Churches Should Produce Non Traditional Religious Programming

MY showI used to work for a church that has been on the air with a traditional TV program for over 5 decades. In the Orlando metroplex, they reach about 100,000 viewers per week with their Christian program. It consists of a song or two from the service, and the message from the pastor. It is a fairly traditional church television program. When I was on staff a few years ago and had access to the data, I saw that we were reaching a predominately older crowd (75% of viewers were over age 55.) It was, and still is, a good work and it ministers to a lot of people in central Florida.

And because of the nature of non profit educational license religious channels and networks, there will always be a need for preaching/teaching shows in Christian TV. But those shows will continue to reach older, religious audiences. And will continue to not reach younger ones.

What if you took the money used to produce the program and buy airtime, and used it to produce programming that appeals to younger audiences? The churches I’ve worked for with TV programs spent between $30,000 and $250,000 on airtime purchases every year. Plus they had one or more staff people who were primarily focused on producing the content for the program every week. Conservatively estimating salary, taxes, insurance, etc… let’s say $50,000 annually.  That’s quite a bit of money in the indie production world.

What if you invested that money into creating video content that reflected a biblical world view, but wasn’t a traditional worship service/preaching program? What if it was something that told a story and, like a parable, taught truth at the same time?

Who would it be for?

People who don’t watch traditional religious programming. More specifically, find a target demographic in a group pf potential audiences members that don’t already consume traditional religious programming.

According to Pew Research, Older Americans watch more religious TV. Younger Americans are engaging in religious content online.

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Young audiences watch a lot of video content. 18-24 year olds still watch over 16 hours of TV per week, but that number is declining. The TV that they do watch is not traditional Christian TV programming. And they are increasingly watching video online. The older the demographic is, the more broadcast TV they watch.

We don’t need shows that target the 65 year old Christian, we already have those. We need churches to develop programs targeted at younger audiences that do not already watch religious programming.

How much would it cost?

The cost depends on what sort of show you are making. I’m most familiar with narrative programming. But you could do other sorts of shows that are not preaching/teaching/worship based.

If you do narrative, obviously, your church probably won’t be paying scale for actors and crew. Most of the people involved will be doing it as a ministry project. But unless you have no money at all, you should try to pay people something. I’ve done a show for no money before. It can be done, but it’s not sustainable long-term.

What if you could come up with $100 per day for the main cast and crew? That’s not scale, and there would be taxes taken out, etc… but $100. I have generally been able to shoot an episode in 4 days or less. If you have 4 main actors, and a crew with director, camera, audio and PA, you are looking at $800 per day. $3200 per episode. Plus any gear, additional actors, insurance, food, etc… $5000-5500 per episode. That may seem like a lot, but it is nothing compared to what network programming costs per episode.

At $5500, a 6 episode run would cost $33,000. 13 episodes would cost $71,500. This is assuming someone on your church’s staff is writing and producing the program, filling in the show running duties. And someone on staff would be doing the post work as well. One person cannot do it all, so you will need some help. Filmmaking and TV production is a team sport. Bare bones, on a shoe-string, you could make 6-13 episodes of a show for less than the cost of air time and a staff position in many markets. Other kinds of show may cost more or less depending on what all is involved in creating them.

How would people see it?

You just spent your airtime budget on production. How is anyone going to see it?

-Christian TV is begging for narrative content.

Literally begging because they can’t/won’t pay for it, but also begging because they want it badly.

It’s tempting to ignore broadcast television altogether. But even though the number is dropping, according to Accenture Digital Consumer survey, over half of TV shows and movies are still watched on TV. So it’s not a horrible place to be. And given the state of the religious TV market, you could have your show broadcast around the world for free. You might even get a little bit of money back to go toward the production of the program. One network my show was on was able to cover the cost of closed captioning. Traditional Christian programs have to purchase air time, but non traditional ones have a lot of effective, free options for broadcast.

Putting a Christian TV show on a Christian network is not way to reach the masses. The vast majority of viewers are Christians. I know that isn’t surprising, but I want to be clear that a program on Christian TV will be mostly seen by Christians. That’s OK, discipleship is something the church should be doing, and this is an avenue to disciple believers beyond the walls of your building.

You can produce programming that might appeal to non Christians, and broadcast it through non religious outlets, but it will cost more. Be sure to count the cost before you head down this road. There might be ways to mitigate those costs, but there will be costs.

-The internet is free.

It’s also very big. You cannot just throw a video on Youtube and expect it to reach thousands of people. If you have a video that has been seen by over 100 people, then you are in the top 30% of all Youtube videos. 300 hours of content is uploaded every minute! Youtube is massive. It’s the 2nd largest search engine, behind Google. So, most content is not seen by a lot of people. In order to be effective online you must have a marketing strategy. You need to develop an audience.

