Directing for Speakers

A few months back I directed a show that was mostly speaking. It was one of the most demanding clients I have ever worked for and thus one of the worse gigs I have ever done. The client basically stood behind me while I was directing and told me how to direct the show. I’m used to clients telling me what they want but this client in particular forced me to break almost every rule of directing I have ever learned. I started doing shot counts because the client would get on my case if I sat on a shot for more than 5 seconds. They wanted tons of audience shots and the only way I could get enough in was to get shots of the back of people’s heads, which they loved. Normally I fight a client on some of this and explain why the backs of people’s heads don’t make good shots but that wasn’t a battle worth undertaking. I could go on for hours about the rules I broke and the frustrations of the show. But it is shows like this that make you really evaluate why you direct the way you do. For most people directing speaking is much easier than directing music but it is in no way easy. It is all about knowing your audience and trying to communicate to them through video. Knowing what your audience needs is half the battle. IMAG When it comes to speakers and IMAG I am a firm believer in a single camera approach. A single camera approach uses a single shot of whoever is speaking for the duration of their message/ presentation. The shot is usually a medium to a Medium close-up. I’m a big believer that IMAG’s main purpose is to connect and engage the audience in the room they are in. The reason I am a fan of Single camera IMAG for speaking is because it allows the audience to really lock in with the speaker and connect with them. When a speaker gets up and starts talking, an audio engineer usually stops mixing and lighting designers will usually sit on a single look; it is time to sit down and engage with whoever is speaking and the goal is to create an environment that draws people in. We use lights to draw people to the stage and highlight the speaker so people know where to look. Audio is used to distribute what the speaker is saying throughout the room. Video is used to connect the audience with the speaker when it is difficult to get a good view of them. As a production crew it is our job to create an environment that engages the audience and distribute what is happening on stage. It only takes a single camera to get the audience to engage and connect the audience with the speaker. A quality camera, tripod and operator can give a great experience for all people in attendance. So why would we ever need to switch shots? In my opinion there has to ALWAYS be a purpose when switching shots. To “Break it up” is not a good reason, in my opinion, at least for IMAG. While already in a stimulated room designed to engage do you really need to continue to engage them by switching, or are they already engaged? I have never had a client (other than the story above) who has wished I switched during a speaker, a single camera holds in their connection and engagement with the speaker. Many skeptics would bring up that they have a pastor that moves too much and that they are forced to use volunteer operators. I have seen and experienced it all and no matter the situation a single camera still works. It does take practice to follow talent around no matter if they are runners, walkers, pacers, jumpers, fakers, sitters and don’t move an incher’s. Here is the quick rule of thumb; the faster they move, the wider shot you may need, adjust your shot to your talent. I have a pro operator who can get a head shot from 100’ away and then follow talent perfectly even if they are running around, but I don’t let him. A) because the shot is too tight of a shot and B) because too much movement can make the audience nauseous. With volunteers it just takes coaching and practice with the expectations that they are going to be on them 100% of the time. The key is to find the right volunteer. I have had volunteers with hardly any experience that can follow challenging speakers with ease, and I have also had some long time volunteers that are great operators who can’t. It takes the right personality to be able to follow speakers for a long period of time. You just have to find them. But there are always exceptions to the rules such as: Dipping into a presentation/ graphics, cutting to stage prop(s), transitions shots, and when a single speaker multiplies into 2 or more. But all these reasons have purpose: notes, scripture, photo’s, or drawing people’s attention to an object or device. Purpose drives the switch. One thing to keep in mind is that from the control room your view is different. When you are in the control room you are not in the room, so if it seems like you need to cut from your point of view, go and sit in on a speaker from time to time to actually get the audience’s view. Regardless of your philosophy on directing speakers for IMAG, 2 rules always hold true. No wide shots, and no audience shots. Wide shots disconnect the audience from the speaker and audience shots make people feel uncomfortable in the room. Leave those shots for the people not in the room. It always comes back to the purpose of what you are doing and understanding that you are not the only product, IMAG is just a piece of the puzzle. What I mean by that is if the IMAG screens turn off there is still lighting and audio to deliver the experience. It’s different with web and broadcast because the final video product is the only piece of the puzzle on those platforms. Broadcast/Web/Record When you are directing cameras for web, broadcast, or record purposes it is important to understand the difference in your audience. As soon as someone walks into an auditorium, they are immersed into a very specific environment made for them to listen, engage and connect. Environment is an important part of the experience. When the room is removed it becomes much harder to engage and connect. This is why the needs of Broadcast are different from IMAG. The biggest difference when it comes to switching for broadcast is the ability to take wide shots. But what do wide shots do? Wide shots allow us to capture the feel of the room so that those that aren’t in the room can connect with the room. IMAG uses tight shots, which connects us to the talent, wide shots connects us with the room. Directing for Broadcast requires us to connect the audience to both the talent on stage and the room. My rule of thumb is Stage/ talent first, the room second or said another way, content over crowd. The content of what a speaker is saying or trying to communicate will always trump the feel. But if you can get the feel in there too, then you begin to start communicating in a much better way. Directing The worse thing a direct could ever do is to dis-engage their audience. The problem is that this is easy to do. The goal is that each transition performed would not be noticed by the viewers but instead keep them engaged. Jump cuts, match cuts, and bad camera work pulls viewers out of engagement. But cutting at the wrong time can also pull viewers out of engagement. Here are just a few rules when directing for speakers. More energy, more cuts Just like music where faster songs require more cuts and slower songs tend to use less cuts, the same is true with speakers. When they are talking fast, making jokes and all around giving off more energy you may want to cut more often. When they are talking slower and producing more intimate moments, you may want to cut less often. Tighter when they are making points In every speakers speech they will always have some points that are key. Different speakers present them in different ways, some are obvious and others are not. But when key points are being made, tight shots help in assisting the speaker to really drive their point into the audience. It’s like when a parent is trying to communicate something important to their kids they tell their kids to “Look at me.” In these cases it is important to have a tight enough shot so the audience can look into the speakers eyes. Wide when they are referencing the audience A lot of people compare directing with telling a story. This is a great way to think about it, and when telling a story visually you want to grab shots of the things that are being referenced from a speaker. I never go out of my way to do this but if I can get a good clean shot when it makes sense I will. But more commonly if a speaker tells a joke and the audience laughs, get a shot that includes the audience, or when the audience is asked a question and to respond via raising their hand, also get a shot with audience in it. Keep it moving on the wide shots As I mentioned earlier, content before crowd, so I never want to sit on a wide shot for too long. With any shot you take you need to change it before people loose connection/ interest. The best way to keep their attention/ connection longer is to always have movement in the wider shots. Keep timing in rhythm Timing is everything and it is one of the hardest things to learn. The best directors should be able to know when to change shots using instinct and the longer you work with a speaker, the more you learn their rhythm. However, there are some obvious times that make it easy to change cameras. Here is a small list of a few: Changing topics, a long pause, punch lines, end of a question, sudden change in movements and as they begin to talk faster. But individually every speaker is different in their rhythm, study their body language, dictation, and facial expressions. The more you direct the quicker you will be able to learn people’s rhythms. When in doubt go tighter If you don’t have a shot to go to, or if for any reason you aren’t able to cut cameras for a longer than normal period of time, always sit on a medium or medium close up, much like your IMAG shot. This goes back to content over crowd, viewers need to first connect with the speaker and we as directors can get away with sitting longer on a good shot of the speaker than with a wide shot where you are disengaged with who is talking. I personally am not the best director when it comes to speaking. I have to really force myself as a director to engage if I want to direct a good product. It is a lot less of an instinct for me as a director then music is. I think it is because for me I have to really tune into what the speaker is saying to have an effective product and that tends to be hard for me. It takes work and practice but in the end will produce a good product for all viewers.

