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Church News at St. Faith’s – Part 2

This post continues after the first post on Church News where we discuss why we’re doing it. If you haven’t read that, I’d recommend you go back and read it before you read on!
Church News Part 2

How we do Church News

There’s a lot of different aspects to the how of planning, shooting, editing and distributing Church News. I’ll try and summarise the important things and do more detailed posts on some of the following topics in the future.

As you’ll quickly discover, it takes a lot of people to make this happen monthly. If you’re interested in attempting to do this at your church, make sure you gather a team of people around you. We certainly wouldn’t be able to do it without the great people we have behind the camera as well as in front.

We shoot once a month and capture content for each of the weeks for the following month. Each month we’ll have different talent in front of the camera, who will do all of the notices or introduce or tail promotional videos for events that have them.

Planning

We’re fortunate enough to have someone in our young adults community who’s just finished a degree in film production. Nick is responsible for liasing with Ben (our pastor responsible for our family and night congregations) and collating a list of events that are coming up in the two months ahead and then developing a script. We try and do this in the week before we shoot.

Ben is also responsible for finding and co-ordinating the talent. We typically try and switch out the type of person we get each month, in age, gender, congregation and personality. This has helped, I think, to keep things fresh – but we’re looking at experimenting with having two people in front of the camera in future months to mix things up further.

Shooting

Church News Shooting

A typical Church News shoot setup during the first few months

Production for the whole month’s worth of video typically takes about two hours including setup, the shoot and pack down. However, we’ve been able to build up a ‘set’ that involves minimal setup more recently, which cuts about 45 minutes off this time (more about our setup in a future post). Ideally, we’ll have the talent plus two behind the scenes team members – one to look after the technical side, and the other to ensure we’re covering all the content.

We use a two point lighting system, one light at 45 degrees either side of the subject, typically one as a soft fill, and then one as a slightly more directional key. We’d like to do some key lighting from behind, but haven’t been able to source the equipment to do that well, yet. For audio, we’ve been using a highly directional mic on a boom, but since the shoot for May we’ve switched to a lapel mic. We’ve found that in the room we shoot, we get a lot of ambient noise (reflections off the hard surfaces in the room) which hasn’t been helpful in making the speech tracks clear to understand which we’re able to minimise by using a lapel mic. It doesn’t look as nice, but makes the whole process much easier.

Editing

I’m responsible for piecing together the video segments, animations and anything else together. I use Final Cut Pro for editing, and Motion for doing our “mid segment” graphics. We’re also fortunate to have another young adult at church, Dan, who’s great at motion graphics who did all our intro, and transition, animations. Typically, it will take me an hour or two to prepare all the segments for the month, which involves syncing the audio and video (we usually record these separately), cleaning up the audio and colour correcting the video, where necessary.

A couple of helpful tips when it comes to being efficient at editing:

  1. Make sure as much of your video content is in the same format and frame rate as your primary source. In our case, any videos I source from external parties (promos for events etc) I’ll run through MPEGStreamClip and export out at ProRes 422, at 25 frames/sec. This avoids having to re-render the video after every edit in Final Cut. I probably lost a few hours of time waiting for content to render over the first few months!
  2. Create a template for the month – that you can use for all the weeks. For me, this involves embedding the intro animation, audio bed track (and automating the volume so it sits below the segments). This saves about 5-10 minutes per week (so around 20 minutes total)

Here’s a video screen capture which I’ve sped up, of editing church news for May. (We recorded audio straight in to the 5D or this month, so you won’t see the process of syncing the audio to the video.). I’ll post some more detailed notes about the whole process that’s in this screen capture in a future blog post.

 

Distribution

Once the edit’s finished, I’ll send it to Compressor and use a custom droplet that I created based off Vimeo’s settings for HD video uploads. It works well, and usually results in a file that’s around 100MB. I’ll export it straight to my public Dropbox folder, and then email the public link to our ministry staff (so they can review the video and make sure it’s all OK), and to an email account we have dedicated for the computer that does vision at church – so that the operators can grab the file.

You can download our Compressor settings for distribution via Dropbox and Vimeo here.

As I’ve hinted at a couple of times, once we’ve refined our process a little more, I’ll post some more detailed posts on specifics of some of the stages of the process we go through. We’re still trying to figure much of this out, and trying to streamline the process as much as possible. Now we’re in our 6th month, it finally feels like we’re getting the hang of it! Feel free to hit me up with any questions you’ve got in the comments!

