Torture in Egypt: The Making of the Video

By Al Giordano

2010 Authentic Journalism scholar Noha Atef is called to receive her diploma during the graduation dinner in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Photo: DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

The 2010 School of Authentic Journalism happened from February 3 to 13 - but it is not even close to over.

This newsroom-bunker now bustles daily and nightly with those participants who never went home and remain to edit and produce the many videos that will soon share the j-school sessions, lessons and teachings with the world.

Reading the daily emails that come in from so many of the School’s 65 students and professors, reminds me once again of one of my favorite passages from Greil Marcus’ book, Lipstick Traces: The Secret History of the Twentieth Century when writing about the World-War-I-era art movement known as Dada: "For the rest of their lives, they returned again and again to their few days in a Zurich bar. They tried to understand what had happened to them. They never got over it."

Some of us likewise never got over the first Narco News j-school in 2003 on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula (or, for that matter, the 2004 school in Bolivia) and returned to the scene of the crime this month for yet another ten days of intensive learning and horizontal sharing of skills and knowledge. Today we have ten more unforgettable days and nights to digest.

For me, one of the indelible highlights of the 2010 j-school was meeting and learning from our 25-year-old scholar from Egypt, Noha Atef, who gave so much to the School and not just one, but two, of its work groups, as well as leading a memorable plenary session on her history developing the Torture in Egypt blog (primarily in the Arabic language but also with some posts translated to English).

It’s a project in authentic journalism in which Noha, among many works, has posted the names (often with photos) of Egyptian police officers implicated in acts of torture against citizens.

According to the participants in the School’s work group on Online Journalism, Noha brought a wealth of knowledge on reporting, investigating, web design and promotion to that group’s sessions (and I can say already that she will surely be invited back to the next Narco News j-school as a professor).

Her energy and enthusiasm at the school additionally overflowed from the banks of the work group she had been part of and also into the Viral Video work group, where she arrived one day with a mission to organize its members to help her to produce a video about the Torture in Egypt issue and to also make her blog known farther and wider.

Professor Jesse Freeston and scholar Milena Velis of the video work group jumped in to help her, and later scholars Marine Lourmant, Ter Garcia and Fernando Leon Romero completed the post-production on the Torture in Egypt video.

I was proud to play a very small role as well, sharing a single piece of information with the post-production team: When it comes to subtitles on any video or documentary, a general rule of thumb to use is that the subtitle should appear for sufficient time to allow one second of reading for every four words on the screen. And so some of the subtitles were made longer so that the viewer will have time to read along with the video’s content in Arabic.

Today I am very proud to announce that the Torture in Egypt video is ready for viewing by all, in versions in English and also in Spanish. Here it is:

In our own mission to share the tools and skills that were learned at the School with the hundreds of applicants that we couldn’t accommodate this time, and also with authentic journalists, media makers, readers and others throughout the world – because to democratize society we need to make free expression and its tools available to everyone, taking them back from the elite “professional” few – I’ve asked the video’s co-producers to share with you some of the techniques and tricks they used to create such an outstanding video, as well as the story behind the making of the Torture in Egypt video.

Jesse Freeston now shares this information with you and with the world at an advanced technical level:

1) Noha provided all the material in the form of YouTube URLs, as well as rough time codes of when the clips she wanted started and ended.

2) We used FireFox's "Video DownloadHelper" add-on to utilize material from YouTube. (I can give detailed instructions for how to install and operate Video DownloadHelper if needed).

3) The music was an .mp3 of an Egyptian hip-hop group that Noha had with her.

4) All video (YouTube rips come in either .mp4 or .flv compressions) was then converted to Apple Pro Res 422 format using MPEG Streamclip. This is necessary because Final Cut Pro cannot edit .mp4 or .flv and Apple Pro Res 422 allows us to watch our edits in real time while editing without having to stop and render after making changes.

NOTE: Video conversions are very large files. I suggest putting all conversions in a separate folder, that way when you're done the video you can delete that entire folder, while holding on to all the original .mp4 and .flv files so that if need be you can make changes to the video at a later date.

