The subject of Surveillance is incredibly wide and currently a controversial topic in modern day society. The debate in regards to the implementation of ID cards & CCTV in areas specifically identified as susceptible to recruiting potential extremists. The argument between protection of society and invasion of privacy being one of many opinions. With Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowdon all featuring in this story line of recent years and the ever increasing paranoia of the public in regards to terrorism heightened by the constant media speculation and recent electoral results.
Being introduced to William Kentridge and his idea of ‘Thick Time’ & Jackson Pollock and his ideas on producing feelings and not meanings from his work began my research that extended to exploring early Russian works by Vertov and theories of montage film editing including Hitchcock. I looked at works from the Tate Modern exhibition Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera.
My initial ideas where more based on techniques rather than content, and included using projected paint textures and colour blocks overlaying a person. I carried out an initial test shoot with an early idea that used five GoPro cameras mounted round a person smoking, shooting in slow motion to give a 360 degree perspective as a metaphor to being watched from all angles 24/7. On reflection I wasn’t happy with the concept as it seemed a little gimmicky, but I think this idea may be useful in the future on the right project.
As part of my research I watched ‘La Jetee’ by Chris Marker. This was the first time I had actually seen the film, but was aware of it being the basis for films such as ’12 Monkeys’ by Terry Gilliam. This was quite an inspiration and reminded me that I had filmed footage on our field trip to London inside the Tate Modern. Some of the imagery of ‘La Jetee’ reminded me of my footage, so I thought this would be a good place to start.
As I developed the edit, I kept coming back to the definition of surveillance, I felt that looking at it helped the film develop, this took me on to the idea of government surveillance and the concept of ‘Big Brother’ watching you. This term is taken from the famous novel ‘1984’ by George Orwell, a insight into how a superstate controls its subjects by policing all aspects of life including their thoughts.
This is becoming a reality in the UK with the recently passed ‘Investigatory Powers Act‘, allowing the security services free reign over the UK public data history.In contradiction to the UK approach, Germany has one of the least amount of CCTV and surveillance by the authorities due to strict privacy laws. With the recent attacks in Germany, you could argue that the suspect in the Christmas market terror attack could have been identified and captured sooner, or you could argue that the police captured him without the level of cameras we have in the UK anyhow. However, the attacks have lead to the German Parliament passing laws to expand the CCTV networks.
These ideas developed into my questioning of the level of information that UK security services would hold on you, from your internet search history through to finger prints and DNA, possibly harvested from birth. My research found that there is a UK DNA bank that any medical researcher can access, I’m sure the conspiracy theorist would have an opinion on this and secret access by MI5/6. This information formed into ideas of biological photographs that I thought might be interesting to overlay my video to represent this concept, although I wasn’t quite sure how to execute it, and if it would work in the final edit. I did cut a version of the edit with a macro video of my eye over the top, but I thought this may be too literal and scrapped the idea.
There were several usable sections of the Tate footage, including following people on escalators and watching people interact with the art installations in the main turbine room. The stronger elements were the sections of people walking in the vaults and watching people from a balcony, and a reverse shot of a man sitting on his mobile phone. My concept started to take shape, looking at the human relationship to the environment we are present in and our conscious of our surroundings. For example, the shot of the balcony shows several floors of people going about their own business, unaware that they were filmed, unaware of most people around them, and unaware of the art installation in the space around them. The reverse angle shows one of these subjects, again unaware of being filmed and watched by myself and the people on the bridge, in addition – he is on his phone and unaware who is recording his activity/data.
I decided to use just these elements as the worked together more cohesively without the escalator clips. I decided to switch the footage to black and white as I thought it reflected both my research materials, CCTV footage and it also made the subjects at one with the concrete structure of the Tate, without the distraction of colour. I started to experiment with the overlaying of the footage that created some interesting layers and abstract angles to the film, similar to the style used by Vertov. The flashing lights of the balcony scene I felt reflected the 1’s and 0’s of binary data, something that our who lives are ruled by theses days in the form of electronic data.
As my visual ideas started to take shape, I needed to start to think about integrating audio into my film. I know that several other students were recording sounds of bank machines and computers bleeps and whirs, I wanted to be a little different so I thought about what other form of audio surveillance there was. Over the Christmas break I had been listening to the ‘Crime Town‘ podcast about the true life investigation into both the mob and corrupt city mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, USA. The episodes were full of FBI wiretaps and this started me on the road to creating my own wiretap audio. Other influences came from some of my favorite films such as the cinematic German movie ‘The Lives of Others‘ by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, ‘Donnie Brasco‘ by Mike Newell and ‘The Conversation‘ by Francis Ford Coppola.
I decided to use a definition of surveillance as the script for my audio. I generated a computer voice in Adobe Audition to read the script and started to process the audio to make it sound like a phone call. Stretching the length of the audio to fit with my edit added to the abstract nature of the sound, allowing only certain words to be audible. I played my rough cut (above) to to the class for feedback, they thought it was very menacing and had a heavy feeling to it. The background sounds were referred to as they reintroduced mechanical noises back into the Tate that was previously a power station. My feeling was that the voice was a little too electronic and grating. It was only planned to be temporary piece until I recorded a human subject. I wanted to record an American accent as I thought it felt like an appropriate due to the quantity of wiretaps generated by the American security services that are published online and featured in the media. When I recorded the human voice (thanks to Adam Rugg), it seemed to be a little more authentic to a wiretap and because of the delivery by the subject, it was a little more softer when a more natural tempo. I do still like the menace of the computer voice, but I think the human was a little more coherent and realistic.
I wanted to add a few extra sound effects to the track, I have an old rotary dial telephone at home that I recorded variously clicks and tones from. A quick research online allowed me to produce and record some of the automated records available on the UK phone networks. To add to the style of piece I decided to add film glitches to the video because I wanted to create a sense of digital noise to the video. At first I added the effects to the whole piece, but this detracted from the content. I refined them to the first few seconds and the switch between locations. I changed the fade out at the end in my earlier edits to a jump cut to black to suggest finality of a call being hung up.
In summary, I’m happy with the final version of my film, although I am still a little torn about the audio track voice. I would have liked to develop the atmospheric machine noises more if I had time to give a homage to the original sounds of location of the Tate.
This project was a real test of finding a source of inspiration. I believe we are conditioned to look at the film making with a very formulaic approach by the mainstream media. Trying to break the ‘rules’ that our brains are wired to can feel wrong but liberating when we do so.
I have enjoyed working on all aspects of it, from researching new films and media to working on the style of the edit. There were also some interesting interpretations of the brief from my course mates, one of my favorite pieces is by Elena Terzieva.
Below is a version of my film with original audio from the computer voice: