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Multi-Camera Video Directors in Church – Why It Shouldn’t Be a Volunteer

There are many churches today that are shooting their worship services, concerts, and other events with multiple cameras. Whether you have a broadcast media ministry or not, it’s not unusual to use multiple cameras and switch them live for the IMAG screens, DVD sales, or eventual TV broadcasts. But in more and more churches and ministries, I’m seeing a disturbing trend that devalues the multi-camera director. Sometimes it’s the lowest paid employee, other times it’s a volunteer, and too often, it’s the guy who just shows up.  Unless your volunteer is experienced, works in TV during the week, or knows his stuff, any one of those choices is a huge mistake.

The director in multi-camera shooting is an extremely critical component of the program. Here’s why:

1. The director makes the decisions on camera angles, zoom lengths, and framing.  Once that’s captured, that can’t be changed, so it’s critical that those decisions are made live in the moment.

2. The director is talking to all the camera operators, so his ability to encourage, inspire, and lead the team is essential for them to operate at their best.

3. The director makes the live decisions about what is captured.  When to use audience shots, wide shots, framing for the speaker or musicians – all critical to telling the story properly.

4. The switching itself is far more critical than many people think.  For instance, cuts and dissolves to a director are like periods and commas to a writer. It’s a visual grammar that has rules, and not something that happens at random. Know when to cut and when to dissolve.

5. Whatever decisions the director makes, the video editors will have to live with.  So make sure the person making those decisions at the director’s console is trained, experienced, and knows what he or she is doing.

In network television, multi-camera directors are a talented breed, who live under pressure, are comfortable talking to 10 or more people at the same time on a headset – all while using multiple cameras to capture an event and visually tell a story. Don’t take shortcuts. If your job is to produce an effective program – ministry or otherwise – make sure the person sitting in the director’s chair and making the creative decisions is the best person for the job.

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30 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Phil. I try to teach new directors to NEVER dissolve so that they learn the power of transition. It’s amazing to me how many Hollywood musicals never use a dissolve! Frankly, bad directors who can’t make a decision, use the 3 second (or longer) dissolve.
    A director needs to understand flow, rhythm, story telling, story arc, etc. A background is music and photography are helpful.
    Most people get the music part, but many don’t understand the rhythm and flow of a sermon, the importance of well-timed cutaways, closeups and wide shots. EX: If the pastor is telling a story come in close; if he’s loud back off.
    Also, IMAG has a completely different set of requirements, namely being binoculars for the congregation. Wide shots don’t mean much on IMAG.
    Thanks for picking my favorite subject!

        1. I totally agree with this Phil, I am Head trainer in TV @ Hillsong College. We have 3 levels of training for all our TV crews & in particular Directors. They learn & practice their skills during our Hillsong College chapel services, when I feel they are experienced enough they graduate to Hillsong Sisterhood service where they are supervised by experienced Hillsong TV Directors, when they have honed their Directing skills they may graduate to Sunday services if they are very good. They do get additional training at our other church campuses. The key is training, training & keep training.
          Love your comments always.

          1. Excellent training program Bruce. I have the greatest admiration for Hillsong and it’s not a surprise that you guys take this seriously.
            Thanks for posting!

          2. I forgot to mention that this training is for our students who come from all over the world. Most end up returning to their home churches & immediately start making a huge difference to their home TV ministries. They also assit with the training of theirs church volunteers.

  2. The Church could be over stretching the thin line between the need for excellence and creating service opportunities for volunteers in Media. Among the possible causes are the fact that too inadequate funding and low priority is give to media production for many Church owned events. When ever professionals are called upon to handle any of these events, there should be a great deal of difference in their productions to convince the organizers of the importance to opt for pros in place of volunteers. Lastly, publications like this should reach pastors and church leaders. Once more Phil, you are a great teacher and i am proud of you.

  3. I know my church is an exception to this rule. I have served on the TV team, both at the very beginning of the inception of video into church (Panasonic MX12, 3 cameras) and more recently with a full TV capable suite (http://instagram.com/p/kbNpcTnxsr/), and training the goes into the Director position is exceptional.

    I think, however, that this is the root cause of poor video workmanship – lack of training. Availability != Ability. A monkey can be trained to operate a camera, but a skilled camera operator makes it easier for the Director to “make art”. If the Camera Operator knows the brief for their `position’ then the Director spends less time correcting and adjusting a shot (and the transition into and out of it) and can focus on the “ebbs and flows, light and shade, commas and fullstops” of the vision. Similarly, having a good Camera Control Unit (CCU) operator helps as well, as does a Director’s Assistant who took notes during the rehearsal for “specials” or items to highlight. It boils down to having a well-trained team, a super-star team, not just a team of super-stars.

    Managing the workload of the volunteers, and ensuring the balance between “Martha and Mary – Serving the house and Sitting at the Master’s feet” is a team effort between the volunteer AND the person responsible for the rostering. Sure, as a church is growing, the pool of volunteers may not be equal to the need, but that is where an effective “recruiting -> training -> buddy system -> go live” process needs to be put in place.

    Of cource, this is just my $0.02

  4. This is demeaning to some very talented volunteer video directors. You can sell tires all week and still come in and cut a great service. You just have to have the passion, training and desire to get better every week. The only thing that separates a lot of volunteer video guys from the “pros” I’ve worked with is a paycheck.