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Because no one wants to say “No”

One thing that I love about my job is getting to go to tons of different control rooms around the country. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the Ugly! I have also heard money and time complaints from everyone no matter if they have good, bad or ugly systems. It is always the same story with the same ingredients. Not enough money, not enough time, and nobody can get the higher-ups to understand.

Most of the time I can usually tell if I am dealing with a high level engineer / a facility that has chosen to work with a quality integrator or the DYI installer. The biggest tell is the level of infrastructure put in place. Good engineers/ integrators know when and how much infrastructure a facility needs, most DYI’s don’t put much, if any infrastructure in at all.

So first, let’s define Infrastructure. Infrastructure is all the stuff you can’t see in a video system (from the audience’s stand point). It’s the behind the scenes gear that makes your system run smooth. It ranges from the cable in the conduits to routers, patch-bays, and terminal gear.   It is the gear that is less tangible than stuff like cameras, switchers, and projectors because when you add infrastructure people don’t tend to notice like they would with the added flexibility of a new switcher, the quality of a new camera or the brightness of a new projector. Infrastructure is the un-sung hero of your system, and it is the get out of jail free card with the higher ups because it adds flexibility to your system and allows you to go from “No we Can’t do that” to “Here are our options.”

Whenever you are investing in a new system or even gear in general, always invest in infrastructure too. The best tool for investing in infrastructure is get with a good integrator that really understands how to design a quality system and talk through these 4 topics when designing your system in order to build a good infrastructure.

Flexibility

Flexibility is being able to handle the changing demands of the request coming in, like adding in sources or destinations around a facility or being able to reconfigure a system because of creative elements. You can never really know exactly what request will come up next, all you can do is try and make your system flexible to hopefully be able to say “Yes we can” over “No we can’t.”

There is also flexibility based on operation. Being able to do more with more operators and less with fewer operators. Can you run with 1 person or do you always need 5, and could you expand to 8 if needed? You will never be able to do everything with 1 person that you can do with 5 but there should be some level of production that can be achieved if you need to pull off different size events with different sized crews.

You may only need 1 level of flexibility, or both, or none. Either ways flexibility needs to be a topic when designing your system.

Expansion

Never design a system solely on “Today” because nobody can anticipate tomorrow’s needs. Hopefully your ministry will grow and the demands will change. Building a system down to a box will only mean it will need to be redone sooner then later. An expandable system will add longevity and decrees the cost of adding things later on.    It’s not that things may change, it is that they will.

Redundancy

How important is your facility’s video system? What happens when it fails? (notice I said when). To have true redundancy would mean to have back ups in place when gear fails and or operators fail. Some redundancies involve having secondary devices for back up, some are just procedural, and others are designing and adding gear in a system that keep things going when things go down.

Quality Control

Quality control is not something to take lightly but should be considered based on the end products. Where does quality need to be at: in the auditorium, through the building, sent to other campuses, online, or on TV. What tools need to be in place to monitor/ adjust these things in order to achieve a high quality level? Is it just video, or is it audio and timecode too?

Infrastructure should never be an after thought, in fact it is really where you need to start when building a video system. Good infrastructure shows the big picture of the system and makes sure things are well thought out. Don’t take on the task of building up an infrastructure on your own. Sit down with a trusted integrator and discuss your options on each of these topics to make sure you are building a system that is right for your facility.

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The rules of Directing Music for IMAG

Trying to teach people how to direct over a blog is very difficult. I would love to show you clips in order to give a more visual demonstration, but with Copy right issues I’m a ways out on getting something like that done. But I wanted to try and get a detailed post about directing IMAG, especially music. Most of us watch a lot of TV, but the hard thing about directing is when it is done right it should be almost invisible, So no matter how much TV we watch we shouldn’t notice the cuts, dissolves or how a show is directed, instead we just watch the story or end product because everything that is happening feels natural and makes sense.   So how do you learn to direct in an incognito way? How do you build a product or story that keeps people’s attention and interesting while not getting noticed that someone is behind the scenes making it happen? I believe it is all about learning the rules and setting guide lines; so much so that in the end as a director you can answer “why” to every shot, cut, dissolve and person that gets on screen with using your instincts. And like all rules, once you have these mastered, you can bend them and even break them from time to time.

So again, I want to go over the rules and I am going to focus on IMAG and specifically directing for music to put as much of a scientific formula to this as possible. But before I get into the rules let’s first touch on the purpose of IMAG. IMAG is meant to connect everyone in an auditorium to what is happening on the stage in a way that keeps people engaged and energized in order to enhance their overall experience. IMAG is NOT meant to CREATE a feel or atmosphere for a room, it is supposed to ENHANCE or TRANSLATE what has already been created by the band, presenters, and other onstage talent. IMAG is mainly necessary when an audience is unable to connect with what is happening on stage for any number of reasons.

A quick aside, Video delivers many other uses and can even be used to create an atmosphere or environment, but IMAG should only enhance or show the environment already created on stage.

Ok, so now for the rules,

Rule 1: Start with Camera placement

Before getting on Com or selecting your first camera there is a lot of planning that needs to go into creating good IMAG. First and foremost is camera placement. Where cameras are placed determine the quality of shots and the amount of shots each camera can get. Know what the key camera positions are and what they contribute to the show.

Rule 1.1: Key camera positions

The most important camera shot you will get is a tight center, usually located at Front of House which is why most people usually do a minimum of 2 cameras on center. It may not be the most exciting angle but the shots they get are so incredibly important in establishing talent and building the story. As Cameras are added, carefully think of where to place them and how they should be operated.

What needs to be taken into consideration here is what type of music or what time of show are you doing. For a speaker a down stage camera isn’t great but for music, down stage may be exactly where you want that camera. For a solo artist downstage on a tripod may be better than a Hand held to ensure smooth movements. Whatever your situation is and the number of cameras you have, there needs to be preproduction planning where you as the director plan the shots to get. This needs to be done with every camera available and may need to be redone based upon stage plots, talent, and show. Bad camera placement creates bad video.

Rule 1.2: Slash cameras need to be at a significant angle

When we moved from 4:3 to 16:9 one of the biggest differences was that cameras placed at an angle, known as ‘slash shots,’ had to be pushed out farther. Most of the time a Slash shot should be placed on a 35-70 degree angle from center stage but may be more or less depending on the distance from stage. The idea is when changing between a Center shot and an angled shot there needs to be a significant change of the shot. If the angle is too similar there will be a greater opportunity of a match cut/ transition every time those cameras are directly switched between. Camera’s like hand-helds, jibs, and stedi-cams offer differences such as height, dutch moves, and more that offer a different look where angle isn’t as key. But when you start to deal with angles, careful placement needs to be considered.

Rule 1.3: Don’t rely on POV cameras

POV cameras are great, you set them up on a drummer or keyboard player and you always have a shot to go to. But POV cameras don’t offer the same functionality as many other cameras do, they are stationary, they don’t move and can’t move. Many times they offer a fun shot but they shouldn’t be treated like a full camera, instead they should be treated like talent, how often should someone be on camera, and even when they are should it always be the same shot? We will go over this more in Rule 2, but know that POV cameras are not much more than a quick shot to be used and a Manned camera is always more useful than a POV shot. If you can get the same shot of someone with a manned camera then re-think the placement of your POV camera.

