‘The Journey’ – A Live Music and Stories Event

The Vision

I was tasked to help bring to life a vision that a few guys had for a music event which brings out our churches history with songs, and stories why those songs came to be.
At first I was a little reticent as I didn’t want it just to be a nostalgic throwback, but Rob, Chris, and Aidan assured me it would reflect how God uses everyday people to shape his church. And they were right as the time together was deep and inspiring. It’s well worth a watch.

Choosing Kit

These days you can get a good looking image for comparatively little money, and I’d had plenty of experience with using Sony’s A7 series mirrorless kit whilst working for Upbeat Image. These full frame cameras give you a lovely shallow depth of field and hold up well in low light – two essentials for recording the event. I was able to borrow a couple of these cameras (thanks Viv) and only had to hire a small amount. All the kit I used was able to record at 50 frames per second in full HD, as YouTube now supports that feature and makes for smoother playback compared to 25fps.

Kit List

  • 2x A7S – one on a moving gimbal, one on a tripod
  • 1x A7R – handheld with inbuilt image stabilisation
  • 1x GH3 – wide angle view
  • 2x GoPro – drums
  • 1x JVC camcorder – for a live feed to Chris in the engineers recording lounge

Working out how to set up the Came-TV mini2 gimbal with a little help from YouTube

Filming

During the event the audio recording was being handled by Chris, who was monitoring it in a separate lounge adjacent to the main room. Viv was roaming about on a tablet doing monitor mixes for the musicians.

I was aiming for an intimate feel with the filming, so it’s like you’re there among the people. The gimbal was important to achieve this so I could take the viewer around the room in a smooth way. When it came to the event it was hard not to get into the music and just concentrate on filming. Songs like A New Revolution especially!

The Cameras

Simon’s interview. My wife Anna was on the main camera for interviews and singers. This was an A7S with 70-200mm f2.8 lens which is brilliant for head shots

Anna had an external monitor with focus zoom so she could tell what was in focus, as it’s hard recording in HD to get such a shallow depth of field right

David was on the A7R with a 50mm f0.95 lens, perfect for getting artistic shots

David also captured the testimonies from a different angle

I was using the gimbal with an A7S and a wide angle 21mm f2 lens. Try using one for 3 hours!

The Panasonic GH3 was at the back getting a wide angle shot of the whole room

1st GoPro stuck on the side of the floor tom

2nd GoPro overhead

One of my favourite songs from the event:

Editing

There was a lot to work through – over 350GB of data! The files from the cameras were sorted into folders named after who operated the camera, and then backed up twice.
Due to David and myself moving about it was hard to edit keeping us both out of shot. But I just about managed it, though there are plenty of times you see one of us!
The pace of the edit depended on the tempo of the song, so slow songs had shots which lingered on the singers more, and fast songs had quicker cuts. Once I had done an initial edit of a track I sent it to our sound engineer Chris so that he could mix with video, and bring out certain instruments when they appeared on screen if need be. Once he had mixed the music he sent me a high quality file which I then aligned to the right place in the timeline.

The hardest part was the difficulty I had trying to colour grade the five different types of cameras so they matched! I got there in the end but still a lot to learn with this skill.

To add the finishing touches Aidan came up with some superb graphics to introduce each song and testimony. They were created in Cinema 4D and exported as a PNG sequence with alpha channel so I could just put over the top of the footage in the edit.

The best thing was that the event itself carried depth and meaning. Hearing the stories of why each song came to be, and then singing it give it significance and meaning. The worship songs near the end really lifted off as people were fully relaxed and able to blank out the cameras and mics.

Improvements

I’d make some changes to improve the filming. For starters I’d have only one moving camera with the rest on tripods or monopods to minimise crew in shot. I’d plan the event in more detail to work out who is singing beforehand and make sure one camera is on them the whole time. It would be better with a larger room so we can film looking past people onto the musicians, and have the foreground and background interest. Here’s to next time!

