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Using video well to provoke thought

A great way to complement other things in a church service with video is by using it to provoke thought.  I hope that if you’re part of a church then your church leaders are really keen for you as a community to engage with God’s word, the Bible.  That’s one of the main reasons we meet together, isn’t it?  As a community of God’s people, we hear God speak and so seek to live for him, spurring each other on.  So how do you do that as a church?  I hope at the minimum you read the Bible together.  And I assume you probably have a talk on the Bible from your pastor.  And I hope the aim of both of those is what I mentioned above.  So how do you use video to complement these?

A short video can be effectively used earlier in the service to ‘warm people up’ such that when they hit the Bible reading and/or sermon they are in a better headspace for hearing the Word together.  Your purpose of using the video is to get them thinking about what they’re going to be challenged about.  It may be that you use it to raise questions, challenge assumptions, or even start dealing with roadblocks – you know that baggage that people bring to their reading of the Bible or applications that are made?  A video can do this in a way that you can’t.  It can give people the space to start those questions rolling and visuals that might raise things you can never articulate.  Yet at the same time, because it’s a video designed to specifically provoke thought, it won’t be taken as the authoritative word.  But rather, it should stimulate people’s minds so that they are better prepared to consider main points and applications of the Bible reading and sermon.  Let me give you some examples of different styles of videos that are useful for provoking thought in different ways…

Kinetic Typography
This is the video style where you use animated text to carry the video.  You can use this style for lots of other purposes too – like Bible reading, teaching, or even to tell a story.  I think a great way to use this style is to provoke thought.  The most common example of this video style used for this purpose is by asking questions with the text, and then using animation and text to demonstrate or tease out these questions.  “What’s God’s Will?” is a good example.  They have used kinetic typography to cleverly provoke thought about what people might be asking about how to know God’s will.

Short Film
This video style obviously has a very wide range of use.  When used to provoke thought, you can put together something that gives a short grab of a person’s life and presents an idea about something.  They’re often good for provoking thought because it’s easier to avoid preaching.  You just raise an idea.  I like the way “Blindness” does this.  It’s short and visually stimulating, as well as intriguing – you’re waiting until the last shot to see what the blind man is painting.  And then it simply leaves you with the question of what it means to really see.  I’ve used this to lead into a talk on Ephesians 1, claiming we all need our eyes opened to who Jesus is, as well as a talk about what many people are like in the western world who though they are well off, they close their eyes to who God is.

Vox Pop
I think if you’re going to use vox pop at all, use it to provoke thought.  It’s often a bit lame for advertising and I hate it when it is used to build a straw man.  But if you want to get people thinking about something, give them a range of people’s thoughts or questions on the topic to get them thinking.  You also need to do it well though.  “Lies” does both.  It’s based around a simple idea (on a bus and using masks, both of which create an isolated yet confidential environment – you feel like you’re invited in to some of these people’s secrets.  It also gives a good range, and offers some observation without making judgement.  Good for provoking thought!

This is part of a series on using video well

You also might like to look at the principle this is based on and using video well to illustrate a point

What’s God’s Will?

Illustrating: The common question we all have of whether each choice is the right choice – how do I work out what God’s plan is for me?  What is his will?

How to use it: Provoke thought – This is a great short text based teaser for a talk on guidance, or even a series.  It could be used alongside a specific talk in a series that gets down to how to make godly decisions, and could complement something like Decisions, Decisions well as another way in.  Using it before the talk or Bible reading would get people thinking and help them to see why they need to think about it.  It is also reasonably light-hearted, with something in there that most people could relate to (even young parents with the choice between cloth or disposable nappies!)

Permission for use: Contact Baltimore Baptist Church ( – they have made this video available for download from vimeo.

Critique: Clever use of lots of different decisions in life to relate to a lot of different groups of people.  The animation is reasonable, and works well with the music at a good length.  Most videos like this tend to teach their view of guidance in the video itself, but I like how this one leaves it open so that it can be used to complement other things.  There are moments when it moves a little too fast so that you miss some of the words, but it still works well.


