by Joanna la Fleur
C4 Church is located in Ajax, ON, in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada’s largest city. We are passionate about the power of short films and media to reach our community. For many people, their first introduction to C4 Church is through an image or a video posted on social media by someone in their network. We want to create media that inspires faith, draws people closer to Jesus Christ, and breaks down barriers or negative stereotypes that people have about what they think church is like.
Creative Film at C4 Church is a growing area, but in our few short years of integrating it into our services and online experiences, we have learned a few things.
People are the most important part of any video project.
First, the leadership of the church needs to be in support of using video to communicate. If they aren’t behind it and excited about the power of this type of media, there will be few resources and little assimilation of film into the mission and vision of the church or a Sunday morning worship experience.
The next group of people needed is a team of creative individuals who can make ideas come to life in surprising and new ways.
The final group of people needed is the volunteers or paid workers who have growing skills in technology and film.
Great film for church supports a larger theme or story that the church is trying to tell. For a special event like Christmas or Easter, first invite the leaders along with a few creative people to choose a theme for the entire church service or season to come around.
Our theme for Easter 2014 was “Come Alive” The theme was based around the idea of new life and growth in springtime and Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection making us come alive.
One good, crazy, out of the box idea can take a predictable theme and make it extraordinary. It usually takes dozens of mediocre ideas to get to the one great idea. So when it comes to ideas for film, start early.
For the Easter Gospel film, a high school art teacher at C4 Church named James Ruddle came to the Communications department with an idea about having a cross come together like a puzzle with various pieces symbolizing Jesus taking away our sins on the cross. Ruddle drew a sketch of what it could look like that he gave to the communications team and pastoral leadership.
We decided the story also needed a turning point from sin to “coming alive”. To show the glory of what Jesus did on the cross, we added fireworks to the original idea.
The more lead time for preparation, the better the planning and end result of any video project. Ideas need to develop. People with specific skills need to be rallied. Props and locations need to be sourced.
Create storyboards and timelines in advance so that when the shoot comes, everyone involved can be directed to exactly what needs to be done. Plan twice. Shoot once.
Nothing irritates a volunteer more than arriving ready to help and discovering that nothing is organized. Preparation honors people. For some shoots, all you have is one chance to get something right for lighting or weather or props. Everything must be thought of in advance, so ensure one of the people on your team is detail oriented and can be made responsible for thinking of the things some visionary artists would forget.
At C4, an early start in November allowed us to build on the idea with more creativity and work out the logistics. James Ruddle built the entire cross apparatus in his spare time and we put it all together in the morning of the shoot with 5 people. Filming was planned on paper before it was ever filmed on site. Our filmmaker Matti Haapoja essentially knew every shot he wanted before the day of filming.
The Equipment (cameras and fireworks)
Some people get obsessed with equipment. Yes, equipment does matter, but the people using the equipment matter more than the latest, coolest gear.
At C4, our gear is quite simple but our filmmaker makes the difference. On the Gospel film, Matti Haapoja used a Glidecam XR-4000 “to keep the camera stable as well as a monopod for shots that we didn’t want movement in. We chose to shoot the film on the church’s Sony FS700 partly because that’s really the only camera we have except for a Canon 5D Mark II but also because it shoots 240fps slow motion. We also used a Metabones speed booster adapter and Canon and Zeiss lenses for the shoot.”
Location sets the scene. What type of story are you trying to tell and what location best draws out that sentiment? Natural light outdoors is always easier, but you are susceptible to weather conditions, noises you can’t control, and smaller windows of available time. You can always control indoor settings, but it may reduce the quality of the story itself.
For the Gospel story, we chose to film it in a forest with dead trees because we wanted it to symbolize the death sin causes. But we also liked the symbolism of the trees being the audience to what was happening on the cross because we didn’t use any people on film.
The script of a film carries the whole idea. Identify people who are good at creative writing, or find material already produced that you can use: scripture, books, quotes, or uncopywrited older material. Often the lyrics of a song can tell the story better than words alone.
Our original idea for the Gospel film was to use a song that had the right tone and lyrics to fit what we were trying to portray, but we weren’t satisfied with what we could find. In the end, the voice of a British evangelist from the 1950s took the film to a new level of impact.
Great filming and framing of shots is important, but the art and power of film comes in the editing room. Many volunteers can contribute to a film day, but choose a film editor who has both the experience and artistic eye to make the story come together. The magic of film is in the edit, and it is hours upon hours of work. You may even want to pay someone to just do this if you can’t afford to hire a professional for the entire project.
On the Gospel shoot day we shot B-roll of the forest during set up. Because the whole cross wasn’t rigged up to work perfectly we had to shoot a few of the signs moving at a time. And then with the help of about 20 people pulling on strings off camera we got a few shots where all the puzzle pieces of the cross were moving at the same time.
For the second section of video we set up the 21 puzzle words to pop off the cross in unison with the fireworks. We had people pull hard on the ropes in order to get the words to fly off when the fireworks started. The “alive” text with the fireworks at the end is actually all created in camera. We made a bokeh stencil cut out with the word “alive”, which turns all the bokeh from the fireworks into the word ALIVE on film.
Editing happened in Premiere Pro, and color grading was done in After Effects over the course of a week by Matti Haapoja, who approaches his work as artist, theologian, and engineer.
The more a film integrates into other things happening in the church service or event, the greater the impact. Think about every aspect of a service, not just filling a video slot. Do you want to create energy to start or leave people with something to consider? Does the theme of the video connect into small group studies or sermon or other experiences of the church?
Our Gospel video was used in our Good Friday and Easter Sunday services as part of the sermon. On Good Friday only the first half of the video was shown. On Easter Sunday the video was shown in full, offering a climactic moment that the entire service was built around.
Further, the cross sculpture itself was displayed in the church lobby for added interest and interaction with the theme. On Good Friday the sin signs were hung on the cross, with ropes coming from every angle of the ceiling and skylight towards the cross. On Easter Sunday, the sin puzzle pieces were scattered on the ground and the ropes moved from up in the ceiling to a central piece of wood down on the ground. It was a symbol of us all being equal and made right at the foot of the cross.
Spread your videos on social media. Encourage a hashtag to help people find each other’s posts. Tell the story of your church through media and make it easy for other people to tell the story. Don’t hoard media to yourselves for fear of others using it without giving credit. The Church makes media to share good news, so let people share it!
Load videos on YouTube or Vimeo in advance and make them public during the service or event so your congregation can share it immediately. We set up all C4 Church social media to post the video at the same time. Many will pull out their phones and repost the video while still sitting in the event because we have explicitly built a culture with pastoral leadership teaching our people how video can be used as an evangelistic tool.
Joanna la Fleur is the Communications Director at C4 Church, Ajax, ON. Check out their website at www.c4church.com/and follow them on twitter @C4Church