As a church you have a great foundation in your own congregation. Not only should you be mobilizing them to watch, but mobilize them to be encouraging their sphere of influence to watch as well. Last year my church did a campaign to get people to share their testimony through social media. It was not as successful as we had hoped. Still, I was able to locate over 80 videos that had been uploaded in the project, and I know that was just part of the ones uploaded over all. Those 80 videos had been seen over 200,000 times. Even if only a small portion of your congregation engages, you can still reach a lot of viewers.

Does your church have a ministry to help parents teach their kids about the Bible at home? How about developing a program that targets young mothers, and touches on subjects that they will have to face as they teach their own kids? Do a lot of mission trips? Send a video crew out with your teams, and produce a program that highlights the importance and impact of being in involved in missions.

Find something you are passionate about, that fits into the strategic vision of your church. Develop a program that targets younger audiences who would be interested in programming about that theme. Build a team, and make the show.

 

 

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How To produce a Quick-Turn Highlight Video

You’ve got 24 hours to shoot and edit a video to show people what happened at an event. What do you do?

It could happen in any business, but this tight deadline, quick-turn video project pops up in church media quite a bit. There’s an event during the weekend, and you need to show the congregation what happened on Sunday. Or maybe you’re at a conference, and you want to show the highlights from the last few days in the last session? How can you do it, and do it well?

Pre production is the key to success. Just like any video you produce, taking the time to work the pre production process will make your video better. In this case, it’s crucial to your success. You won’t have a lot of time during the event, so you need to do as much as you can before the event starts. Pick music, decide on a style and look for the video. Gather the gear you need, double check your camera settings. Scout the location, find out if you can set up anything early, if needed. Pick an interview location. Gather/build your graphics. Check the schedule, is there anything you have to capture? Try to schedule interviews early in the event. Plan your time. Know what you want the final video to be, and get ready to create that video. This is the time to be creative.

Shoot what you need. Don’t shoot twelve hours of footage. You know what you need to finish the video, shoot those pieces. Make sure you have enough, but don’t shoot 5 minutes of the same repetitive action. Capture the basic wide angles to show the viewer what’s happening, maybe a couple of interesting angles, and then focus on faces. People want to see people. There is a reason people call these “happy face” videos.

Edit during the event. Once you’ve captured the start of the event, and hopefully any main interviews you need for the video, break away and lay down the base for the final project. Take half an hour or more to cut down the basic foundation for the video. If you have footage of someone thanking those who participated, lay that down on the timeline over the music you’ve already selected. Leave space for any special shots. That should give you a rough idea of the length of the video, and what you need to shoot next. You’ve seen the footage you already have, now go back out and shoot the rest of what you need. Depending on how long the event is, you may want to dump footage and sort it a few times.

You do not have time to catalog every clip. Place the clips logically on your timeline, and when you are assembling the final edit, pull from those blocks of clips. I recently shot a quick-turn project that had an interview, a special event, and two locations. I wanted to show the entire process of the event, and let people see the work being done. My time line had chunks of clips from each location, and each event. Plus I had set up a time-lapse to show the start of the event. I didn’t log every clip, I just scanned them to see what I had and dropped them onto the timeline.

Finalize the edit. By the time the event is over you should have a basic outline of the final video. Drop in the rest of the clips. Focus on tight action and faces. Keep things moving quickly. Once the basic edit is down, drop in the graphics and do any color correction. Hopefully, since you double checked your camera settings, you won’t need to adjust much. Do a quick audio mix, and get ready to render and export. Do not try to reinvent the project at this point. Work the original plan.

This will not be your finest work. But the audience will love it. If you need to, later you can go back in and do a more thorough edit, correction and mix.

What if you need to turn something in under an hour? Don’t panic. It can be done, within limitations.

One year for a Christmas production I shot video interviews of attendees waiting for the presentation to start, then edited and showed those clips to the same crowd before the event began. Crazy, but do able. First, you have to build a template. (It’s also a good idea to have a completed video from a previous presentation on stand by, just in case of catastrophe. I captured one of cast members for the first night, and then kept the one from each previous presentation loaded, just in case.) I shot for 30 minutes and then imported footage and cut for 15 minutes. I edited and rendered on the same computer we were using to play the video back. You need to really watch your levels when recording because there’s no time for fixing anything. Drop the clip into the template, render and be ready for playback. I sometimes cheated and kept the funnier or sweeter moments from previous nights in the current video, but I always used some clips of people from that same presentation.

Crazy quick-turns can be done, but you must plan ahead. these will never match the quality of projects you have lots of time on, but occasionally, it’s worth it to show something quickly.

Pitch-a-Thon-a-go-go! (Seriously, you should go)

filmsummitlogosqrWhat would you do to have the chance to pitch your project to representatives from major studios, to producers and distributors? People who can help make it a reality?