POV Shots should be used when you have talent that is placed on stage where it is difficult to get a shot of, or difficult to get a certain shot of. POV’s can get some great shots but over use of a POV camera can be destructive to the end product. Don’t be discouraged in using POV cameras just be very intentional about placement and use.

Rule 2: Talent matters, know how to use your talent

Have you ever tried to direct a show or simulate a show using manikins? If you have you know it is one of the hardest things to do because they don’t have any emotion. If we go back to our purpose for IMAG it is to Connect people in order to keep them engaged and energized. There is nothing engaging or energizing about manikins. This means that the talent on stage is the single greatest asset a director has in creating a great show. Great talent creates great shows, poor talent creates poor shows. No matter who or what you are shooting it is important to be able to identify good and poor talent and leverage them when you create your show and capture the action on stage. Yes, this means as a director you need to be a bit superficial and decide who get’s camera time and who doesn’t. JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE ON STAGE DOESN’T MEAN THEY NEED TO BE ON CAMERA OR GET EQUAL CAMERA TIME.

This means we need to categorize the talent on stage and set rules based on these categories.

Category 1: The Leaders

Category 1 is the Lead singer and band leader. They are the number 1 focus on stage, they lead the songs, the audience, even the band to a degree. Category 1’s can carry the show or a particular song on their own without any backing help. A strong “1” could have an entire band behind them and never give you the need to switch off of them. They have the lead parts but they do it with such emotion and energy that they create a strong connection with their audience. It is because of this connection that put’s them at number 1 and it is who the audience wants to see and connect with.

Along with a category 1 can be a 1.5 if they are leading the song but aren’t necessarily the band leader or if they are doing a duet. A 1.5 means that at the moment they are the strongest asset on stage but they still need the band to back them up (there can be 2 “1.5’s” in some cases but only 1 “1”). Either way, with every song, band, and situation you need to identify the strongest talent on stage who is leading the show and make them your number 1.

Rule 2.1: Category 1 Talent steals the focus

Category 1’s lead the show, which makes them the most important person on stage at any given moment. This means that they should be on camera more than any other person on stage by a significant margin. No matter how a show is cut it should consistently go back to number “1.” Because of their importance if they walk into a shot with a number 2 or higher the camera should switch their focus to the number”1” and follow them instead. On a wide shot pushing in, if a number 1 is in the wide shot, always push towards the number 1. If a number 1 was not initially in the wide shot but they enter it, again go to number 1. A number 1 will always steal the shot if they enter it.

Exception to rule 2.1:

An exception to the above rule is instrumental solo’s, if they aren’t lit or if a number 1 takes a break from being number 1 such as to grab a drink of water, cue an audio guy or something where they take their attention off the “show.” Instrumental soloists don’t in them selves become a number 1 but because they are the temporary focus many times a number 1 will take a step down to a 1.5. If a 1 or 1.5 enters a shot of a soloist the shot can either stay with the solo or move to number 1. On a wide shot during a solo always push towards the solo not the number 1. The exception should be voided the moment number 1 begins to talk, sing, or interact with the audience in any way.

Rule 2.2: Number 1’s get back-to-back shots if needed

Because number 1’s carry the show, it is ok to get back to back shots of a number 1 as long as rule 3 is followed. As a director, if you don’t know where to go, you can’t go wrong with a shot of number 1. Essentially a Number 1 is the show. Because of how important a 1 is to the show a dedicated camera to that person may be necessary, and that camera should be a center shot. It is the best shot of that person no matter where they go and it allows a director to quickly be able to get back to number 1. That shot also is the best shot for the audience to connect with number 1.

Rule 2.1 & 2.2- Why

If an audience can’t connect with number 1 then it becomes difficult for them to connect with the stage and get an energized, enhanced experience. If you can’t get to number 1 quickly the audience notices their lack of connection and your directing becomes a lot less incognito. Number 1’s are the most important person on stage, get them to lead your show. The stronger the number 1, the better opportunity you have to make a good show but if you don’t leverage a strong number 1 then you will be failing to connect your audience with the stage/ show.

Category 2: Front row supports

Number 2’s are the candy of your production. They back-up number 1 with high energy contributing to the show. They make themselves key contributors to the show and audience members want to connect with them. But since they are number 2’s and not number 1’s means they aren’t “leading” they may have solo’s and key parts but they are not the show. Number 2’s are usually placed in the front row because they keep the energy and connection going throughout the stage. These are typically Guitar players, Bass players and key vocalists, although not always. As number 1’s sometimes are number 1’s out of default number 2’s have to earn the right to be a number 2 by what they contribute to the show. They get into the show through their whole body, not just when they are called on key parts. They interact with the audience and other band members and in a way could carry the show themselves, but since number 1 is taken, they become number 2’s. Number 2’s are the best fillers when not on a number 1 and should get the 2nd most camera time. There can be multiple 2’s on stage at one time.

Rule 2.3 No back-to-back shots for 2’s to 4’s

Once a person is no longer a 1, there is no chance for back-to-back shots of them. Number 2’s will still get a decent amount of camera time but remember that 1’s are the show, not 2’s. Even though 2’s are key people that bringing lots of energy they still aren’t the focus. Back-to-back shots of number 2’s don’t flow well, they tend to feel like jump or match cuts.

Exception to rule 2.3:

Back to back shots can be done on a number 2 if they are in a solo or key musical part. At this point more than likely a number 2 has moved to a 1.5 because all focus has moved to what they are doing/ contributing. Even if a number 1 is still being a number 1 it is ok to get back-to-back shots if the part is that key, really this is because a number 2 has moved to a 1.5. There is a lot of gray area here, but the less a number 1 is doing the more it is ok to do back-to-back shots of a number 2. Either way once a key musical part is happening vocally or instrumentally it is ok to get back-to-back shots of a number 2. But if there is no key part or solo, rule 2.3 stays in place.

Category 3: Those in the Background

Number 3’s are usually important to the band or show but not the most important people in telling the story and communicating to your audience. 3’s are on camera less than 2’s and are usually good opportunities for POV cameras although not always. Number 3’s don’t always contribute that much energy and have a harder time to keep people engaged which is why they should be on camera less. Number 3’s tend to be drummers, Keyboard players, and backing vocals (not always).

Rule 2.4 the lower the number the shorter the shot should be

In rule 2.3 we established no back-to-back shots but it doesn’t mention the length of a single shot. 2’s can hold a shot longer than a 3 and a 3 longer than a 4. The higher the number the shorter the subject should be on camera in total and in a single moment. Number 3’s and higher have to earn the right to be on camera. 2’s put them selves in the position where they are a safe bet most of the time to get on camera, however, a 3’s need to be contributing in some way and earn the right to be on camera as well.

Rule 2.4 notes:

Most would disagree that a drummer is a number 3 because most of the time they tend to be a safe shot. They are always doing something and most of the time bring energy. The reason Drummers tend to be a number 3 is because when they get camera time it has to be limited and shorter than a 2 would get in a single shot. Drummers are realistically 2.5’s, most of the time, but their shots need to be more intentional than one of a 2, but they don’t have to earn it as much as a full 3 does.

