(First written September 2009)

The project was really quite straight forward.

The tasks included setting up a studio space with cameras, lights & sundry and once so established to then shoot 15 lessons in three days.

The plan was for the speaker to arrive on Saturday evening, speak at the fellowship on Sunday and then begin the recording Monday morning. As the studio space was to be constructed in the fellowship meeting room, nothing could be done until after the Sunday meeting.

As the schedule was tight, I decided to make an exception to my ‘not working on Sunday’ practice and loaded up the elder’s car, which I had borrowed for this purpose, and Sunday afternoon I took the bulk of the kit down to the church and did a rough set up.

Chairs were moved against the walls, creating a large open space in the centre, then the lights were set up approximately where they needed to be. The fine tuning of the setting of the lights would be left to Monday morning when the speaker would be in position. The final tasks on Sunday were the determining of camera angles and finally, assembling our home-made Teleprompter and setting it up about five meters distant from where the speaker will stand.

Of course there is always health and safety to consider; not in a negative sense that often we seem to take pleasure in decrying, those bad examples of over the top  repressive, restrictive, bureaucratic health and safety, but true health and safety whereby you pause and think through the set-up to identify and avoid possible threats to life and limb and establish any remedial action that can be instituted to mitigate potential threats. The most obvious risk was in trying to ensure there are no tripping hazards, difficult to do when the electricial wall plugs are all on one side of the room and the cameras & lights are all over the place – and everything is electrical.

Come Monday morning, we commenced with a prompt start as we had a lot to accomplish in three, limited and finite days – we can not over run and go for a fourth day as we have a second batch of guests coming on the fourth day and the speaker himself has other obligations.

T.’s job is to run the Teleprompter – this wonderful device which projects the words onto a two-way mirror mounted in front of the main camera – hence the speaker looks at his notes and at the same time directly at the main camera. T.’s first task involves getting the text loaded into the Teleprompter software on her computer and get it ready to be displayed – you would think it is a simple enough task but we are using a Mac computer and the software works in Microsoft Windows. To achieve this discordant algamation of incompatible systems and which includes specialist software, significantly adds to all the complications that inevitably and inherently arise.

Once coaxed into playing ball and properly displaying, the speaker  makes some final corrections to the text and all is ready.

Now that all the technical set-up is complete, we stop, pause and pray together, committing the time and effort to the Lord not wishing to do something “for” God but “with” God.

The shooting now commences.

My job before the initiation of shooting was to run around like a proverbial deranged chicken, packing, toting, loading, unloading, setting up and establishing the studio space. At the point that shooting begins I have to set the ‘white balance’ (basically put a piece of white paper where the speaker will be, zoom in on it until it fills the viewfinder and tell the camera that the white piece of paper is, er, well, white. This is essential for the camera to get the correct colour balance). Once ‘white balance’ is established for both cameras, then I turn on two external hard drives which will record what the camera ‘sees’. This is referred to as DTE – an acronym that means ‘Direct to Edit’.  I no longer use video tape. Now everything is recorded direct to hard drives. This saves the costs of video tape and using DTE saves time in the edit stage – transfer from external hard drive to computer for editing is much, much faster. The negative side is that you do not have a tape back-up just in case…..

As we are planning five to six lessons a day, it is well to remember that these hard drives will record the day’s shoot – but just – and will need to be monitored least we run out of space.

Once the hard drives are recording, I check the framing of the cameras to ensure the speaker is where he is supposed to be in the shot and will, by and large, remain where he belongs. Then I have the speaker hold up a piece of white paper (again) as an aid in colour balancing in the edit stage and once ten seconds of that has been recorded and the paper put away, I loudly clap my hands giving a clear audio signal so I can link the two cameras to the same point for later use in a multi-cam edit in the edit suite.

Let the teaching commence…

My task is now to monitor. My task is to watch the hard drives to ensure they are continuously recording – sometimes, not often, but it has happened – a hard drive decides to take an unscheduled break. I must needs watch the monitors to ensure the framing hasn’t changed either by the speaker straying out of the zone or some drifting of a camera or an accidental bump setting things on a different plane. Finally, I listen to the audio as it is being recorded – there is nothing worse than video without audio – especially when it is a teaching video. Once the speaker has departed and returned from whence he came there is not much you can do about the audio in this rather depressing scenario.  Hence, monitor, monitor, monitor.

To try and capture the best audio, I have an expensive lapel mike fixed to the speaker – and this is the one I monitor. I have a good quality mike fixed on the number two camera, as an emergency back-up of sound. It is not as good sound, but, in a pinch, it would be better than no sound. Additionally on this shoot, I borrowed a little digital audio recorder which I placed on the pulpit as a third back up of the sound.

Sound is important.  Sound is really, really important.

So, at this point in the process, my task is to sit and monitor; to stand and monitor; to stroll (within limited parameters) and monitor. Oh, and if I get thirsty, I can nip to the back of the room and quickly get a glass of water and return to monitor.

My task is to, well, monitor.

Not so for the speaker who is intent on his delivery – sharing from God’s Word is no mean task. Additionally, he has some heavy lifting to do – five or six lessons from God’s Word today, each 20 − 30 minute in length.

