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Hamish Campbell
Posts: 457
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Date: 08/03/18
Richard Hering
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Date: 27/10/16
Patrick Chalmers
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Date: 03/07/14
Matthew Paul Foster
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Date: 27/12/13
John Sinha
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Date: 22/10/13

How to make smartphone video report training stick?

I am doing a training of Quaker maybe wanabee journalists in Newcastle on the afternoon of Aug 2, 2014.

I am hoping that it may be the start of Quakers embedding some journalism into their social activist leanings. There is no budget at present but there are possibilities of future roll out on a wider scale, perhaps with some grant money from Quaker funders.

I am looking for any tips as to the essentials of  making a street reporters event stick so that it continues after the event with people doing reports and posting them up online. It's the usual $mln question really.

This event will last only a few hours, so my thinking is to mix a bit of the why do this with the practical how. A first step will be getting participants to bring as much workable equipment with them in advance so as to be able to hit the ground running.

They don't want for stories.

Walking visionOntv talk at HRW Film Festival 2012


I spent chunks of Saturday with Glenn McMahon as part of visionOntv’s coverage of the Human Rights Watch Festival 2012 in London.

It was a good chance to practise one end of the VOTV01.5 template (it hasn't got any cartoons to illustrate it yet, but if you want a peak at how to do it, click on this). I did the interviews, Glenn did the filming.

He used an iPhone 4 plugged into an iRig mic for the sound, compressing the resulting HD files down by putting it into iMovie editing software, exporting the result to the pic directory on the phone using medium resolution.

Glenn then transferred the compressed file to a laptop PC, passed it through avidemux compression software to take it down to around 50MB. From there, I used the oneload video distribution site to send it out to multiple vide hosting sites (YouTube, blip, vimeo and the rest).

I found it inspiring to talk to different film-makers and activists who are out there doing good work. Events such as this are a great chance to hook up with them, find out what they're doing and how, then trying to do it yourself.

The following are three of the videos that came out of it, the trickiest probably being the last, my first live interview with an interpreter.

They feature Mimi Chakarova, Mark Covell and Carlo Bachschmidt.


Smartphone video uploads

This will be brief because what it says is all pretty simple.

The video below was shot by Tanya O'Carroll in late February as part of a training session in the visionOntv smartphone templates. It features Hamish Campbell interviewing Matt of the London Hackspace talking about his "top secret" coding project. The content wasn't really the point.

Having shot the video using the VOTV01.5 template - which is the next step up from this one - the file was bluetoothed across to my laptop for upload to The beauty of that approach is that you can file to several sites at once, youtube, and so on, which can be a good thing for audience reach and also when the content might be something that other people may try to take down.

Once logged in with the visionontv username and password (ask the usual suspects for that one) it is pretty straightforward to upload the video, feed in the relevant tags to make the video searchable and to add a description of the contents.

Once done, I switiched to the visionontv google account where I checked the video, switched it to a Creative Commons licence and made it public.

The result is what you see below. If I can do it, anyone can.


Watching documentaries in the company of strangers, then meeting them

Fish crowd for seats at a screening of "The End of the Line" - they weren't convinced (image from

A weekend at the Bristol Radical Film Festival reminded me why it is so great to watch political documentaries with other human beings and then to chew over what you’ve just seen, outside the privacy of your own home.

Part of the reason we suffer such rubbish, wealth-biased government is because we’re too dumb to think of alternatives or how we might ever put them into practice. Regular, local film screenings and related debates, preferably for free, help plug the many holes in our knowledge. They come with the added, democratic benefit of exposing us to the wisdom and perspectives of strangers, which is always useful.

The last film I watched before leaving the festival – The End of the Line – was a case in point. It documents the pillaging of the world’s seas by industrialised fishing fleets over the last 50 years, and how we risk having no fish within a generation.

One of the film’s upsides is the news that we are, at last, establishing some scientific proof of collapsing fish stocks worldwide. Among several downsides was its failure to drill down into the specifics of who profits from all this plunder or how we might stop them or hold them to account.