5) The music piece was converted from .mp3 to .aiff using the program "Compressor" (comes with Final Cut Pro). This is because Final Cut Pro cannot edit .mp3 without having to render, same reason for the video conversions.

6) All the transitions that were used are available in the basic Final Cut Pro 'effects' package.

MPEG Streamclip, FireFox, and DownloadHelper are all available free online:

The FireFox web browsing program can be downloaded here:

The Video "DownloadHelper" can be added to your browser at:

MPEG Streamclip can be found at:

As you can see, kind reader, a lot of work and skills go into making a two-and-a-half minute video. These are skills that you, too, can learn to arm yourself for Journalism's Civil War to come.

We also invite you to join with us in expressing your solidarity worldwide with the pioneering work of authentic journalist Noha Atef, who beyond bringing a diploma home from Mexico to Egypt, returns to her important work as the only person on earth with permission to call your servant "Albert."

Photo: DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.

And this is the first of more than twenty videos - stay tuned! - that we hope to be able to complete and share with you. We’d all love to read your responses and observations on the Torture in Egypt video, its content and the story of how it was made, in the comments section here...

Update from Milena Velis:

Besides the technical aspects, which Jesse laid out so well, it’s worth mentioning that this video was created through an entirely bilingual process, between English and Arabic. Jesse and I speak English and Spanish. Noha speaks Arabic and  English (and Spanish, and probably several other languages).

Here’s how to make a multilingual video on a short timeframe.

1) Noha gathered the video clips, images and music she wanted to use in the video, giving us approximate timecodes of which clips she wanted to use.

2) Jesse and I made a rough compilation of the videos in ProTools, pulling them onto one timeline, in no particular order.

3) The three of us then subtitled the material we had. While Noha interpreted for us, Jesse made the subtitles in ProTools, and I typed the translation into a text document at the same time.

4) Jesse and I, now able to understand the material we were working with, then edited the text translations into a first draft script.

5) We then edited our video to correspond to this script.

6) With a first shot at the basic structure to show, we went back to Noha for her edits, and she made several changes to the order and timing.

7) Once we got the basic structure of the video down, the three of us tackled the visual elements, adding music, photos, screenshots, and effects, roughly in that order.

8) After the three of us went home from the J-School, our friends in the Narco News bunker added Spanish subtitles, making this a trilingual video.

I first learned to edit video so that I could subtitle between English and Spanish, and over the years I’ve translated and interpreted in various settings and medias, but this was the first time I produced a video in a language I don’t speak. It was an amazing learning experience in many ways, and it reminded me once again that it always takes more time, energy, creativity and patience to make something multilingual, and that it’s always worth that extra work.

Update from Noha Atef:

- It's not enough to upload a video to just one website, for example, with the video of the man while he is being tortured, Youtube removed it as it is a very violent video. If we didn't download it and republish it in other different video sharing websites, it would have not appeared in this video. 

- As I mentioned all the videos are embedded in, as all of them are related to the subject of torture (documentaries- talk shows-interviews- torture mobile clips…) plus the photos. But in case we don't have a point of reference we would use Hurisearch, (a human rights search engine). 

And if we're vloggers and want to make our content available for filmmakers, we would announce to them the 'Tags' we use (example: we agree that "torture" is a tag for quality videos about torture which are available for filmmakers). That makes it easier for the filmmakers while searching YouTube for example. 

- I think one important point was not to start the video with shocking footage/photo, but to make it appear gradually.

- Music: a sad song in the background would cause gloomy faces among the audience, but we didn't only want that kind of "emotional reaction." The objective was to engage people with the cause of ending torture in Egypt. That's why we give them resources (the blog, Twitter, Flickr, etcetera…). So, this hip-hop song was a perfect selection to "provoke" their indignance rather than their sympathy.

Read, listen and learn kind readers as the new generation of authentic journalists shares what it knows about making media with all of us.


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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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