Using your Tools

We are techies, by that I mean we like things with buttons, knobs, faders, and of course blinky lights.  I must say my favorite part of my job as a TD (Video director) is pushing the buttons on the switcher itself, and making the production happen.  I could do away with the actual directing part.  But I have learned that the tools that I have in front of me during every production are executed purely on my knowledge of those tools.  In fact my job is execution, and therefore it is my job to know those tools as well as I can.  I’m not the one planning the service or creating content, and the only creative input I really have is in how I direct, so most of what determines my success is how I execute and I think that is the case for most techies.

In order to execute to the best of my ability I need to know my tools and know them well.  It’s not about the tools themselves as much as it is about the person behind them.  Or as the old saying goes, “It’s the nut behind the wheel.”

My primary tool is a Ross Synergy 2.  I have been working with this switcher for 5 years now and I am still finding new ways to use it in order to do my job.  I use many of the features: Custom controls, memories, DVE sequences, DVE transitions and more.  In fact I have been using all these features for most of the 5 years that I have used this product.  But, the ways I have used them have changed.

It is really easy to learn what you need to know to do your production, your production determines how you use your tools, but what if your tools determined how you do your production?  Now this is really easy to take the wrong way.  I have worked with people that don’t know how to think outside of the box or don’t know their tools well enough and as soon as a new idea comes they say they can’t do it because of limitations of equipment.  As techies we need to welcome new challenges because that is how we grow, learn and excel.  We can use our gear to pull off what we do better and that is what I mean by your tools determining how you do production.

It can be hard to challenge yourself and think outside the box when all you do is the same production over and over and over and over.  I know for me I have to find new avenues to do production. Here are a few things I have found to really push me in my thinking, my perspective and my knowledge.

Get out

Other than working full time for a church, I work part time for a public access station on the side, just for fun.  I work on the crew that covers high school sports.  Not by any means a complicated production, but it makes me work with the same gear in a different way. That experience does and can do a lot to expand your diversity.  Another way to get out is to shadow other productions.  If you make the right contacts and meet the right people, ask to shadow them, just to see how they do their job.  Big or small, get out and work/ Shadow other kinds of productions, even if they aren’t paid.  You would be surprised at how much I have learned by working productions using really old gear and fewer tools that pull off the same quality of production.  It is all about changing your perspective and increasing in your diversity.

Learn a different product line

Another thing I have done is to learn other switchers/ tools, especially having someone else teach you.  You’ll be surprised, anyone that has experience on a different line can help you to see stuff differently, or to change your perspective on how to use a piece of gear.  A few weeks ago I went into the public access station and programed their Grass Valley Kayak just to stretch and challenge my thinking for a different production on a different product.  How one company does stuff can be completely different from another and in turn will make you think.

Mimic & Play

Mimicking other productions has increased my knowledge and creativity a ton.  Simply watch TV (As video guys we get to call watching TV job research!) like CNN, fox news, CNBC, Sport pregame shows, games ect.  Study what they are doing, and figure out how they are doing it.  Then, try to do the same thing, mimic it, and don’t use the excuse you don’t have the same level of gear they do, figure out a way to do it anyway.  You may never be able to use it during a service, but you will have changed your perspective and opened the door of possibilities.  When all else fails, set time aside to just sit down and play, try something new, go through the menus.


The last way is to train people on how to use the tools.  I have learned so much from people asking questions, how do you do this, how do you do that.  Most of the questions don’t pertain and will never be used in our productions but the challenge and stretching of thinking pushes me and makes me better.

We hired a guy at Eagle Brook about a year ago and I trained him on how to use our switchers.   He had a good background in production but really hadn’t worked with a digital switcher yet.  One thing that he asked is just how to build a DVE transition.  Now I have messed around with DVE transitions before but never really mastered it because we never use them.  I showed him what I knew and worked through it, but by the end I fully understood how to build a DVE transitions.  Again, not something I really use often but it changed my perspective.  Fast forward a few months later I kept staring at this un-used button on my switcher called “DVE transition.”  I then challenged myself to use that button in a way that would help my production rather than hurt it.  The result, a simple transition that blurred out the shot and dissolved into the next shot or “rack out” as I call it.  During some of the slower songs I hit the DVE transitions, select normal or reverse depending on my live and next shot and it adds a nice effect to my production.

The more we know about our tools the better we can execute, and execution is everything in our business.  Don’t ever be satisfied with what you know or think you know.  I have always been protective about make sure I am being challenged (Which is on me, not on others).  I feel that if I am not growing in what I know I will only grow in what I think I know, resulting in ego rather than humility.  Confidence comes in assurance and really knowing what you are doing.  Challenge yourself and get to know your tools the best you can. You and your productions will benefit.

About brhoda

I freelance doing a few different thing in the video and live production market. I worked for a church for 5 years directing services and designing control rooms.
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