Top Tips On Filming A Nativity
This Christmas will see many schools and nurseries filming a nativity rather than performing it to a live audience. For a lot of them, it may well be the first time that they have filmed a production. For everyone, it will be the first time that the filmed version needs to fill the metaphorical boots of the live version. And this being the case, the process of filming it perhaps needs a little more consideration and planning than it might otherwise: how to ensure everyone can be seen and heard, when to zoom in and when not to, when to pan the camera and when to keep it still.
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For this reason, we have put together some tips on filming a nativity. Obviously, resources will vary from school to school, but even if you are filming on a smart phone or tablet, we hope that these guidelines will be both relevant and useful. Do let us know.
Any camera is better than no camera and modern iPhones and iPads have good quality cameras that are easy to operate. DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras with video mode or traditional camcorders are also great, just try and keep them steady in the hand or on a tripod/firm surface. If possible aim to use 3 cameras (which can be operated by 2 people if a third isn’t available).
CAMERA 1 (WIDE)
A locked off (fixed position that doesn’t move on a tripod or firm surface) wide shot of the whole scene - this is the safety camera that ensures you never miss any of the great action and doesn’t require an operator throughout the nativity (but it’s always safer to have one).
CAMERA 2 (MID)
A handheld (but try and keep it steady) Mid shot camera that follows the action with a closer frame and more detail than the wide shot on camera 1. This camera position can be free to roam as the nativity progresses.
CAMERA 3 (CLOSE UP)
A close up camera on a longer or zoom lens that shows a close up detail of the action. Try and capture at least one close up of every child (TIP - use this camera in the dress rehearsal if possible to maximise the shooting opportunity).
GOPRO (BONUS WIDE OR HIGH)
If you have a GoPro camera it doesn’t harm to position this up high slightly off centre looking at the whole scene or down low in the middle front of the scene. It’s another Camera 1 that can be used as a safety or bring more variety to the edit.
Try to ensure the camera operators know the running order for the nativity as well as possible. This will enable them to plan their movement and know where the camera should be pointing at each part.
Plan the camera positions, get a feel for where the best place to be positioned is well before the nativity starts, not during.
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Light the scene from the front not from behind. Avoid positioning the scene in front of large windows or light sources as this can create silhouettes that makes it hard for the camera to see children faces, costumes and set decorations.
To avoid missing any of those magical lines try to record sound as close as possible to the scene with either a microphone or an extra camera/camera phone. The vision from this camera isn’t important, it’s just being used to record sound that can then be added onto the footage from the other main cameras in the edit. Try and position it just in front of the scene in a central position, raised slightly off the ground.
The best way to create the final film is to use editing software. Once known as a ‘dark art’ of tv and film professionals (and very expensive), home editing software is now readily available and easy to use. This enables you to use multiple cameras and create a much more engaging film. For Mac users, iMovie is a good option for beginners, Adobe Premier Pro for those with more experience or who are relatively tech savvy. For Windows users, Lightworks and Shotcut offer excellent, free software. Try not to jump around too much with the editing – remember, parents will be watching this to see their children, they already know the story!
Credits are a nice way to make all the children (and staff) feel valued. These can be typed in the edit and will make it an even more special keepsake.