About a year and a half ago I was involved in producing a video of ‘talking heads’ for carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) research at the University of Edinburgh. It turned out to be one of the most hectic – but also one of the most interesting – things I’ve done.
The idea started when my colleagues and I realised we had a half-hour slot to fill in the programme for a citizens’ conference we were running up in Moray (you can read all about that here and here). Someone, I can’t remember who, came up with the idea of making a video of some kind. I then remembered I had a video camera stashed away in my desk that I’d used for some of my PhD fieldwork, and the idea of getting lots of different researchers from across the CCS chain to talk about their work quickly emerged.
There were, however, two issues with this. One was that the scope and quality of work expanded rapidly, going from me wandering around with a video camera to us borrowing a professional high-quality HD camera, green screen (and human operator) for two full days. The second issue was that we had four days to turn the whole thing round before we had to leave to head up north.
An email was fired round the Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage mailing list to say we’d have the camera in the Geology building, and that all and sundry were invited to take part. Three emails came back right away with a positive response, including one from the group leader who was very keen to get involved.
The actual filming process was pretty chaotic. Given the short time frame and the difficulty of getting busy people pinned down, we resorted to a strategy of knocking on doors and trying to grab people at short notice. This produced generally successful results, although it did mean a lot of takes were needed as people fluffed their lines, got the giggles and did all the other things you do when you’re put in front of a camera at short notice.
I was allowed to keep the equipment for the next day to capture more people, meaning the video doubled in size as more folk became available. Professor Stuart Haszeldine OBE did a fantastic slot with his office as a backdrop, albeit one where the first 40 seconds had to be re-shot when he realised a half-eaten packet of chocolate Hob-Nobs was visible over his shoulder.
GeoSciences’ technical wizard Eduardo Serafin did a terrific job of filling in the ‘green screen’ behind the talkers with appropriate graphics, and brought the whole thing up to professional standards with titles, music and university branding. He even arranged a file transfer for the film, so that I was able to download it onto my laptop from the hotel in Forres. To my eternal relief the participants were very much engaged by the film for the full fifteen minutes – some more so than they were by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth the evening previous.
The two biggest talking points to come out of the video reflected very well the messy nature of the video’s production. The first of these was a discussion on alternative uses for carbon dioxide, stimulated by the presence of a biochar specialist in an otherwise CCS-focused video. The gentleman in question only happened to appear in the video because I bumped into him in the corridor whilst looking for people to interview – he normally doesn’t even work in that building! Nonetheless, that chance encounter led not only to a three-minute slot in the video, but also a lengthy discussion in the focus conference that culminated in two pages of the citizens’ report (and one participant in particular) focusing very much on the concept of CO2 usage rather than CO2 storage. The second flashpoint related to the potential environmental impacts of CCS – one of the PhD students hauled before the camera was looking at the effects on water of CO2 injection and oil extraction, and some participants took his very careful, precise and measured words about the potential for environmental impacts to be a sign that there could be environmental impacts from CCS. This stimulated a discussion on the fact nobody else (in the video at least) seemed from the participants’ perspective to be talking about the potential negative effects of CCS. This perception of the research community, and the citizens’ conference as a whole, being somehow ‘pro-CCS’ continued throughout the two focus conference weekends, and again culminated in a lengthy discussion on what the role of public engagement in large energy infrastructure really is.
The video wasn’t slick, it wasn’t perfect, and it perhaps didn’t give a full representation of the diversity of research that gets done due to the necessarily short time frame. What it did do, though, was add a very human element to the representation of CCS that normally involves pictures of power stations, pipelines, power cables – and no human beings. From an academic point of view, the way some of the biggest discussions at our citizens’ conference arose from two chance encounters on a Thursday afternoon illustrates very well the messiness and contingency of doing social research – something that ought to be embraced by the energy research community rather than designed out.