Category Archives: Film

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That one time we climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro

It’s been couple weeks since the last chapter of the Above the Clouds series was released at Rockford First Church.  I feel extremely blessed to have been involved with it.  The project was a beast!  From training to prep, to shooting on a Mountain to creating a story to deliver after the climb has come and gone.  It was probably one of the hardest projects I’ve been apart of but I would totally do it all over again.  We decided to shoot this like a documentary, and there was definitely a learning curve, so here are a few lessons I learned while directing a documentary on a mountain:

1.  Train.

If you’re planning on taking a trip up a mountain, some sort of hiking trip, or anything that’s going to be long days of moving, it really helps to be in shape!  It’s one thing to be able to do the task and a whole other thing to do the task AND film at the same time.  Training before we left was HUGE for us.  I couldn’t imagine trying to climb a mountain and document any content with any energy I had left if I hadn’t trained before hand.

2.  Travel As Light As Possible.

As a director, I wanted to make sure we were going to capture everything and have it look the best.  So I was a little over zealous with gear I thought we needed.  We brought tripods, monopods, extra lenses, lots of extra batteries and even extra cameras.  We were going to be on a mountain for 6 days, so I wanted to be prepared for anything.  I even almost brought a Movi and a slider!  It’s good to be prepared, but if you can simplify it without getting rid of quality, it will seriously help you out.  We started with all that gear on day one, and then ended up putting away mostly everything except 1 camera, 1 lens and an extra battery.  We realized a day in that we can get most of everything shooting hand held.  And was really happy with the end result.

3.  Pain is Temporary, Story is Forever.

Most projects that I’ve been apart of I’ve planned out everything.  How it’s going to feel, the shots I’m going to get and what the end result will be.  With this, we wanted to film everything and see what story would come out of it.  We didn’t want to force the end result of the documentary to give room for any stories that might come up.  This meant we needed to shoot everything.  And filming while hiking a mountain was tough!  It was easy to feel lazy after each day after long hours of hiking and climbing, and in those times, be missing something that we should be capturing.  It was a struggle to get out of our warm tent to capture the mountain in the moonlight or to set up a time-lapse of clouds rolling in because we were totally whooped from the day.  But if you can persevere the pain and discomfort, it’s totally worth it!

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Shooting time-lapses above the clouds at Karanga Camp. Photo Cred: Matt Sandberg

4.  Bring a Photographer.

I’m not a great photographer but luckily we had one with us!  There were two of us shooting video.  Myself and another named Matt as well.  He loves making great films and also loves shooting photography as well.  I knew he was going to get great pics, but I didn’t realize how important that can be to help tell the story after we got down from the mountain.  You can check out some more of his awesome photography HERE.

5.  Hit While the Iron is Hot.

We climbed Kilimanjaro in the end of September but the series didn’t launch until end of February.  Right when we got back, I had some pretty big projects due right away but this was a real crucial time to log any content so we didn’t forget anything later on.  We pulled a meeting with everyone involved with the climb, brought an audio recorder and just brain dumped day by day what we experienced.  It took a few hours, but was extremely helpful when it came time to structure our story.

Rough story outline before the edit

Rough story outline before the edit

6.  Enjoy the Moments.

One movie that has become a recent favorite of mine is “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”  There’s a scene where Ben Stiller’s character, Walter Mitty, is looking for a photographer named Sean O’Connell, played by Sean Penn, to get a negative gone missing.  When Walter finally finds Sean, it’s in the mountains where Sean is trying to capture a ‘Ghost Cat’ (snow leopard) on camera.  There’s a moment where a snow leopard appears in frame, but Sean never takes the picture.  When asked why he didn’t, his response was, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”  I thought, “That is awesome!”  I wouldn’t agree to the ‘T’ on the this, I mean, if there’s something amazing in front of me, I’m going to capture it!  But after I do, I learned how great it was to just pause and soak in what I’m experiencing.

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It’s a huge blessing to be able to do what I love day in and day out.  Especially being able to create with really good friends.  Climbing Kilimanjaro and filming this project was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.  So here’s to completing the ‘Above The Clouds’ series and to the next big project on the horizon!

Also, if you want binge watch the series, you can check them out below or visit rockfordfirst.com/abovetheclouds

Chapter 01 • Fundamentals

Chapter 02 • Polé Polé

Chapter 03 • The Grade

Chapter 04 • Pioneer

In September 2015, I had the amazing opportunity to work on a creative film project for Rockford Fist Church that took climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I’ve climbed a few larger mountains in Colorado that were “Fourteeners” (mountains with a summit elevation of 14,000 feet or greater) but Kilimanjaro was a different beast!  This was bucket-list material!  Mt. Kilimanjaro is the worlds tallest free standing mountain, towering at 19,341 feet above sea level, and I was stoked for it!  Should be a walk in the park, right?  You know… with all the practice we get climbing mountains in the Midwest.

There were four of us on the team that would ultimately be trying to make it to the top.  Jeremy DeWeerdt, the lead pastor at Rockford First.  Taka Iguchi, who helped organize a lot of the trip details, and then Matt Sandberg and myself as the cameramen for the trip.

