Everybody Just Hold On!!

I really hate to target people, especially companies on my Blog, but in fear of watching people making a BIG mistake I have to say something about the new Black Magic Studio camera.  As the Church market has quickly embraced IMAG and live video in their facilities so has BMD given them cheap small format gear to test the waters with.  Every year when NAB comes around I watch so many people fall head over heals for BMD, and every year it is difficult to watch this happen. It seems like especially in the church community, BMD can do no wrong.

As far as Black magic goes I have always had mixed feelings about their products.  Some of their products are great because they are cost effective and make fitting things into a budget a reality, but other items they sell just leave me scratching my head confused.  **Please keep in mind as you read on that my perspective is from a Live event/ IMAG approach for churches.

What I have concluded about BMD is that what they do best is cinema and post production.  Even their products pointing at the live market have “Post” written all over them in their design and use.  But crafty people started to use their products in a live environment when they need to fit the budget, but I think it is starting to go too far.  So much so that BMD have convinced themselves that they now produce Live video production gear and have then started to produce more gear directed towards that market.

The BMD studio camera is such a device. They made this for live production, but to me it just doesn’t seem like a good live production camera, at least not for IMAG.  Now I believe that ALL products have a niche market and if I had to niche this product it would be for small studio based streaming applications or temporary Nano studio.  So for the purposes of my Blog I do not think this is a good camera for IMAG/ Live video.

To be completely honest, I haven’t actually touched the camera yet.  I have only read up on the product, but as I have been reading about it, I see nothing but Red Flags.

Here are just a few things I noticed:

I/O: The input/output on this camera is marketed to be cost effective rather than spend money on “costly camera cables” (in their words), instead you have to manually tie in the camera running a minimum of 3 cables to get your camera in a system causing a very bulky cable loom. Camera cables are used for a reason in order to add flexibility, functionality and mobility to a camera.  As I have tied many cameras into a system and used them for live production, it is never ideal and typically adds a high level of wear on both the cameras and cables. This is the first “Studio Camera” I have ever seen without an actual Camera cable.

Lens mount: BMD is using a micro fourth lens mount, which for small studio applications could work fine, but when shooting any type of distance you will still need a proper Broadcast lens.  They claim you can use adapters in order to use broadcast lenses but it will be interesting to see the limitation this could bring.  Either way, by not using a standard B4 bayonet mount lens means to me that they aren’t taking the needs of a broadcaster seriously.  It also seems that the only iris control is through LANC or monitor control, which has to be done on the camera by the operator, and is not standard practice for studio cameras.

Com: I think com is one of the most surprising things on this camera (although I’m not surprised after seeing their camera adapter).  Aviation headsets are NOT an industry standard.  In fact if you get a broadcast com system you will have to adapt the system in order to get their com to work in a traditional system.  Be prepared for a BMD com solution in the next few years so people can actually use the com system they have in place, because that is the only logical explanation I can come up with to why they are using an aviation headset.

Tally: I am happy to see that BMD has a solution for tally, however, if you don’t have their production switcher then good luck.  From what I can tell, their switcher is doing some type of VANC insertion to trigger the tally on and off. I have to admit I am impressed, but if you choose to not go with their switcher, then there isn’t any back-up plan that I can tell.  Proprietary formats are great but not if it alienates other people from using such a standard feature.

Control: Out of all the features this one confuses me the most.  Rather than have a traditional CCU or some type of remote control they are using software.  But that software is actually part of their switcher, not the camera.  The switcher is then sending information back to the camera (again I would assume through VANC as there is no other connection on the camera) in order to control all the settings.  So there is no CCU, and no remote control.  Part of me likes the idea of software, it is cost effective, but in no way is it fast.  In theatrical environments (which is most churches) light levels are constantly changing, which for cameras requires a dedicated shader to react to lighting changes quickly.  Software isn’t that quick and will make it a constant battle using their system.  And again, if you don’t have an ATEM switcher then you won’t get this feature at all.

No hand held operation: with the integrated monitor, it doesn’t look like there will ever be a logical way to use this camera as a hand held device.  All the photo’s and all the logic in my brain are showing this as a hard camera made to be placed on a tripod or other mounted solution.