Rule 2.5 the lower the number the tighter the shot

Higher number talent tend to bring focused energy. Meaning they aren’t all the exciting to watch on their own. Because of this when they do bring energy, shots need to be very focused on that energy through tight shots or shots that show the specific task they are doing. An example would be a tight shot of a keyboard player’s fingers, or a headshot of a backing vocalist singing. Number 3’s and higher focus their energy more which is why they are “back row” people. They definitely add to the show but less in entertainment and connection; more audibly through their musicianship.

Category 4: Might as well be manikins

Number 4’s are the people that just don’t work on camera. You grab a shot of them but in no way do they connect with the audience or help in telling the story. They might be in the background of a wider shot but should never be landed on when pushing in. Number 4’s usually are contributing audibly but just don’t have any stage presence and in most cases don’t usually have any key parts. A number 4 never really earns the right to be on camera, instead they may be defaulted to getting on camera because of a music part, but even then it should only be because no other options are available, be sure to follow rule 2.5.

Rule 2.6: Just because some is on stage doesn’t mean they should be on screen

It is superficial directing and it is something you need to be comfortable doing. If someone is stiff and not giving any energy or the energy they are giving is awkward, don’t put them on screen. As a director you need to identify good energy and engagement from talent. It may sound mean, but when engaging the audience it is critical not to put people on screen that will drop energy level.

Rule 2.6 note:

Some may say that by focusing on energy is the wrong thing, especially in a worship environment. Remember IMAG is simply communicating what is happening on stage. Energy is a loose term. Worshiping is a form of energy, dancing is a form of energy, smiling is a form of energy. All of these can help or hurt in translating the feel on stage. The old saying “Monkey see, monkey do” is important to remember here. Weather people are learning how to worship or need to get into worship, the best tool to get them to that state is the talent on stage. The audience will mimic them and take cues on where they should be in worship. It is why we call them worship leaders. This is true with or without cameras and IMAG. The only difference with IMAG is the cameras are instructing people where to look and as a director be sure to intentionally choose your camera shots to get good energy that communicates and engages the audience well to put their focus in the right place. If the talent on stage isn’t putting their focus in the right place then the audience won’t either. It all starts with the Talent.

Rule 2.7: Talent can move categories

It has been mentioned that talent can move categories. The reason this is a rule is because as a director it is important to recognize when this happens. For example a vocalist may be a number 3, then they lead a song and become a 1.5, the next song they may not lead and then are back to a 3. Other than 1’s and 1.5’s all talent categories need to be earned through their stage presence. Knowing how categories work and that at any time anyone can change categories is a reactionary skill needed in directing live music.

Rule 2.8: one subject at a time

Because we have different categories for our subjects means no two subjects can entertain a shot as well as one can. They will only compete, even at the same category level. Every camera shot should focus on the strongest number subject in their shot. If there are 2 people in the shot via a push or pull always focus on the stronger number. Never should a camera get an intentional 2 person shot.

Exception 2.8:

If two musicians are intentionally interacting with one another a two shot can be good, but as soon as they disband, go with the stronger number. If 2 vocalist are standing close together and there is no way to only get 1 person, then by default you have to get a 2 shot. But both should be in the same category and category rules should be followed as far as time on camera.

Rule 3: Wide – Tight Pattern: Avoid Match cuts

There is a simple pattern to directing. No matter what cameras you are going to or from or what type of production it is, directing is primarily an A-B pattern. Or Wide shot, tight shot pattern. Tight shot to tight shot doesn’t work, wide shot to wide shot doesn’t look. Instead they will look like match cuts. Match cuts are shots that look similar and are used back-to-back.   When switching between shots, shot A and Shot B need to be significantly different, simply enough that is wide to tight.

Even on the same subject such as a number 1, you can easily cut from a wide shot to a tight shot very easily and it will look good. If you are going between different subjects it can still be a match cut based on how tight or how wide the adjacent shots are to each other. The more different the two shots are via angle, subject matter, camera type and so on, the less difference there needs to be in how tight vs. wide the two shots are. But no two adjacent shots should ever be the same level of tight vs. wide.

Rule 3.1 Slower the transition the more extreme the difference needs to be

If you are doing cuts less difference in how wide vs. tight back-to-back shots need to be. Slower transitions require more distance in the shots. Let’s say you have a mid, chest up shot of a singer, if you cut to a knee’s up shot of that singer it looks fine, but if you slow dissolve it looks like a match cut. Because the transition, like a dissolve, allows you to see both shots at the same time and people realize how similar they are and notice it. But the less time the transition takes the less people realize the similarities and accept the differences.

Rule 3.2: let longer shots change from wide to tight or visa versa.

If you are doing pushes and pulls as a director you need to know what camera operators are doing so that the next shot you goes to doesn’t end up being a match cut. If a camera is wide and is pushing in and your next shot is a tight one, be sure to get off the camera pushing in before it becomes a tight shot. If you miss the opportunity or if the timing isn’t right the next shot may need to be adjusted or changed all together in order to avoid a match cut. If cameras are constantly pushing or pulling anticipate the shots for when you change to the next camera. This means directors should keep an eye on program while you are looking for your next shot.

Rule 3.3: Proper framing is incredibly important

Never settle for a bad shot just because it is what you need next. Train operators and coach them to give proper headroom and lead room. This makes transitioning between sources that much smoother and more incognito to the viewer when things are framed up right. Knowing how to frame a wide shot, tight shot and everything in between is critical in producing a good product. As a director you need to be a watch dog to make sure this is apparent and constantly coaching cameras with framing. You could follow every other rule but if the framing is bad, the product will look bad.

Rule 3.4 Still keep it tight

We are talking about IMAG still, nothing different. So even wide shots still need to be tighter wide shots. Depending on screen size and room size will determine how wide you can go. Most of the time a Head to Toe shot is as wide as IMAG can go without giving people the same shot they have from their seats. If you are getting wide shots and putting them on the screen then you have stopped doing IMAG, and you have stopped connecting the audience with the stage.

Rule 4: Timing is everything

More important the good shots timing is everything. Switching between shots needs to be done at the right time. Again, switching cameras should go unnoticed most of the time, it should be done incognito. A noticeable transition is either due to a match cut or a bad timing.

The problem with timing is that every song needs to be treated differently. Every now and again you will get lucky and get a music set that is basically the same but even when directing a specific band they will more than likely have songs that require different directing styles. And it isn’t as simple as a 4:4 beat vs. a 6:8.

Timing is what separates the good directors from the bad directors. Having rhythm or musical talent goes a long way in a director. The ability to anticipate music is also an important skill to have. The more of a challenge rhythm or timing is to you as a director the harder it will be to prepare for directing. The more natural rhythm you have the easier timing will be for you.

Timing is based on the feel of the song rather than the structure of the song. Meaning a 4:4 beat means nothing. There are times when cutting or transitioning on the “down” beat makes sense, there are times when cutting on the “up” beat makes sense, it all depends on the feel. This isn’t really something that can’t be learned through reading, only by developing rhythm and instinct in order to be able to cut in an incognito way.

This may sound strange but when directing turn up the music and… dance a little, move, get into the beat. Because when you are talking it is hard to get into the beat so let your body get into it and it will help to get good timing. As directors we need to be able to completely switch our style of switching from song to song if needed. This is hard! So when you can, practice different styles based on different song styles.

