Hope is not lost- Christmas Opener 2018

Just because the story is the same doesn’t mean you have to tell it the same way.

Two years ago, Christmas 2016, I made an opening video for our Christmas Eve service at Lincoln Berean that told the story of the fall of man from Genesis to setup why Jesus was sent to earth. I gave all my creative energy to that project and pushed myself to do some things I hadn’t done before. I was happy with how it turned out, and it communicated what we wanted to communicate. (link).

In 2018 I was asked to do the same kind of video again. I thought…crap…I don’t know what I’d do differently than last time. Sure, it had a slightly different focus, but in the end it felt like it was going to be basically the same video, right? I felt a little bit defeated before I had even begun. What if this time it wasn’t as good? Would I have the same passion and energy I had the first time I told this story?

A little over a month later, here’s what I ended up with: (crank your sound up!)

Let’s break it down.

I did some things in this project I didn’t even know I could do. Once the ideas started to roll I decided I wanted to create a space scene from scratch. I have some experience with after effects, so I dove in head first and asked questions later.

My goal was to create a scene that could pass as a believable tribute to what creation may have looked like. That starts with the visualization of God speaking the universe into existence.

In the beginning

That can certainly be visualized with a big bang type explosion, and often is, but I wanted to take a different approach. I played around and ended up using several effects and layers to make the universe appear in a way where it warps and collapses into itself. In this interpretation it doesn’t start small and get big- but rather it starts big and gets small, as if God’s voice sort of projects the details into place.


Next were the space and earth scenes. I’ve always loved Andrew Kramer’s work, so I went over to his website and one of the first tutorials I saw was how to make a very realistic looking earth, and another for a realistic looking sun. Andrew’s tutorials are fantastic, and I give him a ton of credit. I try to be as original as possible, but one of the sun shots is definitely just the tutorial with a few modifications. I learned a ton, and then I was able to take what I learned from the tutorials and design additional unique scenes of my own.

Making the space and earth scenes was the most fun I’ve ever had in after effects. I obsess over small details, and these scenes were full of those. It’s so much more than a making an orb and putting it on a star background. What really sells these scenes is the layers and layers of tiny details. The haze. The lens flares. The camera motion. The sound effects. That’s where most of my time was spent, and I absolutely loved it.

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earth.jpg
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In all, I probably spent about a week of work on this opening half of the video. I learned a lot along the way, and in the end with all the sound effects and transitional elements added in- I was extremely happy with how it turned out.

Next: The Apple
As the story is told in Genesis, God created people in his image and put them in a beautiful garden with one simple command. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and try to do things their own way- essentially to try to be their own gods.

The Genesis story doesn’t say what type of fruit was forbidden, but it’s commonly portrayed as an apple.

The Genesis story doesn’t say what type of fruit was forbidden, but it’s commonly portrayed as an apple.

Sometimes we buy stock footage but I try to avoid it when I can. I knew for the apple tree scene there was a lot of specific shots I probably wouldn’t find in a stock pack. So I decided to try to create it myself!

It was the middle of winter in Nebraska, so there wasn’t many opportunities for authentic apple tree footage. Fortunately we have a studio space at Lincoln Berean that I could use. After calling around and doing a lot of research to consider all my options, here’s what I ended up using to make this scene happen:

1) Ficus Tree that we bought from a nearby greenhouse
2) Fake Apples
3) Super glue
3) Fog machine
4) Spray bottle (for water droplets)
5) Peanut butter oil (to make the fake apples less shiny)

I never showed a wide shot of the tree because it was pretty clear that the apples didn’t belong on a tree that size, but the closeups worked perfectly. And having the lighting completely controlled was a huge advantage so I could take my time and find the exact shots I wanted.

Last but not least, the falling apple. Making this shot was relatively simple. I bought a real apple and had a friend take a bite out of it. Then I took it up on a ladder with a blue screen below. We mounted the camera on a jib pointed straight down and I dropped the apple over the blue screen. I filmed it in 120FPS and used the Twixtor plugin to slow it down even more.

falling apple.gif

It’s funny looking back and realizing that at the start of this project I was just hoping to survive it. It seemed like it was going to be the exact same as the video I had made just 2 years before. On a long enough timeline, in any creative job, this is going to happen. Your work will repeat itself. You’ll take the same kind of shots, design the same kind of graphics, and tell the same kind of stories. It’s going to feel boring, which seems to be the opposite of why you are doing this work for a living. When you’re feeling that way, all you can do is just trust your process and push through- and you’ll be surprised what you find on the other side. I know I was!

