Yesterday I spent 9 hours travelling around central London by foot and by Tube collecting footage for a short film about waiting. I shot around 10 to 15 minutes of video of which I’ll use about 2 minutes in the film.
When I made “Island Going”, location shooting was relaxed in that two of us drove around Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Every time we saw something that interested us we jumped out of the car and videoed it. Nobody bothered us for the simple reason that there is nobody. There are 21,000 people living in the 814 square miles that make up Lewis and Harris. That’s about 25 people per square mile and over half of the population lives in Stornoway. If we wanted to video a ruined car, or inside a tumbled down shieling, then there was nobody to suggest we couldn’t.
London is a bit different, obviously. There are over 8 million people living in the city – over 13,500 per square mile.* Then add tourists and commuters, and one nervous film maker. That makes up a lot of people who might want to know what I’m videoing and why, especially since one of the things I wanted to video was the people. (Just so long as they were waiting for something.)
Now I’m somewhat out of my comfort zone putting up a tripod, sticking the (relatively large) video camera on it and then pointing it at a load of people. I was pretty sure about the legality of it all because I’d looked at this really handy website the day before: www.filmlondon.org.uk. On there it says nice and clearly that:
“Provided filming or photography does not cause an obstruction, there is no restriction to filming on London streets. No licence or any form of official permission is required.”
(That’s public London streets. Not Canary Wharf, privately owned, where there are security guards who want to look at the thumbnails on your camera screen and ensure that whatever you’re up to it’s for private use only. And that you’re not filming security cameras…)
Now I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to cause an obstruction, and that what I was up to was going to be legal, but I still figured that at some point in the day I’d have to deal with someone asking what I was up to.
Nobody did, though. Most of the time, people didn’t even really notice. If they did notice they didn’t seem to care much. I guess there are understandable reasons for this. Firstly, the tourists were much more brazen about filming everything and everyone than I was. I scrupulously avoided filming inside rail and Tube stations but people were waving camcorders, ipads and iphones all over the place. Secondly, most people are used to videoing themselves and sticking the results on Facebook or Youtube. Who cares then, if someone else videos them? Thirdly, we’re all being videoed by the 1.85 (and counting) million CCTV cameras spread across the UK**.
So my nervousness was perhaps unfounded, although it didn’t wear off. If anything it got worse. The more footage I got the more worried I became about getting the camera out again. Part of this was concern derives from the fact that it is a really nice camera but part of it derived from the thought that I’d not been hassled so far so maybe I should quit whilst I was ahead.
After about 7 hours, I fell asleep on the Tube and almost missed my station. I had the two minutes footage I needed and so I decided to call it a day. I still had a couple of hours before my train so I went to Kings Cross, got some food and had a beer. That left an hour and a half so I decided to capture some audio outside the station. That left an hour and 25 minutes so I decided to just wander around to see if there was anything interesting to video.
Not so long ago, in my living memory, wandering around the back of Kings Cross station with a lovely shiny video camera would have been unwise. Not so now. Redevelopment is rife. Kings Cross Central is currently one of the largest construction projects in the city.*** Land is either a fenced off building site or a smart, completed ex-building site. And, of course, just behind Kings Cross is the University of the Arts London (UAL) but this didn’t interest me much. I was more fascinated by the multiple sites in different stages of construction. I spent a bit of time trying to capture cranes and the skeletons of office blocks against the dusk sky. (Ok, yes, I’d had a beer, I was tired, it’s all really obvious but it just looked great!) Then I found a viewing platform that someone seemed to have built especially to give you a really great view of all this construction, so I climbed up and spent about 30 minutes videoing it all from up there. (There was this really, really great crane. You’ve just got to see it.) Other people kept coming up and there were some information boards up and everyone was looking at UAL except for me. I made a mental note to check what it was they were all looking at before I left but I didn’t. Turns out it was a piece of artwork stretched across UAL: “Across the Buildings” by Felice Varini. My viewing platform is the only place from which a series of seemingly random shapes painted on a load of buildings come together to form a single pattern. It’s very impressive.
But I didn’t notice that.
*I didn’t count any of these people. I just looked at Wikipedia.
**That was in 2011! (According to a report in The Guardian.)
***really, I should read more than Wikipedia, but it’s just so easy…