‘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 a Lyric Video – Take Me To The Edge

More and more people are using YouTube as their primary means of finding and listening to music, and lyric videos and covers are central to this growing culture. There are countless artists who’ve built up a following from nothing to millions just by posting simple videos on YouTube (e.g Walk Off The Earth, Daniela Andrade, Kurt Hugo Schneider, CDZA, Pentatonix; their latest videos may be very fancy but they all started very simple) and simple fan-made lyric videos can rack up squillions of views. The media’s changing and in our church’s creative department we want to move with the times.

Not that we’re deluded about the possibilities of overnight viral success but we decided a good place to start would be to turn some of the tracks we’ve published on our Jesus Army Soundcloud into YouTube lyric videos.

So we decided to kick off a new lyric video series by starting with our most popular track, giving it extra effort to make a good starting splash (pun intended). And so, ladies and gentlemen, here it is:

Take Me To The Edge lyrics

Developing a Concept

The song is all about following God’s adventure, going to ‘the edge’ where our maps run out and faith is compellingly vital. The song uses mountains, sea, fire and venture as metaphors so coming up with a basic concept was easy, but it was harder to write a tight storyboard without making it too direct in interpretation and therefore predictable.

To construct a loose storyboard I started with a printout of the lyrics. I listened to the track over and over, keeping my ears and imagination open to different things in the song each time: changes of mood, metaphors, scene-setting phrases and other images not used in the song that could express the song’s concepts. I also thought of what I wanted to express through the video while staying true to it’s core message, as every piece of art is a collaboration between artists, after all. The lyrics are voiced in a personal manner but I wanted the video to express brotherhood, of going on God’s adventure together.

That gave me plenty of ideas, images and progression plans which took a bit of working out to thread together, but in the end I was left with a list of about sixteen core shots I wanted to capture, some sketched, and many more ideas to work out on the ground.

Locations

Now I don’t know whether it would be honest to say we went to Wales to make a lyric video or whether it would be more accurate to say we made a lyric video so we could go to Wales! Anyhow, I knew we needed to go to Wales.

Sam with a washing up bowl.

Sam washing up at the campsite. It’s hard work making videos.

I looked up over twenty campsites across Wales and found one near Cadair Idris in South Snowdonia with pitches priced at £5/night (Owen Tyddyn Farm, if you’re interested). None of us had been up Cadair Idris before and being Wales’ ninth highest mountain it looked pretty stunning with clear steep slopes, a lake and good views so that sealed it.

On the way to Wales I realised we’d be staying on the other side of the mountain to a really quaint and friendly bunkhouse I’d visited last year in which I’d experienced an amazing God-incidence. That meant we were also very close to a set of caves and mines we’d stumbled across (fortunately not literally) by chance that same day while climbing a small mountain nearby.

Thursday 11th

After setting up camp and having lunch we took the drive to explore the cave I’d found, and it was splendid. I attached a GoPro to the bonnet to capture the journey there and that trip constituted most of my ‘scene setting’ filming, which you can see at the start of the video.

On the climb up the mountainside I used a handheld camcorder and the GoPro on a head-mount, which made for some interesting POV shots.

Here’s a pano of the cave I took during last year’s visit:

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The cave entrance was via a manmade tunnel at the base of a small waterfall on the mountainside, with part of the waterfall’s stream flowing through it. I entered the cave first so I could film the team’s reactions as they came out into the cavernous space, and that’s when disaster struck. As they were climbing through the tunnel I decided to hop over to the other side of the stream, I slipped, got a dead, bruised arm and the camcorder in my hand was completely submerged in the stream. For some reason the GoPro attached to my forehead also stopped working at that point although it didn’t even get slightly wet.

From then on we had to resort to using my phone’s camera, which although is HD and pretty decent for a phone still wasn’t wonderful for moviemaking, having a small iris, and being a phone. This was adventure after all, so setbacks were all part of it.

This year as we had more time than I did last year after exploring the ‘natural cathedral’, as I called it, we climbed back around the outside of the mountain and reentered on the floor of the space. Ian followed the stream down into deeper caves but when the stream plunged through a small hole into an even darker and wider space with a 50′ drop we thought we’d better not attempt to go further.

