By Angeline Gragasin
I was shooting on location for a narrative film during the opening weeks of Occupy Wall St, and so wasn’t able to follow along as closely as I’d like. When we finally wrapped, I found that news of the movement had inundated my Facebook feed from all directions – which was rather convenient seeing as how, at the time, the mainstream media still weren’t reporting regularly on it. Instead, I was able to witness events unfold in real time via photos and videos from friends in New York, Chicago, Austin, Portland, and Seattle. Posts about Occupy Wall St were proliferating exponentially, it would have been very hard to ignore even if I had wanted to. But I hadn’t – I was quite interested in the fact that hundreds of different friends, who I had met under extremely divergent circumstances, were interested in and supportive of this one particular political protest. Friends I had met in high school, in college, through work at home and abroad; friends-of-friends, family friends, and friends’ family members who in turn had become my friends: everyone was talking about Occupy Wall St.
I decided to visit OccupyLA on October 15th -Global Occupy Day- and see for myself what the movement was all about, what kinds of people were participating, and whether or not the mainstream media’s reports aligned with those of my friends – now effectively the “citizen journalists” of the Global Occupy Movement.
I do not consider myself a news journalist nor a documentary filmmaker by trade. I visited OccupyLA to witness events firsthand, to record what I saw, and to actively contribute to the movement–which I support–by creating and distributing independently produced media. I did not set out to create any kind of definitive, unbiased, comprehensive report of OccupyLA, firstly because I do not feel compelled to adhere to the conventional expectation of what “good” or “proper” documentary film is, and secondly because it simply isn’t possible to make that sort of thing anyway. All I wanted to do was to make a video of OccupyLA and put it on the Internet as soon as possible. That was the plan.
I went to OccupyLA by myself with nothing by a camera and a fanny pack of batteries and an extra CF card, and had a look around.
I usually greet and introduce myself when approaching a subject, ask permission to film, and even often direct their action, gaze, and dialogue in favor of the camera. But this time I did none of that; there were hundreds if not thousands of other shooters present, and the public was unanimously very receptive to being photographed and filmed. I floated around from person to person shooting in silence. The only direction I occasionally gave was to turn towards the light in the event the subject was intensely backlit. For 2 hours I waded through thousands of people, signs, and cameras. It would have been difficult to conduct interviews not only for technical reasons (I didn’t have the kit with me, and if I had, monitoring + shooting would have been extremely cumbersome), but mostly for the fact that it was so overwhelming to be in such an enormous sea of people, signs, megaphones, drums, and cameras. I thought it more important to capture the diversity and general spirit of what I saw rather than focus on any one particular person, or even just a handful of people. Especially considering much of the mainstream media was grossly misrepresenting the population and demographics – I saw thousands of people of all ages, ethnicities, and occupations present, and I thought that if I could convey any one thought as the result of making a video, it would have to be this.
I shot on the Canon 5D mkII on a Jag35 shoulder rig (the “Austin” model), with a 35mm f1.8. Every day I curse the fact that I do not own an ND filter. Please excuse the fact that I am neither a professional cinematographer nor do I own a comprehensive camera kit. I did, however, receive numerous compliments on my rig, especially from shooters lugging hefty Panasonic pro camcorders over their shoulders. I certainly had the advantage over these pro shooters in that both I and my rig were small, which enabled me to move quickly and gather more footage in a shorter amount of time than if I had been shooting on something bigger and heavier. I’m short (5’3”), so most of the time people didn’t even notice me shooting. It was very easy for me to dart in and out of a crowd, or to the front of a crowd.
I edit on Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 and grade using a combo Magic Bullet Looks + Premiere Pro color settings. I chose to grade strongly to compensate for my admittedly lackluster cinematography. I also thought vibrant colors would compliment the vivaciousness of the protest. I used quick cuts and music because I wanted the video to be short and catchy – I know viewers are more likely to watch and share something that fulfills those criteria, unless the content of the video alone merits it going viral. Also because I wanted to cram as many different images into one 2-minute video as I could, and for me, cutting to music is the easiest way to do this.
So in conclusion, you now know that my main incentives and goals for making this video were to participate in the movement by documenting and spreading it as quickly and easily as possible. Equal parts citizen journalism, political propaganda, and music video. That was my approach, but by no means is it the best or only way. I’d love to see more filmmakers experimenting with genre and style as part of their documentary process. There is no one right way to documenting or supporting the Global Occupy Movement. There are as many ways to participate as voices to be heard. I hope to continue making OCCUPY videos over the coming weeks and months.
Angeline Gragasin is an Internet video director living in Los Angeles, California. She is the founder of NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS, LLC a creative startup dedicated to developing technologies for indie media production and distribution. You can learn more about her work at http://angelinegragasin.com and you can follow her on twitter @angelinegragzin.