How to film a protest

No Film School has great tips for those who want to document a protest. Meerkat Media has covered a lot of public protests, and the most effective coverage requires more than just pointing a camera or phone at the action.

Inspired in part by leftist filmmakers of the 1960s, we want to bridge the “schism between the experience of events, local and distant, and their representation in the mass media.” With so much happening so fast, we feel it important and valuable for filmmakers of all kinds to help spread the messages emanating from activists and policy makers on the ground. We want to inspire people to participate. We want our projects to sit in solidarity with grassroots organizations and elevate the work they are doing and make it more visible.

They go into detail on six key areas:

1. Stay mobile
2. Know your rights and be safe
3. Think like an editor
4. Work in a team
5. Go behind the curtain
6. Turn your work around quickly

I also recommend practicing under less stressful situations. Go cover street fairs, marathons, parades and other non-confrontational events to get your bearings. You'll learn what to bring (batteries and storage), what to leave at home or in the vehicle, what to wear (you can never have too many pockets), and how to interact with people and get material that supports your project.

Filming a Protest? 6 Tips to Capture the Action (No Film School)

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  1. ACE says:

    They neglect to mention the most important point -- While the media sometimes has a get out of jail free card, do not assume you can join in a riot, and they cry "Press!" when you are arrested with the rest of the rioters and all will be well. The ACLU site they link to calls this out in bold: the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws

    Also their #2 item is misleading at best

    As a filmmaker, you have the right to film police so long as you keep a "reasonable distance" and do not interfere with the activity of law enforcement. (Keep in mind that if an officer asks you to move away, you have three chances to do it before they have the right to cuff you.) At no time may police confiscate your equipment without a warrant.

    • Reliance on a mythical "3 warnings" rule will get you arrested/maced/etc.
    • When you are arrested, you will be separated from your equipment. You may be charged, possibly even with felony rioting.
    • Do not assume the police will recognize you as a journalist, particularly if your actions (or just your website) paint you as an independent activist journalist. Journalists have no special rights.
    • Do not assume that the protesters know you are on their side. In Charlotte, both CNN and NBC (WCNC) had reporters, photographers attacked. Not just stuff thrown, but attempted murder.
  2. zikzak says:

    Rule #0: Don't film protesters who are trying to be anonymous, for example wearing masks or asking you not to record them. You don't know what risks a person may be taking by even being seen in a protest. So even if the video would be great, it's not worth risking the safety of the participants.

  3. I disagree with this as a blanket rule.

    If the public's interest outweighs the individual's, then one should document protesters even if they're trying to be anonymous. Weighing those factors is part of professional journalism.

    An example situation would be where you wouldn't be able to honestly depict reality without filming them, like for instance, in a large black bloc action or a riot.

    That said, there is no reason to go out of your way to identify them and one should make thoughtful decisions about when to blur faces and cutting anything that doesn't meaningfully add to the documentation before publishing.

    Of course if you're just some random guy looking to film protest porn... well you're not following any rules, ethical or otherwise, anyway.

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