Top 10 Tips for Filming #Occupy Protests, Arrests & Police Conduct

20 Nov

Top 10 Tips for Filming #Occupy Protests, Arrests & Police Conduct

By  | November 14th, 2011

Update: Download the Top 10 Filmmaking Tips Flyer to share, remix and add to!

We have seen some great videos coming out from the Occupy movement around the country – from documenting mass actions to capturing police misconduct and abuse. Many courageous filmmakers, first timers and experienced professionals, are using best practices to record what is happening, and it is paying off. See this most recent example of video being used to help hold a Dallas officer accountable for shoving a protester off a ledge:

However, with the new sea of Occupy video footage (check my colleague Tanya O’Carroll’s recent post), it is more important than ever to film and share with intention – and of course film safely and effectively. This is not only to help record what is happening, but to help ensure that the video you record may be optimally used for advocacy, raising awareness and potentially supporting legal cases.

Here are our top 10 tips, which we invite folks to add and enhance below in the comments. It is a starter list, and made to be adapted over time. So, what have you learned while filming OWS events, or any demonstration or event? What do you wish someone told you when you started filming and sharing social change video?

Please add to this list, and share this post with your video4change allies – particularly those who continue to document OWS around the country and the world. Remember: We have the legal right to film police in the state of New York – what about in your state?

  1. PREPARE: Know your equipment. Turn off features to maximize battery life (e.g. wifi search on phones). Have charged and extra batteries, use empty memory cards and bring back-ups. Use a camera strap or tie your camera to your wrist. Where possible, turn-on correct date, time and location capturing features. Write the National Lawyer’s Guild’s phone number (or other legal support team) on your forearm and save in case you need legal support. (In NYC: 212.679.6018) If arrests occur, call in location, time and name of anyone arrested.
  2. FILM WITH INTENTION: Hold your shot steady (minimum 10 seconds), pan VERY slowly, avoid jerky movements and zooming – move closer when possible. Get multiple angles – wide, medium and close-up. Film for those who aren’t there – what do they need to see to understand what’s going on? If violence or abuse occurs – KEEP RECORDING.
  3. ALWAYS CAPTURE: Date, time and location (intersections, street signs, landmarks.) Get various angles when documenting the size/behavior of the crowd, number and formation of police and any weapons they are holding or using. Record any police orders or permissions given and the time and officer’s name and badge number. Record when police are creating or moving barricades or orange nets. Record any police filming protests or protesters.
  4. CAPTURE DETAILS – INCIDENTS: If there is an arrest or violence, attempt to capture the entire incident, including: time, location, number and identities of involved individuals, and broader crowd or police presence/behavior. Film or say names of officers, badge numbers or helmet number into the camera. Work to get faces of those affected on film. Be agile: Film from above if possible, or low through officers’ legs to capture what’s happening. Consider verbally adding noteworthy facts of what was happening before you started filming to give context while you film.
  5. WORK AS A TEAM: If filming, have a partner to watch your back, help keep you safe and alert you of other potential shots you should capture. If more than one of you is filming, try to get separate angles of the same incident – ideally keep each other in view. If you are at risk of arrest and want to keep filming, consider giving media card to friend for safe keeping and replace with empty card and KEEP RECORDING.


Regardless if you are uploading unedited or edited footage, it is essential to provide the following information so your footage can be found and coordinated with other footage. There are hundreds of videos on OWS, but some lack this essential, useful information. Before uploading, do a search for related videos and news like yours to help select useful title and tags –always tag your videos! Select a Creative Commons license when uploading so others can remix your video for advocacy purposes, and so it can be collected and archived by others. Follow these tips.

  1. TITLE WITH INTENTION: Keep titles brief and descriptive. Add date, location and time. Use words you or one would use to find your video. E.g. Occupy, New York City, Protest
  2. DESCRIBE YOUR VIDEO: Always include date, location and details of what happened BEFORE, DURING and AFTER recording. Consider starting with a URL for viewers to find more info, e.g. – November 12, 2011 | Brooklyn, NY |  then video description.
  3. TAG YOUR VIDEO: Always add these tags -> date, time, city, specific location, occupy wall street, occupy, ows. Use common tags found in your search: ‘police brutality’ ‘arrest’ ‘pepper spray’
  4. SAFETY or SECURITY CONCERNS? If you think faces need to be blurred or feel the video may harm someone’s case or dignity, think twice before uploading. Contact the volunteer legal team for advice.
  5. SAVE AND NAME YOUR VIDEO: Do not rely on YouTube or other sites to save and preserve your footage – it may be taken down and valuable technical information is lost in the upload. Save original footage to your computer and back up to an external hard drive. Name files and organize so they are easy to find – add date, location and tags.

Please check out WITNESS’ filmmaking tips and guides, and add your favorite resources – and ideas on how to enhance this list – below. Also, I’m looking forward to compiling the best practices for livestreaming video – if you have some tips, email me [chris @] or share via Twitter at @WITNESSchris.

Big thanks to my colleagues Marisa Wong and Chris Rogy for their work and insights on this!


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