Illustrating: This little vox pop cleverly teases out not just that people tell lies, but what people think about their lies.  The use of masks helps create a sense of confidentiality.  It shows the misconceptions we often have about our lies in the way it shows the range of thoughts the people have about the impact of their own lies (from devastating to nothing), and the way that generally they shift the blame when reflecting on lies they’ve told.

How to use it: Provoke thought – This is a great teaser vox pop that could go before the sermon or Bible reading to get people thinking about their own lies.  This could be used with many passages that demonstrate how the mouth reflects the heart, like James 3

Permission for use: Contact Cooke Pictures

Critique: Beautiful camera work, complementary sound, and great idea – what a great way to do a vox pop by adding the element of masks!

Using Video Well to Illustrate a Point

One of my favourite way of using video with a talk is to illustrate a point.  Generally, I don’t want the video do be doing exactly the same thing as what I am doing when I give a talk – I want it to complement me.  I’ll come to using video to teach a point in a few posts time, but let me give a disclaimer about it now.  I mainly have in mind those videos that feels like a glorified sermon – the video that focuses on a person preaching to the camera.  My disclaimer: don’t use these videos with a talk if all you’re going to do is preach the same sermon.  You’re just doing the same thing as the video, and you’ll probably be more boring than the video.  Instead, use a video that will complement your talk.  This is your purpose in using it (remember the principle?).  So how do you do that?  Back to using a video to illustrate a point…

I love using a video to illustrate a point because it does something that I can’t do.  Don’t get me wrong – I think that most illustrations of points should still be told by the speaker, and there’s many good reasons behind that.  But what a video can do is engage someone through a different medium.  It can involve them in a story that is separate from me (the speaker) but still close to them.  They can be swept up in the video, relate to the characters, understand the plot, contemplate the images.  Then, as the speaker, I can direct that towards the point I want to make.

Two examples

A friend of mine uses videos as illustration really well, so I’m going straight to his examples.  He often uses simple short videos.  The two examples I love from him are from his talks on Ecclesiastes, and he makes two points about what life is like.  The first is a rollercoaster – so as he starts this, he shows a one-shot video from the perspective of someone riding a rollercoaster.  It’s great fun (especially for youth) because the group can interact with the video, mimicking the screams on the big descents and leaning on the corners.  My friend then talks of how life is like a rollercoaster – you get up, do as much as you can through the day, then you ‘get off’ at the end of the day and rest so that you can get back on again as quickly as possible.  Here’s an example of what this might look like (you may only need a short segment of this).

The second video he uses to illustrate what life is like is a time-lapse of a banana rotting.  It starts all yellow, but so quickly goes black and shrivels up.  You feel how quickly it goes.  And it resonates with my experience of bananas.  And so I can then make the connection with life – it really is so quick, and the reality of the end of life is striking.

This is one of a bowl of fruit which you can download and use:

I like that both of these videos are short and tell small stories and engage our experience.  And they make a striking point that helps complement the point my friend is trying to make.


Now there are also many ways you can go wrong with using a video to illustrate a point.  Many of these are similar to warnings someone might give about spoken illustrations, but with video it will be even more pronounced because you’ve made a point of showing a video – remember, you don’t have to show it!  So, the big warnings…

Using a video with a talk to illustrate a point fails when:

  1. The video distracts from the point – this often happens when you’re trying to make a point from a small part of the video that gets overshadowed by the big point of the video.  Or if the big things that people remember from the video do not evoke the point you are illustrating.  If the video is going to distract, leave it out.
  2. The video doesn’t match the value of the point – in the same way for a spoken illustration, this frequently happens when someone has a great video and they just really want to use it, so they use it at the first opportunity.  But if the point it is illustrating is only a side point, or sub point that is only a very small part of the main idea, the video can be too good for the point it is illustrating, and makes too much of the point.  Either the point it is illustrating gets lost, or it overtakes the main point, or the video is just seen as a cool video rather than complementing the talk.  If it doesn’t match the value of the point, leave the video out.
  3. The video needs too much explanation – if you’re using the video to illustrate a point, it should do that.  You should at the least understand the illustration.  The speaker should then only need to connect the illustration to the point.  If people couldn’t actually understand the video (or at the least the point that you think the video is making), then there’s no point in using it.  Leave it out.
  4. The illustration from the video doesn’t illustrate the point you’re making – this is the same for a spoken illustration.  Make sure it actually illustrates your point well.  Make sure it does something.  Don’t use the video just because you want to use the video.  Know your purpose.  If it doesn’t illustrate the point, leave it out.

