It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s cold. You’re sick. There is palpable anxiety in the crisp air. Cortisol courses through your veins like the biting wind that knives your cheeks. Weary, worn, weather-beaten you march on. The faceless frenetic crowd, apathetic, brush and bump you. Broken, you look but do not see. Dazzled, dazed, dizzy. Names, numbers, numbness. This is the Boots 3 for 2 Christmas sale. Will my nan actually use a No7 Electric Nights eye palette? Is my niece 4 or 12? Is my brother still with that girl? These are not the only urgent questions that require an answer. Is it possible to shoot a good video of my daughter’s Nativity play without using the best video production company in Manchester?
Capturing a Nativity Video
Social media video has fast become the only widely accepted documentation of verifiably accurate events, so there is growing pressure on parents to capture the hallmark moments of their child’s lives. A school’s annual nativity play, far from being anything that could be misconstrued as enjoyable, is instead a tense test of your video production skills.
Below is a reasonably comprehensive guide to creating the best possible video production to show that you love your child more than other people love theirs.
What Equipment Do I Need For Filming?
Most schools don’t allow cinema grade camera equipment or full-scale video production crews on their premises. I’ve tried but I’ve been turned away and things have gotten physical. Take it from me it’s not going to happen and you’re going to miss two days of your advent calendar locked in a cell. You’re going to have to shoot this thing on your phone.
If you are somebody who shoots video on your phone portrait rather than landscape, then it’s a statistical certainty that you are irreparably mentally ill and you should stop reading this and seek help.
Those of you who are left I recommend setting your camera app to Pro mode so you can familiarise yourself with manually adjusting white balance, ISO and focus. If this sounds dull or alienating fear not. You’ll get good bang for your buck by setting your camera to auto and tapping on the thing you want to be in focus on the screen. Shot composition is more important than your equipment on this production.
Shot List for the Best Christmas Video Production
Framing is key. Instinctively you’re going to crane and contort yourself in an effort to have your child front and centre of your frame while doing as much as you can to not compromise the shots of rest of the crew (other parents). In all likelihood you won’t have arrived early enough to secure spots on the front row. The pushy stage parents camp out the night before, anyway. Your child is already quietly baffled that everyone is now calling the dinner hall Bethlehem and, while children are merrily compliant enough to go along with this conceit so long as they get to put a tea towel on their head, the whole construct may fall down when they see their entire family sat in a row forcibly grinning, menacingly nodding and grotesquely mouthing a song that everyone else is actually singing. So, the front row is not advised. File in somewhere within rows 3-5 and aim for something central. The aisle is good but be mindful that there may be processions down the aisle during the performance. This would leave you with a very sharp pan* to follow the action from behind you, all along the aisle and on to the stage as I found out one disastrous harvest festival.
Being a little set back from the stage and relatively central is going to allow you to concentrate on capturing two key shots. One is the mid-shot. Frame your child up from the waist with a little head room at the top of shot. This squarely places your child as the focus of the shot but leaves plenty of clearance to ensure that you capture any erratic movements or over-zealous gesticulating. If your child is in one of the minor roles which I’ve seen range from the traditional donkey, through to the post-modern badger, you can crop in for a close up. In my experience the children who make up the wider cast of non-human mammals tend to be largely stationary except for the big musical numbers during which they may walk ill-rhythmically in a circle around the presumably terrified baby Jesus.
The second shot for the perfect nativity video production this Christmas is the wide. You should aim to capture the whole stage during the big set pieces that include all of the children. Used sparingly this shot gives a sense of the mise-en-scène as well the scale of the production which when watched back in the following years will be awe-inspiring or humbling for your child depending on the budget of the production.
For the Best Video Only Shoot the Best Bits
With either of the above two key shots there is something, or rather someone, to be aware of. He – it is usually though not always a boy – is pale faced with manic eyes, the teeth of his grin are as spaced out as his demeanour and his hair is brushed forward. You’re going to want to identify this child within the first few seconds of the play. Spot him before you spot your own child. It will pay dividends.
This child is what makes a nativity play. He is a key stage 2 psychopath. He is the wild maverick who, unfettered by the script or innate rationality, will lash out and create the moment that everyone will remember about the production. It is your job to keep him in shot where you can or have one eye on where he is at all times ready to frame him up in a split second. When he becomes restless and irritable is usually a good indicator that he’s about to go nuclear. It’ll start small. He’ll shout to the other children using their real name instead of their character name, he’ll tell the wisemen to “hurry up” when they’re following the star or he’ll loudly repeat that there is “no room at the inn” even though we’re well in to the third act and he’s playing a cow. But it will build.
He’ll start to wander around the stage aimlessly. Seemingly innocently. This is the moment. As he stalks through Bethlehem he will come to a natural pause. His gaze will fix and an eerie calm will swim across his smile. This is the moment. Train your camera on him, check your battery levels and steel yourself because this is it. At a minimum he will bounce a tambourine off a teaching assistant’s head. I’ve seen this shot made at 30 yards. Thrilling.
If you’re lucky he’ll take the baby Jesus and use him as a space hopper, singing his own re-written versions of Christmas songs that tell the story of his stepfather’s infidelity rather than that of the “Virgin” Mary. This is gold you cannot afford to miss. Ideally you will have a second roaming cameraman to focus solely on this boy. If your production crew is skeletal or you don’t have a second camera seriously consider buying the school’s DVD version of the Nativity and using your own resources to exclusively shoot this child. You’ll have the same wide, shakily shot version of the Nativity as all the other parents who didn’t read this, but you’ll have a viral video on your hands. Guaranteed.
Editing a Christmas Nativity
Any video production is made the best it can be in post-production. This is a video for social media. You want the edit to be snappy and eye catching. We may have to consider trimming some of the fat of the narrative.
No room at the inn, gold, frankincense and myrrh and the birth of a deity are the bankers. Those scenes have to be in there. The debt-slavery, the 18-year age gap between the 14-year-old Mary and her betrothed Joseph and the infanticidal scenes can be left out. They’re not Gram-able.
If you’re in town you can head into our Manchester office or contact our team and I’ll personally take a look at your rushes and explain how we can help with your Nativity edit. Unless yours is the pale-faced maniacal child. Then there’s nothing we can do to help.
*A pan is a lateral rotation of the camera from a fixed point but can also be used as a substitute for ANY movement of the camera or re-framing of the shot such as a tilt, roll, zoom, dolly, jib or truck depending on how cool you are.