Thanks for taking a bit of time to check out this behind the scenes post, and I’d be very happy to answer any questions you may have about the specifics of this project!

Darkness Wins- Easter Intro 2018 BEHIND THE SCENES

One thing I appreciate about my job is that I get to dream big. But when you dream big on a video project- there's a tension between the concept, the time you have and the resources available. In the end, we usually land somewhere in the middle of all those things. If I can say to myself when we're done that I gave it my best effort, and that the project was as good as it could be with the time, resources, skill, and knowledge I had at the time- then I'm satisfied- even if the original concept was scaled down somewhat.

Occasionally, however, I'm able to create a video that is exactly what I had in mind at the beginning. We dreamed big, and we got there. To me those are the most rewarding projects to work on. The past two Easter videos I've directed and created at Lincoln Berean hit that mark. That's not to say the end projects were 100% flawless, or that they're the greatest videos ever created. From a technical standpoint there are things that could still be improved upon, sure, but in the end the videos were exactly what they needed to be, and exactly what we set out to create from the start. 

Below is the 2018 Easter opener at Berean- Darkness wins. It's based on 1 Corinthians 15:16-19- what if there was no resurrection? The Christian faith centers around the belief that Jesus resurrected from the dead. If there's no resurrection, then the whole thing collapses.


My first job for this project was to write the script. In this instance, it was a dark poetic piece with no real resolution. As I wrote it, I envisioned scenes that could go along with the concept. I talked to others on our production team for inspiration- and I found out that the stage design was going to be a giant wall with cups lit up to create pixel art of a cross and a tomb. It would look like a light bright. 

I love it when the elements on the stage and in the video can tie together somehow, so I thought long and hard about how a lite brite could possibly connect to the idea of the resurrection being a lie. The Bible says that our faith is a "light unto our path." It seemed to me that if Christ weren't resurrected, that light would be weak, and unable to actually light our path. It would be a light that would make us feel better about ourselves, but not powerful enough to really help the lost find their way. We wanted this video to set tension leading into the message. At first I thought that a little boy getting lost in the forest at night could be too much, but as I thought about the state of our souls without the hope of Christ, I realized it was actually very appropriate. 

Once the analogy was in place, I went to work on pre-production. I cast my son, Judah, and started planning. As I started planning, the shoot got bigger and bigger- and I was reminded again that more time in pre-production = less problems during actual production. In the weeks leading up to the two scenes, I even filmed test shoots. For the opening scene, I just did a test shoot in my unfinished basement, and then a test shoot in the forest with one battery powered LED and my good friend Brice as a stand in.

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Doing these test-shoots were so huge in helping me work out kinks before the actual shoots. I especially learned that lighting the forest scene was going to be quite the challenge. Because of the pre-shoots, when the production time actually arrived I knew exactly what shots I needed to get. 

In the middle of the video there is some abstract footage we created in our studio space at Berean. I absolutely love the challenge of creating abstract footage and trying to figure out how to communicate a concept visually. One of my favorite shots was the overhead of the Bibles as dominoes, which can be seen at about 1:32 in the video. It was all real footage of the Bibles falling, but I only had around 20 Bibles. So to create that scene I set the camera up overhead and did one row at a time. Then in post production the rows were combined to create one beautiful quick shot. In all it was about 2 hours of work for that one shot, but I think it's one of the most visually powerful shots in the video and every second of work that went into it was worth it. Here's a BTS shot of me setting up that scene, and also a painful reminder that I'm going bald on the back of my head:

bible overhead.jpg

Last, but not least, was the forest scene. We had to get a film permit and our location was about a half mile into the forest so that we'd be far enough away from any city or traffic lights and be in total darkness. In all we had 7 people helping throughout the night, and this scene could have never happened without them. I'm so thankful for everyone who helped out! We hired Ben- a local gaffer/grip to help light the forest and he did an incredible job. This scene was incredibly complex to light and without Ben's help it wouldn't have turned out nearly well. We used a generator to power two kino flo lights to create our ambient lighting throughout the scene, and then we had a couple of battery powered LEDs for more specific light needs on closeups. I brought my $100 fog machine to create atmosphere, but it had its limits. We could make just enough fog to last about one minute before we needed to make more- so we'd make fog, film a couple takes, and then throw some more out there.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was that I was directing and operating the camera. On smaller shoots this isn't really uncommon, but I've found that the bigger the shoot gets the greater the need becomes for specialized roles. We were using a Canon C200 on a Ronin, and after a while the weight became pretty difficult to manage. The other big challenge we faced was focus. The autofocus on the C200 is normally excellent, but in a scene with such low light (shooting at 16000 ISO), there were times the camera would go out of focus without us wanting it to and we didn't have any remote focus abilities. But in the end we were able to push through the challenges and still get everything we needed.