As the credits rolled, I thought to myself the film was okay if a little unrealistic in its proposals. It urged people to eat sustainably sourced fish, to badger their politicians about limiting fishing quotas to what scientists recommend, and to back the creation of more marine protected areas around the world. Fine as far as they went but not very convincing. Having witnessed as a reporter how European politicians and civil servants always cave into vested fisheries interests, I know the chances of conventional political solutions to this problem are near zero.

Fifteen minutes of listening to fellow audience members made me realise I’d been far too easy on the film. Just one of the points made was how supermarkets and even McDonald’s were given such an easy ride. Each got some great publicity in the film on the back of a few vague promises to do better. One audience member had surfed the Internet during the screening to check those promises against the facts, finding how limited they were and how those made had been broken since the film’s release.

Other people criticised the film as just too limited and too complacent. It ignored the broader picture of global resource plunder driven by our obsession with economic growth and return on capital. The film’s perspective, which as many observed was very rich-world, failed to convey the relative scale of threat faced by the different parties it featured. While Europeans can switch to other protein sources, or rather the richer ones can, Senegalese fishing communities face far starker problems of just getting enough to eat. The film’s cosy recommendations were hardly going to help them out.

The debate was excellent, one of several I enjoyed after the weekend’s many films. It encouraged me to stick with the regular screenings I have been part of during the past five years in southwest France, where I usually live. Showing free films on the second Friday of every month, with shared food and discussions, opens up opportunities for all sorts of unimagined exchanges and locally organised initiatives. They help people understand the bogus accountability of our politicians and the failures of our conventional media to hold them to account.

I explain the idea in greater depth in my book Fraudcast News, which is now available in paperback, as an eBook or, if you contact me directly, a free PDF file. While documentaries such as The End of the Line at least highlight pressing eco-crises they usually fail to expose the root causes – our failed and corrupt governance systems and the dominance of money over everything.

We have to do better. That includes organising local screenings, volunteer-run film festivals and video activist trainings.

Undercurrents - advice from the veterans of radical video activism

Paul O'Connor of Undercurrents gave an inspiring, enlightening and entertaining talk about the potential of radical video film-making at the Bristol Radical Film Festival 2012.

This animated film is a neat depiction of the why in all this. It's all about trying to break up the effects of corrupted government and their collusion with corporate sponsors (If you think that's all a bit too radical, check out today's Observer front page).

Paul gave some great tips for activists trying to get their messages out, while also trying to earn enough to keep themselves on the streets. "We want to create an alternative, vibrant media but also get our stuff into the mainstream," he said.

Don't be put off by the idea that using cheaper technology, camcorders or even smartphones, will prevent you selling your footage to fund further actions in the future.

"The whole thing about broadcast quality is bullshit really. If your images are strong and they want it, they will take it," he said. Other great films from the Undercurrents Youtube channel include the one below.

It features the amazing story from 1996 of four women as they plan and carry out smashing a BAE war plane in the UK to stop genocide in East Timor. They were found not guilty despite rendering the aircraft useless.

"Images are a very powerful way of remembering, and building stories around," says Paul.

Activist video training in Bristol’s Stokes Croft

I shot this brief smartphone film this morning using a visionOntv video-making template, warming up for a day at the Bristol Radical Film Festival in Stokes Croft.

This week-long event has a hoard of film treasures, meaning the 15 or so participants in today’s training workshop didn’t need any explanations about why our conventional media need of a root-and-branch revamp themselves.

The results were impressive, many people buddied up to produce three-shot, no-edit films explaining a where, what, why story of their choice.

The why of using a template is to cut-out the black holes of editing, processing and the rest that accompany conventional video film-making. What you lose in quality you gain in spades in productivity – the good kind – and in getting stories out there that otherwise just wouldn’t get told.

I helped out as a volunteer so as to practise using the template myself and to begin learning how to train others to be reporters – a core part of my conclusions in Fraudcast News.

Everyone here is talking about how to get funds to continue their work, meaning I will be giving away more PDF copies of the book than selling paperbacks.

That’s fine by me. Send me an email or make a comment below if you want one.

Smartphone video training - the dirty reality


Having learned my reporting skills as a print journalist, before the internet got big, I have been trying for years to bolt on some video skills to take account of the new realities of news.