Camera controls: Standard zoom and focus controls are key and it looks like BMD has a solution for that via the LANC control or through a lens manufacture.  But studio cameras these days are made so that the operator never has to take their hands off the controls.  They can zoom, focus, check return video, talk on their headset, and in some cases iris without removing their hands from the controls.  It would be interesting to see if BMD has integration with lens controls for all these functions.  But from what I can tell return video, talking, and iris has to be done on the camera.


The issues listed above are just a few things that I can tell without actually using the camera.  But knowing BMD and using some of their other products, they have a habit of thinking things through half way and shipping products that are half done.  I know the church community and they will see the price and instantly flock towards it.  In a live/ IMAG scenario I just can’t see this camera being a good fit.  It also worries me that BMD thinks this is a good solution for a studio camera. Where did they get their research from? Seriously!  I’m all for going out of the box but I don’t think they are in the same room as the box.

When you start to invest in live production gear be sure to really do your homework and if you can’t get the gear to do it right, then usually the best thing to do is to save money and wait until you have the funds to pull it off well.  I think one of the worse things you can do is to buy gear based on price without really evaluating needs.  At this point the only way I could justify buying the BMD studio camera is as a fixed POV shot, or in a Nano studio, but even then I would still have a lot more research to do.

I’m just asking everyone in the church community to hold on for a second! Just because Black Magic put’s their name on the camera doesn’t mean it is the right fit. The church community has a way of flocking to products because of either price or because of a name. If you are considering the BMD camera for your facility I think it is time to re-Evaluate what your needs truly are.


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When Rookies are the only option

Directing for IMAG isn’t always the easiest thing to do, and working with volunteers makes it even harder.  They are rookies, novices, newbies, green ops and many have no experience.  But without a crew, we don’t have a show so, embracing these volunteers are key.  Eventually when volunteers return we are able to work with them and help them build their skills and grow up teams of people. But I know I have been guilty of letting the rookie/ newbie be an excuse when a production doesn’t go well or up to par.  And let’s be honest, sometimes it is the crew, and many times it isn’t.  I’ve had moments with highly skilled paid operators that don’t go well, where we aren’t able to get a rhythm going. And I have had great productions with the rookie crews as well.  And if you have read my stuff before you know I always say it starts and ends with the director.  As a director I have to play to my operators strengths in order to get what I want.  I have to train them to get into my rhythm and work together.  At the end of the day it is a team effort and the director has to be the one to get the team into shape.

Once a year between Christmas and New Years, my skills are tested.  I do a show where my entire crew walks in a day before the event starts having never touched a camera or worked in a production before.  I’m lucky if one of them will return from year to year.  I don’t claim to be the best director or leader, but I have had some success in the last few years going from 0 to production and having a good product, here are some of the things I have learned.

Gear:  It all starts with having the right gear. Giving your operators the right tools to make their lives simple, and easy.  I make sure I have cameras with the proper support, lensing, and features.  They have Com that is loud and clear so they can hear me and talk to me if they have questions.  Tally so they know when they are live, and return video for them to see who is live and the shots they have.  Before these Volunteers arrive I have set them up with the tools to succeed so all they have to do is pan, tilt, zoom and focus.  Without the right gear they are only being setup for failure.  A bad or under-spec’d tripod sets them up for shaky, un-usable shots. Too short of lens doesn’t allow for them to even get a proper shot, and not having the right features will only open the door for mistakes.

Setting expectations: Before they get on a camera I sit down with them as a team and we talk about what they will be doing and the roles they play.  I try and talk them through exactly what they will be experiencing and the product I’m looking for as a director.  Essentially I paint a big picture of what they will be doing.  They also get some face time with me and get a little pre-cursor to what is going on. It’s nothing dramatic or formal, just an opportunity to establish a few expectations.  I also at this time give them a print out of basic terms, and camera functions incase I  don’t explain myself or have to explain every term.