Rule 4.1 Don’t let the music direct you

It is important to get into the rhythm but don’t always let the music determine when you change cameras. Different songs warrant different things and when you are communicating what is happening on stage be sure get more into the feel of the song than the beat. Beats will direct you, because they direct the band, but don’t let the beat over do it. If you do you will only create flashy video that doesn’t enhance what is going on on stage, but instead translate the feel and environment. It is important to let the band do the communicating and develop the energy. As directors we just need to capture that, not create it

When cutting a song you can cut on the “on” beat, the “off” beat, rush a cut/ transition or drag a cut/ transition.

“On” beats or “down” beats are usually cutting at the same time a snare drum hits (Assuming the snare is hitting on the down beat but the average song is done this way). It is a very natural time/ instinct for a director to cut or transition. The problem is sometimes the down beat is harsh and very noticeable making transitions very noticeable. But at least half the songs out there, especially worship songs make it easy to cut on the “on” beat. This is the first thing to master as a director.

The opposite of the “on” beat is the “off” beat. This would be the beat after the snare hits in most cases. Or in rare cases could be between beats, again depends on the song. If a song has a sharp down beat cutting there may be too “flashy” so an “off” beat or “up” beat may be better to keep things incognito.

Dragging is not switching when it might seem natural. Let’s say the lead singer sings the last word and is holding it out and at the same moment a guitar solo starts. Rather than go directly to the guitar, let the lead singer hold the last note, drag out that shot before going to the next. This is what dragging is, holding a little longer than it may naturally feel in order to get that last bit of emotion from your subjects. This could be the end of a vocal line, instrument solo, swell, or any other number of situations.

Rushing is getting to your next shot a bit early. It is basically the opposite of dragging in the same exact situation, it is just a different style depending on what the song warrants. Let’s say a guitar solo is finishing up so you cut to the lead singer a little early to get them walking back up to their microphone or them giving a crowd cue. It’s the directors way of saying lets focus on what is next rather than what just happened. Another classic example is a drum hit. If you don’t get to the drums a bit early you will miss the hit and get the hit after the big one, so it pays off to get there a bit early.

Rule 4.2: Don’t always cut on the big hits, capture them.

When you use strategies such as dragging and rushing you let the Band and the overall production do the big hits. If you try to always cut on the big hit you miss the energy the band gives off doing that hit, or the lights flashing in the background. Sometimes it makes sense to cut on the big hit, it feels good and looks good. But this goes back to letting the band and what is happening on stage create the feel over you as a director creating the feel. Sometimes it is just better to wait, drag or rush so that a big hit gets captured rather than created. This is less of a rule, more of a style and a gray one at that.

Rule 4.3: Hold on to good shots

It seems pretty strait forward, slower songs require slower movement and use fewer shots, fast songs require faster movement and more shots. But more is not always better it always comes back to matching the feel of the song. Too many shots too fast does not create a good product. It is a hard balance to have but remember that if you have a good shot hold on to it. Let the shot take it’s course, if a shot keeps people’s interest then it is a good idea to keep it going, that goes for both fast and slow songs. Switching cameras is all about when people loose interest in the current shot. With faster songs people tend to loose interest quicker than slow songs, it’s part of the feel, but those shots that keep people interested are worth hanging onto longer.

Rule 5: Know music

If you don’t understand music as a director then learn it. Know what a Verse, chorus, bridge, tag, solo, bar, and more terms are that pertain to music. Learn the instruments/ position, and how they contribute. If there are two electric guitars on stage and one is doing a solo, and you can see both of them you should be able to know who is doing the solo and who isn’t based upon their playing. Having an understanding of music will help you out greatly with directing. Rhythm is just the start, understanding music will take you to the next stage.

Rule 5.1 Know where to start

The hardest part of every song is usually the beginning. Getting the beginning of a song right will set the pace for the rest of the song. Get notes going into a show with the set list, notes on the itro, who is the focus, and who starts the song? And when the first verse starts, always start with Number 1, the person leading the song. It establishes the audience to know who is leading and allows them to be lead. It is also a good idea to be on number 1 at the start of the first chorus as well but that is a bit grayer. But the point here is to know the beginning of the song and get on number 1 the first time they establish themselves on every song.

Rule 5.2 Building up and coming down

When a song is building a general rule of thumb is to have a shot on a pull, it simulates getting bigger with a bigger camera shot. When a song is coming down start wider and push in, getting smaller. This is one of those rules to bend, this is just a starting point. There are many ways to translate songs building up or coming down but this is an easy rule to implement and easily translates the energy.

Rule 6: Pre-Planning

The more planning you do the better chance you have at a good product. Planning starts long before getting onsite for a show. Things that should be preplanned are camera placement, stage plots, music sets and info pertaining to the set. The more details that get sorted out the better.

Camera placement and stage plots go hand in hand, if cameras can’t get good shots then the end product won’t look good. Spend time working with the band to get them in the right spots and move cameras into a spot that maximizes their range.

Info about each song can be incredibly useful. Get song charts that give you the arrangement and details of the song, talk to band members or sit in on rehearsals and take notes on who does what when getting every detail of the song down even if it isn’t used. This may be a task for an Assistant Director, but the more information about the songs that you have as a director allows you to get cameras in the right position sooner creating a better product. This is less of a rule and more of a guideline.

Rule 7: Commanding the ship

Once you get on Com the director needs to be in charge of the crew. Command them and lead them well. The level of production is dependent on how well the director directs and leads the team. The crew should know that you are in charge and build trust with you as you lead them. Every production is a new learning experience where the crew and the Director have to work as a team, and the director is the captain.

Rule 7.1 Clear, Concise, command

When calling camera shots it is important to first of all be clear. This means speaking up, being confident in what you say, and being direct towards who the commands are intended for. An example of this is always saying “Cam 1” before you ask Cam 1 to do something. This makes it clear who you are talking to. Remember most venues run music loud and you need to be heard over the music, so speak loud and clearly.

Be concise, long sentences don’t work, there is no time for that. Practice keeping what you say on com to a minimum, get to the point and get on to the next thing. An example of this is “1 push” vs. “Camera 1 can you give me a push please?” It’s great to be polite but you can accomplish that in your tone rather than your words.

This leads to the last piece, Command. Learn command words like: Push, pull, reset, go, stop, hold, focus, rack, roll, iris, shade. These words get to the point (concise) and get people reacting quickly.  It allows you as a director to really command the ship well.

Rule 7.2: communicate the energy

This rule is so important to get right. The energy you bring on com sets the energy for the entire crew and helps them perform how you want them to perform. During fast songs getting excited and speaking with energy will help get energetic shots. Slow songs speaking quieter with less energy slows people down. If you are always quiet and slow you will always get those shots out of people. Don’t be afraid to get excited! Have Fun! It all translates to the crew and their performance in getting a quality production.

This may mean finding things that amp you up while directing. Telling a joke during down time, cranking up the music, turning down the music, dance, and simply be silly.

Rule 7.3: Encourage

If you want your directing to get better, encourage your crew and compliment them when they do things the way you want: when they frame up a shot correctly, have good speed in their movement, find the right action at the right time, and the list goes on. Do it in the moment on com so everyone can hear. If the crew knows they are doing something right they will be more inclined to do it right again, and seek new ways to get your approval as a director. Sometimes this means complimenting the little things to win small battles with ops. This also means keeping your cool and developing patience when necessary on com.