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Great Projection at Seeds 2014

This morning I took a quick look at the first night from Seeds Conference. Seeds is a ministry and blog from Church On The Move in The States that many church creatives I know use for inspiration and resources. Recently, we’ve used some of their insights in the development of Church News for St. Faith’s.

This year, a scrim was used around the edge of the stage to project images and shadows on to. It certainly made a great visual, and probably helped people focus on the words and music of the opening song, Oceans, rather than the musicians on stage – which is often something people are cautious about when it comes to doing music and production well.

I thought it both looked great, and enhanced the lyrical content of the song through the choice of the media that was projected.

Take a look at the first 10 minutes to get an idea of what I’m talking about!

This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen a scrim used – the first in this kind of context was at Hillsong Conference about 5 years ago. We also used a scrim at NTE last year to diffuse a Martin EC LED screen behind the stage that we used for song words, theme graphics and some video content. However, I think with recent advances in projection, this kind of visual design can be used in much more interactive and expressive ways than even just a few years ago!

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Christmas 2013 Holiday Snaps

Last year, Fiona and I spent a few days with each of our parents over Christmas, and New Years Eve with some great friends we met through Credo during our time at UTS. I managed to take some shots with my SLR, which I rarely do these days, and so I thought I’d share some!

Click on the image for a larger, full size, version!

NYE 2013/14

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Bundenna

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Calling SSL secured sites via curl in an Apache chroot

Recently, I’ve had to troubleshoot an issue where we were running an Apache chroot environment and trying to use the Facebook PHP SDK in one of the hosted sites. We consistantly ran into the error message

curl: (77) Problem with the SSL CA cert (path? access rights?)

in our error_log, which threw us a curveball as it wasn’t happening in our local development environment.

After serveral hours of troubleshooting, we used strace to diagnose why this was failing. Using

strace curl -I -v https://api.facebook.com

while chroot’ed in the environment allowed us to see which libraries were failing to load.

We ended up needing to copy the following libaries into the appropriate location within the chroot environment (we’re using CentOS 6, x64 – so your paths may differ). They don’t appear to be linked under our default PHP5 installation.

  • /usr/lib64/libnsspem.so
  • /usr/lib64/libsoftokn3.so
  • /usr/lib64/libsqlite3.so.0

In addition to these libraries, we copied the following, also into the chroot:

  • /etc/nsswitch.conf
  • /etc/pki/nssdb/
  • /etc/pki/tls/

Hopefully this helps save someone some time and frustration in the future!

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Introducing Grapher.js

Last year I started working in the evenings on a simple library built on top of the great work of the Raphael project to do some pie charts and graphs for our helpdesk performance display at Daraco.

While still in a very early stage of development, I feel that it’s reliable enough to release today for public use if you’re wanting something to do basic pie charts and line graphs. Since it’s built on Raphael, Grapher.js generates reasonably good looking cross-browser graphs and charts using SVG.

There are some other options to do this out there, but almost all the good ones are closed source and not free, and others are based on the HTML5 canvas element. I don’t have a particular problem with canvas, but at the time I started working on this project, it seemed like Raphael was a good building block to get what I wanted.

Samples

Here’s two screen shots (scaled down from their original size) displaying real data that I’ve grabbed from the implementation of this library at the office.

Grapher - Open Tickets by Status Grapher - Tickets Last 7 Days

Download Grapher.js

Feel free to grab Grapher from http://jameskirsop.com/grapher/grapher.js. (I’d appreciate it if you didn’t blow my bandwidth costs by hot linking to the file!) You’ll also want to make sure you grab Raphael – I’ve built on top of version 2.1.0.

If you want to look at some real samples that I use to test the display of the graphs and to see how it works, check out http://jameskirsop.com/grapher/tests/.

Bug Fixes, Patches?

If you’d like to contribute to the library, I’ll gladly accept patches etc. At the present moment I’ve got it licensed under copyright to my name while I work out what open source license to release under. Shoot me an email to james dot kirsop at gmail dot com if you’d like to get in touch!

Where to next?

There’s some work to be done with the current two graph types, mainly around of the key on the left, right (or at all) for pie charts, and labelling the points on the line graph. I’d then like to do some more work on the following:

  • Interactive Graphs – making them responsive to mouse-overs to display additional data
  • Live updating of line charts – so that they don’t need to be completely redrawn when a new graph comes in. Hopefully with some animation transitions as data arrives.
  • More graph types – I’ve only written pie and line graphs because that’s what we needed. I’m hoping to drop in some bar charts soon!
  • Snazziness – no one likes looking at boring graphs!

I’m hoping that this will be useful to some of you, and that I can keep growing this project!