Break their Fear: We all know that the best way to learn camera or any other positions is to just get on it and do it.  But before I throw them to the wolves I take the entire crew to each and every camera position.  We talk about the role of the camera and why it is there.  I then go over all the controls and operation.  When I do this my goal is to make it simple, get them away from any fear they may have about running camera.  I say things like “nothing to be afraid of,” “it’s easy,” “simple right?” “easier than you thought?”  I just try and get them to think of it as being easy. If they don’t get rid of their fear, they will only hold on to it. And keep in mind, because I have set them up with the right gear, it is easy only having to pan, tilt, zoom, and focus. It is easy to know when they are live because they have a tally light.

Added into this I also try and use the terms I will be using as a director in order to get them familiar with jargon.  I encourage people to practice “slow and steady movements,” and describe the shots that each camera can get.  It is a subtle way to get them each on every camera using the controls and telling them the shots you want them to get in a way they will be hearing it later.

Trial: Once everyone has learned how to use a camera, everyone gets on and I go back to the switcher and hop on Com.  I again talk to them so they get used to my voice on Com and again tell them what I expect.  I have them begin practicing moves together and we go over the different types of shots.  I typically try and do this while a band or some other talent is on stage so there is something to shoot.

Next we play a little camera games where everyone pulls out as far as they can.  I tell them a shot I want and whoever can get there first, in focus, wins.  We go over strategies like zooming all the way in to get your focus before setting a shot. As we go through the game it gets more complicated such as adding in pushes or pulls.  I get them to rotate cameras so they can get used to running the different angles.

If I can, I try to do a bit of directing with the music, although the band is usually practicing and they start and stop a lot which makes it tough.

Wrap: The entire training/ session takes about 2 hours.  I meet with all the operators afterwards and we talk about what was going on, ask for questions and re-enforce that it is easy and to not be scared.  The next time they are on camera is the start of the event.  I encourage them to come early to play and ask questions.

Enforce expectations: That is pretty much the training I give them.  But I don’t always think that is the most important part of dealing with rookies.  I feel like the most important part in the first show is staying calm, being encouraging and giving them information on what is happening and what to expect.  And right out of the gate I start directing them like I direct every production and try and be clear, concise, and hold them to the expectations we talked about earlier.  I remind them as they are setting up their shots with what I’m looking for- head-room, lead-room, focus, hold steady, push, pull. I try and do as little settling as possible, but sometimes with the rookies you have to pick your battles and settle for what you get and now what you always want, just try and get the little victories like focus, and framing.

Encouragement: Whenever they do something that is right, or even on the right track I encourage it by telling them in some way that what they are doing is good.  Giving positive re-enforcement is the best way to get your operators to improve and gain consistency. They will work hard for you if they feel like they are doing well and giving you what you want.  You may still have to give criticism but don’t approach it as criticism but as helping them understand what you are looking for.

Fun:  During the down times try and have some fun, don’t be all business all the time, try and be more like a mullet (business in front, party in back). Don’t do it in a way that is un-profession that may cause a mistake, but try and keep the com chatter light and fun.  Maybe even tell an embarrassing story to keep it light.  This helps keep the fear away.

I did have one advantage that you may not.  And that is I had these operators for 4-5 days in a row.  But I would encourage you to get operators on that are green a lot in the beginning in order to make what they are learning stick.  Too much time away isn’t good.  But I have always said that every production is a learning experience for everyone involved no matter what the experience level is.  As a director all the camera operators and crew have to re-learn me, my style and whatever has changed since the last time they were on.  And I as a director have to re-learn them as operators and how the overall team will work together.  No two productions are alike and treating each one as new is key.

Every year I am always impress at the quality of production we are able to achieve with such a rookie crew.  I’m not that good of a director so it has to be that we are coming together as a team. Sure the product could be better, and rookie mistakes are made… they are rookies, We get a product that isn’t horrible, and sometimes we get something together to be proud of.  But remember, It’s the team effort that makes successful productions happen, not just individual ones.

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Reasons why your Prosumer camera should not be used for IMAG

The most important piece(s) in your IMAG system will always be your cameras.  They are the most expensive part but they determine the quality and are the basis for your effectiveness for your IMAG.  It doesn’t matter if you only doing webcasting, IMAG for message or IMAG all around, Prosumer cameras, as in-expensive as they are, just are not good for IMAG. Here are some reasons why…

1) Proper connections: To fit well into a broadcast or live scenario cameras need to have SDI out’s and Genlock-in in order to get high quality video timed into your system quickly and efficiently.  Without these connections you have to convert the signal and timed it into your system, which can cause delay and have the possibility to destroy quality.