I’d love to hear more examples of videos that you know of that helpfully illustrate points.  Please comment with your favourites.

The Principle for Using Video Well

Doing a talk in church is hard.  Not only are you trying to say something faithful to God’s word, but you’re trying to be faithful to the people listening.  You want them to walk away changed.  But we’ve all been in those awkward situations where there is an elderly minister speaking to a young crowd in the same way that he spoke to the retirees at the 7am service.  From the start the young people are not engaged, for a large part because he hasn’t been faithful to them in seeking to engage them where they are at.  But then there is also the younger minister who is really eager to engage the young people, and figures that in order to do so he has to use all the new types of media, like ‘cool videos’.  He’s found some videos online that look great and are funny, and uses them alongside his talk.  After the service though, all the young people are talking about the funny parts of the video, and it doesn’t seem like they engaged with the talk at all.  Maybe you’ve even been one of those ministers.

I think they actually present two sides of the same problem, and that is that technology like video has become usable on a popular level – it’s available.  The question then is what you do with it.  It becomes a two sided problem because you can either ignore it’s there and not realise that it can be a helpful tool for engaging people in a way you couldn’t before, or you can use it simply because you can without actually considering whether or not your use is engaging people in the way you want.  I hope that you want to avoid both of those.  If you give talks, then the following posts should give you both some ideas and some boundaries for using video to aid your teaching.  If you make videos, then the following should give you some categories for how to think about what your video is doing.

But before we get to the ideas, I want to give a simple principle for how to use video well.  The ideas will all refer back to this.  Here’s the principle: let your purpose dictate your use of video.  The same goes for uses of other media.  It’s an available tool, so treat it as such.  You can use it if it helps you do your job better, but you don’t have to use it if it won’t.  By way of analogy, say you’re a carpenter, and you’ve just found out that the circular saw has come on the market.  Yay!  A power tool!  One carpenter, who mostly sizes wooden planks, might say “I’ve been using my hand-saw all my career and it works just fine”,  then finds out that other chippies are starting to produce at a much faster rate.  Another carpenter buys the circular saw because that’s what all the cool carpenters are doing, but then uses it for everything, including sharpening pencils.  Do you catch my drift?  A circular saw is a really helpful tool if used for appropriate purposes.  It’s the same with video.

Photo by U.S. Pacific Fleet. Used under creative commons.

Why do you want to use video?  Why do you refuse to use video?  If your answer revolves around what will help see your purpose happen, then you’re on the right track.  But I do have a disclaimer at the same time.  If your natural tendency is to swing much more to one end of the spectrum (no use or over-use), then it is probably a good idea to ask yourself whether or not it’s just your preference coming into play.  For most people giving talks, as we mentioned at the start, your purpose will be something to do with wanting to see people walk away changed.  If that’s your purpose, then it’s not about you.  Video might not help you if you were listening to yourself preach (that would be weird enough in itself), but it may well be the best thing for many of the people listening.  Or it may be the most distracting thing ever.  If your purpose is to see people changed, then let that dictate your use (or non-use) of video.  And that means that you won’t just use any video for the sake of it.  If using video will help your people, then you will pick a video that appropriately achieves what you want it to.  It will complement your talk, not distract or take away from it.

I’m hoping the ideas that follow will give you some good ideas about how to use video to complement your talks.  I’m also hoping that you might contribute some more ideas, as well as example videos that we can watch online.  I’ll try to keep adding to the illustration project as I work through these ideas too.  Hopefully we can help each other to get better at using video as a powerful tool rather than a gimmick or not-at-all.