James

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NTE 2012 – Pre and Post Session Playlist

Last year at NTE 2011, we got a lot of positive feedback on the music we played before (and after) each of the main sessions. We’ve re-used a lot of the same music and thrown in some great new tracks from a bunch of different places, and so I thought it would be good to share the playlist with you! The songs are in no particular order – we mixed up the playlist each night depending on the mood and theme we were wanting to reflect!

  • Garage Hymnal – All That I Am
  • Garage Hymnal – Father’s World
  • The Digital Age – All the Poor and Powerless
  • Brian Johnson – Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
  • Trevor Hodge – Overflowed
  • John Ellis – Rejoice The Lord Is King
  • The Digital Age – How Great Thou Art
  • David Crowder Band – Let Me Feel You Shine
  • Garage Hymnal – First Loved Me
  • St. Paul’s Castle Hill – So We Would Know Our God
  • Fee – Greatly To Be Praised
  • Passion & Christy Nockels – Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
  • Fee – God Is Alive
  • David Crowder Band – I Saw The Light
  • Garage Hymnal – Bird In A Winter Storm
  • Fee – Send Me Out
  • Chris Tomlin and Lecrae – Our God (Live from Passion 2011) Shadows
  • Elevation Worship – Kingdom Come
  • Morrow – Come Hear The Angels Sing
  • Garage Hymnal – You Are The Water
  • Eoghan Heaslip – This is Our Story
  • Page CXVI – In Christ Alone
  • Garage Hymnal – Found in You
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Rice Rally 2012 and the Culture of Teams

On the 20th of August, I had the great privilege of serving at this year’s Rice Rally, held at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. I was blown away at the work God did that night, when about 1/5th of the 3500+ audience walked out, and either decided to follow Jesus for the first time, or recommitted their lives to Christ.

A good friend of mine, the audio engineer for Sydney Christian band, Garage Hymnal, came along to check out what we were up to from near the end of sound check, through to the end of bump out when we started loading two trucks worth of production equipment. He made an interesting observation while we were waiting for the event to start, that I had been completely oblivious to; “Everyone is so calm!!!”. That proclamation was followed by a discussion of the production team and culture that I’d seen (and been a part of) at the Rice movement, compared to many other Christian events I’ve been involved with or seen run. We both agreed that Rice was one of the best run large-scale Christian events that either of us had seen.

After a bit of thought, I think there were two main factors why this was the case:

1. The production team was experienced and well equipped

I won’t be the first to point out that Rice Rally has a reasonably large budget (roughly $80 000), but I’m sure that this in itself is not the driving factor in why everything went so well.

Anyone with even a small amount of experience in production will tell you that if you get great people on board, you can deliver great results. As my friend and I chatted, we realised that many Christian events are run by people who only have  experience working inside the Sydney Christian ‘bubble’. These people often don’t have the same insight into how a professional production is run (sometime where big money is at stake). At Rice Rally, every team member serving on the production crew in a key leadership role (TV, Lighting, Audio, Stage Management) had experience in their area of expertise outside of a church environment. We had all worked in secular environments where we had gained invaluable experience that went beyond what can often be found in Christian production teams in Sydney.

We also had the budget for good communications equipment (on top of the professional audio/lighting/vision rig), so that the team could effectively get messages between all the different people involved, which undoubtedly is the most important part of any successful event.

2. Amazing Volunteers

As well as a great group of knowledgable, and technical, production team members we had a great team of volunteers.

When I arrived at 7am to begin unloading the truck, right through to when I left at 10:30pm as the truck was being loaded again, there were around 20 people willing to help. They were ready to do everything and anything we asked, and did it without complaining. Rally would not have run without all the volunteers – they helped us with man power, moving road cases, (un)rolling cable, placing equipment, labelling microphone cables and many other things that are simple, but time consuming. This enabled the production team to get on with jobs that required technical knowledge and made these jobs a lot easier. It also saved significantly on costs as we didn’t have to employ 20 people to do everything they did. I was simply blown away at how great and helpful all the volunteers were!

Upon looking back, I’m honestly not sure how my experience at Rally can be applied to other events I work on. I think a lot of what my experience highlighted is a culture from the top down, that wants to glorify God and produce a great event where Christians can bring their friends. It appears that the vision for the Rice Movement is communicated very effectively, and that people want to commit to the vision and serve in any way they can to make it a reality. In my opinion, this was the key to the success of Rice.

I certainly learnt a lot about leading volunteers, which I’ll address in another post, along with other things I’ve learn through working in a mixed (Christian/secular) environment at a later date. However, for now, I’d be interested in hearing other peoples’ experience in leading with volunteers, finding the right people for a team, and thoughts on how to motivate people to get on board and serve. Leave your comments in the area below!