2) lenses: IMAG requires users to be zoomed in tight, to magnify the IMAG on stage. Most prosumer cameras don’t offer great built in lenses or even if they have swappable lenses, they have lots of limitations to the lenses you can get.  When shooting 50+ feet away you need powerful lenses to get the shots you need in order to be effective.

3) Weight/ smooth operation:  We never want heavy cameras, but having a bit of weight on a GOOD tripod allows for nice smooth movement.  Light cameras are hard to shoot from a distance and keep steady.

4) Chip size:  Prosumer cameras often times have small chipsets in them.  Even though they have 3 chips usually in them doesn’t make them good chips.  Often times in IMAG environments you are shooting against theatrical lighting environments and harsh lighting conditions which can oversaturate the chips and make lighting for video near impossible.  2/3” chips are always idea for for shooting IMAG.

5) longevity:  Prosumer cameras have a shelf life of 3-5 years where studio cameras have a shelf life of 10-15 years.  Prosumer cameras aren’t made to be on for long periods of times, which can put lots of wear on the cameras and destroys the image quality of the video.  Cameras like this are made to go on quick shoots for a couple of hours a week and be replaced when you replace your edit system/ computer.  Studio cameras in some cases are on 24/7 for their entire life.  You could end up spending money 5 times over rather than spending it up front.

6) Proper tools:  Every camera operator needs to have the ability to have tools for them to succeed.  You need good lens controls such as zoom and focus, tally lights to know when you are live and when you aren’t, “return video” to look at a return feed of what is currently live, and Com to communicate with the rest of the production staff.  As there are ways around this, they tend to be bulky and in-efficient and never work as well as they do with a camera where everything is tied together in one system.

7) Quality Control:  Quality control is key in any expanded system, especially when you have multiple cameras.  Prosumer cameras lack controls such as iris, white balancing, black balancing, and other controls that directly effect image quality and matching camera to camera. With these tools you can use a waveform/ vector scope to do fine adjustments in order to match all your cameras and perform constant quality control.


Before you take the cheap way out with buying a camera that won’t fit the bill, really consider the benefits of going with the proper tool and getting a studio camera for the job rather than a Prosumer camera.  It is a big bill to swallow but I guarantee you won’t regret spending the money.  I believe cheeping out in this area is one of the most common and biggest mistakes people make in their IMAG systems.

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Is IMAG for worship a bad idea?

I recently came across some tweets comparing worship and rock concerts that suggested IMAG during worship glorifies the band and not God, and stating that IMAG for worship is a bad idea. Now this may come as a surprise but I am all about discouraging people from investing in IMAG, it’s expensive and requires a great deal of skill and team building. But when room size dictates IMAG, I would never go as far to say that IMAG is not a good idea for worship.

I have always said that Bad IMAG, if it is directing or gear, will always take away from an experience but good, well done IMAG only enhances the experience, and yes the same principal applies at a rock concert the same way it does at church.

One of the best worship leaders I have ever worked with isn’t known for his amazing singing voice, in fact, his voice has always been a constant battle that he has tried to improve. But the reason I love working with this guy is because he doesn’t hide behind his voice, because he can’t, instead he LEADS people into worship with the expression on his face, his passion and by pouring out his heart with a presence that says come sing with me and praise our amazing creator! He is a true worship LEADER! And the best part is, he pours that same leadership into his band and fellow vocalists so they do the same.

In a large room, it’s hard to connect with what is going on on stage when you can barely see the stage, getting a great shot of him allows him to lead the congregation in worship, and be more effective in doing it. And as a director, when I am choosing shots, I have leaned away from shots that don’t show people leading such as tight guitar shots during a solo, I have my ops pull out to see there faces and body movements because most the guitar players see that solo as a form of worship and express themselves while doing it. If a musician or vocalist isn’t worshiping and displaying leadership, I just don’t take a shot of them, and the same in the opposite extreme if the are glorifying themselves rather than God, then they don’t make it in the screen. It all starts with are your worship leaders leading? Maybe you need to get new leaders.

