The 5 Do’s and 5 Don’ts When Directing for Church IMAG Screens

How to Direct for the Live Audience

Today, thousands of churches have multiple cameras but they aren’t producing for television – they’re producing for live stream audiences and the IMAG (image magnification) screens in the sanctuary. I’ve written before about live streaming, but today, I asked my friend Clay Jacobsen to write a guest post on how to direct for the IMAG screens in the auditorium or sanctuary.  Clay has been in the television industry for many years, directing live concerts, talk shows, variety shows, telethons, beauty pageants, and sports. Some of Clay’s credits include: Entertainment Tonight, The Jerry Lewis Telethon, Dennis Miller, Prime Time Country, CMA Red Carpet and many more. He’s also a published author, having written 4 Christian thrillers dealing with behind the scenes of Hollywood. So he’s an expert when it comes to multi-camera direction.  Here’s his thoughts on directing for IMAG:

CLAY:  There’s one directive I’ve consistently given when sharing with people who have a desire to direct in the television industry, Direct With Purpose.

All productions require you to draw your audience in and engage them, but each genre requires a unique approach to how that should be accomplished. If you’re directing a drama—your purpose is telling the story. If you’re directing a concert—your purpose is to enhance the musical experience and show the performer in the most flattering way possible, without distracting from the music.

And what is your purpose if you’re directing IMAG for your church services? From the purely technical position, your job is to augment the congregation’s live experience by giving them a closer view of what’s happening on the platform than they can get from their seat. But there’s a lot more going on because you are now part of the team that is working to present the spiritual message for the day. Don’t take that lightly.

With that thought in mind, let me offer a few Dos and Don’ts that should help you along that path. Let’s start with the Don’ts:

#1 Don’t Distract!  – What’s on the screen should augment what the Spirit is doing in the service, not pull people away. Often times, simpler is better. There’s a temptation to show what great directing chops we have and show all these great angles or cut in thirteen shots in less than ten seconds. But ask yourself, will that enhance the spiritual flow of the service or distract from it?

That is sometimes a very difficult question to answer. During worship, I would think we’re hoping that people are being drawn into the Lord’s presence not watching the video on the screen anyway. Learn to be led by the Spirit yourself. Maybe at the most intimate times in worship, you put nothing on the screen—be open to that.

And be aware of physical distractions off screen as well, like having hand held camera operators running all over the stage or the jib camera hanging just over the pastor’s shoulder. You might get some great shots, but at what cost to being a distraction? Sometimes it’ll be worth it—often times not.

Just a quick disclaimer, this rule might be less of an issue if you’re church is reaching out to millennials and your entire worship service is full of moving lights, smoke and video screens all over the stage. In that case, you’d have a lot more freedom in your directing style without fear of distracting.

#2 Don’t Use Wide Shots, EVER! – There should never be a shot of a person on screen that is the same size or smaller than that person appears on stage to the people sitting in their seats.

I see this rule broken almost everywhere IMAG is done, not just in church services. Think about it as if you’re sitting in the service. What point is there to looking at the screen if your naked eyes are giving you a better view?

Now this rule makes your job a lot harder. I’ve seen articles on church directing that encourage you to have a bail out shot, a camera that you can always go to in between shots or when nothing is happening on stage. I’ve just told you not to use it. Now, don’t be mad, be creative. What that looks like in your church may vary from what works in other churches.

A big note here—if you’re directing both for IMAG and online streaming or to an overflow room, then I would recommend having two different feeds if at all possible. At the least, have a router that feeds the screens on stage and punch in the CU camera when you want to show the whole stage. The feed going outside of the main room should be handled much differently, including wide shots and even audience shots when appropriate. Maybe I’ll do a second blog on directing for live streaming in the near future.

Years and years ago, (in writing this I realized it was over 30 years ago, yikes!) I was working IMAG on a country music tour with The Judds, Reba McEntire, Merle Haggard, and George Strait among other artists. At the end of most songs the stage would be blacked out, or the artist would be turning upstage or grabbing a drink or switching guitars. So in order to get around that, we’d grab still images of moments during the last song, and put them up as a montage during the applause until the lights were back up and the performer was ready to go for the next song. It worked really well in that situation and we stayed away from wide shots or dark screens.

