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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Defining Excellence

I think one of the most talked about yet most misunderstood subjects in church production today is “excellence.” Week after week I see various blog posts about excellence. Discussions with other church technical artists often touch on the subject of excellence. Could it be that I am just the excellence conversation magnet? I don’t think so.

Yesterday published an article on their website entitled, “The Balance Between Excellence and Excess.”  In this essay the author warns of productions gone amuck in the church. But if that situation indeed occurs, if sometimes churches use production capabilities in a self-aggrandizing or baroque manner “for production’s sake alone,” I would argue that the issue is indeed not that the pendulum has swung from “excellence to excess,” but rather that excellence was ignored in the first place.

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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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God’s Handwriting

“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.” – Emerson

In the 1991 movie City Slickers there is a scene where Curly, an old trail-hardened cowboy played by Jack Palance, holds up his index finger toward the sky and asks the film’s young-urban protagonist Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal), “Do you know what the secret of life is?”

“Your finger?” replied Crystal. “One thing, just one thing” said Palance.

King David knew what his “one thing” was. It wasn’t shepherding sheep or ruling over the nation. It wasn’t commanding armies or even defeating his enemies. It wasn’t even making instruments or writing psalms. David’s one thing … was to behold the beauty of the Lord.

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Technically Perfect

“It’s possible to have a technically flawless show or event which utterly fails because of tech …”

Let me illustrate my point

Years ago when I did a lot of corporate work and I was fortunate that I was sometimes hired as a FOH PA audio mixer and on other jobs I worked as a video director or video engineer. When I got to work in the audio department it allowed me to see how other people or other companies do video. When I worked in video, it allowed me to see how other people do audio. It was a great way to learn and be exposed to a lot of different people and techniques.

“It’s possible to have a technically flawless show or event which utterly fails because of tech …”

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What is Good Art?

I hope that at least one positive thing comes out of the recent crop of Bible inspired feature films that the church, tech artists and leaders see the value in defining, “what exactly is good art?”

It seems that at least some of the recent debate within the church regarding Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s “Son of God” movie, as well as Paramount Pictures soon to be released “Noah,” could be addressed if Christians would come to a consensus on the more important root philosophical question.

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Globalized Control

In the past two months I have written two blog posts regarding the considerable opportunity currently available for the church to utilize new media including the webcasting of video content as a vehicle to communicate the gospel to the unchurched and disciple believers.

In both of the posts, “Digital Church,” and “Unrealized Opportunity,” I attempt to communicate that the internet as we know it today, inclusive of the opportunity it affords may not be available at some point in the near or distant future and it is for this reason that the church should not procrastinate.

By way of follow up, just one week ago the United Stated government announced that it would give up its last remnants of international control over the internet.

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