This can be an expensive and time-consuming process - which means my output of video reports has been far less than it might have been in the years since I left salaried work at Reuters.

My voluntary redundancy package included some retraining money, half of which I spent on a made-to-measure video training put together by a mate of mine. I learnt how to shoot video on a DV camera, including the basics of recording sound, framing shots, and so on, as well as editing it all together into a short video film which I put up on Youtube in September 2006. There were many steps involved getting from the story idea to the publication - all of which slowed the process and decreased the chances of it ever getting done.

I've done a few more reports in the years since though far fewer than I would have liked given the constraints of time and equipment.

So far, so straight forward

While researching Fraudcast News, my book about reframing democracy and journalism, I came across visionOntv and their radical news-making project. I met its main personnel at the 2011 Rebellious Media conference in London, when I did their mobile phone training.

It was a revelation - shooting no-edit video reports according to a set template - maximising the chances of the report getting done and getting out there and cutting out many of the resource-sapping steps of the conventional route. There are certainly compromises involved in terms of video quality and sound. Being no-edit means the reporter has to concentrate on holding the smartphone steady and doing rapid pans between shots. The one-shot template ensures some basic standards though, increasing the chances of a report being useful to an audience and getting out there super fast.

The next step up is to go for longer reports, up to three minutes, using a slightly more involved template that visionOntv are working up now. The main additions are that two people are required - one filming, the other doing the interviewing - and that the smartphone be equipped with the necessary add-ons to record decent-quality interview sound.

I was recently a guinea pig for shooting one of these, the result being what you see at the top of this post. It involves a series of the five standard shots - 1) opening to camera, 2) over interviewer shoulder to interviewee, 3) close-up interviewee, 4) close-up interviewer and, 5) two-shot interviewer/interviewee. To go between shots, the camera operator needs to "whip pan", moving smoothly but rapidly from one to the other with the minimum of overrun.

My effort was OK but nothing fantastic. There is too much LH space with the interviewee, I should have got more full-on face views of both parties, the camera was wobbling alot, and the background could have been better. Other than than, bring on the Oscars.

The beauty of smartphone reports is that if it's rubbish - you just do it again.

Tired of the TV news? Think you could do better yourself?

If you have ever dreamed of making TV news rather than just watching it, here’s some good news: it’s not nearly as hard, or as expensive, as you think.

I am at the Mozilla Festival 2011 in London this weekend, a meeting of hacks and hackers working on media freedom and the web. Rather than just coming along as a participant, which would be great in itself, I have volunteered to work with visionOntv. So far today I have been on teams doing no-edit mobile phone reports and studio interviews with the huge variety of people here. The idea is both to do journalism and to teach other people how to do journalism.

“We are all about no edit,” says visionOntv’s Marc Barto. “When you edit, it’s extra time. What we want to do is to teach people to use the media-making tools they have, wherever they are, and to upload their stories on to the internet from wherever they are.”

That means interviewing participants about the software and journalism projects they’re working on, what they’re looking for in terms of collaborators at the festival and who they’ve found. There are great stories going on all around and we just reach out and pull participants in to tell us all about it. Catching it on video helps bring the projects alive, getting the message out and playing a part in the collaborative process. It gives a chance to those who can’t make it down to North Greenwich in East London to get a sense of it all. For those who can come, it’s a chance to make media and learn new reporting skills.

“We want to empower people in this process by showing what’s behind the cameras, to demystify the media,” adds Marc.

For mobile phone reports, that means a 3-shot sequence done in one take with an introduction, interview and closing piece to camera. The trick is to use a mike to make sure the sound quality’s up to scratch and to have enough phone battery to keep working. The first shot is an establisher, the second the content and the third the sign off. The next stage up here is the two TV studios visionOntv is running at the festival, one fixed the other mobile, each hijacking people as they move between the various great sessions going on over the weekend.

The explosion in user-generated content over the last few years is great. Unfortunately a lot of what comes out is rubbish, either too long, or shot with poor sound or a wobbly camera. visionOntv, which bills itself as an independent internet TV station, wants to help people improve their work. They try to teach people a few tricks to make their video reports so much better, with the tools they already have in their pockets. They don’t have to become professional journalists to do high quality work – some would say it would probably help produce hi



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