Noon the wiser: using church stage design to reinforce a message

Ponds Forge

A colourful Church stage design at Ponds Forge in the centre of Sheffield.

Once a year in the Jesus Army we dedicate time in one of our national events to honour and remember martyrs throughout the years. This year we recognised the persecution many are facing in Syria and Iraq with the rise of ISIS.

A symbol on the side of a house in Iraq.

The Nasrani symbol sprayed on the side of a Christian’s house in Iraq.

The persecution of Christians in the middle east has often been in the news. The Arabic name “Nasrani,” one who believes in Jesus of Nazareth, has been used as a derogatory name for Christians. Islamic State jihadists had spray painted homes in towns populated for generations by Christians using the Arabic letter ن, which sounds like “noon,” and is the first letter of the word “Nasrani” in Arabic.

We wanted to feature this in the event and bring the stage design right into the congregation to include them in what was going on. So we designed the Church stage design concept to reveal the symbol beneath their feet in a way they weren’t expecting. The element of surprise was important as we didn’t want to give away that the walkway used in various items was part of something much bigger.

Set design by Josh

Josh designed the stage and lighting to incorporate the symbol. We used CAD to work out the positioning of symbol and the best place for the camera to go where the Noon could be seen clearly. He also included screens on the left and right for IMAG, and a large central screen for video content.

We constructed the path using blue carpet with thick UV gaffa tape put down to mark the perimeter. To any onlooker this would seem like a standard aisle edging.

Carpet all set

A side shot showing the specific carpet sections and the staging structure.

“The Journey” was the theme for the evening meeting where a story was told of Abraham’s journey of faith. We drew parallels from this story with our own path of faith throughout the years. The road played a big part in this storytelling with dramas and dancers making good use of the space, and taking the focus off the stage and into the congregation.

Narrated by Georgia as she walked along the path, with interactions along the way

Georgia narrating as she walks along the path, describing Abraham’s journey with interactions along the way.

Dance item

A dance item making use of the top of the Noon symbol on stage.

Creation ending

During the stars part of the story – Georgia is narrating on the right and lights and video projection add to the atmosphere.

Towards the end of the evening we came to the main Martyrs item where we brought everything together and revealed the symbol. We had positioned a camera right above the auditorium which could see the Noon symbol, and there was an audible gasp from the congregation when they saw what the road around them really was.

The Noon symbol in the stage design.

The lights were lowered, the UV came on, and as James described the atrocities in Syria and Iraq and what the Noon symbol meant the camera changed to this defining shot.

Martyrs item

James introducing the martyrs item, followed by a minutes silence to remember those who gave their lives

We managed to achieve what we set out to do and bring the stage design into the congregation with the element of surprise when the symbol was revealed. This had the effect of bringing the martyrs closer to people, as the symbol was all around them. The minute’s silence was impeccably observed and for many it was a time of reflection and gratitude.

Check out the full event on the Jesus Army Livestream page.

Saying “Thank You” – A Christian Music Video

I’ve recently finished making a Christian music video to a song called “Thank You”. I had to put a lot of planning into it as it was the first performance music video I’d done and care needed to be taken to ensure we looked after and protected individuals. I first heard the song being played during the Winning Festival in August 2014:

I was struck then by how genuine the song came across, and thought it would be great to turn it into a video as it would communicate to everyone, especially young people.

Many months later Chris (the Jesus Army sound engineer) recorded and mixed the song in the music studio, with the decision to play it on piano rather than guitar:

Hearing the song on piano immediately made me think of the song being sung with a piano on The Deco stage with some spot lights on her. After a bit more thinking I had the image of a projector in the auditorium showing sequences above her head. Before we started filming I worked through any issues with senior Church leaders, safeguarding, and pastoral covering.

There were two videos to make – the video projected over the singer’s head and the final performance video. We shot the first video in an afternoon and had various angles of her writing the song in her book, singing to the camera, and outdoor shots. This was quickly edited and then we were ready to film the performance.

Using VLC Remote Control to playback the track and projector sequence

Using VLC Remote Control to play the track and projector sequence

JC Projector

Filming at The Deco with the laptop playing the music and video, out of sight next to the projector

I had drafted a rough storyboard for the shots at The Deco and had lighting cues ready for Tim to follow behind the lighting desk. As I wanted the video to retain the simple nature of the song I didn’t want to overcomplicate filming with lots of extravagant shots, so I mainly used a tripod and then a couple of slider shots close to the piano. It’s important that the visual direction is in keeping with the song and its message. We filmed the song around 20 times covering many different angles.

I used a Sony A7s camera to film it (thanks Viv) with 21mm and 50mm lenses. With a 2.35:1 aspect ratio you must have a wide field of view to get everything in. Recording profile: 25fps 50mbs S-log2.

When it came to editing there were three ways to do it:

  1. Go through all the footage and mark the best bits, then cut the best bits together
  2. Have all 20 recordings displayed in the timeline
  3. Go through the footage cut by cut and choose each one that fits

I used the last method and that seemed to work well, though the second method would have saved time as the audio would have been synced first.

Editing in Adobe Premiere - a neat timeline and using a plugin called Film Convert to stylise the look of it.

