The Haystack

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Olivia Cappuccini

What motivated you to make this film?

The Haystack was made as a response to the lack of media coverage and awareness regarding the passing of The Investigatory Powers Bill. Rarely does a passing of a Bill engage mass audiences, they’re densely political and 300+ page documents, but there was something about this Bill… it struck a chord with several civil liberties groups and that captured my attention. The IP Bill affects all of us, including those who are young and digitally active (Scene’s of Reason target audience); it legalizes the expansion and use of mass surveillance that is apparently ‘necessary’ to stop pedophilia, terrorism and cyber crime. However in an age where the US are rolling back their mass surveillance programmes, why was it that the UK are pushing forward. That’s how the investigation started…


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

Our audio equipment kept breaking/hissing and we never got a chance to do a second run at interviews because they were all with very busy and important people. In the end we had to plug a microphone into my iPhone to capture the audio, it looked very unprofessional but the audio ended up being better quality than our Zoom. It’s a brilliant little hack if things go tits up.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

More awareness about how intelligence agencies, police and government work. There is no doubt that our government is set out to protect us, but as members of the public we should always be a bit skeptical and acknowledge that there is an agenda and it is our responsibility to keep asking questions and holding those in power accountable.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

How much do people care about their privacy rights.
How much people understand about how their data is used/ by which corporations.
Interesting to see what other countries think about how the UK operates, especially in the US where surveillance powers have been rolled back.


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

The IP Bill has now been passed, the expansion of powers has been put in motion, but several of the necessary amendments have been made and the Bill still remains under a lot of scrutiny.  The government knows that they will be held accountable and that the Bill will be closely watched. The Haystack has helped to engage so many different audiences with this issue, and that only helps to keep the conversation going. We’re pleased The Haystack helped to raise awareness and put pressure on the government to make necessary amendments, a year later and the film is still being used as a tool to educate in schools and in civil liberties groups.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Please visit the website there is tons of information on how to join privacy and civil liberties groups, as well as petitioning for more change. The film is online for free so if you’re interested in hosting a discussion as many have done before, then feel free to host your own screening.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):


Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Laura Poitras


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

Canon 5D MIII


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

My videographer and I thought we’d be bold and head down to the MI5 offices in London. You can’t get in and they have a camera on every single pillar outside, but we pretended to be foreign and naively started filming the outside of the building – we wanted to get a camera on camera shot but got chased down by the security who almost took our camera and memory cards away. Lucky we both look about 18, that helped with the “oh sorry, we didn’t even realise what we were filming, whoops!”


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story. 

We were limited in our ability to capture exactly what was being investigated due to the nature of surveillance agency and governmental work but we made a big effort to create scenes that were reflective of the time and place. London was our backdrop for the entire film, we captured the impressive government buildings, council estates and rich greenery that surrounds London and cut it together in a manner that reflects the energy and pace of the city where our intelligence agencies and government operate.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

The film was actually meant to be a 5-8minute short video set out to help the mass general public understand the pros and cons of the IP Bill. However, the deeper we went, the more people we found who had something interesting to say. We never thought we’d be able to sit down with Sir David Omand, Ex Director of GCHQ and William Binney, an Ex NSA Analyst/whistleblower, and for them to contradict one another. We never thought we’d be able to get as much access, and yet when we did we felt as if there still wasn’t enough. We would have loved to have sat down with those who use surveillance powers on a daily basis e.g. The Police, but they were interested in being part of the project.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film. 

Our luck in being able to sit down with William Binney. Binney has one of the most authoritative voices when it comes to surveillance and on such a low budget we knew there was no way we would be able to get out to the US to interview him. We hit the jackpot when he had a few days in Europe and very kindly gave us an hour of his time in a park in London.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

As good as it is to set deadlines, give yourself extra time to create your film. Your creative thinking develops so much from start to finish, what you begin with won’t be what you end up with and it should always be that way – allow yourself to keep evolving your ideas and anticipate you might want longer to capture something else or take a different direction. The mystery of the end result makes the whole process worth it.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

The edit. There is nothing more rewarding than piecing everything together creatively and making progress every day.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

A hat. It helps keep you focused and also helps keep the focus off of you. My face is really expressive, I can’t help it, and when you’re directing behind a camera you need to avoid distracting what’s in front of the camera. A hat helps with blending into the background.



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