When someone asks you to make a video

I both love and hate that moment.  It’s usually something like this: having dawdled around with my tea and beginning to eat a cookie, crumbs subtly dropping into the mug, I notice Mr Orquad sidling up.  It’s obvious, but he asks anyway.  “Hey Mike.  I’m so glad I caught you.  I need someone to make a video for me.”  I love that the person thinks I can make a video (yes, unfortunately my first instinct is caught up with self-worth) and I love the possibility, a sense of intrigue and anticipation – could this be another fun and interesting video idea that I could make and that could actually be useful for people?  But then, reality sets in, because in my experience of people asking this question, it has most often been because they just thought having a video would be cool.  They often do not have a concrete idea, and they often assume that making a video is a simple task for those who can make them.  In fact, the next most common sentence that the person expresses is “It’s pretty simple so it shouldn’t take you that long”.  Ridiculous.  So, what do you do?

i) Beware of saying ‘no’ straight away.  I hate it that I catch myself sneering at someone in my mind who asks me to make a video – “not another video request that’s completely un-thought-through and unrealistic.”  (If you’re worried that I’ve done that to you before, sorry! Keep reading for my ‘apology’).  My temptation is just to say “no”.  But I know I need to assume the best intentions on their part – they’re not trying to push me into a corner and destroy my life (though if you have done that, shame on you).  They just want a cool video. So before I say “no”, I want to help them think through what they’re actually asking so that both of us have a much better idea as to what it would mean for me to say “yes”.  Then I can say no if it’s appropriate, and you’d hope the person asking will understand.

Photo by GiniMiniGi (, used with permission.

ii) Beware of saying ‘yes’ straight away.  I think I did this a bit too much in my earlier days of making videos.  I made a lot of videos and spent a lot of time making them, but I should not have agreed to make a number of them.  I had said ‘yes’ because I was excited and wanted more opportunities.  But I had not understood what they wanted from the video and how much effort it would take on my part.  Mostly, those videos were barely used, and all that time spent on them could have been saved if we’d just communicated about what was wanted and what it would take to get it there.

iii) Start by asking questions.  I’m going to outline some basic topics that are helpful to work out before agreeing to make a video.  The main purpose is that you are better able to assess whether it is a project you want to invest yourself in and how long it will take you, but also that the person asking is able to see more concretely what they’re asking you to do and why. I’m still waiting for the day when a church minister asking for a video gets to the end of a video conversation and says “You know, this is going to take you more time and effort than it’s worth for the purpose I want the video for.  Don’t worry about it.”  So what should you be asking about?  And what should you be thinking about as you listen to their answers?  I’ve got 10 top areas to talk and think about:

1. Purpose – Why do they want this video made?  What are they hoping to use it for? What are they hoping it will do?  How will it fit with the other things that are happening around it?  Basically, you’re trying to decipher if the video is worth making in terms of what it’s trying to do.  As you hear the answers, you should be pondering whether this purpose is something you’re on board with.  Are you willing to put however many hours into this video for the purpose that this person is suggesting?  I have always found videos really frustrating and arduous to make when two things are happening: 1) I’m not on board with the purpose, and 2) when I hate the idea.  So…

2. Idea – What is their premise?  Does their premise have legs?  Do they even have a premise?  Actually, I think the majority of times I’ve been asked to make a video, the person has had a clear purpose, but either no idea or a really bad idea.  When this happens, I need to know in my mind that if I can’t think of an idea straight away, then it’s going to take me a long time to come up with a decent idea that I’m happy with (because the video can only ever be as good as the idea), and that I’m going to need to work out with them how much scope I have to work with.  If they do have an idea, then we’re going to need to nut it out a bit and work out if it really has legs to stand on and where it falls down, so that we can either reshape it or bin it.  If they don’t have an idea, then we need to be clear about who has ownership over the idea, and how much work and time it will take if we’re going to have future meetings to work out the idea well.  They also need to see how important a good idea is. (If you haven’t read my post on the importance of the idea, go here).

