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Old June 21st, 2010, 10:19 AM   #13
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An option would be to sit down with the promoter at a later date, show him your preferred edit, and seek his thoughts.

He may decide that the way you have edited it isn't how he envisioned it being used when he stopped you. If this is the case, you could well wind up with his full support on using it. Maybe actually even get invited to film other events in the future because they know you won't intentionally make them look bad.

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Old June 21st, 2010, 10:20 AM   #14
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Actually, it's not gory at all! The guy was leaning over a trash can. All we could see was the back of his head and people patting his neck with towels! It was really quite tame.

But your point is well taken. I do need to protect my reputation with this and other promoters and that is why I backed off at his request. The last thing I want is word to get out that Mike is trying to get the "dirt" on bodybuilding. Then I will have no access whatsoever.
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Old June 21st, 2010, 10:31 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew Smith View Post
An option would be to sit down with the promoter at a later date, show him your preferred edit, and seek his thoughts.

He may decide that the way you have edited it isn't how he envisioned it being used when he stopped you. If this is the case, you could well wind up with his full support on using it. Maybe actually even get invited to film other events in the future because they know you won't intentionally make them look bad.

Andrew
That is very true. At a contest a few years ago I stumbled upon EMTs rushing a competitor out of the hotel and shot it. He later died. I was very concerned about how this footage would be perceived by the bodybuilding community.

The promoter of THIS show (who was also a big wig in the sport) pre-approved the clip before it's release and the girlfriend of the competitor has since thanked me for making it.

YouTube - Raising the Bar 2 - Anthony D'Arezzo Tribute

(Please be forgiving of some of the technical aspects of this clip. I am not a trained filmmaker. This is real "no budget" filmmaking and in this sport we get what we can get.)
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