Optima is the established leader in high risk explosive search and clearance operations in conflict-affected areas.
Optima provide best in class global capability for governments, NGOs and the public sector to enable the stabilisation and reconstruction of former conflict zones. They make true transformation possible in the most challenging locations. Livewire had already learned so much about the work Optima does across the explosive threat arena through the branding and marketing work carried out early on in the relationship. The next key element was to find the best medium to help tell their story and to convey their values, capabilities and at the same time develop content that would educate, inform and influence.
Film is the only truly authentic and honest way to capture what Optima does on the ground.
Optima’s expertise covers all aspects explosive threat mitigation in unstable and conflict affected regions around the world. By increasing awareness, searching, locating and defeating explosive devices, Optima enables security forces, organisations and communities who live, move and operate in these areas, to mitigate the threat. To authentically communicate the uniqueness of the work carried out and the challenges faced by Optima’s teams in Iraq, film is the only truly effective way to capture the way in which Optima works and the impact they have on communities.
We proposed to Optima that filming the operations was the only effective way to tell their story, and so began our journey into post conflict Iraq.
Livewire looked to Mascot video, who have experience of working in hostile and challenging environments - it was vital for the safety of everyone involved that security protocols were adhered to rigidly.
Careful planning and preparation was required to ensure the team did not disrupt or hinder operations and of course at all times not be a security risk to the teams from an explosive threat point of view as well as being a potential kidnap target and of course a whole host of other conflict related issues.
Filming in hostile environments with all of the constraints would be a challenge.
We needed to capture the operators work effectively, from safe distances, in order to convey the complexity associated with searching for, identifying and rendering safe Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Given no two devices are the same and the 3D environment of rubble and collapsed, bombed out buildings, the work the Optima teams do is quite astonishing. Their expertise was clear for us all to see.
Mosul was a shock to the senses.
Our small team, consisting of Livewire MD Graham Lycett, experienced Director from Mascot Video, Sam Howson and Camera Operator, Giles Cornah received full security briefings and clear instructions from our teams but making sense of the alien landscape took a while to adapt to and comprehend.
Arriving in the heart of West Mosul we ventured into what was once one of the biggest and busiest hospital complexes in the region that had been turned into an ISIS HQ during occupation.
We were surrounded by the mangled and twisted remains of the bombed out building, scarred with bullet holes and very graphic signs of a large scale and ferocious battle.
The building had to be cleared of explosive threats before any rehabilitation work could be started. We were only allowed to enter the site once the weeks of clearance work had been completed clearing the main routes, yet all around us were marked signs indicating the position of still to be dealt with IEDs and explosive threats. The Optima teams had found, cleared and neutralised 1,800 IEDs, UXOs and other explosive hazards, carrying out these tasks in dark and treacherous conditions, all the while reminded of the danger of still present ISIS fighters who were reportedly moving about nearby. Capturing this on film whilst Technical Operations Manager, Mark, provided us with a compelling commentary about what he described as one of the most the complex tasks to date, we gingerly traversed the building, eventually ending up on the roof where the scale of destruction across Mosul really hit home. It was challenging to just get around the structure whilst holding our equipment and being mindful of each and every step we took so we could only imagine how the operators had to cope with searching for IEDs, rigged to stop and kill them, painstakingly inch by inch and by hand in order to clear the building. Watch the film here
The volume of the explosives found and made safe was on an industrial scale.
As we captured the scale of the damage and the shear volume of what had been found and made safe, each and every item being catalogued, again the enormity of what we were witnessing and how we had to do it justice in the filming and editing weighed heavy on our minds.
Landmine vs IED
During our 10 days in Iraq first time around, each video we created was as part of a communications strategy where our overall aim was to convey the complex challenge faced and the expertise required to deal with the threat and at the same time readdress the narrative that was now clearly so out of date. The NGO and charity community describe the threat as landmines and we had seen first hand the difference between landmines and IEDs. Landmines are arguably easier to deal with and can be contained, IEDs in their nature are all unique and require a significantly different approach to manage the threat effectively.
Capturing the human impact.
We’d witnessed and captured content that delivered against the main strategy brief, but being so unpredictable even in terms of just getting through the many checkpoints where sometimes you’d be held by militia until negotiations had taken place, Iraq did present us with unique opportunities too good to miss. Returning from filming in Mosul for another day we asked our security team to try to negotiate our way into one of the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps on the road back to Erbil. Not sure what we would see or how we would be received, we were granted access and we were keen to capture the human element of this conflict, not for sensationalism but to be able to join up the dots from Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) operators searching and rendering safe IEDs to the people that we hoped would be able to return home safely as a result of Optima’s work. Like everywhere in the world, the innocence of children broke through any sense of trepidation we had, as their fascination in the camera and what we were doing, along with an impromptu kick about, brought smiles and a little light relief from the day.
Earning the trust of the team.
What was key to this project was to build trust with the team in Iraq. A mixture in nationalities, mainly British and mainly ex military, some of the operators were initially not keen to be on camera but after thoroughly explaining why we there and that our objective was to communicate to a wider audience their expertise and the challenges they face daily but without potentially exposing any information that may be useful to any terror groups, we earned their trust. Sam approached the project in part as a broadcast documentary and he worked closely with the operators to help them relax so they were able to effectively describe the work they did in a way that came across completely natural and authentic. IEDD Doug turned out to be a natural and the work we did with him really allows the audience to get a glimpse into what makes these guys do what they do and why. Watch Doug’s storey here
The environment meant everyone had to be comfortable.
Working closely with the team we captured the men’s work day in Mosul, Fallujah and Baghdad. Our videos highlighted the complexity and the skill required to deconstruct an ISIS made IED. We built a positive relationship with the operatives and local workers alike to film with them in a more traditionally broadcast documentary format. This meant that they were able to describe the work they did in a relaxed way. The audience gained insight into the complex work and environment, the individuals bravery, personality, ability and experience.
Never switching off gave us bonus material.
Our days started at 4.30am with a security briefing for the day ahead which meant our working day was longer than normal and of course we were required to adapt and go off brief depending on what was thrown at us each day. Due to the unpredictable nature of the environment we worked under pressure, travelling through road checkpoints manned by a mixture or army, police and militia, which often led to long delays while paperwork was checked. This meant sticking to our plan was a challenge. A challenge we enjoyed, often with a bit of adrenalin helping to get us through parts of the day - working around guns, soldiers, security, police, militia, often filming under time constraints as staying in one place for too long potentially presented security risks, all combined to forge a unique experience. Experience we now take into other regions and we’re due to be be back in Iraq and potentially other conflict affected areas where Optima’s expertise is needed.
Unique experience and ability to adapt.
Livewire, working closely with the Mascot Video team now has significant experience of working in high risk environments and is able to capture and convey effectively and succinctly against a well thought out strategy to create compelling content and story telling.