Critical Reflection of my factual documentary for my FYP: ‘Time to take Stock?’

For my final year project I have filmed, produced and edited a 15-minute documentary on the subject of miscarriage of justice. The case concerns a man named Tony Stock, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for his alleged part in a brutal robbery in Leeds in 1970. Stock fought to overturn his conviction until his death at the age of 73.

I chose to make this particular kind of factual documentary due to my enthusiastic interest in law. Alongside my journalism degree, I have spent almost two years writing for a national online trade magazine about law and justice in the UK. The experience that I have gained through writing for the publication, the Justice Gap, has given me the confidence to produce a strong piece of work on the subject of miscarriage of justice. My editor at the magazine, Jon Robins, introduced me to Stock’s story and approached me to make a video about his case. It was a great opportunity to merge my work for the Justice Gap with my final year project. I have therefore created two documentaries: a longer and more detailed version for the law publication; and a more concise and marginally shorter version that forms the focus of this critical reflection that has been submitted for my degree.

By definition, the purpose of a documentary film is to present facts objectively to inform or teach an audience about a specific idea. It was my aim during this project to explain to viewers the key facts of Tony Stock’s case so that they could make an informed decision on whether or not they think the case deserves to go back to the Court of Appeal for a final time. Although the documentary lends itself to a specialist audience involved in aspects of law and justice, it should have general social appeal as well. The case is extraordinary for being dismissed once at the European Courts of Human Rights and a further four times at the Court of Appeal. Until recently it was the only case that the Criminal Cases Review Commission had referred back to the Court of Appeal for a second time. The documentary raises two questions : why has Stock’s case gone to appeal so many times? And why has it been rejected on every occasion?

In order to shed some light on these areas, I filmed interviews with members of Stock’s family as well as with experts who had specialist knowledge of Stock’s case. Prior to the interviews I had to decide whether or not I was going to be present within the documentary or take a step back from the role of presenter and interviewer and bring in an expert to guide the audience through Stock’s case. I decided to remain behind the camera but maintained a key role in the content of questions asked in interviews as well as writing the script.

I thought that the ideal person to present the documentary would be my editor at the Justice Gap, Jon Robins. Robins spent years studying Stock’s case and released a book towards the end of last year on the alleged miscarriage of justice. It was at the launch of this book at Westminster where I was able to meet some of the key players in the case’s defense. During the launch various speeches were made regarding the case, which I filmed and used at the beginning of the documentary, to engage the audience, and at the end to summarise the case. Whereas the interviews with the experts provide informative reflections on the case, the interviews filmed with Stock’s brother, Alan, and children Antoinette ‘Twinnie’ and Steve provide a more personal view of Tony Stock for the audience to relate to.

As with most documentaries, an unavoidable bias began to formulate with the progression of the project – as this documentary would not have been created if there was not a vision in mind from the start. The questions of How? and Why? become increasingly important. As a journalist it is always important to maintain impartiality within your work. However, I believe that there needs to be a certain degree of sway when making a documentary in order to develop a film that an audience can connect with. Therefore I would argue that it is normal to expect inserts of personal opinions that shape the film and add to its ultimate presentation.

The working title of the project was ‘A day in the life of Tony Stock’. Originally, the documentary took the audience on Stock’s journey from the Royal Courts of Justice to the Blind Beggar Pub, in Whitechapel, following his second failed court appeal in 1996. Although this remains a key part of the documentary, it became apparent that a wider view of the case was needed. I decided on the title ‘Time to take Stock?’ By definition, ‘to take stock’ is to review or make an overall assessment of a particular situation. Not only this but it gives the documentary a purpose to answer an unrelenting question. Stock’s case went to the courts on numerous occasions but exploring all aspects of these appeals, in too much detail, risks confusing the audience. I created a visual timeline graphic, using Final Cut Pro, as an aid to viewers to better understand the chronological order of key events. In addition, I made a graphic showing Stock’s photograph in a line-up to help illustrate a point that the presenter is making about the conduct of police during their investigation.

Creative use of technology is important groundwork for producing an interesting documentary for a viewer. All equipment used in the documentary had to be light enough for me to carry to each location as everything was filmed independently by myself using a single DSLR camera on an adjustable tripod. I played on my strength as a video journalist to create different camera angles to give the appearance of more cameras being used. It was vital not to stay in one position too long and risk the viewer losing interest. Sound is one of the most complex components to perfect. I therefore took a separate JVC camera to each interview to ensure the best possible quality, using either a gunmic or radio mics depending on the nature of the environment. For example, when filming the presenter walking through London, the best equipment to capture sound was the radio mic. However, I made sure to attach a wind protector to prevent too much interference. Forward planning was key. Prior to interviews I would book out three or four extra SD cards and batteries as high quality DSLR cameras tend to go through battery and memory much faster than any JVC camera.