Making the Everything in Common Documentary Film

Two years ago I decided to do a documentary about community life at the Jesus Army. I had already been YouTubing for a few years prior to that, but I wanted to make something more ambitious than just a bunch of short clips. However, I didn’t want to spend too much money on equipment and programmes and stuff, but produce a message about simplicity using means of simplicity. I realised that the quality would not be on a Hollywood level, but in the end I was very satisfied with the result and I have received a lot of positive feedback from others.

The process of making the film included loads of problems, including a broken computer, useless editing programmes and mistakes that from time to time made me want to rip the hair off of my head. Still, it was extremely fun to do and if I find the time I would be very excited to make more films like this in the future. Let me share with you the story of how Everything in Common was made.

The First Trip

Frida and I in London, with the camera ready to shoot!

During the time within which the film was made I lived in Sweden, and so recording material was limited to two trips I made to the UK. The first trip was made with my friend Frida Lindberg in August 2014. The first scene I recorded is also the first scene featured in the film after the introductory Bible verses, where we sit on the London Underground taking us from Heathrow Airport.

I had my Panasonic video camera with me in a little shoulder bag basically everywhere I went. Since the film was to be about community life I wanted to feature everything that happened at Holy Treasure where we were staying – people eating, dishing, worshipping, playing and just relaxing. A few people signaled or told me that they did not want to be recorded and so I avoided them, whereas most had no problem with, or even enjoyed, being filmed.

Constantly captured

Huw Lewis and Mike Farrant showed us around the Kingdom Businesses, the Bugbrooke Chapel and other community houses like the Farm and Cornhill. We were also guided by Steve Jones at the Northampton Jesus Centre. Filming was not the primary purpose for these tours but rather our own interest in getting to know the Jesus Fellowship, but it was obviously a good shooting opportunity and a lot of the footage in the film comes from these tours.

We also got to interview Huw and Mike along with other community members at Holy Treasure such as Jane, Mary and Yvonne. They shared a lot about the history of the Jesus Fellowship and New Creation Christian Community, the theology behind community, the blessings of living in community along with challenges and difficulties, and so on. In fact, the interviews were so extensive and all-covering that I quickly realised that I could rely on them as the documentary’s narrative without adding a voice over of my own. One of the last things we did before leaving Holy Treasure was Huw recording me and Frida where we got to share our (very positive) impressions of community life, which naturally ended up in the very last section of the film.

The First Editing Session

My plan was not to make a second trip, but to only use the material I recorded in 2014. And that could certainly have been the case, the material was, as mentioned, quite extensive. But life went on, half a year passed without me starting the editing process. I only used the material once when I made a clip for my YouTube channel Holy Spirit Activism in which Huw describes how the Jesus Fellowship started to practice community. The clip was very good, mixed with Kalimba by Mr Scruff, which was simply included as sample music on my laptop. The clip turned out to be very good and is actually included in its totally in the documentary (save the introduction I recorded in my Swedish bedroom).

But again, I didn’t find time to start with the actual documentary. Then suddenly, in January 2015, Holy Spirit inspiration hit me. For some reason I just wanted to make documentary and nothing else, and so I sat for about ten hours and edited in Windows Movie Maker, which was the only editing software I had. I delayed my school work just to edit this film. And during that session I produced what’s pretty much still the first 14 minutes of the film.

One of the things I love most with film editing is mixing footage with awesome music. Somehow I found a free track on Jamendo weirdly titled Crap on the Pillow by Gepzene, which has an excellent combination of smooth pads and exciting techno that I ended up using both as initial and final track in the documentary. I also found some amazing cinematic tracks by the properly named Epic Soul Factory that I used alongside Jesus Fellowship’s own songs like Jesus Army Real and Wild.

Now, editing feature length films on Movie Maker is not something I recommend. The software often crashed and there was this weird bug where the music only played properly if you previewed the video from the start – otherwise it would jump around, which isn’t a good thing when you try to sync the footage with the music. And exporting videos only succeeded about 20 % of the time. I soon realised that I needed another editing programme, but didn’t want to spend any money on it. I scanned the Internet and found Lightworks, which is based on a programme once used by professional editors in Hollywood that’s now downloadable for free.

