‘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!

‘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.

Saying “Thank You” – A Christian Music Video

I’ve recently finished making a Christian music video to a song called “Thank You”. This is different from usual in that the singer would like to stay anonymous and keep the attention on the song itself. She is aware of the feedback it has generated and thrilled it is reaching many people for Jesus.
I and others had to put a lot of planning into making it as it was the first performance music video we’d done and care needed to be taken to ensure we looked after 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 – something I’m used to when I make videos for my video production company – Upbeat Image.

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.

Video production by Upbeat Image. Audio engineering by Chris Hunt at Pigsty Studios. Lighting by Tim Gregory.