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.

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.