3. Target audience – Who are they hoping to show this to?  What do those people expect? What things will they engage with?  What kind of genre is going to be most appropriate for getting a message across to them?  As you’re asking these, you should be starting to build a picture in your head of what the video might be like (with purpose, idea, and target), and so, what it’s going to take for you to make it.  But further questions will help you think narrow this down even further…

4. Duration – How long do they want it to be?  When the above person has assumed that it won’t take me that long, often they’ve also been thinking “it only needs to be 4 minutes”.  I hate that word “only”.  It gives a tone suggesting that they think a four minute video only requires four minutes of footage and the skills to operate a fancy editing program, so the whole process shouldn’t take more than half an hour.  If you get this tone, make sure to start helping them to understand the different steps to making a four minute video, why they are important, and how long it will take you to do it.  Also, a time limit will help you edit.

5. Equipment Resources – What resources do they have available?  Are they expecting you to use your own equipment, and if so, do they understand what kind of video that equipment will achieve?  Do they have equipment that you can use?  Do they have a budget that can either contribute to your equipment maintenance or fund the hiring of some better equipment?  Further, what are they hoping for in terms of sound track?  Do they understand that you can’t use mainstream music without permission, and other things going on with copyright?  What are they expecting of you in terms of acquiring the different resources you need?  As you’re asking about equipment, you should be narrowing down in your mind what kind of genre you will be shooting and the idea behind it.  Has it limited your possibilities?  Is the idea and genre that you have in mind actually going to work on your equipment limitations?

6. People Resources – Do they have people who will be able to help you with the video? Are there people who will help you brainstorm the idea if needed?  Are there ‘producers’ who will help source actors and locations or even do the interviewing for you?  Are there people who can help as ‘crew’, maybe even a camera man?  Are there actors who can be involved?  Maybe they just want you to film and produce it and they have someone lined up to edit it?  As you’re asking these questions, you can be working out more and more what jobs you’re actually going to have to do, and so how long it will take you.

7. Deadline – When do they want this video done by?  Is this a fixed date or is there some flexibility if something goes wrong?  As you’re asking this, you should be thinking about what you have on before the deadline, and whether or not you can realistically invest the amount of time required to make it.

8. Expectation of Quality – what kind of quality are they expecting?  Is there an example they have of what they want it to look like?  Do they understand what it would take to get that kind of quality?  How do they define what makes a good video?  As you ask these questions, you’re trying to give them realistic expectations.  Chances are that you’re not going to make something of hollywood quality (technically of course) – do they understand that?  Can you show them an example of what your video will probably end up looking like?  Do they even care about technical quality?  What for them will mean that you’ve made a great or terrible video?

9. Expectation of Feedback – how much are they expecting to be involved in the video process?  Do they trust you to make something?  Do they expect to be able to watch it beforehand and to give you changes to make before it is shown?  Are they reserving the right to cut it if it doesn’t turn out the way they wanted?  As you’re asking these questions, you’re thinking about whether you’re satisfied with this arrangement. Feedback takes a lot of time, but also being cut is just depressing.  Have you both communicated clearly how feedback will be involved in the process, and are you happy with that?

10. Expectation of time – Do they really understand how much time it will take you to make this video?  Do they really understand what things you will not be able to do because you are making this video?  Do they really think that you making this video is worth the time it will take you away from other things?  As you’re talking about this, you should be re-examining yourself to work out if you’ve actually been realistic in what you have communicated – whether you have under or overestimated the amount of time that it will take you.

If you get to the end of this process and think you’ll really enjoy making it, you may want to say ‘yes’ even if they have come to the realisation that it’s not quite worth the time for what it will achieve.  Fine, but that’s up to you.  The main point in the above conversation is for both of you to be clear on what is being asked of you so that you can both be clear on why you are saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to making this video.

Step 8: Export your film

I said in the 8 steps overview that the main thing to consider here is time.  Exporting your film can take anywhere from minutes to days.  This will all depend on how long the film is and what kind of format and quality you need it in.  I’m using the word ‘export’ here to include the whole process from finishing your edit to it being ready for your intended audience, so I’m including here the area of compression…

Photo by clconroy, used with permission.

