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Cops and Cameras: Guerrilla Media Grows Up

The "Guerrilla Video Primer," produced by Eugene's Cascadia Media Collective, is a community-based primer, packed with practical, cutting-edge information...The "Guerrilla Video Primer" goes far beyond being a video primer. It is a guerrilla primer.
Cops and Cameras: Guerrilla Media Grows Up
By Kirsten Anderberg (

The Pacific Northwest is a hotbed of cop watch activity. With a vocal anarchist community, eco-defense alliances, and a growing boldness due to organization on the part of activists, places like Eugene and Portland, Oregon, are spawning a strength of *Independent Media* that is placing them among the leaders in this field. From the high quality news website produced by Portland's Independent Media Center (IMC) ( to Portland's Indy Media Web Radio Collective and their Video Collective, to the Cascadia Media Collective, radicals are learning how to produce professional quality media that rivals, if not outperforms, the mainstream press. The "Guerrilla Video Primer," produced by Eugene's Cascadia Media Collective, is a perfect example of the high quality, community-based, media coming out of this region. The primer is packed with practical, cutting-edge information that is useful to all who participate in protests and direct actions, not just video journalists. The "Guerrilla Video Primer" goes far beyond being a video primer. It is a guerrilla primer. It offers clear and concise instructions, and I think it should be required viewing in all classrooms. Full of inspirational footage of anarchist actions, with a great soundtrack, this video is also perfect for community viewings. The footage of violent cop behavior is educational for those who have not experienced this behavior firsthand.

The "Guerrilla Video Primer" demystifies video and audio equipment, addressing cost, and benefits and drawbacks of different models of cameras and microphones. They do a great job speaking in plain English, for people like me who have little to no prior recording or photography experience. They suggest practicing video taping technique, before attending events as a video journalist. Practice things such as the "corner focus trick." Focus your attention on an object in the corner of your photo frame and do not let that object go up, down, to the left or right, etc. They stress a smoothness when handling a video camera alike tai chi. For panoramic sweep shots, they suggest establishing a start and end point, then doing a practice run through, winding up then releasing the body smoothly as you turn, shooting the sweep. They discuss uses of the zoom feature, such as highlighting a person amidst a huge clear cut, to give scale to the scene. Or zooming in on a cop's glowing, smiling face in the Robocop lineup. They discuss other techniques such as walk- throughs, and then discuss combining these techniques.

The "Guerrilla Video Primer" said that the above techniques will take you half way to being a good videographer. The other half is about getting good material on film. Framing the picture, balancing the subject/s and the background, focus, light exposure, etc. are all discussed. They recommend getting a bag to take with you to street protests akin to street medics' bags. A street videographer's bag. They recommend a black waterproof bag, with extra pre-labeled/numbered tapes and cases, a battery and a back up battery, simple rain protection for the camera, a pen and paper, and business/contact cards. For direct actions, they also recommend a gas mask without a glass face shield (as they shatter from rubber bullets), a cell phone, a map of the area, food, water, and emergency contact numbers, such as jail/legal support.

When in the field, the "Guerrilla Video Primer" recommends answering 6 questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. They recommend documenting cross streets, injuries, time of day, names of cops and reactions from bystanders. They recommend interviewing as many people as possible, as close to the time of the incidents as possible. They also recommend going outside your own comfort zone to collect interviews. Interviewing people of mixed ethnic backgrounds and authorities such as cops, for instance. They also address background noise, such as small children, machinery, cars and wind.

The Cascadia Media Collective's advice for video taping on cop watches is obviously borne of experience. The purpose of cop watches are to educate the public, and to help the victims with evidence. The "Guerrilla Video Primer" confirms my experiences, saying that cops will try to make up laws on the spot and say filming them in public, doing their public job, is illegal. The "Primer" has a scene where police are trying to move all the protesters off the street to one area. A video journalist is pushed by cops, as he says that all demonstrators have to go into a certain area. You hear the videographer saying "I'm not protesting anything. I'm documenting the event."

The cop watch portion of this instructional "Primer" warns cops will try to play word games. They recommend learning the local laws as they pertain to filming officers in public. This will help when try to make up laws on the spot. When the cop's intimidation tactics do not run you off, the Collective advises the next thing the cops will do is try to turn those you are filming against you. They will say that the people being held and arrested do not want to be photographed. So the Collective recommends having contact cards on hand to establish ties with the victim immediately. Once they realize you are taping this for *their* benefit, not the cops', and will make the tape available to them in court, they are much more friendly.

Cascadia Media Collective has been successful at getting charges dropped by Eugene Police. By playing video footage of aggressive and abusive police behavior on local public access shows such as Cascadia Live, as well as taking the tapes to the City Council, the collective has literally affected public policy in their town. One beautiful example of their cop watch and media savvy shows a journalist being detained, put in handcuffs, his video equipment threatened, etc. for no reason by Eugene Police. But, alas, a fellow Indy videographer caught it all on tape from across the street! The video was used as evidence and charges dropped.

