by Kurt Goble
The use of in-house video is an increasingly popular trend in children’s ministry. But for the person who has no experience shooting and editing, it can be hard to know where to start. Let’s take an entry-level look at basic video production for children’s ministry.
There is a set of questions that seem to automatically come to mind when one decides to delve into this medium. What kind of equipment is needed? How much will it cost? How does the process work? What benefits can I expect? How can I make it look and sound good? Let¹s begin by taking a look at why this trend is becoming so popular.
Videos that are produced by curriculum and publishing companies are a great resource. Companies like Kidmo, Timbuktoons, Think Big, and Elevate offer us high-quality, well-produced video products that would be far too expensive, time consuming, and technically advanced for most of us to create on our own. These products can work great within their marketed context, or as components of your own program. So why not just stick with these resources? Although you will probably not achieve the same production qualities, in-house videos offer some powerful advantages.
The foremost of these is the fact that you get to decide what the content of the video will be. You get to take that great idea, or powerful concept and bring it to life on the screen. You get to create something that works perfectly within the context of your lesson.
Another great advantage is that your kids get to see you and your volunteers onscreen. This creates a powerful connection and engages students on a different level. You and your staff, or volunteers can get away with being silly, poking fun at yourselves and employing inside jokes. There’s also the fact that you know your kids well enough to know what they will respond to in terms of age-appropriateness, humor, and pop-culture references. It all begins with a solid concept and good content.
Before getting into the specifics of equipment and software, a basic principal of video production should be understood. Good videos begin with good concepts. This is important to remember because a great concept it will carry your video much farther than fancy camerawork or editing. No amount of soundtrack or flash will carry a video that doesn¹t have a solid working concept. 90% of your success will depend on your concept. In fact, if you make a video with bad lighting, sloppy camerawork, compromised sound quality, and rudimentary editing, it will be wildly successful if your concept is great. This is so important because many have a propensity toward spending too much time shooting and editing and not enough time conceptualizing and planning.
So what does a good concept look like? First of all, you have to start with your purpose. Think about what you are teaching and what you want to communicate with your kids. A good example would look like this: “With our pre-teens, we are studying Judges. We’re talking about how Israel had no king and everyone did as they saw fit. They were a nation in anarchy. God wanted to be their King, but they didn’t want to follow Him. The story ends in murder, civil war, kidnapping, and all sorts of evil. This speaks to us because it illustrates that life without God’s authority is a mess. How can we illustrate this idea for the kids?”
A bad example of conceptualizing would look like this: “With our pre-teens we are studying Judges. You know what would be funny? Let’s be the judges from American Idol!” Although there is a semantic connection here, this concept would lock us into a format that doesn’t illustrate the main point of our story. That is when we reach to make a connection; the video gets complicated, and looses its effectiveness. A good video will be easy to follow, and center on one concept.
Good conceptualizing happens when you thoughtfully consider what you want to communicate before you decide how you want to communicate it. If you will notice, in the “good” example, we decided exactly what we wanted the video to illustrate. This guides and directs our process by defining our task.
“We need to make a video that will illustrate that life without God’s authority is a mess.” This is where the brainstorming begins. When you brainstorm you come up with ideas that illustrate your point and then run them through the filter of feasibility: “No authority, ¬no king, no God, no rules. What if you had a classroom with no rules? No, that would take a huge cast. No rules? Driving with no rules. What if we drove around and didn’t follow the rules of the road?
Too dangerous! But I¹m liking this no rules thing. No rules in sports.”
“Could we do a sport? Something one on one. Tennis? No rules tennis? That’s not physical enough. How about basketball? We’ll get two guys to agree to play no-rules one-on-one basketball. They can act like they are tripping and tackling each other on the court, and then we can end it with them with bandages and crutches talking about what a bad idea it was to play with no rules.”
After this we have to state the purpose of our video so that we can stick to the concept and make the point as effectively as possible. “I am teaching the kids that life without God’s authority is a mess. We are going to illustrate this in a video that shows what a mess a game of basketball would be if you removed the authority of the rules.” At this point our task is very clear. We aren¹t making a video for the sake of being cool or silly or relevant. We are making a video for a specific purpose, to communicate a specific idea.