Editing in Adobe Premiere – a neat timeline and using a plugin called Film Convert to stylise the look

Once I had completed the first edit and colour grade I sent it to a few friends to see what they thought and invited feedback:

The feedback was helpful to see what didn’t quite flow and what needed changing. There were four or five sections that needed more work – it’s a mission being told your work isn’t quite right but it makes for a much better piece in the end. I’d recently gone to an event called Film Northants and met a guy called Denis (yep that’s spelt correctly) and his suggestion was to completely change the colour grading.

Denis's colour grading idea showing much less saturation resulting in more mood and feel

Denis’ colour grading idea showing much less saturation resulting in more mood and feel

Once I’d made the changes I then showed it at a video training day I was running and opened it up for more feedback. It was the second time we were together and another great day.

The real reason for the video and audio training days - pizza!

The real reason for the video and audio training days – pizza!

Once all the comments were in, changes made, and the video was approved by the song author I posted it online and the feedback has been very positive. One comment which really stood out has to be:

“In my faithlessness, that’s the most moved by a Christian song I’ve been in a long time.”

May it reach many more people like that who need Jesus.

Boast; Boast Not: The Tale of Four Trees | A Parable

This is the second parable in our series, with a contribution from writer and Jesus Centre volunteer Julia Faire. Read other posts in the parables series.

A tree standing on a hill

Once there were four trees: an apple, an oak, a pine and a tree no one knows the name of – so I have called it the Strange-Tree.

Every spring the apple tree was decked with white blossom, as a bride, beautiful and splendid, and the bees gathered in droves around her delicate white-cupped flowers to draw from the sweet nectar. As the months passed by, the tree’s branches began to sag under the magnificent crop of shiny green apples that it bore. People came from far and wide to admire the beauty and the fruit of the tree.

And the tree boasted: “Am I not the greatest of trees? For to what other tree do people come each year with their baskets in order that they may fill them with such wonderful fruit?”

And the majestic oak stood proudly on a hilltop. The tips of its branches towered above all the other trees; many birds made their nests amongst its foliage and a multitude of insects made their homes in the crevices of its bark. And in the hot summer months people came and sat in its shade and wondered at the strength of the magnificent tree. In the autumn showers of acorns fell, as deadly ammunition, from the branches of the tree and all feared to come near such a dangerous arsenal.

And the tree boasted: “Am I not the greatest of trees? Am I not taller than all the other trees of the forest? Am I not stronger than they? Am I not more deadly and fearsome than all the other trees?”

Down in the valley, by a raging river, stood a tall pine tree, cloaked with pine cones. Its trunk was long and straight and it stood erect and sure-footed as it straddled the mountainside.

And the tree boasted: “I am not as tall as the oak, neither do I bear fruit for people to eat like the apple tree and yet surely I am the greatest of trees for my beauty is constant. I never lose all my leaves like the other trees; my colour adds greenery to this bleak valley every month of the year. And my cones bring warmth and light as they burn on home-fires during the long cold winter months? Surely I am more beautiful and more useful than they?”

And another tree stood off, in a distant place, where the soil was poor and not much rain fell. The tree was squat and its branches were straggly and many thought what an ungainly tree it was. No one really knew what this tree was, for it was different from all the other trees; its fruit was oddly–shaped, red and gold and small and no one in the shops wanted to buy it. And when people walked by the tree, many of them sniffed at it and turned away. But the poor creatures came and ate of the fruit, the fruit which no one wanted and found themselves strangely nourished for the long winter months when no other fruit could be found.

And this tree made no boast at all but year after year continued to bear its strange looking fruit, to the dismay of some and the delight of others.

cut-downOne day some men came to look at the tree.” Let us cut this strange tree down and use its branches for wood,” they said. “Its fruit is no use except to the poor creatures and they can find something else to eat. We can use this land for better things than to grow this strange tree on,” and they chopped off its branches. And the poor creatures howled and cried; some scampered away whilst others hugged the tree’s desolate trunk.

And that night there was a terrible storm; such a storm had never been seen before. Fierce lightning flashed across the dark sky and thunder peals shook the very foundations of the earth. A great wind came, howling and mighty, and tore at everything in its path.

The apple tree tried to hold onto its fruit in vain. Like a carpet the apples were spread upon the ground, bruised and battered, unfit to eat.

And the great oak lost many of its branches. Its top was felled and it was no longer the tallest tree for miles around. And the fir, which boasted of its eternal leaves, lost every leaf that night in that terrible storm.

But the strange tree, growing as it did out of the dry ground, grew branches from its stunted trunk that spread far and wide. And the fruit that had been lost when its branches were felled sank deep into the ground and grew up overnight into other smaller trees, all bearing that strange, odd-shaped fruit, the fruit that is red and gold. And the poor birds and beasts and many people gathered to pick its fruit once more, which tasted even better than before.

And in time the strange tree filled the earth and became the greatest of trees – far higher, far more beautiful and more fruitful than all the other trees. But still, it never boasted; it just stood and stood and stood, providing food and shelter and warmth to any that took refuge under its sprawling branches.