I had the opportunity to pursue some independent study this semester along with my more conventional classes. And as my chosen project to explore the use of new technologies in faith development and congregational life, I decided to make a movie. Susan, a movie? You decided to make a movie? Yes, indeed.
Why, you might ask? Well, for a lot of reasons. First, I like to stay current with technology and I live in world now where every time I turn around someone is taking a video of something and posting it somewhere for the world to see. Second, of all the technologies that are “current”, video was the one about which I knew absolutely nothing at all. I can edit a photo a little bit, I can design a web site, I can edit audio and I can manage a blog…but I have really never tried my hand at even the simplest of video techniques (and that means even shooting them, except for the occasional 30 second picture of the ocean surf as a reminder of a great vacation).
So as I was looking for a project that would let me get me feet wet and hopefully produce something useful as an end product, I thought about the series on our church web site called “Meet a Member.” We are blessed at Calvary with a very articulate and engaging congregation of interesting people, and hey, wouldn’t it be interesting if a person could have a conversation with a member instead of just read about them. I still think that it is a good idea, but my personal learning curve has been a bit steeper than I at first imagined, and there is still work to be done before I have something that I am ready to say is complete. But I have a good start, which I will turn in as my class project, and I will continue to work over the summer to create something that I think Calvary will be able to use.
In the spirit of my “What I’ve Learned so Far” series, I would like to share with you just what I did to get the project this far, and what I think needs to happen to move it to a releasable product that will really portray the depth of spirit in our congregation.
The first step was to talk to the pastors and see if they agreed with my great idea. I am very lucky; we have a loving community and the whole congregation is on board with the idea that Calvary is a teaching institution. That means when a crazy congregant such as myself says, hey, I’d like to make a movie, they say, Great! With their blessing on the project came a list of people that they thought might be willing to participate.
The next steps were: 1) create a rough storyboard design for the project, 2) gain permission from some willing subjects, and 3) make decisions about the tools I would use (cameras, software, etc). Creating the storyboard involved developing a list of questions and thinking about the kinds of additional graphics the video might need. During this design process, I got the idea that it might be interesting to give each subject a camera and let them walk around the church for a Sunday and film the things that were important to them about Calvary…to create footage from their viewpoint that I could include with the interview.
Choosing My Tools
As I said earlier, when I started this project I knew absolutely nothing about video. I do a lot of still photography, but have never really gotten involved in video. So the first priority was to choose my tools. And, since I live in a Windows-based world, I knew that some of the most user-friendly ones were not available to me. After looking through a lot of literature about creating video, I decided to use my new DSLR camera to create the video interviews and my Kodak flip for the subject-generated content. For my text is used the book Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots by Richard Harrington. I chose this book for several reasons: first, it was very recent and so included the latest technological information; second, it was very clearly written with the novice in mind; and third, because it included a lot of introductory information that a newbie such as myself really needed. The concepts in the book helped me work both with my DSLR and my Flip and gave me insight into picking a setting and getting a lot of content down so that I had plenty to trim and edit.
As my editing software, I chose Adobe Premier Elements 11. I also looked at products like Google’s new free Web video editor, but I have a lot of experience with Adobe products for web design and still photography, so I thought that I would stick with a brand I knew well. It was not expensive ($69 at Amazon.com), easy to download. Like many Adobe products, start-up was easy. It contains a great depth of features, but for a beginner like me, it was easy to learn the basics of editing….just enough to get me started.
With the technology needs solved, I could turn my attention to the most important thing…the content. What I wanted was to create something where the individual member really came alive. I wanted something that would invite the stranger to come and meet this person and see what this thing called Calvary was all about — because they were drawn in by the human face in the video. To that end, I kept the questions simple:
- What brought you to Calvary
- What keeps you coming back
- What is your favorite story about Calvary, and
- What one thing would you like to say to someone considering coming for a visit.
The answers to those questions, combined with the footage from the subject’s walkabout, would be my raw material.
What I Learned
I learned a lot of things during the course of this project, practical things and process things. And I have much more to learn. But here are some things that I would like to share.
- When you are working with other people, try not to be on a tight timeline (like producing something as a class project). People in DC are busy and while they are generous with their time for such things, you need time for a project like this and time to make multiple appointments.
- Not everyone knows how to work with video, so the instruction “Take this flip camera and capture what is important to you about Sunday’s at Calvary,” is not enough. With most people participating in a project such as this, you will need to spend time teaching them about the camera and talking to them about the kinds of things they might capture.
- Learning to edit video takes time.
- The more you learn about a new medium, the more you will know what you don’t know and still need to learn.
Meet John Taylor
The video that I have produced as my class project is called “Meet John Taylor”. While I have gathered raw material for a second video, because my focus was on learning the basic techniques of design and editing, I have put together only one video at this time. The graphic transitions are placeholders, there is not yet a soundtrack, and the timing is off in places. These are all things that I still need to understand as my learning process continues. And, I do not as yet have the look and feel to the video that I want, because I have not yet learned enough about video effects.
What I did get, however, was something that meets my original requirement. I have a video of a wonderful Calvary member, talking about what our church means for him and why it keeps him coming back to join in worship with our little band of disciples. I am grateful to my friend John for his honesty, his patience, and for just being the man that he is.
And What Is Next?
I have a lot more to learn about video and there is yet a lot of work to do. But I have the summer ahead.
Through this work, I am convinced that I am on the right track and that there is room for this kind of video in our formation program. In the end, I may not be the person to do the actual editing and creation. Or I may, one never knows. But I will keep working on it for now.