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:

IMG_20140911_163217

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

PANO_20140911_175808

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.

PANO_20140912_184722

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:

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.