Camera Dolly On the Cheap

One of the newest additions to our production arsenal is a camera dolly.  You’ll see the shot 8 seconds into the video above.  This was during the passion concert we had not too long ago. When we initially looked into the idea, it was ridiculously expensive.  Budget is always a constraint for any organization, but with constraints come great opportunities to be creative and figure things out.  So we youtube’d A LOT of videos on DIY Camera Dolly Systems.  Most of the videos were for amateur videographers making movies in their garages, but surprisingly, they had a lot of well thought out ideas.  We just had to the take the best of the ideas and put it on a professional scale.



So for our camera dolly, we constructed a small platform and covered it with similar vinyl that’s on our stage.  This hides our cables and our rails.  We then fashioned a track out of thick PVC and painted it black.  Because the section we picked out for our dolly actually has a curve, we put a few screws into the PVC to give it a curved shape.  Then we took a thick piece of MDF board and made what I can only describe as a roller coaster like wheel connection.  Meaning wheels hugging two sides of each rail.  This gives us an extremely smooth ride.  To manage cables as we move, we put in a short rail at the front of the platform.  We run the cables over this rail to keep the cables from getting in the way of the track.


All in all, we have an 16 foot camera dolly rig for about $100.  Good deal? I think so!

It’s important to note that your sweeping shots will only look as good as your lighting does.  It takes A LOT of crowd light for a sweeping dolly shot to look good.  Sweeping dolly shots will not do you any good without a lot of crowd light.  Specifically for this shot, stage crowd light looks way better than house crowd light.  A way you can cheat this a little bit is to look at your front stage light levels.  If you run your front lights too bright, your camera has to compensate for that (which decreases the amount of light the camera can let in from the stage).  So the darker you can get away with your front lights, the more color will show up in your camera shots.  Just food for thought.


TelePrompter Time

We get questions from time to time about our video filming process.  Since we are like most churches in that we we desire to produce quality pieces without having enough man power to really do so on a consistent basis, we created a system that works really well for us.  This system allows us to crank out videos quite quickly and still produce quality videos.  Here’s the last video I just posted with our host Jenni, using this system (I’ll explain what I mean by system in a bit).  Click here to read the post on this video and our thoughts behind it.

Our “system” includes a few pieces, lighting, audio, camera, and teleprompter.  I’ll do a post soon on our lighting, essentially its a three point lighting system that is already in place and ready to go whenever we need to film – more on that later.  Our microphone is always on a boom ready to go, we just hook in our H4N and we are good to go for crystal clear audio.  I’ll also do a post on audio later as well.  The camera tripod and teleprompter mount are always ready to go.  Then we get to the teleprompter.


For the teleprompter, we use an iPad mini with an app called Teleprompt+.  This app is great, it connects with your google drive, or you can just copy in text from an email or text.  Typically, we email our script, copy it off the email and put it into the app.  In which case the app gives you tons of options of speed, size, color, timing, etc.  Teleprompters take a little while to get used to, but once your host is used to it, its golden.  What used to take us hours in “try again”, “lets do it again”, now only takes a matter of minutes.  In fact the video you see above was recorded in less than 10 minutes.  With a set up time of about 5 minutes, this video took about 15 minutes to record.  That’s incredible compared to what a normal video shoot takes!


Let me touch real quick on teleprompters and scripts.  There are varying opinions on whether or not they help, whether or not it looks like you are reading, whether or not its genuine, etc.  Pastors are typically the worst because they like to wing it.  I would challenge everyone whether you have a teleprompter or not, to write a script before you shoot.  This forces you to speak with intentionality.  You will never be able to make your videos short and to the point (which they need to be) if you don’t think through what you are saying before hand.  Write out your scripts, make changes, read it again, make more changes, rinse and repeat.  If you don’t already do this, this will take your videos to the next level over night.

Keep a look out for a post on our lighting/audio/camera set ups.

New Preservice Video

At Northwood we have tried every opener known to man: countdowns, welcome videos, bumpin music, secular songs, interactive stuff, etc.  Here’s a few reasons why this opener is so successful in my opinion.

  1. It has energy.  It gets people in the mood for some music.  It allows us to push the volume up in the room just a little bit to get people’s feet tapping.
  2. It quickly gives guests a snapshot of our church and what we are about.  It’s a great time to get your mission statement across.  However when you work on something like this, you’ll see really quickly if your mission statement is compelling or not.  Not too long ago, our communications guys revamped ours and they did a great job!
  3. It provides a warm and friendly greeting.  If guests happen to slip by our layers and layers of greeters and didn’t feel welcome, this should do the trick.  Jenni is our friendliest video host and she does a great job of communicating warmth.  It’s good to note that she didn’t start out this way, but over the years she has practiced and we have helped her be a bit more natural on camera.  Warmth doesn’t naturally happen over video, it’s something that takes practice.
  4. It lets guests see how they can get plugged in.  I heard at a conference once that videos of b-roll are like a flight simulators for the brain.  B-roll lets you see whats happening to make it easier for you to imagine yourself in that situation.
  5. It gets a few reoccurring announcements out of the way.  For us, there are a couple announcements that happen every week – guest reception – newcomers lunch – and the connection card.  While we will probably still re-mention these things at the end of service, they will just be a re-mention, they don’t have to be explained after showing this video.

There’s probably a few other great reasons to do an intro video like this, but these are the few that come to mind quickly.  You typically have a somewhat captive audience a few minutes before service, so why not use that time to your advantage?  Hats off to my sidekick Grant Boan for working with the animations.

Men’s Ministry Video

Men’s Ministry.  How do you make an interesting video about men’s ministry.  We’ve done a couple parody videos in the past of manly videos like 300, Braveheart, etc.  Those all turned out well and good, but we can’t keep doing parodies.  So we went for a direct approach.  We spent a lot of time figuring out how to best say what needed to be said.  We wanted it to be quick and straight forward.  We didn’t want flowery language of any kind, but wanted to make it clear that we’re serious about what we’re up to.  So it took four of us guys in the room filming about an hour to figure out what needed to be said.  And on top of that, once we had the take we liked, we got back to the edit floor and chopped away and replaced a lot of it.

It’s interesting to think that when a video looks rather simple and straight forward (It’s just someone talking into the camera), there’s a lot of work involved behind the scenes just to get the message across.  Then there’s lighting, audio, cameras, lenses, b-roll footage filmed at events, graphics, etc….  It’s a lot of work for 50 seconds of a final product.  In total we probably spent about 10 hours on this video, and the graphic was already made.  It’s a lot of work for quality videos, but in the end its worth it.

New Website Motion Graphic Video

Our awesome team at Northwood Church launched the new website.  They wanted a simple announcement video with a voice over talking about the fact that its new and story driven.  So with a little motion graphics here’s what we ended up with!  We used Camtasia for the screen recording, After Effects CC for all the motion graphics, Premiere Pro CC for the editing and sound, and lots of lens flares from VideoCopilot.  The result?  A nice short video that J.J. Abrams would be proud of.