Once you’ve finished your edit, your film is still technically just a whole load of little bits and pieces of source material that the editing software is referencing.  If your software shows render files, those are kind of like the memory of what the software has processed from that source material (covering any effects).  Exporting your film brings all of that together into one file.  But, if you just export it at the original quality (that of the source material), then you’re going to end up with a really large file size, and that’s not going to cut it for you, since you’re probably wanting to upload it to youtube/vimeo/etc or make a DVD or something similar.  This is where compression comes in.  It is the process of doing just that – compressing your film into a smaller file size.

But like everything else, there are lots of different options for this.  Every editing software will have some method for exporting.  The simpler editing software packages (eg iMovie) will usually have a number of presets (with something like ‘export for web’ or ‘send to iDVD’).  These can be really good if you are just after simplicity and speed and are not as pedantic about quality.  However, a little tweaking can go a long way.  As well as this, you may want a different file format to what the preset is putting out.  So, you will need some sort of way for making adjustments.  Most editing software will have some advanced settings for export that you can play around with and should let you choose different formats or compression types.  For most Mac software, this would be through quicktime conversion.  If you want something with a bit more finesse, then you will need a separate compression program.  Final Cut Pro Studio came with Compressor which allows for a number of formats, compressions and adjustments of various settings, but there are lots of others too.

Next – what format do you need?

For Internet: Most video sharing sites will give you specifications for what formats they accept.  Most of them are pretty on board with Mac and PC standards now (like .mov and .wmv), so that makes it a lot easier.  Look up what they say, and see if you can get some tips.  Generally I have found that .mp4 are accepted on most sites, and will even play on most computers.

For DVD: The short answer is .mp2, but you need to know that you cannot just compress your video into .mp2 and burn it onto a DVD to create a DVD that will play on a DVD player.  Doing this will just create a data storage DVD.  You actually need different software in order to do this.  That’s why Mac made it easy by allowing you to send your project from iMovie to iDVD, as iDVD does both the video compression and the building of the DVD.  But again, if you want some control over your compression, you will want to compress it first into .mp2 before importing it into your DVD building program.

Another suggestion is, if you’re using another program to compress your footage, make sure to export from your editing program at full quality (without any compression) so that you are not compressing twice and so loosing quality.  Particular to Final Cut Pro and Compressor, I would avoid exporting directly from Final Cut Pro through Compressor.  I would first export a Quicktime, and then pull that into compressor to turn into another format.  Not only do I find that this prevents quality loss, but also it usually takes less time.

One of the major problems visually with compression is the popping up of ‘artifacts’.  These are those little discoloured squares that sometimes come up when compression has gone a bit wrong.  With high compression (producing a low quality but small file size video), the whole footage may appear like it has artefacts, or look ‘pixelated’, but this is because of the compression settings rather than a glitch in the compression process.  The smaller the file size you’re after, the more difficult it is to achieve a nice looking video.  The audio is easier to keep sounding good because it takes up a lot less space (which is really good, because audio is more important than video!)

Finally then, I don’t think I can do better than point you to the vimeo collection of tips for compression from different editing and compression software (see both Vimeo’s chosen tutorials for each program and Eugenia Loli’s compilation of tutorials).  They are mainly showing you the best settings for compression of your videos to get them looking best on vimeo, but they should also provide some helpful principles of how to fiddle with different settings to get what you’re after, and will show you around the different settings you can manipulate in your software.  If you’re just starting out on compression settings (that is, moving beyond the presets), then it’s probably going to take you a while to get it right.  You’ll probably need to keep trying different things until you get it right.  The annoying part is that each compression will take time – you can’t see your results instantly.  So be patient, set aside adequate time for the task, and be reassured that you will get better with time.  At the end of it, you should have a nicely completed video, ready for your audience.  Now you’re ready to give the 8 steps another red-hot go with another film.

Please comment if you want any more details about the above step.

If you want to see an example of this, check out my post that details a bit of how I went through the 8 steps in making a recent film.

Back to Step 1: Make sure your idea is incredible!

This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video


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