Making of a Hillsong Worship DVD

10 December 2015

Every time Hillsong Worship release a new album, more often than not there is a live video recording of it too.

Our desire was to capture the atmosphere of 18,000 people worshipping the best way we could, so that anyone around the world, wherever they may find themselves, could experience the worship and be a part of this amazing God-story.

Over the last two years we have captured the DVD recording at our annual Hillsong Conference in Sydney, Australia. This comes with great advantages, and also with some challenges.

One advantage is that our Conference already requires 10-12 cameras to cover the large auditorium, so when we decided to record the album during the conference worship set, it didn’t seem too much of a stretch. However, we found challenges in the existing camera plot, due to Conference being built around a multi-camera broadcast system that’s designed to serve live switching for TV.

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Under the circumstances of limited space and resources, we chose to utilize the broadcast cameras for conference coverage and album recording purposes. Whenever we would approach a song that was going to be recorded, we would ask our camera operators to go into ‘album mode’. This triggered a different shooting style that simulated a controlled handheld effect, loosening up our shots slightly, limiting live zooms for a fixed lens feel and loose-head framing.

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In the past we had recorded albums on a separate night from conference and would often execute the filming on REDs, Blackmagics or DLSR cameras. So to shift our system to more of a broadcast system presented other aesthetic challenges — the lenses don’t have a short a depth of field like the primes lenses we’d used previously. This exposed everything (and I mean everything) in the background of the shot as visible. As a result keeping our stage managers and stage designers on their toes, making sure that everything was clean of unnecessary cables, set damage or seemingly small pieces of rubbish that might have accidentally been left on stage.

In the end for OPEN HEAVEN / River Wild, we had a total of 15 cameras, plus another few isolated cameras that were inserted into the timeline during post-production. In the control room we would have a Vision Switcher executing the live cuts for the auditorium screens, a Director who would direct the cameras to capture the moments and a Director’s Assistant who would stay a few steps ahead making known what was coming up next in the song in preparation for the director and camera operators.

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From the left: 1) IMAG director, picking shots for the main arena screens, 2) Director’s Assistant, 3) Director/Vision Switcher (this was during a non-album session where Director and Vision Switcher were combined in one role), 4) MCU director, who would cut close-ups to feed IMAG director, MATV, etc.

There were 4 editors assigned to post production who were allocated 4 songs each. We tried different methods of cutting the 19+ cameras before all agreeing on a certain method: we stacked all cameras on a timeline in sync, sliced through all the layers at certain moments throughout the song (usually 3-4 seconds per cut, but all depending on each song’s pace & progression). We then went through each segment and shifted all the great shots to the top. Eventually we would watch through the cut and see what needed to change looking for repetitive shots, shots that didn’t tell the story, sequences of angles that clashed etc. Once we had a good draft, we would sit with our Producer, Ben Field, watch and discuss changes according to his feedback.

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Here is my timeline after cutting up the whole song on all the layers and having gone through half the song and labelled the good takes with green.

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This is after I have selected and enabled the best shots, something that started to become my first draft.

After the final edit of a song was finished, we would receive the mixed audio and line it up, ensuring it all still worked before heading to colour grade. Also due to having to shoot 16:9 we added letter boxing to give it a cinematic aspect. Due to the dual use of the conference system we had to record PAL 25fps which is native to the Australian broadcast systems. In order to distribute in North America (as well as some online platform requirements) we would then generate NTSC versions of everything. To do this we ended up running the PAL masters through a Blackmagic Teranex deck.

You’d think that it’s pretty straightforward, but the reality is that we are always working in new settings, with new people and new methods. We’re always trying to better ourselves, which therefore causes changes to the workflow. It took a lot of work, but we got there in the end! Hope you enjoy and are blessed by it!

Sebastian Strand (Hillsong Film Editor)