Rule 8: Knowing Why

Once you learn the rules the only thing to do is to evaluate your directing. No director is perfect and they don’t consistently direct perfect shows. But humility and the drive to continually get better will make you a better director. The best question to always ask is “Why?” Why did I do that transition, why did it work or why didn’t it? Why did that did I cut to that person at that time? The idea is to have an answer for everything you do as a director both good and bad. If you can honestly answer “Why” to every decision you make as a director then you will continually get better at directing.

I think the worse answer to the “Why” question is “Because it breaks it up.” That answer tends to be cop out and only leads to the question, “Why does it break it up” or “why did it need to be broken up?” The answer to the “Why” question should be based on the other rules above, such as: the focus changed, the shot was no longer interesting, Number 1 stopped being a number 1, they are leading the song, the song warranted a connection to this musician, this person was bringing great energy that fit the song and so on… Remember the purpose of IMAG, IMAG is meant to connect everyone in an auditorium to what is happening on the stage in a way that keeps people engaged and energized in order to enhance their overall experience. This purpose should also support your why. Back to the worse answer “Because it breaks it up” did the shot loose connection or Energy? If yes, good, if no then back to the original question of “Why.”

So once again this is less of a rule and more of a self-evaluation, the rule is that the only way to better your directing is to always be evaluating and getting better.

 

There is a lot of information here, and a lot of rules to learn. So take it in pieces and learn one rule at a time and master it to the point where it becomes second nature where you don’t have to think about it any more. Remember, once Rules are learned and mastered can you then bend and even break them from time to time but be sure to know why you are breaking them. Directing music is not easy, at least not easy to do it well. And the chances of having a perfect show is almost next to none but the more you follow the rules the more consistent your directing will become, and the more engaged and connected your audience will be. And you as a director will fulfill the purpose of IMAG.

This post was centered around Music for IMAG purposes. Broadcast music, talking head, and other live video styles share many of the same rules but do have a few of their own.

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Churches + Social media

The other day I heard someone say, ”social media is not a fad, it is here to stay.”   It seems pretty obvious but for some reason I don’t think we treat it that way in the church market. If we do believe that statement I’m not sure we are responding the way we should. It’s like the invention of the electric guitar. The church sees it and think just because it exists doesn’t mean that it should adopt this new instrument. But just like the electric guitar, social media is saturating the world around us whether we like it or not, time to adopt this trend.

I am no expert with social media, in fact I’m a little bit dumb when it comes to knowing the in’s and outs of our socialized world. Sure I have a facebook and twitter account, but I have yet to get an instagram account, I just can’t justify a third platform.

One of the things that I enjoy about my job as a freelance trainer for Ross video is the ability to get exposure to new products. Some of these products I end up learning pretty well and training while others I just learn in theories. One of these products that I have recently learned is Ross’s social media management software called Inception. Inception allows users to do two things. One it allows multiple users to post to mulitiple platforms such as facebook, youtube, instagram, twitter, brightcove and more instantly or via a scheduled service. These posts can also be done in an approval basted process or go direct to web through a centralized account on each of these platforms. But more importantly you can also manage incoming feeds from all these platforms for use on live on-air broadcasts again across all major social media platforms.

What baffles me is the fact that social media is one of the most powerful ways to get information out there, but many churches are behind in using it. Sure they have an account for the church, and many key pastors post things now and then with an occasional hashtag introduced every now and again. But it isn’t a centerpiece inside the church community.

I believe that social media is one of the best outreach tools at our disposal now days. And many churches will do a big social media push around Christmas or Easter but they don’t have their community interacting on a weekly basis. If the attendees were encouraged to interact with your church on a weekly basis do you realize the number of people that will see those posts? Person A has 300 friends, person B has 600 friends, and Person C has 210 friends, and so on and so forth.

Let’s say Bill goes to First Church of Springford and they use social media every week. Once Bill get’s to church he checks his kids in, grabs a cup of coffee and grabs a seat. While he is waiting for the service to begin he sees posts on the side screens of people from previous services like… “Great worship set @firstspring, don’t miss out,” “That message really spoke to me this week #firstspring,” “My kids love going to church (insertpic) #firstspringgram.” Do you think that Bill might be inclined to post something like “Excited for church @firstspring?” I do!

Now Bill is just one of many members that do the “monkey see, monkey do” scenario and posts something to social media. Now You have Alan, Alan doesn’t go to church but he notices posts from a few of his friends about how they enjoy church at First Church of Springford, not once, not twice but consistently throughout the year. One day Bill is hanging out with Alan and they get talking. Alan knows Bill goes to First church of Springford because he sees it on social media with many of his other friends and it opens the door for an invitation to church.

Maybe this is a bit cliché, but churches have free advertising at their disposal in social media with the ability to expand their audience by encouraging others to build interaction with them. I don’t think it is enough for a once in a while interaction, a re-tweet of an inspiring quote from their pastor or a share of an upcoming series promotion. Both are good things but weekly interactions need to be central in the church. If the church is really about reaching people then they need to adopt this tool into their workflow.

Now since this Blog is about IMAG, how do you incorporate social media well into your facility? I believe to do it well you need to incorporate all social media platforms in a bi-directional manor. That means posting pictures, videos and other posts leading up to services every week as well as bring social media into your services every week in a quality non-cheesy way. This could be before services, after services, during services, or during the week leading up to or post service. There are so many opportunities to get people interacting. And then you bring social media back into your services for the sake of keeping people interacting, again the monkey see monkey do principal.

The posting isn’t necessarily the hard part. But there are many different pieces of software out there that allow people to schedule tweets so you can pre-meditate these posts to encourage people to show up and be active on all different platforms. This is one thing I noticed Ross’s inception does quite well. You can schedule posts to go out and even have a point person that approves them on different accounts if needed so there is unity and quality control of what goes out.

One the other side there needs to be a way to manage what goes on screen for quality control as well without alienating different social media platforms, cuz let’s face it, not everyone has twitter, or facebook or instagram. All platforms need to be considered and managed at the same time. Then you have to graphically display these on screen during, or between services while posting back to social media, talk about a full time job! Again you will have to invest in software to make this happen to manage the outgoing tweets and feed some type of graphically bases software program. Not to drop by bias perspective but Ross Video’s inception + xpression does this quite well…. (Sales pitch over).

So this is a different kind of post for me, this is a challenge to churches out there to get onboard with social media and not make it a side thing, but to make it a center part of their services. I am just scratching the surface of what you can do. I haven’t mention polls and surveys, which could also be a powerful tool. If TV shows like American Idol and the Voice can make social media a center part of their show, why can’t churches? I think it is time for churches to invest in social media and bring it to the center of our church services in order to encourage interaction and outreach.

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The Role of IMAG

Last night I went to a concert and they had live IMAG.  Now overall this company did a great job with video.  There were some personal preference differences but it looked good.  One of the things that drove me nuts though (and in fact it is one of my pet peeves) is when a director will Trashcan video.  By trashcan, I mean quickly cut between all available cameras at the end of a song when the band is holding and riding that last chord in a high-energy fashion.

This got me thinking about the different pieces of production, audio, video, lighting and how they incorporate to our experience as attenders/ observers.  I asked myself the question, “Who creates the show and who enhances the show?”  What I mean is who creates the experience for the attenders/ observers and who supports that creation?