We use IMAG for the same reason we have a PA, so people can hear and see. There is a reason why we do IMAG, because without it, people can’t see, they can’t connect and they can’t engage! And to say that IMAGing worship is a bad idea, then you could almost say that during worship you should mute the PA. Now I understand that there are some rooms out there where IMAG is an option and less of a requirement, and in those cases, sure just IMAG the message. If it isn’t needed it isn’t needed, but in the larger cases where it is needed, don’t just write it off, just make sure your doing it well.

I feel as veteran Christians we have this assumption that less is more with worship. A real Christian loves acoustic unplugged sets because it eliminates distraction. And for some that may be true. But I have also known people to come up to the audio booth and tell engineers that its too loud every time there is more than 1 electric guitar is on stage. I know of one engineer that would always purposely run it lower just as an experiment to see if comments would still come in, and they would. We make connections in our minds associating two different things with a predetermined conclusion of our desires rather than look at the purpose and reason behind the things we don’t like. Or sometimes we blame our issues on the destination rather than the source.

Is IMAG right in all scenarios? No, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong in all.

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The Lighting Battle

I’ve always known how important good lighting is but it is one of those things that you don’t really realize how important it is until you have extremely good lighting!  Over the last year I have had the opportunity to work with an amazing LD.  I have never had such good lighting for video, nor have I ever had a lighting guy on the same page that I am.

What I learned about this guy is that he truly understands the word “Lighting”.  Most light guys just want to do the fun stuff, but lighting includes all lights, and to master the craft you have to know how to light well for video, the room, and do the fun rock and roll stuff. For most of the lighting designers I have worked with convention lighting is always put on the back track, it is the last thing they want to deal with and it becomes the least important thing they want to work on but it is the hardest thing they can master.

A true Lighting Designer knows all of their craft and if they don’t then I won’t call them a true LD (Too harsh?). I personally am sick of excuses from LD’s about their front light.  I have seen LD’s do amazing front lighting/ washes with every light under the sun, it is possible, if the motivation and willingness to learn is there.

In the end Video is Expensive and a huge investment.  If you aren’t lighting for video you are not getting your money out of your investment.

The biggest argument that I get from LD’s is that they want to light for effect.  Which is great, and in certain moments can be powerful.  But when you do this take video into account.  Either by not holding on an effect too long so they aren’t completely left out or by modifying the effect so that video is able to capture the effect well too, enhancing what they are doing rather than trying to take away from it.  With IMAG most people are watching screens and if video can’t capture what is happening you are loosing your audience.

Starting with 3 point lighting: Key, fill and back lighting is crucial for key positions.  Especially if you start to get shots from different angles than strait on, it becomes more and more important throughout the stage to get 3 or more points per positions for slash angles and hand held cams.

Back light has become a pet peeve of mine if it isn’t there.  Without it, it makes talent blend into the background and look flat.  I understand not using it much for Music, but for speaking it is critical and makes a huge difference even visually in the room.


32K vs 56K

There has been this Rumor in the Church market that 56K is better for video than 32K.  This is completely a Myth! 32K originally was always the color temperature of indoor lighting where 56K is the color temperature of the Sun and thus used for outdoor settings.  But as technology has evolved Movers and LED’s run at different color temperatures and the camera has been able to adjust to the changing demands.  There are many TV stations that have moved to LED fixtures for cost savings (energy) and their cameras still look great. But on the other side of the camera, you really can’t tell the difference between different color temperatures if the cameras have been calibrated correctly.

So the stress between the 2 is because in many cases we have conventional (32K) fixtures for front light and LED/ Movers (56K +) for set/ candy.  The human eye can see both color temperatures at the same time and it looks great, but the camera can’t and in turn alters colors a bit.  This is where the myth comes from.  But again, let me stress that you can make cameras look great in either color temperature but you have to sacrifice something when you introduce video.  You either switch your conventionals to 56K using CTB so that you get better color range or you leave it and understand that some colors won’t come through well on camera.

