Problem Solving for the Rory Peck Awards

Screengrabs from sykpe

Above: Stills captured with the Q8

In June this year CVP became a donor to the Rory Peck Trust, a London-based organisation that provides practical and financial support to freelance journalists around the world. The Trust is named after freelance cameraman Rory Peck and every year, at London’s BFI Southbank, the Rory Peck Awards celebrate the work of freelance cameramen and camerawomen in news and current affairs.

The event also highlights the work of the Trust and to mark its 20th anniversary ceremony on 18th November, the Trust asked documentary filmmaker Nick Read to produce a short film about some of the freelancers it has supported. It wasn’t a standard shoot. Nick has won multiple awards for his work, including the Rory Peck Sony Impact award in 2010. He is noted for producing visually distinctive films, which often result from taking creative risks to drive emotional storytelling. This production was no different – the film had to make an impact in the BFI’s 400-seat main auditorium on a very tiny budget.

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Nick said that his key challenge was how to reflect the breadth and diversity of the Trust’s work, and invite contributions from their beneficiaries who are in many different countries.

“Since they typically communicate via Skype, I wanted to recreate the feel of these dialogues, and was attracted by the emotional directness of the interviewees talking straight into the lens”.

Faced with the challenge of interviewing multiple beneficiaries who live all over the world, he decided that using Skype could be the best way to move forward on a tiny budget. However, simply recording the call on Nick’s computer would not guarantee a clear audio track and the connection might drop at a crucial moment. And visually, a Skype recording wouldn’t work on the BFI’s big screen.

After considering various options, Nick realised the problem could only be solved with “a small rig, suitable for sending via courier, including a camera which could be attached to the top of a computer screen to mimic a Skype frame, while I interviewed them on a real Skype connection”. It was necessary to find an inexpensive, small, lightweight camera with external XLR-input for a lapel microphone that could be boxed up and couriered to interviewees. This was the creative risk: sending the cameras out into the world, without an operator and hoping they would return safely with moving footage that had been captured without the benefit of face-to-face interviews.

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It was decided that the Zoom Q8 would be the best bet for the job as it met all the requirements with the added bonus of shooting in 2,304 x 1,296/30fps. This left room to crop the image sufficiently to reduce the barrel distortion created by the f2.0/16mm wide angle lens, centre the subject if necessary and maintain decent definition to degrade in post, in order to simulate the appearance of a Skype call. The on-board stereo microphone records to a single stereo .wav file and with two additional audio tracks from separate XLR inputs, it was possible to capture clear audio from the lapel mic (Sony ECM-44B Lavalier) and use the onboard mic track as a backup. With the camera weighing in at 260g and under 16cm long, it didn’t cost too much to send the kit to interviewees in Copenhagen, Istanbul, Kiev and Paris.

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When the kit arrived, interviewees mounted the camera on a mini tripod and set it up directly above the centre of their computer display, using the rotating LCD screen to ensure they were reasonably framed. Nick interviewed them over Skype asking them to look directly into the Q8 lens. In the film they speak to us eye-to-eye, intensifying the impact of their stories. Once the interview was complete, the audio and video files could be drag-and-dropped to a laptop via the USB cable for online transfer to London, potentially arriving before the cameras
The Q8 fit the task and despite the constraints on the production, the film made it to the edit in time.

“I think it worked” said Nick, who attributed the success of the final cut to “the skill of a top editor (Paul Carlin), sound designer (Max Bygrave) & graphics team (Blue Spill) [who took] the short film to a more cinematic level”.

Together, Nick and his team have produced a very moving short film from little more than the interview footage. It is the direct eye-to-eye contact, deft editing, inclusion of non-verbal communication and subtle graphics and sound design that ensured the Q8 footage made a powerful transition to the BFI’s big screen.

The film will be released online in the New Year.

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About Rory Peck Trust

The Rory Peck Trust is the only organisation dedicated to the support, safety and welfare of freelance newsgatherers around the world. The main objectives of the Trust are to provide practical assistance and support to freelance newsgatherers and their families worldwide, to raise their profile, promote their welfare and safety, and to support their right to report freely and without fear. Based in London, the Trust works globally, with a network of international and local partners.

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