There are two things I wanted to explain about this short film: how and why I made it.
First question is why I made it?
I made this video for a couple of reasons one being I had recently bought a new camera, the Panasonic GH2, so I was itching to test it out and challenge myself with a unique creative project. Secondly, my inspiration came after watching a video entitled Zen by Andrew Reid the editor of EOSHD.com. Andrew made the film in Shanghai with the exact same camera. After watching it I felt compelled to try and make the best video I could and compete with his level of production.
Now what made me think of the subject matter is while watching his video, I noticed how he highlighted the simple elegance of the Buddhist temple and the beauty of these people’s worship that immediately drew my mind to Salah. The very simple yet thought-provoking idea that we visit the house of Allah on a daily basis only to worship Him was powerful to me. Going to the Masjid for Salah on a daily basis can sometimes become a mundane practice, so I wanted to highlight the power of simple actions like Wudu and Adhan, and I wanted to showcase the hidden beauty inside of the Masjid that we walk by on a daily basis yet never really notice.
The other reason I wanted to make this video was because I wanted to make something that was simply beautiful and thought provoking. I feel like films in the Islamic realm are being used as another vehicle to preach instead of being creative works that engage an audience. Most of the Islamic or Muslim short films that you see are either preaching towards a certain cause or telling people that they shouldn’t sin because they’re going to die one day. A filmmaker’s job is to tell a story, present an idea, or pose a question to the audience and allow them to come to their own conclusion.
The second part of this post is the how. Step by step, I’m going to explain how I prepared for the shoot, how I filmed and what I did in postproduction to get the look that you see in the final version.
To prepare for this shoot, the first step was to choose the right location. It just so happened I was headed to Houston that weekend for my brother’s (Abdul Nasir Jangda) seminar (Tafseer of Surah Yaseen). Once we arrived at the newly completed Masjid Maryam I knew this would be a great place to shoot. Secondly, I needed a primary subject. One of my brother’s students who was with us, Hafidh Hassan Faye, agreed to participate; at that point I began to mentally put together the film in my head. I scouted the Masjid top to bottom gathering a shot list and organizing my day so that I could gather as much footage as possible.
In the end, I had 2 hours and nearly 20 GB’s of footage, which resulted in a 3.5 minute video. The key to any shoot is to get every possible shot because you can’t always get all of your equipment and go back to your location and recreate things exactly the same way, so the rule of thumb is do 3 takes and then do 3 more just to be safe, an extra take doesn’t cost you anything.
The next step was to film everything. This part was much easier because I had properly organized everything in step one so I simply went down my list, getting all of the shots needed. The only part that was a bit difficult was getting shots of people praying because I wanted a close intimate shot, but at the same time didn’t want to get so close as to disturb someone’s Salah by distracting them. And for the shots of people praying in Jammah, I had to man the camera and pray afterwards which required me to explain myself more times than I would have liked.
Below is a full breakdown of the equipment I used on this shoot:
Panasonic GH2 hacked
18-55mm Lens (3.5-5.6)
Quantaray 9502 Tripod
It doesn’t seem like a lot of equipment, I know. And that’s because it’s not. I didn’t have multiple lenses to use, didn’t have a follow focus, no slider, no ND filter, no crane, and no steadicam. Would these things have made my film better? Maybe. Would they have made the shoot easier? Definitely. But the point is you don’t have to have them to create something, you simply have to have the motivation and ingenuity to go out and shoot.
David Kong wrote a great blog post over at Philip Bloom about a film he shot in Italy with literally 1 DSLR and a shoulder bag of gear. It’s a really informative post which I think any newbie filmmaker should read because when people get interested in making videos many times they can become more obsessed with equipment than actually filming.
However, now having used this camera for almost 2 years I will make a few recommendations; first you need to read Andrew Reid’s GH2 Shooters Guide back to back. He will teach you how to hack it so you can maximize the camera’s abilities and give you recommendations on lenses and settings. And he provides a great breakdown of basic camera techniques, terminology, and concepts for beginners. Its only $20 and if you really want the most out of your camera it’s well worth it. I won’t go into detail about accessory recommendations for the GH2 because that will get very long and technical, I’ll simply advise you to get his book. I’ll just quickly list which lenses I would recommend getting for this camera. I own two of them and they have served me very well and I hope to buy the third one as well. All three of these lenses are also recommended in Andrew’s book.
First off is the Canon FD 50mm 1.8, if you’re going to use the GH2 or any other MFT DSLR for video you have to get this lens for two reasons:
1. It delivers a fantastic image and
2. It is dirt-cheap! Literally dirt-cheap!
Canon FD lenses are outdated lenses that were used on film cameras before the advent of digital photography and autofocusing. So because these lenses have no digital mechanism and MFT cameras have no mirror they both work perfectly together. You simply need a cheap $20 adapter to connect the lens to the camera mount and you can easily pick up a 50mm 1.8 for $20-$30 on eBay. I bought mine off Craigslist for $20. All in all you get the whole setup for $40-$50.
Second is the Panasonic 14mm 2.5, this lens has been very handy because
One, it is an original Panasonic lens so it autofocuses, which is very useful when shooting quick videos, especially web content such as the Qalam Hangout which are all shot on this lens. The second reason, which is why I bought this lens in the first place, is to shoot the Qalam Hangout with it is because it is super wide. You see one of the shortcomings of the GH2 is that it has a cropped sensor. In my opinion this doesn’t affect image quality, Philip Bloom and Andrew Reid have both done image comparisons of the GH2 and other Full Frame DSLR’s and this camera performs just as well as most full frame cameras. I won’t get into the argument of my camera is better than your camera, but simply put all cameras will have some sort of shortcoming and you have to buy based on what your needs are.
I bought the GH2 for 2 primary reasons. It has a mic jack which many DSLR’s don’t and it has no video time limit, virtually all DSLR’s that are capable of video have artificial time limits such as 12 minutes or 29.59 minutes. This is done so that the camera does not get taxed as a camcorder, the GH2 is the only DSLR I know of that doesn’t have a time limit and because I quite often film extended content like lectures. This was an important feature to me. Back to the matter at hand, because of the GH2’s cropped sensor a 50mm lens will deliver a 100mm image so I needed a super wide lens so that I could easily shoot in small spaces, it cost me roughly $200 and it was well worth it.
Third is a lens I don’t own, but it will definitely be my next purchase, the Noktor 12mm 1.6. This is an even wider lens than my 14mm and it is a lot faster which will be very useful for low light, however like the 50mm it is manual focus only so I will still keep my 14mm but its definitely on my wish list. This lens is slightly pricy at $500.
Below is a video I filmed with my GH2 and the 50mm and 14mm:
Now post-production is a funny story, even though I just released the film, it was in fact shot well over a year ago. Between working full time and being a college student I don’t get much time to indulge in creative personal projects, but Alhamdulilah due to organizing my schedule better, encouragement from my brother, and the Barakah of Ramadan I was able to finally complete the film. I edited the entire film in Sony Vegas Pro. I currently use version 11. If you would like to argue with me about how Premiere Pro and Final Cut are better softwares then email me and we’ll go at it, but suffice it to say I have used every pro grade editing software and I find Vegas to be the most intuitive, compatible, functional and easy-to-use software. I also color graded parts of the film using Magic Bullet Looks.
I hope this post was informative for everyone, if parts of it were too technical I apologize, if you have any questions please feel free to contact me. If you enjoyed the film and this post then please share it with others.
By – Abdullah Jangda