So I started at the beginning, why are we attending this concert?  We are all attending the show because we enjoy the music of the band.  They are the first level of Creation, they create the music, the set-lists, the arrangements, ect.  These songs are then enhanced through audio reinforcement via a PA and an Audio engineer. Now a good audio engineer is critical to the experience at a concert but they aren’t creating anything, only enhancing/ reinforcing the sounds coming from stage.  Again, it is extremely important to have a good audio engineer but they don’t have much to do with creation.

Then, as bands get bigger add in lighting, and lighting helps create an experience.  Yes it does enhance the band, but lighting is key in creating a good show.  It is like building blocks above and beyond what the band has created.  As the building blocks go up they may eventually get into video elements such as produced content displayed on LED panels, walls, or via projection.  Again, adding to the creation of the show.

If you have ever seen a band live more than once, ask yourself what was better from one show to the next.  More than likely when a band gets bigger they add in more production elements to create a more exciting environment.  And even as you hear the same songs, as well as some new songs, what the band has created has relatively stayed the same, only the tools used to add to the experience have changed Creating a better experience for the attenders.

But eventually you get to IMAG, and Cameras.  Video and cameras are different,  video is content used to help create the show where cameras are there to enhance the show to the audience.  It should re-enforce the show that was created via the band, lights, and video elements.  There is no need to re-create the show through cutting cameras.

I see some directors do this, they feel like they need to hit every beat and create energy as if the band is standing still like props and the only way to make it interesting is to cut really fast or on every beat creating “flashy” video directing.  It is in this moment that people stop watching the band and start watching the video directing.  At that point you are cutting cameras to music and people could almost careless what or who is on stage. And at the end of a song when a Band is Trashcanning and going nuts, there is no need to go nuts cutting cameras, there is enough energy between the band and lights that the cameras can easily translate this energy by holding longer on shots and letting the audience connect with the band.  I’m not saying you won’t maybe cut cameras a bit faster but refrain from creating your own “Trashcan.”

The show has already been created, so enhance it, don’t create a new one.

I believe audio and video (IMAG) are support roles used to enhance the show happening on stage.

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Knowing when not to Switch

As a director one of the things I always try and do is to get into a grove.  In my case that sometimes involves dancing in my chair while I’m directing.  It’s a bit awkward but I find it effective… no matter how many times people laugh (they don’t laugh at the end product J).  It is really all about the grove, finding the beats or off beats depending on the song.

 

When I was first learning to direct my mentor would always tell me, “If you have a good shot, it is ok to stay with it for an extra second or two.  Don’t switch just because you think it is time.” Over the years I have become better at recognizing when to hold a good shot rather than switch off of it, but sometimes it gets tough because when you get in a grove and ops are finding shots you just want to keep cutting, you get on a role!  I also have have trust issues at times with my ops.  How long can they really hold that shot or make it interesting? Which causes me to cut off them when I could have ridden it out a bit longer.

 

This last weekend I directed a music festival and this year we brought in a jib and flew in a hand held operator who I had created “Magic” with before. Overall I had a great team of ops that did a bang up job (yes they were hired).  After the first day I knew I had to alter my directing style.  I won’t go into everything I did in that moment but the biggest thing  was re-learning: if you have a good shot, keep it. Sometimes it is best not to switch.

 

As I was working with some great ops that included a great Hand held guy and Jib op I felt like I had to Stop and smell the roses every now and then.  The jib was a new ball game for me as I had only worked with one once before.  Jib shots tend to change even more over time and last even longer which plays into this waiting concept. It allows your audience to enjoy the shot, connect with your subjects, and hook them into your magic spell.

 

When you make the decisions to hold a shot it still has to fit the song, it has to match the tempo, the beat, and overall “fit.”  This is really on your ops to get their movement just right, and as a director you may have to coach them a bit.  Slower songs are easier, faster songs are harder (in most cases).  Not switching may be as simple as an extra beat, bar, second or section of a song.   There is no formula, it is about keeping the end product interesting and grabbing the audience’s attention.

 

As you let the good shots linger, communicate that to your ops so they know they are still on air.  There is nothing wrong with saying “Still on 3” or “Make it last 2” or my favorite “we’re going to ride the wave on 4.”  If you don’t do this ops will forget they are live because they get in a rhythm as well.

The second thing I was reminded of during this festival was to let the production guys do some of the work.  When you have a big hit coming, don’t always try and cut on the hit. Audio & lights will hit, the band will get excited, so let them communicate what is going on rather than you trying to do it yourself.  Sometimes the most effective way to have a big hit is to just…. Wait! Usually on a wider shot.

Don’t make something that is already there! If I were to always cut the show on the beat and try to be a one man show, I will fail every time.  Remember you are part of a “Production Team!” let the other areas do their job and then enhance what they do!

I’m not saying you should do an entire production of not cutting on the big hits and only taking shots that last a long time.  I’m saying just every once in a while don’t cut! Don’t change sources.  Avoid your natural instinct and see what happens.  Sometimes less is more, experiment with quality rather than quantity.

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5 Do’s and Don’ts of Beginning a multi-Site Church

On my Blog I try and make my audience clear, I write for the Live Video person doing IMAG, or at the very least, church Tech people in general. But this may be one of the few post I ever write that I hope Church leaders/ decision makers read. I have seen and or been part of quite a few multi-campus churches and there are many ways to do multi-site video venues, (take a look at different style options on the multi-site tab on the top of this Blog). However, when diving into multi-site for the first time there are a few Do’s and Don’t that no matter what style of Video venue is chosen should be followed.

The Don’ts:

Don’t rush into it: I have seen many different scenarios of churches rushing into multi-site video venues. Everything from a church was given a property and the congregation pushes to go now, to a premature announcement announcing the date when it will launch and nobody knows if it will actually be ready or even work. But going multi-site is not just a decision to either do it or not. In fact, once the decision is made to launch another campus, and that campus will be a video venue, the planning has really just begun. In the realm of technology, decisions need to be made based upon desired style, technology required for recording venue, technology required for the play-out venue, and process for transportation and delivery. The planning of all these things alone takes time, but each piece should be given a proper timeline to implement.

It’s much like building a house, you never just sell your house and then expect to move-in within a month before any planning has started. You have to find a lot, pick a contractor, design the house, figure out the details, and so on and so forth. It takes months, not weeks for this process to take place. The same is true with implementing the level of technology required to do a multi-site video venue, it takes time to do it right.

Don’t buy the cheapest thing that will work: If I have heard it once I have heard it a 1000+ times, “What is the cheapest thing we can buy to make this work?” I can’t even begin to go into why this is the wrong question to be asking. I believe a statement should replace the question, “This has to work!” Do you understand what you are doing once the decision is made to build a video venue? You are asking people to come to church to watch a screen for at least half of a service! They have no other option, it has to work, and it has to be reliable if this campus is to succeed. If you go in with the cheapest thing possible you are automatically going in with the wrong approach. This doesn’t mean you can’t be budget conscious, it just means it is going to take a good chunk of cash to get it going.

Don’t go in without a back up plan: So if we start saying “This has to Work” we need to face that even the best gear on the market will eventually fail for one reason or another. It could be human error, struck by lighting or just simply fail for no good reason. Either way, if you are doing video, there needs to be a back-up plan in place. In most cases this is a back-up recording on duplicate record decks or on less than ideal mediums such as DVD’s. When I worked at Eagle Brook Church we always had a minimum of 2 back-ups behind our primary transport method. And we had a full procedure sheet that went over every different scenario possible and what to do if something failed during that time. In my 5 years at Eagle Brook even with some fantastic gear, we still had many occasions where we would go to one of our back-ups. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. Don’t overlook back-up plans.

