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.

 

Noon the wiser: using church stage design to reinforce a message

Ponds Forge

A colourful Church stage design at Ponds Forge in the centre of Sheffield.

Once a year in the Jesus Fellowship we dedicate time in one of our national events to honour and remember martyrs throughout the years. This year we recognised the persecution many are facing in Syria and Iraq with the rise of ISIS.

A symbol on the side of a house in Iraq.

The Nasrani symbol sprayed on the side of a Christian’s house in Iraq.

The persecution of Christians in the middle east has often been in the news. The Arabic name “Nasrani,” one who believes in Jesus of Nazareth, has been used as a derogatory name for Christians. Islamic State jihadists had spray painted homes in towns populated for generations by Christians using the Arabic letter ن, which sounds like “noon,” and is the first letter of the word “Nasrani” in Arabic.

We wanted to feature this in the event and bring the stage design right into the congregation to include them in what was going on. So we designed the Church stage design concept to reveal the symbol beneath their feet in a way they weren’t expecting. The element of surprise was important as we didn’t want to give away that the walkway used in various items was part of something much bigger.

Set design by Josh

Josh designed the stage and lighting to incorporate the symbol. We used CAD to work out the positioning of symbol and the best place for the camera to go where the Noon could be seen clearly. He also included screens on the left and right for IMAG, and a large central screen for video content.

We constructed the path using blue carpet with thick UV gaffa tape put down to mark the perimeter. To any onlooker this would seem like a standard aisle edging.

Carpet all set

A side shot showing the specific carpet sections and the staging structure.

“The Journey” was the theme for the evening meeting where a story was told of Abraham’s journey of faith. We drew parallels from this story with our own path of faith throughout the years. The road played a big part in this storytelling with dramas and dancers making good use of the space, and taking the focus off the stage and into the congregation.

Narrated by Georgia as she walked along the path, with interactions along the way

Georgia narrating as she walks along the path, describing Abraham’s journey with interactions along the way.

Dance item

A dance item making use of the top of the Noon symbol on stage.

Creation ending

During the stars part of the story – Georgia is narrating on the right and lights and video projection add to the atmosphere.

Towards the end of the evening we came to the main Martyrs item where we brought everything together and revealed the symbol. We had positioned a camera right above the auditorium which could see the Noon symbol, and there was an audible gasp from the congregation when they saw what the road around them really was.

The Noon symbol in the stage design.

The lights were lowered, the UV came on, and as James described the atrocities in Syria and Iraq and what the Noon symbol meant the camera changed to this defining shot.

Martyrs item

James introducing the martyrs item, followed by a minutes silence to remember those who gave their lives

We managed to achieve what we set out to do and bring the stage design into the congregation with the element of surprise when the symbol was revealed. This had the effect of bringing the martyrs closer to people, as the symbol was all around them. The minute’s silence was impeccably observed and for many it was a time of reflection and gratitude.

Check out the full event on the Jesus Fellowship Livestream page.

Zambia: The I.T. and Literacy Projects

On Monday and Tuesday the I.T. and literacy  projects were in full flow. Here’s a look at what we’ve been doing.

IT crowd

Monday morning came round and with it the first of the teaching sessions. At the Multiply conference a few days previously Stephen had encouraged pastors to come in and learn how to use a computer, as it is becoming more and more important for communication in Zambia.

James

And come they did – more than 30 of them crammed into the small I.T. classroom for the first session. I didn’t know what level to expect and it turned out that almost all of them had never used a computer before. This was going to be interesting. I started on the basics like how to hold a mouse, moving the cursor, using a keyboard etc. I worked it in stages so 10 people had a go then swapped with another 10, so those who had just tried taught the newcomers. This is the best way of learning – teach what you have been taught.

Ladies group

In the afternoon a smaller group of mainly women came and there was still the same need – to know the basics of using a computer. It took one person ten minutes to use the mouse to click on an icon and then the keyboard to enter a password, but by the end of the lesson she was one of the most confident users there.

Group photo

A happy crowd of Zambians after the second days teaching. In total we had more than 50 people come for lessons, and I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg. The lessons will cost them a small amount of kwacha (local currency) and this money will go towards running the orphanage and improving the school.

Ali giving books

On Monday morning Ali gave a presentation to the school of all the books and teaching materials that have been sent over. This was gratefully received!

Ali crowd

Ali had a big task on giving an English literacy lesson to a large amount of people, some of which hadn’t come to the assessment the previous day so it made it harder for her to work out what they should be learning. She coped brilliantly though and the conversations and laughter carried on throughout the afternoon.

Ali teaching

Hannah teaching

Hannah meanwhile was showing some of the school children and orphans how to use a computer – as with the older generation most had never tried before. The power to the local area had been cut all day and by the time mid afternoon came only one had any battery life left. Still, more than 4 hours in use on battery is a good run. These laptops have been a great buy – thanks for your donations and for Tony at Form I.T. for sourcing them.

Watching

Happy

You can’t really describe what it is like seeing an adult or a child learn something they never thought they would have the chance to learn. It’s a mixture of joy and disbelief. This picture sums that up.

Dinner

And talking of joy – here was one of the meals that was presented to me in the evening. Sharon really does put a lot of effort into fattening me up: coleslaw, fried soya bean, sausages, eggplant, and boiled potatoes. Finished with some pineapple for dessert. Even for me this is a lot of food and I’ve rarely finish a meal. I think that’s a compliment. Could be a grave insult though. Oh well there’s not much I can do about that.

Fish

Another traditional meal I’ve had. Fish (bream), a bean and nut mixture, and nshima (ground maize).

Grrr...

Grrr… yep I ate that all up. And it was actually very tasty.

Sunset

On Tuesday evening I got back home noticing that there might be the first real sunset of the trip. After the customary bath time the sun had almost set (it goes down very quickly due to the angle of the suns movement) but after asking Matthew he quickly took me to a place where I could get the last few rays of light.

It’s been a busy, and somewhat tiring few days for us all but we’re seeing real progress with the project work. It’s making a difference not just to the church, school and orphanage, but to the people of Kitwe as well.