In mid January (2022) c60Media resumed filming vox pops on the streets of London after the pandemic caused a two-year hiatus. Even if you do not know what a vox pop is, chances are you do. From the latin “Vox populi” which literally means “Voice of the people”, Vox Pops are those moments where random people on the street share their opinions on a product, service, brand or story. Many will recognize vox pops from TV or Radio news features. Indeed there was an excellent episode of Archive Hour on BBC Radio 4 about the vox pop in 2014. In the U.S. they are often referred to as ‘man on the street’ interviews.
The public nature of vox pops (which involve approaching and recording people you encounter on the street) meant they were literally impossible in the context of a Covid pandemic and lockdown!
So we headed out with a little trepidation and a few burning questions. Londoners are used to the bustling streets of the busiest city on the continent. But with working at home now more popular than ever, how many people will there even be out and about, versus ‘normal’ pre-Covid numbers?
Approaching someone you do not know to interview is tough enough in normal times, but in this Covid context, and with the Omnicron still spreading, could it be more difficult than ever!?
On a crisp and cold January day, how long will we be recording for and will it take longer than usual?
C60Media often record voxes on Argyll Street near Oxford Circus in the West End because it is a busy, historic, picturesque road, where cars are not allowed. Plus it is in a popular shopping area where passers-by may just have some time to spare. As we arrived it was notably quieter than normal times. Probably around 30 percent of pre-covid numbers. Could this be a long day?
Nonetheless our team of Peter Shevlin (Producer), Megan Wickins (Interviewer), Norbert Varjasi (Camera) and Neil Kanwal (Sound), set-up and began to record. The topic we were covering was to ask young people what they thought about ‘Intimate Partner Violence’ for Womens Aid and YSL beauty. It is an important cause to raise awareness about a widespread form of domestic abuse, but that did not mean it would be easy to get people to talk about it. As something that has only really entered the agenda and been discussed in recent years, how many will know what it is?
However to our great surprise, people were keener than ever to get involved and share their opinions. Within an hour we had recorded half of our total target, and the whole shoot was wrapped in record time… around 3 hours. To put that in context it would usually take around 5-6 hours to achieve that set number of interviews on a vox pops shoot.
One of the highlights of the day came towards the end, when we were still seeking a couple more male voices to finish things off. Scouting the horizon it was impossible not to notice what looked like a pink cowboy walking towards us in the distance! However he was not a cowboy, but “London’s best dressed man” Jama Elmi wearing a pink suit and hat with golden shoes! (See the photo below). The resounding opinion as he came closer was “we’ve got to get this guy involved” and surely enough, he did it!
Although Jama did not know much about intimate partner violence, he did share some insight into his remarkable story which included migrating here from Somalia in the 80’s and going on to become a social media sensation. He once went to a job interview in a rainbow coloured suit, and duly landed the role!! What a legend!!
As Jamal left us to continue his stroll through the subdued streets of the capital, we recorded one more young couple and it was a wrap in time for lunch. How had we recorded voxes so quickly? Why were people keener than ever to talk? With less than half the normal number of people out and about, how was this all possible?
Perhaps, because the pandemic has stopped people from socializing as much, many are now more keen and open to being social, even if it is on camera to a stranger on the street? Do the quieter streets mean it is harder to ignore someone who approaches you to record your thoughts? Maybe having been prevented from exchanging opinions in our usual social environments, people are more willing to do so now?
What are your experiences? How has the pandemic has changed recording on the streets of your city? Are we now more open to being social and airing our thoughts? Please comment and let us know what you think.