Don’t give it to a volunteer: In pretty much every church the message is your bread and butter, it’s why people come to your church. If you have a 100% volunteer tech team I would highly recommend not going to a video venue until you have some type of staff in place to be responsible for the technology and the process. I believe in many cases this is a paid staff person on both ends, the record site and the play-out site. Again, This HAS to work, as great as many volunteers are, this isn’t what they do for a living, and don’t have as much at stake as a staff person would. If the system needs to be refined, staff people will more quickly react then a volunteer can.  There has to be some level of responsibility/ reliability that this will work every week no matter what!

As much as volunteers will be a part of the process, they should not be solely responsible. Minimizing human error is one of the hardest things to make consistent, by minimizing volunteer involvement with the critical stages of recording and play-out can be a huge factor in success. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a volunteer press record or press play. But there has to be someone overseeing to make sure things are on track and done right.

Don’t forget about quality: It not only has to work, but it also has to look good, keep people engaged and make them forget that they are at a video venue. The audience doesn’t have to believe that the person speaking is actually there, but they should eventually not care that they aren’t. One of the best ways to do this is have a product of quality. This is end to end. It starts with the Pastor and how they look, what they say and possibly wearing make-up; good lighting; quality cameras; steady/ smooth operation; high resolution recording devices; If you are streaming, a high quality stream; a good play-out device(s), and great projectors. Yes this has to do with gear, but it also has to do with training and practice. Quality matters, if you don’t care about quality then you are essentially saying that you don’t care if the video venue succeeds or fails.

Quality doesn’t stop being an issue once you launch your first service, it will take years and years of continuing to refine and work on making the quality better and better. The process will continue forever, and needs to be watched closely to ensure things don’t slip. Your campus(s) depend on the quality being high.

The Do’s!

Do your homework- visit other multi sites: You are not the first church to do multi-site, go visit other churches that are doing multi-site and go to a few of them, ideally ones that are doing different styles to give you an idea of different options, what works well and what doesn’t. Find churches doing multi-site well but also find churches that aren’t doing it well and figure out why they aren’t. Ask lots of questions about the technology they use and what the overall cost is. Whatever they tell you the actual price is, assume it will cost you more. The reason I say this is because you don’t know what technology they had in place, what deals were around when they purchased that gear, or if that gear is even available anymore. The safe bet is to assume higher. But the best way to learn is to visit other churches and learn from what they did well and their mistakes in going through the process.

One of the mistakes I see when churches visit other churches is they are usually under the impression that they can do it differently or spend less than the church they are at did. Yes, you can do it differently and still do it well, but facing reality is important. The reality of cost, quality, timelines, training, and practice need to be understood when entering into multi-site.

Do keep it practical:  I hear all the time that churches just want to dive right in. They want to do 2 channels, live stream, time slip, and the first week out of the gate. Keep in mind you can always expand later. But start off simple; see if it will work first. I’m not saying to invest in the bare minimum, but invest wisely in order to expand in the future if things tend to go well. It is also easier to move forward step-by-step then it is to dive in head first.

Since I have left Eagle brook I have help a few churches go Multi-site. And very often I hear of churches that want to do multi-site the exact same way EBC is doing it, the whole 9 yards. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do it the best you can, but maybe before doing live stream try doing a physical transfer of decks, and rather than doing two channels maybe try with 1 first. If you have the staff and infrastructure to go all in, then go for it, but if you don’t then scale it back. A quality experience can still be achieved with less.

One of the churches I recently worked with did a very simple setup.   They transport 1 drive from one location to the next, it is a single camera shot operated well without graphics and only video rolls mixing in and out of the camera shot. At their playback campus, it is a small venue, we have three screens butted up next to eachother, and they play the pastor on the center screen and on the sides they have the pastor’s Prezi. Because of the room size, and technology budget, it makes perfect sense to do what they are doing, and it looks good! It was carefully planned and implemented well. It is simple but clean, and their first campus is a huge success!

The other side of this is don’t try too much too soon. I worked with a larger church that did the 2 channel live stream system. We spent a lot of time getting it working and up to speed (on a very tight timeline). This church did decide that the first week out of the gate they wanted to broadcast in reverse. They didn’t purchase extra gear to make this happen so we had to physically un-install the gear and move it from one location to the other. This would be a major task on any week that I would never recommend, but to do this the First week wasn’t practical. The church pushed and as an integrator we made it happen. (I was out of town so my Boss made it happen J). But there are so many variables in live stream that getting one direction to work well has it’s challenges, to immediately swap directions can be equally challenging. Just because it works one way doesn’t mean it will work both ways. Be practical.

Do train for multi site: Practice, practice, practice! Multi-site may be a different product than what is produced for the Web or in-house IMAG. So it requires practice from all parties involved. The Pastor, Camera operators, video directors, CG operators, audio guys, lighting ect. It takes the whole team. And it isn’t just getting the product looking good it is also about the process and building habits to ensure things get done and done right week in and week out. As someone I recently met said, repeated perfect practice produces perfect results. Figure out the details in getting a good product because everyone plays an important part.

Do invest: Doing multi-site video venues are not cheap. If you do it in a cheap manor you will get cheap results. But yet many churches don’t want to invest the money in the proper video technology. It is important to invest well not only in the record but also in the playback campuses as well. The first campus is always the most difficult because you have to make investments into 2 venues rather than one and the record campus is always the most expensive. After the first satellite campus is launched the investments back into the main record venue is much smaller.

Think of the alternative to a video venue, having a live speaker every week that is up to the quality of the speaker you have at your main campus. Not only is that difficult to find, but people need time off and then you have to have someone fill in for them. So think of the salary for a speaker, I’ll say 60K a year, I feel like that is middle of the road for a teaching pastor these days. After 2 years that is 120K of savings by not hiring a speaker for that campus. And if you buy the right the gear, it will last 5-10 years. If you take that 120K and invest that into just the cost of doing the recording and distribution, that can go a long way, it may be more or less than you need but either way it is a good chunk of cash to get multi-site going. Keep in mind a Satellite campuses needs basic audio, video and lighting no matter if you have a speaker or make it a video venue, so the money you save in staffing should go towards the specific technology needed for the video venue portion of the install.

Investing wisely into a video venue from the start makes a huge difference; if the investments are made cheaply then it will always be a struggle to get these campuses to be successful. Don’t let the poor investments of the bread and butter of your service be the reason why a satellite campus doesn’t succeed.

Do partner with an integrator that has expertise with Multi-Site: The best thing you can do as a church when investing in the technology for multi-site is to partner with a good integrator that has done this before. It is the job of system integrators to know what technology is out there and what is the best fit for what you want to do and talk through the ups and downs of each solution and style of production. So find a system integrator you trust, visit other sites they have worked on and see the solutions they have integrated. There are many ways to do multi-site video venues, and an integrator will be the best resource you have to point you in the proper direction.

 

Watching churches dive into multi-site without doing their research and fully understanding what it takes to pull off multi-site video venues well is hard for me to watch. Everyone wants a quick fix solution that doesn’t cost any money, but that doesn’t exist. These campuses are not just a cheap thing to throw together to solve a problem; they truly are investments and need to be treated as such. An investment in technology, staff and volunteers to make these campuses succeed.

 

 

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