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.

 

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.

Video Training Day

For a while now I’ve wanted to pass on what I’ve learned with making videos, and this tied in with realising that there’s a great crew of guys and girls doing video / media studies at college and university. So I arranged for everyone to come to the video studio where I work for a day’s training in both theory and practical video production.

Josh, Aidan, David, Charis, Naomi, Esme, George, and James

The team: Josh, Aidan, David, Charis, Naomi, Esme, George, and James

And a brilliant day it was – well anyway at least no one went home early in floods of tears. The overview of the video training day was a morning session on theory and editing techniques, lunch at a local community house, and then an afternoon where the group split into teams to each make a video on a set theme.

The theory session in the recently revamped video studio.

The theory session in the recently revamped video studio.

The technical detail behind video production is actually quite complicated and it’s hard to condense 7 years of learning into a couple of hours. So I focused on the main settings they’d need to know – like ISO, shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, frame rate, and white balance. Simple. I had three cameras out so they could see how changing the settings would affect the image. Hands on is the best way to learn. I’ve uploaded the handouts in case anyone finds them useful.

Video Production – Filming (pdf)
Video Production – Editing (pdf)

Editing Huw's video

I went through a recent video I’d made showing them various tricks I’d learnt, and the importance of good audio / sound effects.

After three hours of cramming information into their craniums we popped out for a bite to eat at Anthem, a community house where I live with around 20 others. Anna kindly cooked for us.

Lunch is served.

Lunch is served, much to the apparent delight of Esme.

After we’d had lunch I split the group into three teams and gave them each some kit, a theme, and a computer to edit the video on – with the 30 second short to be made in just two hours!
This was a challenging task as they wouldn’t have been familiar with the kit or the location, and two hours isn’t long at all when it comes to planning, filming, and editing a video. However all three teams did brilliantly, and came up with original, well made videos.

The three teams hard at work editing their videos.

The three teams hard at work editing their videos with the deadline looming.

Here are the short 30 second videos they made.

I was encouraged to see this group of people get together and get something from the day – one of the main outcomes was a sense of team even though we’re all from different parts of the country (Brighton, Norwich, London, Northampton, Coventry, Leicester, and Sheffield). Unity is one of the hallmarks of the Jesus Army and I’m glad to see that’s still the case.

The future is exciting – there is a collaboration project in the works, where everyone makes a short section of a video that will then be joined together. And we’ll definitely have another training day when they’re on their summer holidays – if there is anyone I’ve missed out who’s involved in video production or animation then please let me know.

Josh trying to work out how to open a door while George looks on.

Josh trying to work out how to open a door while George looks on.

And finally it’s worth saying that one of the biggest challenges I had was getting the training day up and running in the first place. When you’ve spent years learning a skill it seems you want to hold onto it and not share it with others. Pride holds on to knowledge and responsibility and I’ve seen a fair bit of that over the years so I was determined to pass on what I’ve learned. May this next generation produce greater works than I ever will.

I’ll certainly do what I can to help them.