I am not a fan of a complete 56K lighting rig.  In the room it makes the people on stage look sick, flat, and it isn’t enjoyable to look at. So I would rather accept that there are certain colors that cameras can’t see and work with my LD to avoid those colors when possible.

I believe in an IMAG situation you should literally magnify what is on stage, and my goal is to make the screens look like the stage through camera and projector adjustments.  If they are drastically different, one area looks to be off.  But when there is unity between them and you can go from stage to screen with minimal difference it makes for a smooth transition and makes both areas look good.

If I was doing purely broadcast and didn’t have an audience in the room I would probably do a full 56K rig. But with IMAG I don’t think that video should become more important than the room, especially since I can still make my cameras look great!

Before the days of IMAG at your facility you may have used lighting to help direct people where to look when stuff is happening on stage.  Now it is video’s turn and Lighting has to work with video to take on this role.  It is a team effort when it comes to video and requires effort from lighting and audio in order to do video well (yes video can be a bit needy at times, sorry), you have to work as a team in order to do it all well.  I am no lighting expert but I have seen the difference and I’m tired of excuses.  It’s time for LD’s to step up to the plate and master their craft and be team players.  If they make you look good, then they only makes themselves look good.  If you look bad, they make themselves look bad! (Quote from an actual LD that get’s this concept)

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Throw Art out the Window

As directors, I think we are all artists at heart.  We are always looking for that “Cool” factor, or something that really separates us from the next director.  And I would guess that the “Art” part of the job is what most directors enjoy the most.  But what is easy to loose when focusing on art is the purpose behind what we do.  As much as art can add, it can also take away.

I have begun to notice more and more when I watch Sports, TV shows or a Movie that it is really about one thing, Capturing the action.  You may see a great shot in there every now and again but 95% of the shots you see are focused on capturing what is happening and capturing the experience in order to really engage the viewer.   Engagement is a director’s number 1 goal.

It really all starts with purpose, why are you doing what you are doing?  You are there to engage an audience and draw them into the experience.  Most directors begin to focus so much on the next great shot they fail to remember the key principal that we are there to capture the action and re-translate it to an audience.  It’s not glamorous but it is the purpose.

Engagement comes from two places, capturing the content and quality directing.  Some may think that directing is easy without art, however, there are rules that must be followed in order to direct a good show.

1)   Execute: There is always a plan and we as directors need to follow that plan and do it in a clean fashion.  Being in the right place at the right time whether it is rolling a clip, getting someone at the right time, or putting up a graphic is all about a director’s ability to execute.

2)   Purposeful Camera Shots: Knowing a good shot vs. Bad shot is key but knowing the why behind a shot is essential.  The rule of thirds is great, but it is just the beginning.  When an operator finds you a shot, why should you take it? Is it engaging? If so how & why? Is it capturing what is going on? Is it distracting? Does it reflect the environment?  Can the audience easily connect with the shot, and will they understand it? These are questions you constantly need to be asking yourself to the point of it becoming instinct.   If you are directing a live band and you get a tight shot of the guitar, is that engaging?  If it is a ripping solo and their fingers are going crazy, then yes, it is capturing what is going on, people understand it, and it fits into the situation.  But if a guitar was just giving you some color or rhythm, a tight shot of the fingers wouldn’t really be right for the situation. Tight shots get really tiring if you sit on them for a long period of time.  Facial expressions and body language convey so much and answer a lot of questions.  Sometimes the boring shots are the most engaging because they let the talent/ subject do most of the communicating, making a boring shot engaging.

3)   The Pattern: when directing you can’t just cut from any camera to any other camera.  There is a pattern to the type of shots you have to go to and from.  It is a simple pattern and it is pretty much wide to tight. Or in the case of IMAG wid(ish) to tight(ish).  A good director will never deviate from the pattern.  (Exception: if you have 2 talking heads tossing back and forth) How much tight to how much wide will change depending on angles, transitions, subjects, and energy level.  If you are doing dissolves over cuts, I think the amount of change in shots needs to be greater than with cuts.   But the bottom line is you should never go tight to tight, wide to wide or mid to mid.  They are match cuts and make it look like the shot is morphing or jolting when it should be changing.