And then there was my son, Judah. On a set like that in a pressure moment, I had a lot of feelings I needed to balance as the director and the father of the lone actor. Without his cooperation, all our work would be for nothing. My son hasn't done much acting, and it would be way after his bedtime. I knew I was asking a lot, but I believed he could do it. He was awesome! He got tired at the end, like the rest of us were, but he pushed through. As a director, I was incredibly pleased with his performance, and as a dad I was incredibly proud. 

In the end, it turned out exactly as we hoped. All the work was worth it, and I'm so thankful for the many people who stepped up throughout the process to help in so many ways to make it possible. I learned so much through the course of doing this project. Most importantly, the video was exactly what God wanted it to be- and we trust that He used it in our Easter service to open hearts and minds to the message that was preached that day- that the darkness doesn't win.

Even though the video ends on a dark note, you can imagine the resolution scene. It's a scene of a father rescuing his lost child. Our Father loves us deeply, and he found us when we were lost, and he walks beside us with light to guide us on the unseen paths.

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Credits: 
Bill- Director/DP/Editor
Dan- Co-director/Producer
Ben F- Gaffer/Grip
O'Rien- Production Assistant
Avery- Script Supervisor
Ben W- Special effects technician
Josh- Production Assistant
Judah- Actor

Special thanks to: Tyson & Sarah, Lindsay, Brice, Marlan, Josh B, Lincoln Parks and Rec, Berean Worship Arts Ministry

weddings 2017

My first paid video gig was a wedding back in 2008. I had no idea what I was doing, but I gave it my best. Sure enough, I'd eventually get another wedding based on the first one I did and then another and then another. Nearly 10 years later, and I've done a huge variety of video production work- but one thing that's been consistent over that time is weddings. People keep getting married, as they should. There's nothing better in this life than falling so deeply in love with someone that you want to commit the rest of your life to being with that person.

So there's never a shortage of weddings. With my full-time job and other video work that I do, I'm really only able to do a handful of weddings per year. That being said- with each wedding video I do I am extremely passionate about making it excellent. I want to create a video that makes you feel the feels, but more importantly I want the video to be something that the couple will still love watching years down the road. Maybe it could be something they break out every anniversary, or maybe they pull it out when times are tough and remind themselves why they love each other. 

I am so thankful for the 4 couples who invited me along to document the best day of their life this year. All of them are truly great people I admire. With each wedding video I try to find ways to show that- to capture what's unique about that particular couple, and to paint a picture of who they are and why they're so right for each other.

I plan to keep doing a handful of weddings every year as long as people are still interested in hiring me and my schedule allows. At this point I'm restricted to 3 or 4 per year, and that's okay. If I can give a few couples every year a great experience and a video they'll still be watching 50 years from now- that's enough for me. From a technical standpoint, I think weddings make me better at video. They happen in a unique and uncontrolled environments on tight timelines with no chance for a re-shoot. I embrace those challenges- and I honestly enjoy pushing myself within that framework to create cinematic excellence. This year I was very pleased with what I was able to create, and I wanted to share them all here. So if you've got some time to spare and you want to feel the feels- check out the wedding videos below from the summer of 2017!

For Matt & Arielle's wedding I was hired to do photo and video- so I hired some great help and we got it done! You can check out Matt & Arielle's photos on the photo page.

Demo Reel- 2016 Edition

"If you're not busy being born, you're busy dying." -Bob Dylan.

One of the most challenging aspects of creating videos for a living is taking some time to look back and reflect. As soon as I'm finished with one project, it seems like there's another one on deck that demands my full attention almost immediately.

The last time I created a demo reel was in 2014, and the main purpose then was to acquire more freelance work because I was relying on that to support my family. This time is a little bit different. This time it was more about taking time to look back and reflect. When I collected all the videos I filmed and edited over the past few years and dropped them into a timeline- I had over 6 hours worth of finished videos! I'd easily estimate that it took hundreds of hours of raw footage to make all these videos. The point being- I've been busy over the last few years!

It was really great to take the time to look back. There was some stuff that I thought was great when I filmed it that I didn't think was so great now, but there was also stuff that turned out really well that I had forgotten about. I saw a lot of patterns and style choices I've developed over time. It also challenged and encouraged me to continue to push myself to grow and improve.

So with no further ado, I present the 2016 edition of my demo reel, enjoy!