‘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 Short Christian Film – Life On The Rocks

It gripped me 15 years ago when I first heard it. Now it’s a short film about despair, hope, and redemption.

I thoroughly enjoyed making this with Loz, Jens, and Viv. It took a few months of planning in my spare time, three days of filming, and then a week to edit.

Kit used
Sony A7S camera + Voigtländer Nokton 35mm f1.2 ASPH II lens + Voigtländer Ultron 21mm f1.8 lens + Genus Eclipse ND filter
Panasonic GH3 camera + Panasonic 12-35 2.8 lens
DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter + H3-3D Gimbal + GoPro Hero 3+ Black
Konova K5 slider
Tascam DR-60D audio recorder + Rode NTG-3 mic
Lishuai LED508AK LED light
Black Pearl 7″ HDMI monitor
Twin suction camera mount (ebay)

Car – Mercedes C63 AMG

Background
Back in 2002 I was captivated by a recording on The Poor: The Heartcry album of the Life on the Rocks poem – six minutes of spoken word that had me hooked from the first word. Loz describes how the poem came about.

“I was asked to write a poem for a Sunday night evening meeting and I decided to write a first person narrative that was loosely based on my own experiences of despair and pain. I never thought about driving over a cliff, but I certainly remember driving and thinking about what it would be like to crash into a wall. I combined those memories with a sense that God intervenes in our desperation, and pulls us back from the brink; and there began the inspiration. A man literally on the brink being made to see sense through a numinous encounter with an ageless power greater than himself.”

I’d thought for the last couple of years that it would make a good video, as did Loz unbeknown to me. A few months ago we both went to Cambridge with some other guys for a punt down the Cam and ended up discussing turning it into a short film. I’d come to the end of making various information / promotional videos (and the end of my teather in the process) and decided it would be good to do something different and creative – so after chatting with Loz, Jens, and Viv we arranged a suitable time to film.

Wide-car

A still from the film – motorway driving with the street lights on Jens face, and an LED panel in the passenger footwell adding extra fill to the side of his face.

Visual Style
For some reason I had always seen it as black and white in my imagination – lots of high contrast shots with motorway lighting on his face, a white car, white cliffs and dark seas, black clothes, white face, and marbled rock.

Planning
Jens was up for being the main character and using his Mercedes car, Loz would direct the character development, Viv would help with kit, record audio and be someone to bounce technical ideas off, and I would be filming.
Due to the sensitive nature of the film Loz contacted the Samaritans media team and took advice from them. I then used Google Maps and streetview to find a location that wasn’t a known suicide location and sufficiently out the way of the public.

A cheerful chappy

Loz – a cheerful chappy

I went to see Loz a couple of times to work through the ending until Loz hit on what the final twist would be. Over a period of a couple of months I wrote an extensive storyboard to try and plan every shot I’d need for the whole film, and ended up with an 18 page document with a detailed list of shots and then the order we would film them over the three days.

Filming
This was the first time I used the Sony A7S camera. Viv had played around with it a few weeks after he bought it to work out various functions but it was still a bit of trial and error on the shoot. The A7S excells in low light which was a key requirement and it certainly lived up to its reputation.

The Sony A7S with 35mm lens and Genus Eclipse variable ND fader. Attached to the window with the suction mount.

The Sony A7S with 35mm lens and Genus Eclipse variable ND fader. Attached to the window with the suction mount.

I used my usual camera – the GH3 – on exterior shots of the car as the 12-35 lens has image stabilisation which helped enourmously when attaching it to the side of a car.
We split the filming into four sections – Thursday night motorway, Friday afternoon cliff edge, Friday evening driving, and Saturday morning cliff edge to get the quadcopter and ending shots. This pretty much went to plan.

The GH3 on the bonnet of the Mercedes held with the suction mount. One of the few places it could be mounted on the Merc!

The GH3 on the bonnet of the Mercedes held with the suction mount. One of the few places it could be mounted on the Merc!

Although all the shots had been storyboarded it’s never quite that easy in real life, so there was still lots of opportunities to be creative and overcome problems to get the shots we needed – be it shoving the camera on a jumper to keep it steady, or working out where the suction mount can actually fit on a Zafira or Mercedes. Answer – hardly anywhere.

Using the HDMI out of the A7S into a black pearl 7" monitor so I could frame and focus accurately.

Using the HDMI out of the A7S into a black pearl 7″ monitor so I could frame and focus accurately.

