Shading Cameras

Ever see a church video production where they cut from one camera with a reddish tint to another camera with a greenish tint?  Or a low-budget production where one camera had good exposure and another was too dark or over-blown?  How about one camera with good detail and another which was too sharp or so soft it looks like they’re shooting with a swatch of pantyhose affixed to the lens?

When designing a multi-camera production system to record your church’s services for DVD or internet video-on-demand distribution, live Imag projection or live web-streaming, one of the most important things you should be deliberate about is planning-in a capability to remotely shade (aka “paint”) cameras from your control booth.

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Ten Tips

Want to improve the quality of your church’s multi-camera video production but have little (or no) money to spend? Here is a list of ten-simple and inexpensive things you can do this week to improve your church’s video quality:

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Larger than Life

Ever hear the term, “larger than life?” Do you know where it came from? The theater and movie production business.  The phrase is actually foundational to what we do as Video Directors in the church every week. I would go as far to say that if you understand and incorporate the meaning of the phrase, you’ll be a much better Video Director.

To understand the meaning behind the phrase we need to go back to the days before film and video. With few exceptions, in theatrical plays there typically was and is now a clear dividing line between the actors and the audience. This line has a defined demarcation, the proscenium. The proscenium opening is the 4th wall, an invisible portal allowing the audience to peer through at the drama on-stage. All things upstage of the proscenium line are to be the focus of the audiences’ attention. All things downstage of the proscenium (with few exceptions to the contrary) are not part of the theatrical stage performance.

The Size Relationship:

In these theatrical plays (before the age of film and video), the size relationship between performer and audience, between stage actor and house audience member is always 1:1. No matter how expansive the stage and no matter where the performer stands, a 6’ tall actor is always 6’. No matter how large the house, no matter if someone is seated in the first row or all the way in the back in the cheap seats, a 6’ tall audience member is always 6’ tall. Although the ability to see detail changes, the size ratio between the performer and any given audience member always remains equal.

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Big Game

At a recent National Association of Broadcaster’s convention a man walked up to the booth I was working in, introduced himself and said that he wanted to talk to me about a TV production package for the upcoming Baltimore Raven’s season. I’ll admit it, I am not a sports guy, at all. In fact I’ll also admit up until now I’ve been a bit of an “entertainment production snob.”  Sports projects always seemed 2nd rate to me, little to no creativity or planning, one step away from covering a fire or a car crash on the news.  Not my cup of tea.

Anyway, in an attempt to be polite I chatted with him and did my best to talk “sports-talk.” At one point I asked, “What stadium do the Raven’s play at, Camden Yards?” His face turned sour and said, “ah, no.” A bit later in the conversation I threw out a few baseball references. He finally cut me off and said, “You don’t watch much football, do you?”

Most of my snobbery about sports stems from a perception that a production team actually adds little to sports telecasts. I thought, they just show up and cover the action.  When you take away instant replays, slo-mo’s, color and play-by-play commentary, it seemed doing a sports telecast was just a matter of keeping a few lenses on the ball. What’s difficult about that?  Not unlike some church production teams, I believed sports production teams were not in control of the content. Recently I began to see that I was wrong about sports and maybe the church too.

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Active Camera

Stay static, push, pull, pan, dolly, truck, pedestal, crab, track and dolly-zoom. It seems like the options are endless. Add to this list flying the camera on a jib, crane or wire, canted (dutch) angles, shaky cam, soft focus, rack-focus, whip pans and more, we could go on and on.

Some of these camera techniques are now seen in some church worship services. In some cases unusual camera movement is used in just one song or even less, maybe just a stanza or even as brief as one beat. For other churches these camera techniques are used on virtually every song.

Where do we draw the line?

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Being Musical

A while back I Technical Directed (switched) a music concert with a Director I had never worked with before. It was a surreal experience.

No matter what the tempo of the song was that the artist was performing, the Director cut at his own disparate pace, totally disconnected to the musical style of the song. As a song progressed in intensity toward its natural apex, the Director continued at his original own disparate pace. When a guest artist took the stage and a new song began with a different style, the control room plodded along consistent to the video portrayal of the previous songs, completely disconnected to what was actually occurring on stage. I think I could have set the production switcher to auto transition every four second and no one would have even noticed. It’s really quite sad.

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Size Matters

One of the questions I often see posted from Church Tech people about new video camera purchases and recommendations is, “I am thinking about getting new I-Mag or Sermon cameras for my church auditorium. Will the (insert: large sensor camera model de jure) work in this application?”

I guess the first question is, how are we defining “a large sensor camera?” For the sake of this blog post, I am defining a large sensor camera as any camera who’s imager is greater than 11mm diagonal (or in other words anything larger than a 2/3” HD video imager, the de facto HD broadcast camera standard).

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4K Church

When I talk to tech-artist friends about 4K video for church productions I usually get one of the following responses:

[Me] “So what do you think about 4K?”
[Church Tech Friend #1] {No verbal response. Eyes roll upwards and backwards into the head}

[Me] “Do you see yourself ever upgrading your system to 4K in the future?”
[Church Tech Friend #2] “Sure, right after we go 3D!”

[Me] “Would a 4K work-flow help make your job easier and allow you to produce a substantially more cost-effective product?”
[Church Tech Friend #3] {Uncontrolled laughter}

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Video Competence

Advice received from tech conferences, magazines/websites, discussion boards or even from fellow technical-artist friends can be great, but have you ever wished you could get your hands on scientific research regarding video communication competency? I have. After all, the opinions or experiences of friends, conference speakers, blog writers, etc., are; if not based on scientific study, just opinions.

Recently I read a DeGroote School of Business research study regarding the effectiveness of conducting job interviews via video-conferencing. Although admittedly not identical to producing a multi-camera broadcast or I-mag presentation at your church, I was amazed by how similar the advice the researchers gave to business leaders (as well as to job candidates) was to the advice I offer to churches. Might the challenges really be similar?

Upon further reflection, when we produce a multi-camera presentation isn’t the ministry we serve in fact on a “job interview” of its own? What do our videos communicate about us, our leadership and our organizations? Aren’t we attempting to communicate to our viewers that our organizations have the desire, skills, abilities and resources to assist them? In this context, the video presentations we create are more like video job interviews than I may have previously thought.
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