4)   Timing is everything:  The hardest thing to learn is timing.  When to change shots and sometimes more importantly, when not to change shots.  Knowing when to cut and when to dissolve and when to just let a shot ride for a while.  Timing is a feel thing and when timing isn’t happening then engagement isn’t happening because it isn’t natural, and doesn’t flow.  A director needs to create flow through out the show, flow is essential to great directing. It is the thing that is never noticed and the hardest to teach.  Some people have it and some don’t, many will develop flow, many will not. Ask yourself are you changing shots because you have another one ready, because you need to, or because the timing is just right? You should never switch a shot just to switch a shot. It needs to be the right time, and part of the flow.

Engaging an audience has to be a director’s number one priority by directing a great clean show that captures the content.  Artistic shots and directing can be great and add a lot to your show, just don’t let it take over the show because art tends to takeover the intended purpose you are setting out to accomplish.

A director’s true art is the ability to engage their audience and capture their attention. Capturing the action comes first, what is left is left for art.  So throw art out the window and start from the beginning and once you have figured out the rules, work art back in.

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Understanding the Investement into Live Video

Over the last 5-10 years Video production has faded from being a thing for the professionals.  Getting a computer, software and a camera is all you need to start doing production, and you can make a relatively small investment and become competitive in the field.  This Culture shift sent creativity skyward, making the industry more competitive and raising the bar over and over again. 

It used to take rack of gear and endless hours to produce a video.  If you wanted to add graphics or even text to a video it took even more gear.  Now you can edit a video and build complex graphics from your couch on a laptop.  The Rack full of Gear has gone away.

Most people when they look at doing live video they have the same perspective with the low Cost, and the ability to jump right in and be competitive.  However, the live video industry may have seen a lot of changes in the last 10 years, but the fundamentals have not changed.  The gear itself has gotten smaller, cheaper, more powerful and has had many face-lifts.  You can now do more with less, however, you still need the same basic gear, and you still need the same basic skills.

When it comes to Sound, lights and video, video is always by far the most expensive.  And for that reason it is usually the last investment people tend to make.  It isn’t exactly something you want to just dive right into.  So when do you make the investment?

The most common situations that cause churches to invest in video is because of the size of their room or because they have decided to launch multi-site.  There are many other reasons to make the investment but these are the common ones that I see.  That means either IMAG or Multi-site production drives the investment.  I very rarely see people make the investment because they want to be on TV or develop a web presence, but it does happen.

How do you know if your room needs IMAG?  A long time ago Willow Creek associate said that if your farthest seat from the stage exceeds 100ft, that is usually a good opportunity to go IMAG.  And I would for sure agree with that.  I have been in rooms that are less than 100ft and rooms that are more, but I would say that is a good rule of thumb.

But there are plenty of rooms that just feel big making it hard for people to focus on what is going on that might be on the edge of that 100ft rule, or there are rooms that have hard sight lines.  All these are cases where IMAG may be a good decision.  Some auditoriums have good raked seating allowing people to easily see even at 100ft and may not be a good room for IMAG. Every room is different so to give a blanket rule of thumb can be difficult, but if people have a hard time engaging or seeing your stage, it is probably a good indication that IMAG might be a good investment.

A tricky reason can be culture.  You may be a media heavy church already employing a fulltime video editor or two.  IMAG may seem like a good idea because it fits into your culture and that may be a good decision even if your room is smaller than 100ft from farthest seat.  But be careful, I see churches all the time make the investment because it is trendy and fits within their culture, but in the end it just isn’t practical.  It is a lofty investment to make just because you think it fits into your culture, or because you think it would be a cool thing to do.


Understanding the Investment


Investing into live video production isn’t like investing into editing equipment.  We require a lot more gear and much more expensive cameras.  It not only takes dollars but it takes a good-sized volunteer team and I recommend having some type of staff person running it.

Most people make the financial investment into video when doing a building campaign which is a great time to do it, unfortunately a lot of time I see it being the first thing to get cut when funds don’t come in.  Not to mention campaigns don’t cover staffing in most cases.