My Dad very generously loaned me a quadcopter to film the aerial shots as I knew we had to go airbourne to get the line “and I saw myself from way above”. A cinematogropher I follow called Philip Bloom had recently produced an amazing quadcopter film in Thailand  so I knew what was possible.
http://vimeo.com/97455734
After a week of practicing controlling the quadcopter (it’s a mission at first) I was ready to tackle flying it at the cliff edge. I looked into the legal requirements with unmanned aerial vehicles to see what was and wasn’t allowed.

Phantom 2 quadcopter with Zenmuse H3-3D gimbal which keeps the GoPro Hero 3+ Black steady.

Phantom 2 quadcopter with Zenmuse H3-3D gimbal which keeps the GoPro Hero 3+ Black steady.

One thing I was keen to avoid was too many dramatic shots which could distract the viewer from Jens’ plight. Only two slider shots were used and limited quadcopter shots. Most of the film is static camera shots to allow the viewer to really engage with Jens.

Answers To Prayer
When the filming was over we all reflected on the many answers to prayer we had. The weather was perfect for each session – the motorway driving had just been raining, the Friday cliff top session needed to be dry and windy, Friday evening had to be pouring with rain, and then the Saturday morning perfectly calm to fly the quadcopter. And all these happened. The location itself was ideal as there were hardly any passers-by with a rough but accessible track to tall white cliffs.

The quadcopter hovering above the waves.

The quadcopter hovering above the waves.

We had major problems on Friday evening when it appeared the SD card used on the A7S camera that day had corrupted and we’d lost all the footage from the cliff top. To say the mood at dinner time was low would be a big understatement. After trying various fixes Viv booted his laptop into Ubuntu Linux and did a disc clone to see what data came off it and left it running overnight while we went out for the next filming session in the hope it would work. And joy came in the morning as the files were found! The mood improved considerably.

A still from the film - Jens wearing the guardian jacket walking Loz away from the cliff edge.

A still from the film – Jens wearing the guardian jacket walking Loz away from the cliff edge.

Another answer to prayer came as we tried to find a hi-vis jacket for Jens to wear in the closing scenes. We had a small waistcoat style jacket but needed something bigger ideally. And out of the blue on Friday evening we were handed a jacket by Len, whose house we were staying at, and he apologised that there was writing on the back. We looked and what was written?  “Guardian”. Perfect!

The parting gift as we left on the Saturday evening.

The parting gift as we left on the Saturday evening.

Post production
Once we’d arrived back home after filming I had 5 days to edit it to play at a national Church meeting the following Saturday. The editing proved to be quite tricky and I could have done with some different angles and takes – despite planning carefully you can never have enough footage to work with. Still it was an opportunity to be inventive with some shots and use footage from other scenes.

Editing with a three monitor setup. On the left is the storyboard, middle is Premiere Pro, and right is the preview.

Editing with a three monitor setup. On the left is the storyboard, middle is Premiere Pro, and right is the preview.

I chose a wide aspect ratio for the film, 2.35:1, as this is wide enough to look cinematic but tall enough to have enough content in like the tall cliffs.
The editing process went something like this:

Voiceover -> Basic edit of shots -> Add music -> Additional sound design -> Colour grading -> Film grain

Having a fixed deadline is a great way to really focus efforts on finishing it. I managed to get a rough edit done by Thursday and then shared it with various people who gave some helpful feedback.

The film playing at Sheffield Praise Day

The film playing at Sheffield Praise Day – watch the day again on Livestream

Improvements to make
There were a few things I’d have changed in hindsight. I’d have got some wider shots of Jens to help when it came to editing. The A7S seemed to be over exposed for a few shots which made grading difficult and I could have done with stabilising shots with a chest stabiliser or tripod. On the GoPro / quadcopter shots you can see the jello effect, especially when the camera is moving up the cliffs. I’ll have to try and get an ND filter for the GoPro and work on there being less vibration.

The Phantom 2 ready to do the shot looking down on Jens.

The Phantom 2 ready to do the shot looking down on Jens.

Conclusion
I think this video does what we set out to do – to make people think. What is this guy doing? What stopped the car? What was the ending about? Was Jesus in it?
I’m at a stage with film-making where I want to leave the viewer with more questions than answers at the end. If people go away thinking then I’ve done my job.

Many thanks to Jens, Loz, and Viv for volunteering their time and services to make this happen.

Looking forward to the next project.