Also, not so for T. who is sat at her computer, staring intently at the teleprompter, listening to the speaker and speeding up, slowing down, stopping and restarting the teleprompter so it keeps in time with the speaker. Sometimes he slows down (which can mean she must stop the scrolling) and sometimes he speeds up (which means she must scroll faster – but not too fast). Sometimes he goes off script (yikes!). An illustration, a desire to elaborate more has come to mind and he is speaking extemporaneously and there are no written words on the teleprompter. She must listen and watch and wait until he returns from his excursion to the prepared text and then, matching the tempo and syncing with him, she recommences tracking him with the words.

I feel weary just describing it.

In the shooting process the speaker and T. are working very hard. I, on the other hand, am monitoring – tiring, yes, important, yes, but not overly demanding.

Mind you, in the evening when we get home, and the tired ones are resting, I am loading the video from the camera hard disks to the edit hard disks (and making a copy on yet another disk, just in case). Copying this amount of data takes time – but it is much faster than loading from tape. Loading from tape, as we used to do, is a ‘real-time’ experience and by that I mean that one hour of loading time is required for every hour of recorded material – if you have 100 minutes of material recorded on tape it will take another 100 minutes to load it onto the computer – hence real-time.  That is the old way.  I don’t do it that way anymore, I think you can understand why.  Hard disk transfer to the computer is a small fraction of the time.

After loading the days shoot, I take time to look at the footage in the edit suite.

Then I hold my head in my hands and lament little mistakes that have crept in.

The framing isn’t 100% correct – and that is the framing on the main camera. In the morning set up I noticed that there was a discrepancy between the monitor and the camera on the framing and I thought I had set it correctly.

I was wrong.

The problem with shooting six segments in the day, and if you can not check what you have done after the first session, is that if the first has a flaw, the following five segments will have the same error as well.  Ah….

If that wasn’t enough bad news,  the back drop to the speaker didn’t really work visually. The camera sees differently to our human eyes, and it is the recorded images that are critical.  The backdrop, that which is visible behind the speaker needs to compliment, to aid and must not distract, draw attention to itself or otherwise interfere with what the speaker is saying.  Alas, in looking at the days shoot, the background is not complimenting – it just isn’t working.

These problems I will have to try and fix in post production, in the edit suite. Not sure how these problems will be addressed but there is no other option now. Either I fix it in the edit suite or we re-shoot and we do not have time for that.

The up-shot is, for day two, I needed to shift gears. Because the background behind the speaker didn’t really work, now we are now going to shoot with a green screen background. This means that in the edit suite we can remove the green of the green screen and in its’ place we can put something more interesting behind the speaker.

Mind you, there is a problem. We do not have enough lights to light the speaker (rather important) and the green screen as well (also rather important). This means a compromise – making lights do more than they can and living with the compromises that are the consequences of that. Hmmmm…

So, once more in fraught, frenetic, even manic tumult I struggle to quickly set up the green screen where both cameras have a clear and unencumbered shot and then the struggle to get sufficient lighting on both the green screen and speaker. Once set, my task is to monitor (again) – the speaker speaks and T. is studiously, continuously, concentrating on the the words on the screen and the words coming from the speaker and trying to keep the two in sync.

In the evening, once more, as they who have laboured through the day take a well deserved break, I load the material on to the computer, and then copy the material onto a second hard drive and then I plunge into the edit suite to examine the fruit of our labours.

It is now, and rather late in the day that I see that the lighting on the green screen was not all that it should be – in fact it is significantly lacking. The green screen is, well green and it is essential that the colour green needs to be consistent across the shot.  However in our days shoot it is, in fact, very different. Where the light is bright, the green appears a lighter green and where the light is not as bright the green appears as a darker green. It has become a multi-shades of green, green screen.

Not good news.

Alas, this will be extremely difficult to key-out; that is to replace the ‘green’ with the image of our choice. This is a new problem, hopefully not an insurmountable problem, but one to be fixed in post production, in the edit suite. I dearly hope it will be fixable…. Not all errors are fixable in the edit suite, especially green screen issues.

And so, as with the problem with the first day’s shoot, this new problem with the lighting of the green screen is replicated in the remaining five that we shot on the day – the same intractable problem times six.

Therefore, on the last day I need to re-arrange the lights to try to apply more light on the green screen and still leave enough on the speaker. Not a recommended course of action, but it is essential that we have more light on the green screen.  At the time I was unaware, but subsequently I learned,  that I actually needed much more separation between the speaker and the recalcitrate green screen – about three metres of separation.

In any event, at the time, after adjusting the lights and trusting that this was a more equitable compromise, my task returned to checking and monitoring whilst the speaker pours out his heart and T. diligently concentrates for hour after hour after laborious hour as we record the last segments and re-record one of the first ones we shot on day one.

At the end of the day the speaker is done. T. is done. I break down the set up, put things away ready for transport back to the house and later come back to clean the church so all will be ready for Sunday.

That night, with the exhausted two, I load and copy and check the days shooting. The green screen keys-out better ; it may be easier, it may even be actually possible to put an image behind the speaker. But it is still not well lit – in any event, it will not be easy to do.

By faith I say it will be possible to do.

So, now the speaker’s work is done – he leaves to give a Marriage Seminar in Mersin, a city about four hours from here. T.’s teleprompting work is done – now she returns to the more mundane tasks of home and life. However, my work has now truly begun and I haven’t made it any easier by the catalogue of mistakes and compromises that have been done.

This is one reason why we so deeply appreciate and need the prayers of believers wherever they call home in this world – without which I would not have the heart to press on.

Appendum: the green screen shoot of 2016 avoided virtually all of these pitfalls – lessons learned the hard way are often the lessons most well learned.

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