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Old January 9th, 2014, 06:00 PM   #1
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Editorial 'ethics'/style in railway videos

Now this has to be a minority interest subject! But I can think of a few on here who have previously confessed to having at least dabbled.

I have noticed that most non-professionally produced footage of trains (on YouTube and the like) is very much in the single camera/single angle domain - little or no use of cutaways or alternate angles other than a crash pan to follow a speeding train. Not surprising really, since most appear to have been shot by enthusiasts on handicams, though admittedly some are very well done with rock steady tripod shots. (Many others, regrettably, could dearly use a tripod and some wind protection). A very strict chronological approach seems also to be de rigeur. On the other hand, quite a few seem have elaborate titling and even their own 'production house' logo!

Here is my question: would you consider the use of the following standard techniques appropriate (or 'ethical') in a documentary style video about a single railway journey ?

(a) establishing shots/cutaways (eg to on board the train) shot earlier/later than the identified time and date
(b) alternate angles of the same train/indistinguishably different train but which have been shot earlier/later than the identified time and date
(c) audio dubbing of of the same train/indistinguishably different train recorded earlier/later than the identified time and date
(d) slow/fast and reverse motion in the interests of continuity
(e) suitably authorised and attributed stock footage/photographs
(f) any other tricks of the trade?

All of which wouldn't raise many eyebrows in other documentary (and nowadays even wildlife) work I suspect.
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Old January 9th, 2014, 06:45 PM   #2
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Re: Editorial 'ethics'/style in railway videos

As a general rule, "tricks" such as you suggest have been an essential part of filmmaking since the early silent days, and generally tend to be accepted. That said, then "ethics" have indeed raised their head in recent times.

Personally, I'd only feel really unhappy if such editing was used to deliberately give a false impression that is contrary to what actually happened.

But where do you draw the line? If the journey took 80 minutes, does that mean the film has to be that long exactly?

If we were talking about (say) an investigative programme, then if a spare crew member was just used to walk through a static shot to give an impression of movement, I don't see a problem. If they were used to (say) go door to door, and the film used together with a script line "members of the XVZ company went door to door selling their faulty goods", then that is unacceptable unless it's labelled as a reconstruction.
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Old January 10th, 2014, 03:26 AM   #3
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Re: Editorial 'ethics'/style in railway videos

Ah, here we go. <grin>


In answer to the original list:
"(a) establishing shots/cutaways (eg to on board the train) shot earlier/later than the identified time and date"
- Yes, I do that all the time.

"(b) alternate angles of the same train/indistinguishably different train but which have been shot earlier/later than the identified time and date"
- Yes, but always of the same train at a very close time, not months or weeks before or after.

"(c) audio dubbing of of the same train/indistinguishably different train recorded earlier/later than the identified time and date"
- Never had the need for this.

"(d) slow/fast and reverse motion in the interests of continuity"
- Would never do this, it looks cheesy even to non-enthusiasts (and the rivet counters would roast me)

"(e) suitably authorised and attributed stock footage/photographs"
- Only done this with supplied photos when it's been referring to a historic event when I wasn't around, e.g. during and interview about a restoration, I only have footage of a very dismantled locomotive, so I used stills of that loco from the 1960s or earlier to illustrate it.

"(f) any other tricks of the trade?"


It all depends. Are you aiming the production at the general market or the enthusiast market?

General market = do whatever you like. Dub sounds, have different trains, stick in stock footage, reverse footage etc. Look at BBC'S Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo, as long as the trains are vaguely the same colour, then it's OK.

Enthusiasts = these people are not normal, and will notice any minuscule detail that isn't right in any way. Trust me, the level of knowledge and willingness to nit-pick can be terrifying

I cover a lot of events for the two main organisations in Northern Ireland, mainline steam with the RPSI and the DCDR preserved railway.

My general modus operandi would be to do lots of different lineside/scenic shots, and people will generally be none the wiser as to when it was filmed and in what order. You can go on board and to stations and get "people shots" and interesting operations, and it'll all tie together pretty well.

We're lucky in that (for example), the Santa trains will do two or three trips back and forth on the same line on the same day. So one day gets you all your nice scenic shots. Day 2 can get your on-board and station shots, Day 3 gets any in-fill, and the other 3 days you can rest, or try innovative things like mini cams on the locomotive to capture the excitement of it all.

All they need to do is turn the locomotive on day 2, and it all looks wrong! For the uninitiated, steam locos have a chimney at one end and a tender at the other, so look very different if they are running chimney-first or tender first, even to non-experts, if you use two shots concurrently with the loco facing different directions.

If it's a one-off event, then that clearly isn't an option. If the weather is different every day, then good luck (or do the on-board shots on a dull day, nobody will notice).

At least one UK-based commercial producer only films service trains (i.e. normal timetabled passenger trains) because they can then get many lineside shots and helicopter views of seemingly the same train, without needing dozens of cameraman. Nobody is any the wiser because the diesel units all look the same, unless you can make out their numbers then you can't tell.

Edit: I also have two different styles of video. One is a quick "on the day" highlight - slap the best scenes in sequential order onto a simple timeline and fire it up onto YouTube ASAP, so the organisations can share it on Facebook/Twitter the same day, and use it as PR or just for the interest of their fans. The other is the longer edit, the documentary style with more complex editing including out of sequential order shots, which may make it onto YouTube, but is more likely to be on DVD eventually.
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Last edited by Mike Beckett; January 10th, 2014 at 04:00 AM.
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Old January 10th, 2014, 05:06 AM   #4
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Re: Editorial 'ethics'/style in railway videos

Excellent post, Mike. I know that you have a lot of experience in this area and hoped you would come in on this - you have said more or less what I thought, although I have been in a situation where an unexpected line closure has prompted an edit where the boundaries were pushed somewhat in order to achieve an impression of what the scene was like before events made further filming impossible.
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