As I mentioned before, video equipment is expensive.  When you do it right, you can easily spend 60-100K before touching cameras and projectors, and that is a conservative system.  Within the last couple of years there has been some major new releases in available gear that has driven down the price.  But as the gear has gotten better and more economical, the fundamentals stay the same, it requires the same gear as it did before, just now maybe a piece of gear can perform 2 functions rather than 1, or the amount of rack space is less.  There has been a major opening in the market recently that has greatly welcomed economically priced gear that may not have all the bells and whistles but can do the job.

I wish I could write this document and tell you to put aside X number of dollars for video.  And I will give you a number, but as I have tried to design “box” systems that would work for everyone I have realized that they don’t exist.  Every facility has different needs and requirements and to have 1 or 2 box systems NEVER work.  I may have my favorite gear that I spec but the configuration is always different.  People have existing gear, different requirements, different budgets, needs, futures, opinions, and new gear is always coming out giving new options.  Box systems are near impossible and if an integrator tells you they have a Box system then they aren’t going to evaluate your needs and you should find another integrator.

Whenever you start a project it is important to find experts.  I highly recommend to find a System Integrator or SI to partner with on your projects.  Not all SI’s are equal, I have seen 3 types of system integrators when it comes to video.  You have the broadcast/ AV SI’s.  They are used to the 2 extremes, boardrooms and TV stations usually with huge budgets.  Some do a good job with churches, but I have also seen many miss the target greatly! Just a few pieces of gear different and they could have built a great system but instead they botched it.  Or they pick the right gear but the design in how it all works and flows doesn’t line up with how you want to use the gear.

The second type is Audio installers.  I have worked with some great audio companies that do Great work!  Most audio companies are used to dealing with churches because churches need PA systems, and there are many that specialize in churches. The great thing about churches is they understand the culture, the budget and the situation, however, video isn’t always their specialty.  I have seen some SI’s in the scenario make good decisions but miss some key areas, but at least they are on the right track. 

The company I do most of my integration work for is this type of company.  They realized that this wasn’t their specialty and called me in as their primary video resource.  Together we have put in some great systems, and they aren’t the only company I have seen do this and do this well.

The last type of company is the company that will try and sell you a box type system.  RUN AWAY!  I’m not talking about a system in a box, which I have talked about before, but rather a pre-designed system that they think will work for all churches.  Every SI has their go to gear but every situation is slightly different and they need to approach every situation as different.

Now there are 2 ways to get into a new system.  The first is to dive right in and make the complete investment, the second way is to ease into it.  Most people would opt to do the second, but a lot of mistakes can be made that won’t last long term. You can end up spending money 3 times over in the end because of decisions that seemed good at the time but weren’t good for your end goal.

So now for the number:  If you are starting a brand new system from scratch including Projectors and the whole bit end to end, I would be ready to spend $500K for a video system.  For most churches this will be on the high end and you can do it for 300-400K and some churches won’t even be able to get started with a budget of 500K.  Like I mentioned before, there are so many scenarios and there isn’t a Box system that works for all churches but if you are looking to invest into live production be ready for a number like 500K.

Some people have the mentality that if there is money available you can get into video system, you just go small.  Buy cheap cameras, switching gear, projectors and so on.  Just remember you get what you pay for.  Video is serving a purpose, it is a communication vessel that you are asking hundreds to thousands of people to watch, which means you essentially are fixing a problem.  I believe you can actually make the problem worse by not properly investing in the right stuff. If it looks crappy, nobody wants to watch it and it can be more distracting than it is solving a problem.

Also read: 3 things no IMAG system should cheap out on https://worshipimag.com/2011/06/03/the-3-things-no-imag-system-should-cheap-out-on/

It is important to know for sure that you want to invest into IMAG or live video production, some food for thought would be for a big weekend like Easter or Christmas to hire a local production company to bring in staff and gear to give you a taste of what having IMAG would be like, or go to a church with a similar style that uses IMAG and does it well.  It might seem like a lot of money to put forward to just “try” but if it costs 15K to rent the gear for a weekend it is better to know for sure you want to move in that direction before investing. Consult your local event services company for more accurate rental pricing.

Before you make the jump, find a consultant that you trust, that has done what you want to do before.

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