CreativityMedia ProductionChristian Media

Churches and Theaters: Stop Overdoing The Smoke, Haze, and Fog Effects!

There’s a difference between enhancing and overpowering…

Now that all the church and local theater Christmas productions are over, it’s time to have a serious discussion about smoke machines. Smoke (or haze/fog) machines can be a fascinating addition to any stage production, whether it features dramatic acting or a music concert.

However, with most Church and local theater productions I watched this year, the production team had no clue about how a smoke machine should actually be used.

Just to be clear: For most instances, smoke (or haze/fog) is designed to enhance the lighting, not overpower it. In other words, smoke effects should help define the light, not dominate the light.

But time and time again, somebody backstage is pumping out so much smoke you can hardly see the performers! In fact, I was at a Christmas concert this year where there was so much smoke during one number the soloist lost her bearings, started coughing, and almost fell off the stage!

Certainly there are times when smoke is an effect in itself, and how much is used should be based on the scene you’re designing and the emotions you want the audience to experience.

But for your next event, let’s start small. How little smoke will it take for the stage lighting to be clearly defined and enhanced?

Because in most cases, much more than that, and it becomes a distraction and takes the audiences attention away from the presentation rather than helping tell the story.

I’d love to hear about some of your nightmare smoke machine experiences!

Photo by ivan hermawan on Unsplash

6 Comments

  1. In ‘97, the Christian rock band Guardian was on their Bottle Rocket tour. I was in college and helped them set up their opening night in Tyler, TX. I followed them around as they played in the Dallas and East Texas area… so much so that they gave me control of their fogger one night (I’m pretty sure it was pre-haze days). I was told exactly what needed to be done, but in the excitement of the first song of the concert, I let ‘er rip for quite a while. I remember glancing back at “Kickstand”, their sound engineer, and he was waving wildly at me. I don’t think anyone got to see the band until the 2nd chorus of the first song.

    I’m absolutely sure that if given a second chance 25 years later, I could be more artistic instead of fanatical. Sorry Guardian!

  2. …hey, Phil. i enjoy following your posts. on this one, i agree with you in an instance, or so. thank you for saying, “…Just to be clear: For most instances, smoke (or haze/fog) is designed to enhance the lighting, not overpower it. In other words, smoke effects should help define the light, not dominate the light” and, “… with most Church and local theater productions I watched this year, the production team had no clue about how a smoke machine should actually be used”. If there’s overutilization of the smoke, and it’s happened to us all…it’s lack of training or understanding of what the effect is actually for.

    but, as per usual…there are clown Christians that miss the inference and caveats, and start going off on the Worship segment, the loud db’s, the tight jeans…etc. from one little article about smoke. most know that smoke, nor for Guardian concerts, is to soften the lighting for media video. that’s my take. you said something about softening the lights…i can mostly agree, but still say it’s mostly for the lighting effect on the video.

    you’re a good my, my dude. hope to bump into you again someday…chen

    it’s been a long time since you directed our video at Prestonwood for the Power in the Name project!

    1. Great comment – and although I agree with you about video, the effect works just as well for a live audience. Either way, it’s a fantastic look if it’s done right! Thanks for the comment Michael !!

  3. Right on Phil. This the thrust of an article we published at churchproduction.com a few weeks prior to Christmas called “Wow vs Real” by my friend Don Smith, creative pastor at Hope Community Church in Raleigh, NC. In the article he says, “Modern culture is growing at a rapid pace away from “Wow.” The show is just that to them, a show. And quite honestly, the quality of the show they can see at the touch of their fingertips (YouTube etc) doesn’t compare to what a lot of churches can produce with even the most dedicated volunteers. What’s the alternative? They need real. They need tangible. They need deep, hard truth that will get them out of the mess their lives have become. They are wide open to hearing that hard truth when delivered effectively and with grace.” Feel free to check out the full article at https://www.churchproduction.com/magazine/%E2%80%9Cwow%E2%80%9D-vs-%E2%80%9Creal%E2%80%9D/

  4. Great advice, Phil, and much needed. I’ve witnessed newbies, overdoing it on smoke machines. I agree with what Brian posted. Many church goers are over the Sunday morning worship concerts, shows, beyond the special effects… as impressive as they can be. Heck, I was leading church production teams where we hired these professionals. But now I believe the pendulum has recently begun to swing in the other direction. People are searching for authenticity in their worship to Christ without the distractions of beautiful lighting design, smoke machines, beautiful people wearing tight jeans with lots of CU camera shots of them. All this distraction and stimulation makes it hard to focus on a true and deep worship of God. There is definitely a place for all of this in church production, but when special effects are overused, all else is secondary.

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