Things were looking great, I made an epic teaser trailer with some music from Epic Soul Factory and promised my blog readers at Holy Spirit Activism that the documentary would be released in the Summer of 2015. But my studies required a lot of attention, and my computer broke. Thankfully I had managed to export the 14 minutes I’ve made to a USB stick and the raw files to an external drive, but the process of buying a new computer second hand and setting it all up made me delay the documentary editing until August where I found myself again with the Jesus Army.

Second Trip and Editing Session

This is what I looked like basically the whole trip

The 2015 trip had been planned since the last time I was in the UK, and now I had my friends Hillevi and Emil with me. I recorded additional footage with a new camera that my father had got for me after my first one broke. This had better video quality which is quite visible in the finished documentary. I decided to do some reshoots of the businesses and community life as well as capturing more people describing how it is to live in community. We also attended RAW and I got to interview Chris Needham there who, as always, imparted a lot of zeal and fire. I also recorded an excellent table talk with Huw and Mike on seven objections to community which ended up in the documentary, very shortened obviously.

As I continued to edit the film I mixed the old with the new. Like the previous year I was busy doing other things during the autumn (writing books, in fact), but as the calendar turned to 2016 I decided that it was now or never – the film should be finished! While Lightworks isn’t perfect it did suit my needs very well and was able to mix video, audio and titles excellently with precise detail. The safest way to work I found was to make “blocks” of 5 to 10 minute clips that I saved on various drives and later on mashed together into one full documentary. I downloaded free songs from YouTube’s audio library for some more music to play in the background.

Approaching completion

Glory to God, I realised that I would actually be able to release the film already in April. In fact, if I worked hard I could show it on my birthday party in March. So I did work hard. During this final process I released portions of the film in individual YouTube clips instead of producing additional film content (I try to upload a video every week), staying focused on the project and promoting it at the same time.

The Release

The day before my birthday I was up all night and managed to finish a “first draft” of the documentary that I could show my test audience. I posted it on a secret YouTube link and sent it to Frida, Hillevi, Emil and Huw to have their say on the result and see if they wanted me to change anything. The next day, my friends and family watched it at the party and I received a lot of positive feedback, save that the audio needed fixing since the music sometimes made it hard to hear what people were saying.

I continued to edit a bit and created a simple poster in Powerpoint to put on my blog. April 18 was chosen as the release date due to a conference that I was co-organising with some friends on community life the weekend right before that, where the final product could be screened. When the date arrived, I happily published the film on YouTube, putting all of the end credits in the YouTube description which included all the songs I used, since some of them had to be mentioned there in order for me to use them freely.

I was very glad to see that the Jesus Army promoted the film in its official social media channels, and it now has over 700 views. As I moved to the UK to do a training year a few weeks ago, many have said that they’ve seen the movie and liked it. Some have asked me how many hours I put into making it. I have no idea. Anything between 100 and 1,000 seems reasonable. But it was definitely worth it, and I pray that the film will inspire many to join community and live a Biblical life where we have everything in common.

 

‘I Believe’ – A Christian Collaboration Video

This video is the culmination of a vision I’ve had for a long time to bring together a group of Christian film-makers and make an inspirational piece about who God is.

It began last year in a video training session for some of the youth in my church and I showed them the excellent YHWH produced by Dan Stevers. I’ve long admired the work of Dan and recently he’s been collaborating with other artists to make videos that are very creative. This gave me an idea to do the same with our team.

The Poem

Around a year ago I heard a poem that really got my imagination going. It was based on something that was written in German by Lothar Zenetti, then translated and added to by a friend called Fred. This is the poem.

