This is a story of a pastor, a rabbi and an imam. Sounds like the set-up for a joke, but this is real. You may work on staff or volunteer for one of these people of the cloth, but word gets around and, one day, you have to set up a 3-camera video system to capture services. Maybe it’s for a worldwide telecast or maybe it’s for the folks in your parish who are too sick to attend: either way, the job is just as important. All the gear has been purchased and will be installed in 30 days and you’re appointed to produce the weekly show, live-to-tape, for the next 12 months.
Who You Gonna Call?
In my case, I picked up the phone to get an appointment with Greg Burns, one of the great sound engineers of all time; comfortable in Hollywood and the surrounding industries. He got the call to go on board with a growing church as their media producer. The church asked him to set up a multi-camera operation from scratch, so Greg knew the territory I was about to enter. When the congregation built a new church, Greg became co-designer of an entire state-of-the-art production facility. In a brief timeframe, Greg explored the landscape from VHS to digital, from start-up in a warehouse to a 2,900 seat sanctuary with five jumbo screens, 64-input sound board, in-sanctuary and remote production capabilities.
Crew is Everything
Greg’s opening advice: Start Recruiting. Crew is everything. More often than not, true techies are introverts and they won’t volunteer, so you have to invite them onto the team. "Once you ask," Greg cautions, "move quickly or you’ll lose ’em. Get them working."
Not everyone on the Tech Team will qualify as a true techie. Office workers, professionals of various sorts, students and retirees can all be valuable. The real qualities you’re looking for are people with a desire to serve who can communicate and relate well to others. Next, you have to train your recruits. Of course, done correctly, this is the best part. Hands-on and in tech heaven, Greg took this into another dimension which I consider true genius. Thursday evening training sessions became team-building sessions as well. Greg actually held a tech Bible study before the training. It literally got everyone onto the same page and helped establish a tangible esprit de corps, that still binds the Tech Team together years later.
There are no short cuts. Remember, these are volunteers who perform a certain function a few times a month. It’s not their daily bread, so hands-on training is a must. Provide manuals with step-by-step instructions for each job function and piece of equipment, even if you have to write it yourself (and you probably will). Additionally, provide checklists for the camera operators, switchers and others as reminders, since there is a lot to forget from week to week.
Training For Real
"Camera One" is always "camera one," however you have it placed. The operators can look down the checklist to see what functions they have to perform on the equipment and from a specific camera’s location.
You should establish precise terminology or lingo to specify what you mean by terms like close up, medium shot, long shot, two shot, XCU and more. One man’s close-up is another man’s medium shot. Believe me. You have to train to a standard. You should also establish shooting guidelines. For example, "Headroom" can be it’s own kettle of fish if you aren’t clear. All too often, the shooter’s eyepiece varies from the image you’ll see on the tape, so the camera operator needs to know beforehand exactly what the camera is feeding to the mixer. You can’t be cutting off people at the eyes or the knees.
In another example, some speakers like to wander around while others stay locked in position. It’s very important that the operators capture the speaker’s natural style and are poised for camera movement. That’s where the director might tell Camera 2 to "lead the frame." Because of excellent training and rehearsal, the operator on Camera 2 knows to leave leading space in front of the speakers as they walk.
For some events, you will even be able to prepare a shot list to pick out solos while the choir is singing or to isolate aspects of an on-stage drama. In a Catholic mass, the camera might catch the unleavened bread when it is broken. Since this is a predictable part of the mass, this can, and should, be planned for. Under the huppa, the shot list preps the camera operator to have a close-up shot when the groom smashes the glass under foot. Greg’s church has on-stage baptisms, so he set up a special camera to capture the expression of a baptized person as they emerge from under the water. It’s a peak moment in some people’s spiritual life and a pre-planned shot list makes sure that you don’t miss it.
Worship Team Meeting
Establish a regularly scheduled weekly team meeting and include all those with input to the worship service: the speaker, the music leader, special drama or other resources. Greg has his meeting on each Tuesday, which leaves plenty of time during the week to assemble all of the necessary ingredients. As much as possible, he tries to use that meeting to project into the future as well. Again, this helps him secure props and make other arrangements within a reasonable timeframe.
This Worship Team Meeting will nail specifics: the order of events, the location of the action, the specific spellings of names and so on. If the service is being projected overhead, going out to the Internet or being saved to a master tape, you may want to banner information, scriptural texts and key quotations in real time. Any on-screen graphics, illustrations, photographs, stock video (such as shots from the Holy Land) or the lyrics to songs must be determined, built and scheduled well ahead of time.
Can you hear me now?
The director has to talk to his people during the service. Therefore, you have to be where you can view everything that is going on and you have to be able to communicate without disturbing the congregation. A glassed-in control booth might be your first choice, but it may be totally impractical in your location. Of course this is where your up-front planning and training truly pays off. Your "shot-list" and call terms mean the same thing to everyone on the crew. There isn’t any room for discussion or clarification and you won’t be able to walk across the altar during the service, so work it out before.
It is amazing that for something so important, where there’s only one chance to get it right, that so many houses of worship are willing to proceed without rehearsal. Rehearsal is a must in Greg’s world. No, the speaker doesn’t have to run his or her lines, but dramatists, musicians and singers probably will. Rehearsal prepares the director and each technician for the live event and it serves as a sound check as well. It will also reveal where lighting may be an issue or where backgrounds may be distracting. With the wrong background or lighting, the priest in a white robe or the pastor in a black suit can literally disappear if uncorrected. Few things can destroy an otherwise majestic message from the pulpit than a misplaced drumstick or microphone stand that seems to be sticking out of the speaker’s ear (or worse). Some degree of rehearsal can help avoid those kinds of problems.
The Flawless Production
Whether you are adding an element to a live service or providing critical coverage to shut-ins, video can be an important part of your religious expression. Surrounded by a trained and cohesive crew, placed strategically in the auditorium and properly rehearsed, you (the multicamera video director) are now in a position to perform your magic. We don’t usually mix magic with worship in our minds, but there is something transcendent that you create when the team is focused.
Bill Mauger is an Emmy award-winning producer, award winning videographer/editor and author.
Sidebar: Added Value
Once a media capability is established, others will want to use it for weddings, funerals, concerts and special activities. To avoid any further burnout, and as a way to reward his volunteers, Greg’s church agreed to charge those events for media services. This way, all tech team members receive a stipend when they go beyond the original call of duty.
God probably won’t strike you down, but the RIAA might. With music royalty fees an issue, some churches are not capturing to tape any of the songs — even special music presentations — so as to lock out any possibility of a lawsuit. Yes, even a heartfelt but tuneless rendition of a song by your tone-deaf congregation can be grounds for legal action if you redistribute it in any way.