Friday, August 20, 2010


Hefting around a video camera from time to time, in the course of making Intrepid or otherwise just being idle, means that I sometimes get asked to wave it around for altogether more noble purposes.  T'Other'alf, for inscrutable reasons, was organising an Unconference; which as far as I could gather was a Conference but without the Conference bits.  The closest I'd come to this was reading about the Fortean Times' Unconvention, although the “Un” part of that seemed more to do with the subject matter – werewolves, flying saucers, conspiracy theories and so forth – than the actual structure of the event itself.  ScotGovCamp Blog

An Unconference, then was a conference without a fixed agenda.  Attendees would shout out topic suggestions at the beginning and then everyone would sit in on the topic and chip in or not depending on their disposition.  Oh, and it was also a GovCamp which is for people working in and around government; in this case government in Scotland.

And just like starting making Star Trek Fan Films back in 2003, I got involved because I had a video camera.

This was going to be different from amateur film-making, not in the least because I don't get an opportunity for a second take.  Given that I wasn't actually in control of anyone, I might not even get a first take.  And since the whole event was essentially an experiment to see how it went, I had little idea of what would be happening and where to position myself for capturing footage of the sort that I didn't know what it would be.

ScotGovCamp specifically was about digital Scotland, and drew together a wide range of people from local government, commentators on social issues, self-proclaimed geeks, librarians and civil servants.  My impression was that the subject matter was nebulous, but that was perhaps just me who felt to be a bit of an outsider.  Shooting was straightforward to begin with, before anyone had really arrived.  A handful of people turned up and before the actual event kicked off proper, there was a lot of setting up to do.  This was the easiest to film as I only had to wander around and point the camera at anything which looked interesting, such as setting up a display stand or people wandering past the Eduardo Paolozzi art installation.  I had some fun filming transitions, panning from the roof down to the group standing round the registration table, filming the flashing lights on one of the walls or panning from the sculpture to people just arriving.  I had no idea if I'd use them, it was just in case.

It was obvious early on that there was no way I'd be able to capture everything which happened on the day, given that it lasted much of the day and was split into three discussion rooms named Hume, Brown and Ferguson after Edinburgh University Alumni – Lesley's idea – and not after three varieties of quark particle  - strange, bottom and charmed – which I was pushing for.  But when everyone was still together in the atrium, I had a straightforward area of focus, Lesley and Dave Briggs giving the pep talk and assembling the agenda from the suggested topics.  It was immediately before this that something unexpected happened.

When I'm either directing or doing camera for amateur fiction, there is a script and what transpires is known and accounted for.  A live events means having to be responsive to things as they happen and when Dave asked everyone to introduce themselves and give a one-word response as to why they were here, something ever so slightly extraordinary happened.  I pointed the camera at whoever was talking, including myself after only three or four people (whilst failing to understand the concept of “one” word) but them I found myself following the “focus” as each individual in turn gave their name, and their one word.  Instantly it was one of those slick adverts, all soft-focus and warm fuzzies, selling you an emotion and a desire for something that you still don't understand.  And I was in the centre of it.  This was how I imagine a religious cult would indoctrinate me.  (I'm good at making spurious connections.)

This remained a highlight, since it was obvious how to make a neat little video – only  a couple of minutes long – from that part of the day.  Actually putting it together of course is something I'll still have to sit at the video editing suite (desk in corner of living room) to do.  Now a neat little video is something that is more problematic for something which represents the entirety of the day.  Not being able to film everything means that I need to convey the flavour of it and do so without dragging.  This is something that I'm still trying to figure out, since their wasn't a grand overarching scheme to begin with.  In any case, once the preliminaries were over with, I wandered in and out of the various conversations which were taking place, trying to get as many angles as I could, concentrating on whoever was speaking at the time.  What became obvious was that it would be extremely difficult even to cover a single train of thought form the participants.  Self-organising seating favoured a circle which meant that often a dialogue was being held where I filmed one person but could only get the back of the head of the other.

Even putting finished video clips of a continuous minute or two minutes on the web would lack context enough to make sense of what was being said.  Halfway through the day I was mooting the possibility of getting someone to provide a voice over in conjunction with any conclusions.  In other words, I'd given myself a bunch of work by volunteering to film and would be giving myself even more work (another thing I excel at) the more I thought about it!  And just dumping the whole two and a quarter hours worth of footage to the web would not exactly make for riveting viewing!

So what I have ahead of me is an exercise in transitions, crossfades, categorisations, titles and wishing that the video would self-organise too.  But failing that, the classic fallback position is to stare at the clips until a moment of inspiration occurs, and hope that being on holiday doesn't derail me too much!  But seriously, now it's just a matter of piecing it together.

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