I believe in God, and I believe
That He is an artist, an inventor
His boundless ideas show Him to be original forever
Wonderful, varied and worthy of admiration.
The endless universe, the order of the stars
Are all inside his plan. He thinks up clouds
And the blushing of the dawn
He calls mountains into being
And will you look at this tree: every twig, every leaf
Is His invention and in the same way He forms
Lizards, warthogs and butterflies.
He is not made in the image in my head
Does not correspond to my concepts and definitions
The person I picture would never have made such a world full of wonders
Nor even more than a single type of person
Off the conveyor belt they would all march with a standard size head
And the same type of nose.
There would be no riotous hotchpotch of porters and poets, waiters and beauty queens,
Of estate agents, street musicians,
Of grandmas and rock fans and lollipop ladies.
There must be something of all that in Him.
I believe He is a shepherd, a lover, a Father and Mother
And He is a game of hopscotch too.
He is enchanter and beguiler, a massive Cheshire cat smiler
The big mystery is His name and He is entirely other
High above all that is and right at the outset
He is the breath and the beginning of everything
And His pulse is felt in all that is.
He creates our longing’s conclusion
He appears in the storm and the thunder
He lives in the cloud, in the word and the silence.
He scatters His hope among the stricken
In the hearts of lovers He is right there in the middle of the world
And glory be to His wonderful name.

I got Fred to email it to me, and then when I was thinking of what to base the Christian collaboration video on this came to mind, so I found the email and set to work.

The Audio

Recording William

Recording William reading the poem

The backing music and voice-over was vital to the video, as this was what the team would be working from. I enlisted the help of William, who has an incredible voice that I could listen to all day, and then found a suitable backing track on MusicBed to license.

Chris bringing the voiceover and soundtrack together

Chris bringing the voiceover and soundtrack together

Choosing Sections

I put the poem in a Google Doc and then split it into 10 sections, asking everyone to own one of the sections. Once people had decided I chopped up the audio into these 10 sections and sent them their specific track. They would each work on their own section and only be aware of the whole piece when it would be shown at one of our national Church meetings.

Bringing The Poem To Life

There weren’t any rules on what to film or create, just a few technical constraints to make sure things like frames per second and pixel sizes matched up.

Josh filming in the middle of a field at night-time

Josh filming in the middle of a field at night-time

Aidan using Cinema4D for the conveyor belt section

Aidan using Cinema4D for the conveyor belt section

John capturing some stunning scenes in Malaysia

John capturing some stunning scenes in Malaysia

David getting to grips with Maya animation software

David getting to grips with Maya animation software

Esme bringing to life her hand drawn characters

Esme working on her hand drawn characters

James (that's me) filming a family scene as dusk approaches

James (that’s me) filming a family scene as dusk approaches

Different Styles

Once everyone had sent me their sections it was noticeable how different they all were and how much hard work had gone into them with a mix of styles and ways to capture images. There was footage from DSLR cameras, camcorders, GoPros, computer generated graphics and hand drawn illustrations.

Esme put a lot of work into creating each character

Esme put a lot of work into creating each character

Filming William for the intro and end sequences using a digital camera

Filming William for the intro and end sequences using a digital camera

Editing and Sound Design

With having lots of different styles and content I put a lot of effort into making sure they all blended well together. It would have been easy to do a fade to black between every section but I wanted there to be continuity across the whole video, so there was various adjustments to the colouring, adding motion blur, wipes, and zooms between clips.

As much time went into the sound design as into the edit – especially with the animation scenes as the sound really brings it to life. And for the ending I did a late night timelapse of the stars on a very cold night, so I could overlay the video title in the edit.

A late night timelapse of the stars to end the video

The stars with a plane passing overhead

Conclusion

Introducing the Christian collaboration video team - Aidan, David, Esme, Charis, Naomi, John, George, Sam, Josh

Introducing the crew – Aidan, David, Esme, Charis, Naomi, John, George, Sam, Josh

This project has been a real success – it’s helped young people express their passion for God, and working in a team is always enjoyable. It feels like we’re on a journey together to explore creativity and our own interpretations of who God is and what He means to us.

Here’s to the next one.