Now we can start talking about equipment. Since we are only able to scratch the surface of video production here, I am going to make recommendations based on the following assumptions: (1) You have little or no experience producing videos. (2) You have not yet invested in any equipment. (3) You are going to begin on an entry-level in terms of equipment, software and budget.
My entry-level recommendation for a camera would be a Flip Video® Camcorder.
This is a small video recorder with a built in microphone and automatic focus, exposure and audio compression. It is about the size of a digital point-and-shoot camera and is an amazing value for what it does. Although this camera will not afford you the ability to zoom or perform any advanced techniques like overexposure or artistic focusing, the advantages are abundant for the beginner. The Flip® is simple to use and inexpensive. The cost starts at $150, with the HD version starting at $200. It stores an hour of video on flash memory. Transferring video to your computer is a snap, because the camera turns each clip into a file. This makes the process just like transferring pictures from your digital camera. Although Mini DV cameras have their advantages, video must be “captured” from the tape and turned into computer files. This is often a long and tedious process that is bypassed when using a flash-video recorder like the Flip®.
In terms of system stability, ease of use, render time (how long you have to wait while the computer “thinks”), and final product, Apple® is the better choice for editing video. Apple computers come loaded with iMovie®, which is a very basic and user friendly video editing program. When choosing an Apple®, avoid the Mac Mini®, which isn¹t quite powerful enough to quickly and seamlessly edit video. The more memory and processing power you have, the faster and easier your editing will be.
If you are going to edit on a PC, make sure you have at least 2 GB of Ram and a 2Ghz processor. In either case, you will need enough hard drive space to handle your projects. Videos files are typically very large and can fill up your hard drive faster than you would expect. As with an Apple®, more memory and processing power is always better.
Although the Apple comes loaded with iMovie®, the addition of Final Cut Express® will open up a world of possibilities. This software will take some time to learn, but helpful tutorials are available to get you started. Final Cut Express® has lots of fun effects and transitions built in and allow you to do things like cropping, titles, and adjusting the speed of your video. Final Cut Express® costs $200, and is available through Apple®.
Most likely, a new PC will also come with basic preloaded editing software. But, I would recommend that PC users upgrade to Adobe Premier Elements®. This program is comparable to Final Cut Express® in its features and functionality. Premier Elements® costs $150, and is available through Adobe®.
With either program on either computing format, it is going to take time to learn what you are doing. Basic video editing consists of importing your video clips into a bin, and then dropping them into a timeline in your desired order. After that there’s cutting, volume adjustments, color adjustments, and exporting, just to name a few of the operations you will need to learn. It takes time and patience, but video editing a worth while skill.
Some more tips
• Movement is good!
While shooting your video you will want to put your camera on a tripod for still shots. But when your camera is handheld, it is impossible to hold it perfectly stable. This makes your video look shaky. If you are shooting handheld, slowly and steadily move the camera around as you shoot your subject. This makes your movement look intentional, and gives the whole video a sense of motion.
• A different way of looking at things
Use extreme angles. Put the camera right next to the ground and shoot a hard up-angle. Hold it up high and shoot down. This provides variety and makes your video more interesting.
• Keep it Short
While editing, make our video as short as possible. Cut out dead space and awkward transitions. This will make for a more fast-paced and engaging video.
• Don’t get too fancy
Don’t go crazy with preloaded transitions and effects. If you start to use too many of these, your video will come across as cheap and amateur. Too much flash can also be distracting. It can take away from the personal and familiar nature of your in-house video. If you try too hard to look professional, your video will probably look like you were trying too hard. Go for a basic, homespun look.
• Set up concepts
Some of the best videos are ones that communicate a basic concept to set up a lesson. Trying to tell a whole story or teach a lesson via video can be cumbersome.
• A Punch Line
Try to end your video with a punch line. This can be anything that provokes a thought or gets a laugh. Your transition out of the video and into your lesson or activity will be much smoother if the video doesn’t just “trail off” at the end.
Kurt Goble has made more mistakes than anyone in the history of Children’s Ministry. But he loves sharing what he’s learned from all those mistakes. For 13 years Kurt has served as children’s pastor at First Christian Church of Huntington Beach, where he shares God’s Word with kids through the technical arts. He is a graduate of Bethel College and a curriculum author. He and Heidi are happily married with two kids.