    1. That’s why I wrote: “Unless your volunteer is experienced, works in TV during the week, or knows his stuff…” But I have to admit, that’s a rare thing. If it’s true at your church, then run with it! Thanks for posting Matt!

  5. In an Evangelical Christian sub-culture where the Senior Pastor is often expected to be a leader, a shepherd, a CEO, a servant, a human resource manager, a counselor, a scholar, a comedian, a coach, a disciplinarian, a teacher, preacher and presenter, a motivator, a social worker, a financial planner, and more… is it any wonder that the church accepts it’s “lowest paid employee, a unskilled or untrained volunteer, or ‘the guy who just shows up’” to be at the helm of one of the most creative and compelling communication opportunities at the church’s disposal?

    I would hope that if the church was arranging a medical-missions trip, they would have a doctor or nurse practitioner to spearhead the care. When it came time to remove a cataract, I trust they wouldn’t say, “let Bob do it, after all, he showed up today!” Or, “Ben’s one of our most dedicated volunteers, hand him the scalpel.”

    I would argue that the standard of medical care offered and the proficiency of video direction both should be excellent. Anything less reflects poorly on ourselves, our church or ministry and most importantly on our Lord.

    We can then suggest to our pastors that although God gives each believer gifts and abilities, he does not give to each every gift and ability. Whether we’re talking about a volunteer or a paid video director, putting the right people in a job and empowering them to achieve mission goals with excellence is one of the most important responsibilities a pastor/leader can have.

  6. I agree with the need for excellence, but do not agree that technical skill is the only criteria for the best person for the job. Ideally you want someone who will also be sensitive to the spirit, not just to creating a good show. Maybe the Holy Spirit wants to highlight something that might not be the same thing that would be chosen by a typical professional.

    1. I never suggested technical skill is the only criteria. Why does it have to be either / or? By that reasoning, we should stop pastors from going to seminary because all that information will shut down the Holy Spirit’s leading… 🙂
      Thanks for the comment Ann!

      1. Apologies if I misunderstood. It sounds as if we are on the same page. I agree it should not be either / or — it is a false dichotomy.

  7. Coming from a broadcast background … when I led the church media team, we instituted pro training sessions, equipment training and practice for all positions prior to serving. And like Bruce, we put them on less critical assignments prior to the ‘big’ Sunday services. We had briefings before and after most services, and even seasons of special director training meetings following each Sunday’s third service.

    As a large team completely made up of Incredibly committed volunteers (I really hate to call them that when God has called them to be His servants), they exceeded the work quality of any “pro” crew I’ve ever worked with, and with much less “pro” equipment.

    Since then, the sanctuary is in a new facility, equipment has been upgraded, God has raised up more leaders and l’m working in other areas, but the majority of the team I worked with for those years are still on duty and still doing a killer job every time the doors are open. Not bad for a mix of ordinary, scared, unprofessional volunteers who were just crazy enough to believe that God, and their willing service, can change the world through them.

    I am honored to have been able to work with these World Changers!

    1. It’s terrific to see what volunteers can become with the right training and inspiration. I’ve taught volunteer camera people who became highly paid pros. The church can be a launching pad to some amazing stuff… !

  8. There are two of us who direct the camera coverage of our services which are aired on the Australian Christian Channel. Both of us run our own video-production companies during the week and I have directed live network TV for 20 years before I started my own business. We have a great team of camera operators, all of whom we trained up week by week.
    I agree with Phil that being able to communicate clearly via the talkback system and know when to cut/not to cut is a key skill. Interestingly, the average age of our crew is 70+ with one 79 year old doing a great job. After two years, we have no success in getting young people involved. That’s frustrating, but our team works well together.

  9. Respectfully disagree completely… based on my own experience. Training is critical, and no volunteer should be in the director’s seat that hasn’t been on the team for at least a year and run camera, graduated to the switcher, taken a few turns at shading

  10. Respectfully disagree completely… based on my own experience. Training is critical, and no volunteer should be in the director’s seat that hasn’t been on the team for at least a year and run camera, run the switcher, taken a few turns at shading, etc. Once that is complete, then yes, put them in the director’s chair with oversight and training. There ABSOLUTELY needs to be an experienced professional overseeing the whole of the production team, but the idea that the video director shouldn’t be a volunteer is absurd.

    I became a volunteer video director after going through this process and have been such for 18 years in one of the largest churches in the country. In that time have also been hired for paid gigs many times including large events with over 100,000 attendees. I myself have trained dozens of volunteers to sit in the director’s seat. In addition, I have worked large events with notable “professional” directors who had not a clue how to properly shoot worship environments (which is highly demoralizing to the camera operators who direct at their own churches on the weekends but were passed over for the “big” gig in favor of the “pro”).

    Phil, your words are correct: people need to know what the heck they are doing, have an eye for what they are doing, and a level of technical expertise… the headline, however, belittles the thousands of volunteers out there that do what they do for the love and passion of doing it rather than the paycheck.

  11. Ah. I didn’t know all these things.
    Knowledge is power indeed.
    Thanks for sharing…. very much appreciated Phil.

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