Back at the bus and as we still had time we decided to explore the other side of the valley as we could see some pretty big cavernous holes on the surface. We weren’t disappointed.

The edge

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Pano of the second cave taken from a hidden entrance just above half way up. It’s hard to judge the scale from this photo, but it’s huge.

Friday 12th

Friday was our biggest day. We had to tackle Cadair Idris with lunch on the peak then film something to do with water, somewhere. More on that in a bit.

Cadair Idris lake, good for lyric video.

The lake nestled among the peaks.

Cadair Idris panorama

I think we picked the right mountain.

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the view.

After lunch we decided to save time by taking a shortcut. Those words are usually said by other people telling how some unwise mountaineers got themselves killed, but we were here for adventure so caution wasn’t part of our plan.

The shortcut involved scree surfing, a sport I was new to but which came naturally. It’s a good way to test the ruggedness of your boots, trousers, hands, legs and behind and is not much different to sliding ungracefully down a tree while people throw sand and stones at you. I was still using my phone to film at this point.

Feet in the stream

A well needed rest.

One massive bonus of our campsite was that they allowed campfires. As we wanted to express something of brotherhood a campfire was simply mandatory, and this would go very well with the darker shots taken in the caves and provide a calm backing to the bridge before the finalé, the big splash.

Lyric video. Around the campfire.

Speaking of a big splash, during a Google Maps browse of the area beforehand I’d seen photos of a beautiful small lake surrounded by sheer cliffs. I didn’t make proper notes of where it was so we were extremely fortunate to find it, and not only that, to have it to ourselves and for the sky to be clear. It was stunning, and not too cold.

I knew the GoPro would be very useful for this part of the trip as it had a waterproof enclosure. I’d tried everything to make it work: left it on charge for ages, swapped batteries (and that’s about all you can do with a GoPro) but just before we headed out from the bus I decided to pray for it. It worked instantly! I don’t know why I hadn’t tried that before.

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It was a fun challenge filming on and in the water:

My cameo role

My cameo role

Final Thoughts

Well we’d set out for an adventure and we weren’t disappointed. We’d asked God for help with the weather, arrangements and locations, and all of those worked out brilliantly. In some ways, though, if everything goes absolutely swimmingly it can be a bit boring, so I welcome the challenge of kit not working, of camping, travelling, mountain climbing etc. Incidentally, I left the camcorder in a tub of dry rice on the boiler for two weeks and it came back from the dead, works fine now.

An adventure’s only an adventure if you don’t know where you’re going. A planned route, comfortable journey and certain destination aren’t really important, what matters is why we’re going, who we’re with and who we’re following, who in our life’s adventure is Jesus.

Just don’t stay in bed.

 

You can listen to or download the track from Soundcloud for free:

Jesus Is The Great Leveller

Not that long ago I was inspired to write a song about how every faction or division that touches on meaningless in the perspective of eternity has been cancelled out by Jesus.  Whether those being barriers between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the old and the young or pretty much anything that causes hostility, division and unnecessary human mess. Isaiah prophesied  a great event in which he stated “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low” (Isaiah 40:4). This was then quoted by John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus, fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah, in which Jesus brought salvation to humanity and created a flat plain for all at the foot of the cross.

The song takes us through various places in life people are at, identifying contrasts in the short and long straws people have been dealt. The chorus reveals that this doesn’t actually matter and all happen to be straws of a similar short length in comparison to being a part of a new society where justice reigns all because of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

Musically, this song was based on two piano riffs created over a year ago that were used for the verses and the chorus with the bridge riff added as the song was written. The vocals were written to sit on top of the piano riffs to carry the lead melody throughout the verses and the bridge. The chorus was made to increase the energy revealing the answer, Jesus as the great leveller for all the different places people are at in life.

The song was recorded, mixed and mastered at the central studio of the church as a part of a project for a compilation of songs created by youth from around the church. It’s turned out to be a nice mix that was very well done!

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