#3 Don’t Be Afraid of a Blank Screen – Piggy backing off of Don’t #2, a blank screen is not something you should fear, it’s not like people are sitting in their living rooms and if you don’t put a camera up, they’re lost. They’re sitting right there and have a free view of the stage. They know what’s going on. When we’re sitting in a control room somewhere outside the auditorium it’s easy to think we’re directing a TV show. BUT WE’RE NOT. We’re directing for Image Magnification.

Once again, if you’re also live streaming or have an overflow room going, this rule should only apply for the screens in the main room.

#4 Don’t Over Direct! – Avoid the temptation of cutting to a different shot because you’re bored, or you think it’s just time to switch to a different angle. Every shot should have a purpose. Think, “What would I want to see if I was in the audience?”

Use creative angles to keep your shots close. Say there’s three people singing nice harmonies at the front of the stage and you want to put all 3 on the screen but they’re standing far apart from each other. You put that shot up from the front camera and you’ve got a wide shot. Try getting the 3-shot from the side, where you have a racked profile of faces. Now you’ve got all 3 on the screen and their in close-up, perfect for IMAG.

Also avoid match cuts or dissolves. It’s jarring for the viewer to see a waist shot of the pastor and then another waist shot of the same person from just a different angle. The same is true of CU to CU of the same person.

#5 Don’t use fancy switcher effects to brighten up the video feed – Think about it, do you really want your audience to go “Oh, that’s a neat effect”, right in the middle of worship? I think not. If you’re into that kind of thing, use them in announcements and productions that are played for the screen only. Don’t let your directing call attention to itself, let what’s going on from the stage be the focus.

And now for the Dos…

#1 Do your prep work! – Meet with the pastoral team, the worship leader and the teaching pastor. Get on board with what they’re sensing for that service and enhance it visually. Know the music backwards and forwards; know who’s singing what parts, what instruments might have musical breaks and who’s leading what songs. You must be thinking 30 seconds ahead of those on stage to be an effective director.

#2 Make sure you have the right gear! – If you have a lens on your main camera that can only zoom as close as a head-to-toe shot, you need a better lens or get the camera closer. Your cameras are there to show close-ups. That’s what the people in the audience in the back can’t see—facial expressions.

Also, if your cameras can’t pan smoothly on a tight lens, upgrade your pan heads. Sticky zooms and jittering pan heads are distractions. (See don’t rule #1)

#3 Be creative! – Think weeks, even months ahead. If there is dramatic video that can be produced before the service that will augment spiritual points in sermons or worship, GO FOR IT! Storytelling with video is powerful; use it to move your people. Don’t just pre-produce announcements.

#4 Be willing to learn – Watch what other churches are doing, not just online, but go and visit. Sit in the congregation and analyze what is working and what isn’t, and be open enough to critique your own directing in the process.

#5 Have fun! – Directing live events is awesome, there’s nothing like it. Enjoy yourself. Get involved in the moment and in doing so treat your crew right. You’ll get much more out of a TV crew if they’re enjoying themselves and being treated with respect.

Any other good suggestions you’d like to add to Clay’s list?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jay Budzilowski

    So are saying i shouldn’t use my 3d Spin Wipe transition during the sermon. :)

    • Well that IS a pretty cool effect…. :-)

  • Thapelo

    Thanks For This Valuable info

  • Kirk Garreans

    Having directed live TV as well as corporate event IMAG, I can vouch for the fact that the two are very different from each other. This is great information for all churches to learn! I can’t even count all the times I’ve had broadcast directors try to tell me to use wide shots for the IMAG feeds on corporate shows – or worse, I’ve seen them do it. Great article!

  • Joy Keishian

    Thanks for the awesome information. I serve as assistant director and am responsible for graphics and music and video roll cues, but haven’t the camera shots. It’s great to learn about directing and proper use of the IMAG.

  • Lillian Yau

    This is great material and a good reminder, thank you for sharing Clay & Phil!