What if you were able to approach the grand narrative of the Bible by viewing brief, entry-level video summaries of each book of the Bible? Would you feel less intimidated and more able to comprehend the Bible’s complexities?
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: We make animated videos that walk through the structure of every book of the Bible and we make videos that explain biblical themes that weave through the entire narrative of Scripture. We believe the Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus and as wisdom for the modern world. We put all the videos for free on YouTube.
How is it funded?
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: We’re funded by a few private families who helped with some initial money, but largely we’ve been crowdfunded through our website where people who’ve watched our videos donate to fund a new video; usually $10 or $15. When we raise enough money to make a video, we make the video! We also now have 1500 monthly supporters who are dedicated to seeing the entire project finished.
What has been the response of viewers? How are they using the videos?
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: We’ve been surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response from people of all sorts of Christian traditions. We do our best to make sure this project isn’t just promoting one theological tribe but is helpful for everyone who believes in the authority of Scripture in their lives. These videos have been viewed over 2 million times on our YouTube channel in almost every sovereign territory in the world. They’re downloaded and used in churches all over the world. We constantly get emails with stories of families watching them together, churches using them as curriculum, and educators using them in their classes.
Are your videos accessed more by mobile devices or on desktop?
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: Good question! I had to look it up. In the last 30 days we’ve had 285,000 views on YouTube and it breaks down like this:
- 130,000 Desktop (42%)
- 106,000 Mobile (37%)
- 33,000 Tablet (12%)
- 12,000 TV (4.3%)
- 4,000 Game Console (1.5%)
In your “About” video, you say you limit videos to five minutes? Why that time length? And have you been able to accomplish that goal?
Jon Collins: I used to think that a video over three minutes long on the Internet was too long. But the truth is, as long as you can hold someone’s attention it’s the perfect length. As soon as someone gets bored and wants to turn it off, it’s probably too long.
Tim Mackie: We budget for five minutes (it costs about $6000 a minute for us to produce our fully animated videos). And we find that in five to seven minutes we can tackle one theme or book pretty well.
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: We’ve stayed within this ballpark except for our Read Scripture series which we try to hit around the 8-9 minute mark. We’re okay with these being longer because they’re more like lectures and we expect the viewer to be ready to buckle in.
How do you plan to approach the deuterocanonical books of the Catholic Bible?
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: We’ve discussed doing them, but haven’t put a game plan together. At the moment, simply tackling the Jewish Bible (the Protestant Old Testament), and the New Testament is a big enough task.
Is there a particular English Bible version you use in your videos? If so, why have you chosen that?
Jon Collins: We don’t use any particular version. Tim reads from the original languages and so we often use his translations and just check them against the main English versions to make sure we’re within a good tradition or not.
Explain a few of the major biblical themes and how you go about visualizing them.
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: Some themes are more abstract. For example one theme is the theme of Heaven and Earth. If you search for the phrase heaven and earth in the Bible, it appears constantly. We wanted to show how interrelated these “spaces” are and how that idea gets developed over the course of the biblical narrative. The Bible begins with heaven and earth united; then they’re forced apart (but not completely), and the story of the Bible is how God is re-unifying his creation with his presence. We visualized this with a simple diagram of two overlapping circles.
Other theme videos trace the progression of key ideas that are easier to visualize. For example, the theme of the Messiah begins with a prophecy of a son of Eve crushing the serpent’s head while getting bit by the serpent. We follow the hope for the Messiah through other Old Testament prophesies in the prophetic books and then show how they’re realized in Jesus.
Describe the steps you take to create a video about a Bible book? How do you begin and then what happens?
Jon Collins: The first thing that happens is Tim will spend time studying; mostly refreshing and pulling notes together. Then Tim and I will spend anywhere from 2 hours to a couple of days going over his notes. I ask a lot of questions and try to absorb everything. These conversations ended up being so fun, we started recording them and putting them together on our podcast.
After that, I go away and write a first draft. My goal is to boil down all the content into a five-minute script. I streamline as much as possible and keep only what’s pertinent to the theme. I think about how best to introduce the idea to someone who has never heard it before. Then Tim and I will revise that draft as many times as it takes.
During the revisions we’ll also make notes on key visuals that will aid the script. Some of these visuals will give information to the viewer that allows us to make the script shorter.
When we’ve read through a draft that feels good, we high-five and then schedule a meeting with our design team to walk them through it. Then the design team creates storyboards to accompany the script. Reviewing the storyboards almost always initiates a rewrite as we find problems we couldn’t have found without visuals.
Once storyboards are locked in, we create all the illustrations needed, and then hand those drawings over to animators to make them come alive.
The final stage is sound design (adding “sound effects”) and making a transcription for people who want to translate the script and provide subtitles on YouTube.
What comes first: the script or the visuals?
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: Usually, the script comes first and then the storyboards. But often we develop visual ideas as we’re writing, and creating the storyboards inevitably initiates a rewrite of the script, so it’s a symbiotic relationship.
Do you describe your video artwork as animation or stop-motion or kinetic typography or something else?
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: The Torah Series and the Theme videos we refer to as “animated” or sometimes “fully animated” to distinguish from our Read Scripture series which we refer to as “simple sketch” or “whiteboard drawings.”
Anytime you include a Bible reference on your website, can we get you to link it to its location on BibleGateway.com?
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: We’ve been linking to BibleGateway.com for our reading plan. We have 5000 people reading through the Bible with us this year and those signed up to get our newsletter will get updates on the plans with links to our videos and links to the Scripture reading. If people want to sign up and read through the Bible with us they can do it here.
Why do you have a passion for this project?
Jon Collins: I grew up with the Bible and was told from an early age that it had all the answers I need for this life and the next. I gave my life to Jesus and went on to study the Bible at college where I met Tim. After graduating I went on to learn animation and film production and built a career in explaining products and services for companies. I always wanted to reunite my desire to understand the Bible with my skill to explain things. I find a lot of joy vocationally when I’m able to explore and explain something I believe is meaningful and important.
Tim Mackie: I didn’t know the Bible very well from my childhood; just some of the basic stories. I became a Christian when I was 20, and became instantly fascinated with the Bible, its languages, and its history. I majored in biblical studies in college, then went to Seminary; then I completed a PhD in Hebrew Bible and Jewish studies. It was the most wonderful journey, and I fell in love with the entire story of the Bible and how it illuminated Jesus for me. My career so far has been in teaching the Bible in church and academic settings, and my friendship with Jon has opened up a whole mode of teaching through this video medium. I believe the biblical story has immense power to transform people and communities, and it’s an absolute joy to be a part of the Bible Project.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: We want to make all the videos that cover all the books of the Bible and its main theological themes. This is a huge undertaking, but it looks like it’s going to happen! More than that, we hope these videos help people who’ve given their lives to Jesus and his Kingdom to better understand Scripture and be able to better align their story with God’s story. The story of the Bible is compelling and powerful and when it grabs you it does remarkable things. We also hope that people who have a curiosity about the Bible will watch the videos and be introduced to the gospel.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and/or the Bible Gateway App?
Jon Collins: We love Bible Gateway. I use it all the time to link to verses or to look things up.
Tim Mackie: I’ve used Bible Gateway for many years. It’s my default online Bible. Thank you guys for all your hard work to make it a free, available resource!
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Tim Mackie and Jon Collins: Just that it’s an honor to be on your website. The best way to watch our videos are on our YouTube channel.
Bio: Tim Mackie is a writer and creative director for The Bible Project. He has his PhD in Semitic Languages and Biblical Studies. He’s a pastor at Door of Hope Church, Portland, Oregon, and adjunct professor at Western Seminary.