Smoke (Video)

Smoke Video


The State calls him “Prisoner 803211.”

His gang calls him an “East Coast Freak.”

His fellow inmates call him “Smoke.”

What do you call him?

On May 29, 2011 he was the guest speaker

at Hempfield Church of the Brethren.

His message was not the typical Sunday morning homily.

My Assignment

Pastor Kent Rice surprised the congregation of Hempfield Church of the Brethren by delivering a message in character as Smoke, a convicted felon trying to make points toward his parole. Someone filmed the message and Pastor Kent presented me with the raw footage and asked if I could enhance the footage and put it on the web.


The Challenges


The footage I was given presented challenges both in the audio and video arenas.


The first minute and a half of audio was so bad as to be almost unusable. I spent several hours experimenting with hit or miss techniques to recover as much of the sound as possible. If you watch the video at the bottom of this page, you hear a remarkable improvement in sound quality after the 1:30 mark.

The audio on the footage was room audio picked up by the camera’s on-board microphone. This means that the camera hears what the person holding the camera hears, and this makes things difficult. Movement of a person’s hand on the camera is picked up by the camera. Sounds closer to the camera – such as someone whispering or coughing – could be louder than Pastor Kent’s voice due to the proximity of the sound to the camera. Room reverb is recorded. All of these factors combine to make the audio from the camera very bad and in places completely unusable.

Fortunately Hempfield Church of the Brethren also recorded the audio of the message as they do every week for their sermon archives. I obtained a copy of the Audio CD but sadly the quality of that recording was sub-par as well.


I “solved” the problem by sweetening both audio tracks and then carefully mixing the 2 tracks to create a single master track. The result was not stellar, but it was much better than using the untreated audio tracks.

I added some music to the beginning and end of the video and added sound effects wherever appropriate.

Sound effects should always enhance the experience, not distract from it. The sound effects in the next clip are so subtle that even Pastor Kent didn’t recognize that they had been added, though he did remark how good the audio sounded compared with the sound on the tape he had given me.

The clips that follow are just 8 seconds long. They are the first dialogue portions of our drama, a police officer is communicating with his dispatcher. Listen for the sound of the dispatcher’s voice, and the police radio squawks and beeps:

Sweetened, but no effects :
Sweetened, includes effects:

One final note on sound effects:
If you watch the video, pay special attention to the sounds when Smoke’s shackles are being undone. For that scene, I decided to let us hear it through Smoke’s ears, so-to-speak. I thought about how Smoke might perceive it, and I added a special emphasis to each cuff being unlocked.



It was shot with a standard definition camera so it is lower resolution footage. It was shot in bad lighting (Hempfield COB’s lighting, like most churches built prior to the turn of the millennium, is not conducive to good video). The video was shaky from being shot handheld. The video was shot on a single camera, which means that we had no chance of recovering from any mistakes the camera person made (fortunately we had a good camera operator in this case).


Resolution: Standard definition is all that we had available, so there was nothing I could do to fix that.

Bad lighting: I was able to boost exposure and adjust contrast selectively throughout the clip to compensate somewhat for the results of the bad lighting.

Shaky footage: The camera person in this case was fairly steady. I smoothed out some of the worst shots by adding some stabilization in post production.

Single camera: Again, there is not much I can do about this. Fortunately our camera person did a very good job overall, and we didn’t have any insurmountable problems.

Other tweaks: I color treated the video to give it a cool/cold feeling until Smoke’s moment of reckoning when the warm colors begin to subtly bleed back into the video to show warmth and life. Also I added various color correction, vignetting, and simulated depth of field effects to create more compelling footage.


The Result

I hope you’ll take a moment to watch the Smoke presentation at the bottom of this page and see the results for yourself. I wish we had it in high definition for your enjoyment, but sadly we do not. Nevertheless, over 500 people have already enjoyed it on Hempfield Church of the Brethren’s YOUTUBE channel, and almost another 100 have watched it on the church’s website. You may watch it below:

My responsibilities for this production included:
  • Editing
  • Titles and Graphics
  • Visual Effects
  • Sound Design
  • Musical Score for Main and End Titles
  • Promotion
  • Distribution