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Electronic News Gathering In The Real World

Shooting a car crash aftermath By David Hague

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We could see the smoke on the horizon at the limit of sight on the dead straight but narrow country road. As we got closer, through the haze, the blue and red flashing lights of a number of police and rescue vehicles plus three fire engines reflected off the smoke making for a somewhat eerie scene in the coming sunset.

We stopped around 150 metres back from a police roadblock and loaded up with the appropriate gear; cameras, spare batteries and tapes, backpack, water, high vis bib and so on and then walked toward the scene of devastation that was obviously ahead.

An Inspector of Police who had been following behind us on the trip out to the location some 20Kms from Echuca ambled over and gave us quick counsel on the do's and don'ts of the situation; don't go within 50 metres, stay off the gravel shoulder as it was a potential crime scene, obey all police, rescue and firey's instructions without hesitation or question and above all, be respectful. It was a speech we had heard many, many times before, but at each scene, it needs to be said again.

We - myself, my housemate and senior writer for Auscam and Channel 9 news stringer Ben, and his partner Jenni - had been alerted to a car crash at around 6:30pm last night, and been asked by Channels 9 and 7 to cover the scene for their local TV news. When we finally got to see the physical wreckage, this was no ordinary accident. The burnt out remains of an early model Commodore had hit a tree on the side of the road at high speed, obviously exploded on impact and all that was left in the middle of a 30 metre circle of burnt out scrub was the remains of the car from the firewall back and the tree. Everything but everything, except a loan hubcap 20 metres to the left and front of the wreck was burnt.


Clearly, no-one could survive that impact. I will spare the reader the one sentence description of the loan person in the car given to me by a very senior, but equally sombre fire brigade lieutenant, and thankfully, from the angles of sight we had, there was nothing visible to cause distress on the video we shot.

To get the footage - 4 minutes in total in my case - necessitated in taking a wide sweep to the left of the car through 20 metres of dense scrub on the verge, over a barbed wire fence and into a field, all the while keeping an eye out for snakes. Ben had it a lot harder than me having his Sony digi-Betacam eng camera on a solid set of Miller sticks, and once he tripped over an unseen culvert but managed to keep camera and tripod upright, albeit losing his spectacles which luckily Jenni, acting as his soundie, managed to spot falling into the scrub.

I was much less loaded with a simple Canon HV40 with a Cokin filter attached and Rode Videomic 2, a combination I have used for a number of years in all aspects of filming from V8 Supercars, fishing trips, interviews and more. It is more than adequate for the job at hand - even if some broadcast types sneer as it doesn't 'look' like a 'serious' camera. I mean, it's not even shoulder mounted.

While Ben is a true news gathering video journalist, I was more interested in trying to tell a story.  Those that know me know of my passion for motoring safety - I have been on various committees and bodies to promote this very thing over the years. We have all seen footage of accidents on TV, probably go tut tut, how sad, but I can tell you, until you have actually been on the scene, there is no describing what you don't just see, but feel as well.

In the process of getting both long shots to show the scene, the fireys and rescue guys going about their work with efficiency, no fuss and in some cases, carefully hidden emotion, and close up shots I would feel comfortable with and keeping the aforementioned respect - it slowly dawns on you that an hour or even perhaps 30 minutes prior, inside that car had been a living, breathing person with a family, friends, hopes, dreams, aspirations and one would like to think, a happy future.

The police at this early stage would not speculate as to the cause of the crash - I don't say 'accident' purposely. On reflection, and purely my own thoughts, there are many possibilities from the very unfortunate mechanical failure, blowout, falling asleep at the wheel, hitting the gravel shoulder and losing control, perhaps answering or using a mobile phone and losing that split second of concentration that at 100kph can be fatal and more. There is of course one more possibility, another cause close to my heart, and I hope and pray it was not that one.

An hour after the shoot, we were heading back to home to cut the footage and send it off to the relative TV stations - mine to Channel 7 and Ben's to Channel 9. The editing in Sony Vegas 11 took around 30 minutes with in my case, most of that time trying to piece together a story in 2 minutes and Ben purely a news piece. After rendering to 720 * 576 SD at 5 Mps (the specs the stations demand), it took another 30 minutes to ftp it using Yousendit it to a Dropbox folder at the station's server.

 (I am still on Vegas 11 purely as I haven't upgraded to Windows 64 bit yet and the later Vegas 12, like Adobe CS6 only works in 64 bit).

I don't know if 7 will show my footage. I hope so but either way, it was an interesting if not sobering exercise. If the scene had not been "clean" to use the vernacular, I am not sure how I would have reacted any differently; certainly the shooting methodology would have been more constrained and I suspect the after-fact contemplation a little more intense.

All that I can hope is that someone reads this and / or sees the footage, takes the message I am trying to project, and takes that little extra bit of care on the road. Or if the fears of my worst case scenario of this crash are sadly correct, tries to get the appropriate emotional and medical help.

Because this is what I reckon we are supposed to do in this gig as journalists aren't we? Inform and describe and where appropriate, comment.

You can see the edited video at YouTube and searching for the Auscam channel, or go to


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David is the owner and publisher of Australian Videocamera. He has a background in media dating back to 1979 when he first got involved with photojournalism in motorsport, and went from there into technology via a 5 year stint with Tandy Computers.

Moving back to WA, David wrote scripts for Computer Television for video training for the just released Windows and Office 95 among others, and was then lured to Sydney to create web sites for the newly commercial Internet in 1995, building hundreds of sites under contract to OzEmail including Coates Hire, Hertz Queensland, John Williamson, the NSW Board of Studies and many, many more.

David can be contacted via  [email protected]

Related Keywords:ENG, Electronic News Gathering, Video Journalism, Canon HV40, videography,

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