The Collective stresses the fact that it is hard to not become emotionally engaged when filming what seem to be crimes committed against our friends by police in broad daylight. But they also remind us that the video footage is very important to the protesters later, and thus when one is being a video journalist, that needs to be one's primary role. They recommend getting set up shots before the event starts, photographing signs, banners, costumes, etc. but advise to save most of your film for actions. A good story has a beginning and end, tension and release, a climax and a resolution. They say to look for those elements when filming. They also suggest getting the important factual documentation necessary in heated cop scenes, before you move to artsy shots.

Getting many angles instead of many shots of one thing is also highlighted. They suggest getting shots from the front, back, middle, across the street, and from the highest point possible. Also stressed is keeping an eye on an exit route so you do not get contained by police, for having your camera seized by cops, "is not an option." They advise researching the last interaction the activists had with cops, as there is often residual (on both sides) from that in play also. There is also an issue of implied consent to be photographed in public versus community security concerns. Public speakers and performers are fine to photograph, but some direct actions require more autonomy. Shooting footage from behind works, so you only see a hooded figure dressed in black hurling that tear gas back into the police lines. Zooming onto specific activities away from faces works too. Such as focusing on 6 flags burning rather than who is holding them. They recommend avoiding focusing on individuals and viewing actions as crowd scenes. They suggest taping from a distance, so things like rolling a dumpster on fire down the street towards a barricade is not incriminating to someone later. They rightly suggest a high degree of attention to this matter of security.

The "Primer" also addresses preparing to go to national protests as a video journalist. In addition to obvious travel tips, they suggest running through the area of the upcoming protest to scope out the best angles, high places to film from, etc. They suggest hooking up with local activists to be present at unannounced actions, and also advised national protests can go on for days, where local ones usually only go on for hours. They also give some advice about traveling internationally to film events. A video reporter from the New York City IMC said when in Palestine, he had to learn how not to jerk when gun fire exploded near him so his footage would be smooth. He also suggested mailing your tapes out of the country through UPS or Fed Ex, as opposed to trying to get them out through borders.

The idea of media collectives was also discussed in the "Primer." They explain the benefits of shared video equipment, but also the concept of video teams. The Collective recommends a camera person, an assistant, a contact person, a runner and an interviewer. They say a contact person has to not be a control freak and would be the one in charge of filming. Of course, the more camera people available, the better, as that will add a diversity of angle and breadth to coverage as well. They say the assistant scopes out the next shot, watches escape routes, carries a cell phone, listens to police scanners, and makes contacts for the next shots. The contact person hands out contact/business cards and gets signed releases from those interviewed if possible. The runner takes the taped video footage out of the hot area. The interviewer sets up interviews, asks them questions on camera and acts like a reporter. With fewer people available, they recommend doubling up on duties. If alone on an assignment, they suggest sensitivity to all these roles.

When more than one camera is available, the "Primer" suggested camera teams with assignments. One camera could be assigned to a hotbed of activity, such as blockades in streets in Seattle at the WTO protests or the fences being penetrated at Miami's FTAA protests. Then another camera would be assigned to roam to get random shots. They also suggested making assignments by strengths. Assign the artsy photographer to go get the artsy shots. Assign the riot cam guy to go film the cops. Tell the interviewer photographer to go get interviews. They suggest making a grid and then spreading camera personnel across it.

Lastly, they discuss editing. Poor editing of good footage will produce a lower quality product than poorly shot footage well edited. They talk about using natural cues for entrances and exits, as well as using length of clips to monitor tempo. Longer clips give a slower tempo, and shorter clips give a faster tempo. The concept that 2/3 the pictures taken should be stills comes into play in editing as motion-oriented pictures need buffering with still shots for smooth absorption. A 5 minute video with exceptional editing will most often be more successful than an hour long piece that gets boring. The Collective refers to the central story subjects as the bricks of a building. But the transitional shots and artistic angles are the mortar. Clips back to back in a timeline like boxcars is one logical pattern, but if you can raise the bar to also make videos that are emotionally engaging, intellectually stimulating, and smooth in visual imagery, the reporting becomes more like an art form. Once a project is edited, the "Primer" briefly discussed manners of public dissemination such as public access TV, IMC's, and the internet.

The footage of protest actions on this "Guerrilla Video Primer" is worth the price of the video alone. Beautiful scenes of the Infernal Noise Brigade, a marching band/flag twirling revolutionary pep squad, are shown many times. I particularly enjoyed the footage of them performing with gas masks and snare drums inside what looks like the lobby of an office building or hotel. Footage of a large sea of upside down American flags, and later those flags burning, made for some delightful content as well. Black blocs, resistance at events such as the WTO, FTAA, and Reclaim the Streets actions, as well as eco-defense actions, are photographed in this "Primer." The last shot in this "Primer" is poetic and symbolic. It shows a very young child, maybe 4 years old, holding a small video camera, standing alone, aiming the camera at the fallen clear cut in front of him.

You can order this video from the Cascadia Media Collective at You can also email them at thecmc (at), or call 541-688-2809.

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