I was in the Blue Ridge Mountains this week at the Gideon Film Conference, a LifeWay-sponsored shindig designed to help Christian authors learn more about getting their stories turned into films.  It was a fun event where I got to tell my story, meet lots of authors, and even give a presentation on a certain kids mini-network that will be launching (we hope) sometime soon.  The response to the JellyTelly presentation was really, really positive, with much excitement about pitching in and helping out.

This coming week I'm speaking at the Willow Creek Childrens' Ministry Conference in Barrington, IL, where I'll be speaking in a general session as well as giving a seminar about kids media in general and JellyTelly specifically.  (Some of the characters from JellyTelly will be showing up in between the general sessions to entertain the 4000 or so children's ministry workers.  Should be fun!)

The next step after I give the JellyTelly presentation at Willow Creek will be for us to develop a version of that presentation that you all can watch online and actually see what JellyTelly will be like.

In the meantime, I'm still trying to raise the rest of our launch funding.  We're getting closer… ever closer… but still not quite there yet.  Pray that I can finish this up so we can stop spending our time looking for money and get back to making fun stuff that can minister to kids.

We're meeting lots of folks that want to help with the programming, which is really awesome.  Again, if you or a team from your church is headed out on a short-term missions trip this summer, see if someone can shoot some video for us.  Someone asked if they can shoot stuff for us while they're working at a summer camp this year, and the answer is 'yes', with the caveat that getting releases to use what you shoot will be tricky at a camp, since parents have to sign the releases for their kids and, typically, parents aren't there when you're shooting.

But if you shoot video at a summer camp (and just about every camp has a video crew these days), here are some ideas that might be workable…

  • Shoot kids one-on-one delivering their favorite joke or showing their special talent.  We could use these for little comic breaks between mini-shows.
  • For something a bit more serious, answering a simple question about God.  ("How big is God?" "How do you know God loves you?"  "How can you show God's love to others?"  That sort of thing.)

The advantage of shooting kids one-on-one like this is that if a few kids give you some really great stuff, you can get their addresses and contact their parents to get releases signed to use the material.  Shooting 20 kids jumping around and screaming would make a nightmare situation of tracking down the parents of each of the kids.  (Whenever you see scenes in reality shows on TV with people off to the sides whose faces have been digitally "blurred," it's because the producers couldn't get a signed release, and therefore can't show that person's face.  We want to avoid "blurry" kids walking through our shots.)

In general, if you're shooting your own stuff and you aren't a "professional videographer," here are a few tips:

  • Shoot outside.  Even cheap video cameras tend to look pretty good outside, because there is lots of light and it's usually broad and fairly even.  Shooting inside really requires special lighting and a higher-quality camera to achieve useable results.  When at all possible, shoot your interviews outside.  The best results come from shooting outside on overcast days, or, if it's sunny, in the shade.  Shooting interviews in direct sunlight makes for too much contrast and, usually, very squinty people.  Shoot outside, but look for shade.
  • Use a tripod.  Small camcorders jostle around very easily, and that jostling usually screams out "I'm using a cheap camera!  These are home movies!"  Even a $50 tripod will hold a small camcorder very still, and your footage will look much better.  If you need to shoot handheld because you're following someone around or shooting around a group activity, NEVER USE THE ZOOM.  Zooming in magnifies camera shakes, rendering your footage generally unuseable.  If you're shooting handheld and you need to get closer to the action, WALK CLOSER TO THE ACTION.  DO NOT ZOOM IN.
  • Use an external microphone when possible.  Almost every camcorder has a small jack for an external mic.  If at all possible, use it.  If you need to interview someone using the built-in mic on your camcorder, get as close to your subject as possible.  Built-in mics are generally lousy for interviewing, and will pick-up background and side noise as easily as they pick-up your interviewee.
  • Use a camcorder that records to mini-DV tape or HDV tape.  No Super8, no VHS.  That footage really isn't very useable.  And camcorders that record to DVDs are putting a lot of compression on your video that makes it harder to use for broadcast.  Mini-DV or HDV tape is the best acquisition method for the sort of stuff we're talking about.

Now, if you're a professional videographer, you're saying "Duh, Phil.  You think we don't know that?"  This advice is really for folks who have never shot more than a home movie, and may be attempting to shoot something for JellyTelly.  A little knowledge goes a long way.

By the way, we've had a few people send in show ideas for JellyTelly.  We're very open to show submissions, but you need to be able to deliver the show itself, not just the idea.  Down the road a year or two we might be able to take outside show ideas and produce them internally, but right now we have our hands more than full with our own in-house productions as we gear up for the launch of JellyTelly.  If you have a show idea – and you can actually produce that show – we want to talk to you.  If you have a story idea you'd like us to produce, well, we're not quite there yet.  Someday, God-willing, we'll have a great team with excess production capacity – or a great network of production companies eager to take your pitch.  But JellyTelly phase 1 is geared more toward small groups of friends, college kids, church video teams or small production companies that can both develop the idea, and deliver a finished show.

If you're one of those, we'd like to talk.