Check out the Rice Movement!

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Haze in Christian events: Part I

An example of a not-so good smoke machine

In my experience of running and working in production teams for various Christian organisations, that there seems to be a divide between those like to use haze and those who don’t. Often, people from both sides approach this topic with some preconceptions about why or why not to use haze in events of any scale. I hope that this post (and the one to follow) helps to dispel some myths that I think stand behind these preconceptions.

What is haze?

At an event recently (that I attended, not as a member of a production team) the church had a cheap smoke machine sitting behind the drummer, with someone sitting next to it pressing a button to fire a thick, white substance out of it. The substance dispersed rather quickly in to the building and didn’t really add too much to the overall event. Commonly, when I speak of haze or smoke, this is what people think of.

However, the above example is not a true representation of what good haze is. Haze is not an ugly, white, beam blasting out of a noisy (and usually cheap) machine. Instead, it’s often a thin, somewhat transparent, solution which fills a room, without dispersing into the environment almost as quickly as it entered it. While a smoke machine does have its place in some productions for a spontaneous effect, generally, I think that what people really need is a haze machine which, while often much more expensive, provides a more even coverage and can be controlled in finer detail.

Why use it?

In part two of this series, I’ll write about times I think it’s appropriate and inappropriate to use haze in Christian gatherings, but I think it’s important to outline some reasons for using it at all.

An example of a large space. Taken during bump out at NTE 2011.

Firstly, in a larger gathering, in a large space, I feel that haze allows for a gathering of people to feel better ‘connectedness’ with one another. This is applicable when singing corporately, when often a large space can feel empty, and I think is important in relation to Paul’s command to encourage one another in Hebrews 10. I personally find it very encouraging when singing to God, and doing it with a group of people. If the environment I’m in feels like a closer community (which can happen through many other ways too), I think the encouragement of engaging in this part of worship to God is greater. Haze can be used to fill the empty space and ‘pad out’ the room and add to this community feel. Additionally, these larger spaces usually aren’t designed explicitly with a christian gathering in mind and/or not as a traditional ‘church’ space. Buildings that come to mind when we talk about this are the ‘big shed’ at the Exhibition Park in Canberra that we use for the AFES National Training Event, the main auditorium at the Katoomba Christian Convention, and the larger space at The Tops Conference Centre.

Secondly, there are a couple of technical reasons to use haze, which come out of the point stated above. If you’re in any sort of larger gathering, it would be safe to assume that you’re going to have some form of lighting to do ‘front fill’ and perhaps some lighting for some ‘up and out’ effects, or any mixture of those two. Haze can be used to fill the empty space between music team members, and between the music team and the congregation. In some tech circles, we would name this creating ‘depth’ on the platform, and will also help a lighting operator and designer to highlight portions of the platform that require attention.

It is my hope that after considering the above points, that people may approach the use of haze, with a renewed view. I certainly, in my work as a lighting operator, don’t use haze to create a ‘rock concert’ environment. Some events are produced with a certain look, feeling or ‘vibe’ in mind, and haze can often be used to enhance this. There are many other things that can contribute to this too – but I feel that haze should be considered as one of these things and not simply dismissed.

As you’ll see in my next post, there are certainly times where haze is not called for – and motives need to be checked before any use of technology in production environments, but I do think that there are valid reasons for using it too! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.

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Pace Farm – Biggest Loser Promotion

Recently, Pace Farm approached Fiona and I again, after the work we did on the very successful HOP Promotion last year. This year we were commissioned to do a landing page for a promotion Pace is doing in conjunction with The Biggest Loser Club and Shannan Ponton.

Pace Farm - Biggest Loser Promo Mobile version

The mobile version of the site

We implemented two versions of the site, one for desktop browsers, and also one for modern smart phones, after finding that over 1 in 5 visitors to the HOP website used a mobile device (predominantly Apple’s iPhone) to access the site.

The mobile version was predominantly built using new CSS3 standards which we’ve found are supported across most devices, and both versions of the site used Google Web Fonts to enhance the appearance and user experience. We used CSS3 drawing tools to replace some graphics that would otherwise increase load time over a 3G connection, with great results.

While the competition is still running (until around the end of April) you can check out our work at www.pacefarm.com.

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Cromer High School 2011 Formal Photography

I was fortunate enough to be approached by some people from the 2011 Year 12 group from Cromer High School to shoot their end of year formal. It was a great event, and the first formal I’d taken photos at, since my own in 2005!

Here are some sample shots from the evening!

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