• Phil Wright

Self-Service iPad Video Studio Setup




One problem many churches face these days is that their desire to create videos about what God is doing in their church body outpaces their bandwidth and/or ability to create those videos. I had a chance to sit down with Chris Mano and Taylor Jenkins from Watermark Community Church‘s video production team to talk through their creative solution to tackling this problem and their video studio set-up.


“We have quite a few ministries who have a lot of things they want to communicate to the people in their ministry, and, quite frankly, our film team can’t fulfill all of the requests that they have,” Mano said. Understandably, his team had to prioritize the projects that served the greatest number of people, and as a result, they had to say “no.” A lot. In 2016, the volume of requests for shoots and videos topped out around 250.


“We wanted to see if we could come up with a way to empower them to tell their own stories and also provide a standard, so that we can maintain some level of control over quality.”



THE SOLUTION

After some research and trial and error, they came up with a surprisingly user-friendly system that shouldn’t be too hard to replicate. Here’s what they figured out, boiled down into five steps:



#1

Identify a permanent location.

If this is something you’re going to tackle, you’ll really want to have a permanent, locked setup. While it’s technically not absolutely essential, if your goal is to be as hands-off as possible, setting up and tearing down production gear every time someone wants to use it is a huge pain counterproductive and won’t yield consistent results. (Plus, let’s be honest, if you’re a creative person, you probably won’t want to do it the same way every time, which means you’re a lot more likely to make it more complicated than it needs to be.)


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Three important things to consider here:

  1. Sound. Ideally, you’ll be in an isolated room that’s treated for reflections, but at the very least, make sure you’re not setting up next to a loud HVAC system, and do some tests to make sure there aren’t any weird echoes or reflections.

  2. Light. You’ll want to be able to control light as much as possible, so stay away from spaces near windows, if at all possible.

  3. Space. That unused broom closet that sounded good at first might not be your best bet. Given the setup itself and the space you’ll need to actually shoot, anything smaller than 12′ x 12′ will probably feel pretty cramped.



#2

Standardize your gear.

Part of the studio setup being permanent and locked means the gear is also (more or less) permanent and locked. Here’s a rough breakdown of what this included in Watermark’s execution of the idea:

  • Backdrop(s) – They built a wood slat panel as the primary backdrop, and mounted a few options for seamless background paper rolls to it for flexibility and variety.

  • Light Kit – Proper lighting technique is inescapably important, but we’ll cover that in another article or video.

  • Microphone(s) – The closer you can get to your subject, the better. Watermark’s setup included a Sennheiser shotgun mic mounted directly above the subject’s position.

  • iPad Pro – iOS’s user-friendliness and 4K video resolution trumped potentially prettier shots a nicer camera/lens might have provided.

  • Filmic Pro – The software part of the user interface.

  • iRig Pro – A handy little interface that provides phantom power for their mic, and plugs directly into the iPad via the lightning port. Audio syncing happens within the Filmic Pro workflow.

  • iPad Tripod Mount (& tripod) – You won’t want to go handheld with this setup.


Obviously, this isn’t an insignificant amount of gear to have permanently tied up for a single purpose, but the benefits (consistent image quality, minimal retraining, zero setup time, etc.) may be worth it for you.



#3

Test your setup.

This is kind of a no-brainer, but worth stating. You don’t want to start booking time for your setup until you’re sure it’s going to give you the results you want. Spend time making sure your lights are in the right location, your audio sounds good, and your camera settings inside Filmic Pro are  saved.



#4

Think through the training process.

Chris and Taylor strongly prioritized user-friendliness in their setup, but even still, a setup like this could be overwhelming for the uninitiated. Spend some time writing down step-by-step instructions, making notes, fool-proofing, and then walking through the process with each new person who is going to use it.





#5

Decide how far you're willing to go.

The Watermark guys designed their process with the assumption that the people using it would be almost completely self-sufficient all the way through the creation of their video. But that means they’ll have to create training, templates, design and music assets, and processes for post production as well.


You may decide to end the self-service experience at the handoff between production and post-production, letting someone more experienced edit the final product. Ultimately, it’s up to you,—how much bandwidth do you want to get back, and how comfortable are you releasing control of the finished product?


Chris, Taylor, and team have built a process that’s serving them well, but they’re continually improving it. What would you do differently? What are other ways you’ve tried to solve the same problem?





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