Christian Media

Prevent “The Easter Pageant Nightmare”

Every Spring, church media producers across the country begin a time honored and terrifying ritual:  “The Church Easter Pageant”.   These local, church sponsored theatrical presentations are usually videotaped for archives or bookstore sales, and although everyone begins the process with high hopes, they often leave media producers weeping, or screaming hysterically promising never to do it again.  Most producers are nearly finished working on this year’s presentation, but in an effort to help you keep both your sanity and family intact, here are a few tips from the Cooke Media Group archives to make this – or next Easter season a little more joyful:

1)    It’s never too early to start your preparation.  Year after year, producers wait until the last minute, thinking “I’ll let the Music Director do all of his work first.”  Nothing could be worse.  Start planning early.  Get your hand on a script and music as early as possible, and start thinking about staging and shooting.  Certainly things will change, but experienced producers and directors know it’s easier to change an existing plan than create one from scratch at the last minute.

2)    Bring your crew into the process early as well.  Start generating excitement and ideas from your volunteers and crew members.  They usually want to offer suggestions and ideas but are rarely asked.  Remember – you don’t have to take all their ideas, but being a good listener motivates them to be a stronger part of the team and creates a better attitude.

3)    Help the Music Director understand the difference between “stage lighting” and “television lighting.”  What’s the point of going to the trouble and expense of shooting the Easter pageant if your end product’s video level won’t register?  Help the Music Director understand the limitations of the camera.  Don’t be obnoxious or “know it all,” just work with him or her and help them understand.  Also – be sensitive to the spirit and vision of the Music Director.  Supplement the lighting where necessary, but do your best not to “blast” the stage and ruin the dramatic experience.

4)    Create a Shot List.  Most church media directors try to “wing it” and hope they can stay on top of things during the performance.  Don’t take chances.  Create a shot list during the rehearsals, so when you get to the actual performance, you can relax a little and concentrate on the timing of your cuts and dissolves.  Certainly there will be changes and adjustments, but that’s minor compared to all the screaming and yelling you’ll have to do if you’re not prepared.  And speaking of that….

5)    Stop Screaming and Yelling.  A screaming director is a director who has run out of ideas.  Every crew member on your team loses a little respect for you the minute you start yelling.  Learn to control your temper, and guide your crew through the program with encouragement, strong leadership skills, and creative ideas and suggestions.

6)    Know the Difference between “cuts” and “dissolves.”  Cuts and dissolves to a professional television director are like periods and commas to a writer.  They are the visual grammar that makes the scene work.  They express two completely different feelings and emotions, so don’t mix them up.  Remember – cuts are sharp and make the scene move.  Dissolves are softer, slower, and on the “warm and fuzzy” side.  Understand how to use them effectively, and your programs will instantly make a giant leap forward.

7)    Shoot at Least One Rehearsal.  During the actual performance, you can’t get the camera onstage and get the unique close-ups and angles you really need.  So I always suggest you shoot a dress rehearsal.  That will allow you to put a camera onstage, backstage, or within a group of actors to get a unique angle or perspective.  Don’t overdo it, but it’s a great way to find powerful shots you can intercut into your final edit.

8)    Have a De-Briefing.  Don’t dare release the crew without a short meeting on what worked and didn’t work during the night’s presentation.  You can learn a great deal by discussing the shoot with the crew, and find out helpful information for the next night.

9)    Re-consider the Normal Rules about Shooting a Church Service.  A special Easter program is completely different from a Sunday service, so why aren’t you changing your camera positions?  Set the camera angles for each project you shoot, and never leave them in the same place for everything.  Those cameras are the gateway for thousands of people to understand that presentation, so use them effectively and in the right places.

Remember – Easter is a time of joy.  So start thinking ahead about a successful and effective way to record this year’s play or musical presentation.  Some churches spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their shows, and it’s the one time of the year when you’ll be most likely to get non-Christians into the building.  Give them something to remember during the program, and also give them something on video to take home and enjoy for years to come.

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  1. Excellent reminders on all points, Phil! There’s only a certain level of excellence that can be attained when your crew only has minutes, not days, to prepare for a production. Sure, winging it with a great crew can come across looking OK. But when you’re wanting to be the absolute best you can be, nothing beats planning and preparation in cooperation with all personnel – both production and talent.

  2. I agree with Bob regarding go into all the world… More people have come and *stayed* at our church through grassroots ministries in the community, such as home & neighborhood cleanups, clothing donations, food assistance, homeless shelter volunteer nights, car repair help, job search assistance, addiction recovery meetings and so on. 

  3. OK … this blows me away: “Some churches spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their shows, and it’s the one time of the year when you’ll be most likely to get non-Christians into the building.”

    I’m sure that can work. I can’t help but just imagine how many lost could be reached and believers could be discipled with a year-round effort with the same amount put into food and inviting the needy in to share the gospel with them one-on-one … or in gift-wrap to have the congregation bless the local shopping centers with an “Absolutely No Donations Accepted Free Gift Wrapping” at Christmas time — to take the wrapping time to share the gospel with them … or for window cleaner, formula 409 and paper towels to offer “absolutely no donations” house cleaning to assist folks – getting the chance to get to know and pray and share with people they don’t know.

    Why in the world should we work so hard to try to get the world to come in to us, when we’ve been commanded to GO INTO ALL THE WORLD?

    You asked … that’s my answer.

  4. All good points Phil, especially the one about the lighting. Most churches don’t have cameras that shoot well in low light anyway. Making things darker an even more dramatic will just screw up the prosumer camera worse and make focusing a real chore. As you say, it is important to look at all aspects of the shoot to get it right. Crew involvement is paramount to success.

  5. Preach it, Phil! I have been asked to step in and help at the 11th hour way too many times and the results are always sad. Here are few things I would add to your list:

    1) If it is not written completely 30 days before the event, cancel the event.
    2) If there is not the talent in the church to do the singing/acting with a straight face, then hire it or cancel it.
    3) Get stage productions working before you take to the next level of taping and posting it.
    4) Everyone is NOT a writer.
    5) If the pastor wants to change part of it between the first service and the second service, fire the pastor.

  6. Oh my, I really hate Easter pagents and Christmas programs. Not only do I hate working on them, I can’t even bring myself to go sit in the audience and watch one. Save your money and in 10 years go to Oberammergau Germany and see a really great Passion Play. (They only do it every 10 years and 2010 is it… but it’s sold out.)

    Phil is correct – if you must do a big splashy show, follow his rules.

    Let me add one more: At some point – get the crew together and create a special Easter moment. This can be a horrible and stressful time for the crew so try to redeem it. This is what I would recommend: After the final “show” when everyone has left the room, bring all the crew together at the foot of the cross. (every one of these shows has a big cross) Serve communion to your crew with one loaf and one cup. Start with each examining themselves, and going to another if there is anything that needs to be healed. Pray, and then celebrate the body and blood — given for you. Don’t be formal, but be reverent and allow people to speak or sing.

    Sorry to get spiritual – but often church crews never get ministered to. They work every week, and eat a wafer as they try to focus.

  7. Couldn’t have said it better, Joe. I especially like the part of taking some time for the crew. Way overlooked by the stress and details of the whole thing…I was just hoping for pizza and pop, but you had to get all spiritual :). Great advice.

  8. Excellent points here and completely on target. I might add one thing- immediately plan a post production meeting to find out what worked, what didn’t, and how it could be better next year.

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