Creating a typically ‘70s feel to the documentary was an important factor for me to consider for the audience. In sourcing material to help the audience visualise Leeds in the 1970s, I was relying entirely on photographs and footage that had been taken before various reconstructions of the Merrion Centre. The iconic black and white picture of the Tesco store was taken from the original case files. This, along with the picture of the blood at the crime scene, and Stock’s musgshot and identikit, were given express permission to use by Stock’s family and lawyer. These photographs were also ‘safe’ to use as they had been previously published into the public domain via the Justice Gap website and the photograph of the Tesco store also featured on the front cover of Robins’ book.

Additional photographs were sourced from Leeds Library and Information service. I discovered these photos on ‘Leodis’, an online photographic archive, managed by Leeds Library, containing over 59,000 images of Leeds. I was granted permission to use the photographs by the library. However, many of the images were given to the site by private contributors and in one case I had to seek additional permission from the original source, Mr. K. S. Wheelan. Picture quality is very important to me so I paid an additional fee to receive high resolution copies of the photographs.

I sourced one archive photograph through Creative Commons on Flickr and found an old Austin Allegro Police car to further establish a ‘70s ‘feel’. West Midlands Police had shared a number of historical images as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations in 2014. Under the Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license I was able to copy and redistribute the photo in return for attributing the photograph and linking to the license in the credits.

There were certain limitations in creating an authentic feel within the documentary due to having next to no budget. In 1979, World in Action aired a documentary ‘The Thursday Gang and Mr. Stock’. I sought permission from ITN Source, who own the copyright of the footage, to use short clips – including an interview with Tony Stock while he was alive – something impossible for me to attain myself. Although permission was granted to use the footage privately for my dissertation, ITN were unable to grant me permission to use the footage publicly without paying licensing fees. I decided not to use the footage altogether as I really wanted both versions of the documentary to be available for anyone to view. I also sought out permission to use an old video from the late ‘60s of the Merrion Centre, featured on YouTube, and was granted permission by the original source to use the footage solely in my dissertation piece.

I used newspaper clippings to illustrate key events in Stock’s case. I sourced these clippings from Robins’ previous research for his book, published on his website. For these photographs I am relying on the journalistic defense of ‘fair dealing’. Fair dealing is an issue I have had first-hand experience of. Earlier this year, an interview I conducted with John Denham was used by Channel 4 in their programme ‘Immigration Street’ and this was taken without my permission. However, as Channel 4 had ‘fair dealed’ only a few seconds of my original interview and credited the video accordingly, I had no problem with them using the footage. Fair dealing is a strong legal defense as long as material is used appropriately, it is in the public interest, and if it is used in the right context – such as highlighting a news event.

I was granted access to a couple of letters that Stock had written to his family, during his time in prison. My aim was to find somebody with sufficient public influence to read the letters in Stock’s voice. TV Star Ricky Tomlinson, a fellow Liverpudlian and campaigner of justice himself, seemed like the perfect candidate. Tomlinson was briefed on the case but unfortunately was unable to assist due to restrictions in his contract.

Although my vision for the letters didn’t work out, my ambitions were still high to share the documentary with a larger audience and so I decided to seek permission to use a song called ‘Bad Dream’, composed by Nick Thorburn (also known as Nick Diamonds) to play underneath the documentary. The song is famously known as the theme tune to the successful American podcast, Serial. I contacted Serial and explained the nature of my documentary and they kindly passed on the details of the composer. Nick Diamonds expressed interest in the documentary and generously granted me permission to use his song, free of charge, publicly, for both versions.

The ultimate goal of my documentary was to present a fair, balanced, and objective representation of Tony Stock’s case. Many stylistic elements have been added to affect the audience emotionally, as well as intellectually. Through the voices of those interviewed, an argument is made to return the case back to the Court of Appeal. Although some elements are there to sway the audience’s emotions, I do not believe that the documentary is unfairly favorable to Tony Stock. The reasons given by the courts for the multiple rejections of the case have been sufficiently explained and presented to viewers to make their own decisions.

Due to certain restrictions on the length of the documentary that I am submitting for my final year project, there are aspects of Tony Stock’s life excluded from the project – such as his troubled past, details of his hunger strike in prison, as well as details of the policemen who managed the investigation. However, it is my hope that the documentary will draw people’s attention to Stock’s case so that they may explore it further.

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About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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