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Rockford First annually creates two creative teaching series for the small groups that we have in our church that are called “life group series”.  I have been blessed to be a part of every teaching series that Rockford First has created since the beginning dating back to 2007.  For this series, we decided to do it a little differently and film it like a documentary.  We didn’t want to force anything, we wanted to see what we, as the crew, would experience personally on the mountain and bring those lessons to the life groups at Rockford First.  This meant we had to film almost everything.  Which was much more work than past series, however, what we were able to capture was totally worth it.

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Each team member had our “big thing” that we learned on the mountain and those lessons are illustrated in the four week series starting this February 28th.  I’ve always felt closest to God when I’m in the element of His creation.  There’s just something about being in the Mountains.  Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Way harder than I would like to admit.  I just couldn’t get use to the thin mountain air.  There where times when I was leaning against my trekking poles swaying back and forth trying not to pass out.  In those moments one thing kept coming to mind, “I am bigger than this mountain.”  I was determined to get to the top.  I had a job to do, but at the same time, I was also on a very personal journey.  Part of that journey was coming to the realization that “I am more capable than I know.”   If I could conquer this physical mountain how much easier mentally for me it is to conquer the smaller “mountains” in my life.  Everyone has mountains in there life and climbing Kili inspired me to conquer mine back home.

For those who don’t know my wife and I’s story, starting a family has been difficult for us.  We have had three miscarriages and that had led us down this path to adopt.  A little over a month before our trip , we had been selected by a birth mother for an adoption placement, needless to say we were thrilled (aka freaking out excited!!) … the nursery was ready, the house was baby proofed and we were ready for our son to come home.  We finally received the call that she was going into labor and we made our way to the hospital with the anticipation of leaving with the child we had been waiting and praying for in our arms… We left that night instead with empty arms and a heavy heart.   The journey has been a roller coaster to say the least, and honestly, at that point we had wanted to throw in the towel and quit. So climbing Kilimanjaro had taken on a much more personal journey for me in regards to struggle. It was hard, but the biggest lesson I had taken away from our filming adventure is that we are bigger than the struggles we have in our life and we are more capable than we know, because God is with us.   So we’ve decided to stay the course and are excited about it!  In fact you can even check out our adoption profile HERE.

The point is this… You’re more capable than you know.  What are the mountains in your life that  you think are too big for you?  What is something you need to step into that feels uncomfortable, scary or too hard?  It’s easier to just leave sleeping dogs lay, but there’s something powerful with moving past struggle.  In order to grow in anything that’s worth while you have to go through some conflict.

This was the biggest lesson I learned on the mountain, and everyone had a different moment or lesson that they learned.   I’m excited to bring that experience to the life groups at Rockford First through this series.   This video series is going to be unlike any we’ve done so far. The footage is amazing, the lessons are life changing and the scenery on the side of that mountain was unlike any I’ve ever seen.  The four part series, “Above the Clouds” premieres February 28 at Rockford First.  And if you’re in the Rockford, IL area, you’re not gonna wanna miss getting involved!  If you’re unable to make it, check out the series online at rockfordfirst.com/abovetheclouds

Stay tuned for more posts about the trip.  I’ll dive in more after the series as started.

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Photo Cred: Matt Sandberg
Check out more of his awesome pics from the trip HERE.

Sometimes inspiration comes from places you least expect when you least expect.  Having had the opportunity to work where I do, I’ve been really blessed to have a lot of creative freedom to projects we get to work on.  For any church, especially churches who love being creative in their messages, there are common seasons and common messages within those seasons.  The story of Easter will always be about the resurrection of Christ, the story of Christmas will always be about His birth and what that means to us.  But what I get to do is try to give a new perspective, try to make a story that may seem common and possibly lost in the middle of a holiday rush come alive.  So at times it can feel like we need to one up ourselves from last year.  Bigger, louder, more too see, etc.

But the point is often not how to one up ourselves but how to tell the story in a way that really matters to the viewer.  Tell it in a way that will “stick”.

This year, inspiration came from the old hymn, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”  Here’s a look at the opener that was played at Rockford First:

We had a blast putting this together.  With the help of Greyspot Visuals, we were able to make the story come to life, the way we wanted to tell it.  We wanted to use the lyrics of the hymn to tell the story of a path that we all take.  Whether a drummer boy, shepherd, wiseman or the modern person, we are all wandering in search for something, but the true reason on why God came to earth, to be in the middle of our mess, is the same for all of us.  There’s not one person He didn’t come for.

Christmas 2015 Opener Script

Christmas 2015 Opener Script

Christmas 2015 Opener Script

With every project, it had it’s obstacles.  Adding stars to the scene, was one of them.  We wanted to introduce the Star of Bethlehem without actually seeing it, to give a feeling of encountering greatness off frame.  But without other stars in the background, it seemed out of place.  So adding stars to a black background meant a lot of rotoscoping:

Christmas Opener - Rotoscope for Stars

Christmas Opener – Rotoscope for Stars

Here’s a small glimpse of the rotoscoping and fx with color grade starting with original looking footage:

Here are some more behind the scenes pics and shotlist breakdowns for the project:

Location Scout

Location Scout

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Framing

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Camera Op, Follow Focus, Director's Monitor

Camera Op, Follow Focus, Director’s Monitor

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Christmas 2015 - Field Shot List

Field Shot List – Example

Christmas 2015 – Field Shot List

Special thanks to:
Greyspot Visuals, Inc
Colin Gregory
Jeff Anderson
Matt Sandberg
Igor Kasyanyuk
Greg Farnham
And of course the Talent