Last year the new NRB Film Committee pulled together a pitch-a-thon with many of the major religious distributors. Participants had 5 minutes in front of up to 3 reps to pitch their project. The representatives gave honest feedback to every person who pitched. My project was well received, and if I had a finished film, I am reasonably sure those contacts would have paid off.

Even though I am serving on the NRB Film Committee this year, I hadn’t heard much about this year’s pitch event. When the registration opened up I was surprised to see some major additions to the panel. Representatives from 20th Century Fox and Paramount as well as some well known producers are going to be there. Later conversations with the guys setting things up hinted at a few more players that might attend.

So, the big reason to pitch at one of these things is to get practice at your pitch and hear feedback from actual professionals in the field.

Of course the dream is that one of the people hearing your pitch comes back around to find out more, and hopefully move forward. And this year many of the participants don’t require a finished project. They can take a script.

And if you’re going to do this, then you might as well swing for the fences. I asked to pitch to major studios and a producer. I’m pitching an idea that is bigger than my capability. I wouldn’t be able raise the production capital by myself, but the story will appeal to a broad audience. It’s something a larger studio could easily take on.

So I’m going to be pitching this project.

What’s you project? What are you pitching? You should sign up right now.

http://nrb.org/events/convention/pitchathon/

To participate you must register for the day or for the whole NRB Convention. If you register for the day you get a bunch of great sessions learning from people working in Hollywood.

Final Shoot Update

IMG_4722 We are done with principal photography for the Sounds of the Season 2014 project! We wrapped up the last two scenes early Wednesday morning.

One of the coolest locations we shot at was an Olive Grove, in East Texas. Who knew such a place existed.

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The whole experience has been great. It’s funny though, two of my favorite days are the first day of shooting and the last day of shooting. Lots of work and late nights went into the production, with more work to come in post. I can’t wait to see everything come together for Sounds of the Season 2014 at Mobberly Baptist Church.

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IMG_4695 Sometimes the haze got a little thick, but it sure added a nice effect to the footage.

Judas prepares to betray Jesus.
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Kerosene soaked torches have a longer lasting flame. Always be careful when using fire!
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We had some great extras for the teaching scenes.
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A retaining wall near a retail center provided a backdrop. Shooting on a budget, you use what is available. Be creative.
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A morning campfire.
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The last shot.
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Shoot Update

We’re just a few scenes shy of being done with principle photography for our major Christmas project. In the first post about this project I showed bit of the farm building we were using. I wanted to share a few more shots. You can see some of the sets we built.

This was one of my favorite sets, Joseph’s workshop. When lit correctly, it really works.
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And exterior street set.
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One of or actors prepares for his scene.
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Even disciples like foosball.
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Working on lighting for a scene.
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Hard to believe it in this image, but this collection of PVC pipe, wire and paper becomes a great looking cave.
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Shooting by candlelight.
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This was the final set we built in the “barn”. Always amazed how plywood flats covered in painted foam can look so good as a slightly out of focus background.
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I don’t want to give too much away in the photos, but this one was too good to pass up.
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We’ve wrapped up the shoot out at this location, and the rest will be outdoors.

To see the finished product, don’t miss the Sounds of the Season 2014 at Mobberly Baptist Church.

Snapshot of a Day

I’ve been at work at my new job for 3 days now. Not counting the days we have been looking for a place to live when we all move later. This week is very busy. I wanted to give you just a glimpse into my day.

Today we did 5 shoots.

We spent the morning hauling gear to the room we would shoot in, and then taught 8 high school students from a nearby district about video production. In particular, they had a comedy skit they wanted to shoot. We set up, explaining as we went. Then we spent about an hour and a half shooting the angles we needed. Then the students asked all the questions they wanted. They went back with the footage to edit together their video.

At lunch we rolled record an a 3 video teaching segment for an online membership class. Then in the evening we shot 3 couples who gave testimonies about their experiences in Financial Peace University.

Some pretty different projects. But all worthwhile and rewarding in their own way. This weekend we start the series of shoots for the major Christmas project.

New Job!

ID-100225146We are moving to Texas!

I have accepted the position of Video Content Creator at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, TX. The job has three main areas: media volunteer development and training, live multi camera video, and video production.

I start at the end of the month. And we are super excited! it’s a big answer to prayer.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know God has been working for a while. For over a year I have been underemployed. That was after a year of doing freelance work while I worked on my TV show. So for 2 years we either didn’t have steady income or didn’t have enough income. I still vividly remember when my main freelance client evaporated in an ugly fashion. I remember when my car died, and we didn’t have money for a new one. I remember when we felt God wanted us to sell our home.

But God, Jehovah Jireh, provided. No bill was unpaid. No meal was missed. Every need we had was taken care of. In the meantime God began to work in our lives to bring us to Mobberly Baptist.

I can tell you, I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to move to east Texas. But if you look at what I have trained to do, what I have experience doing, and have been learning to do, this new position fits very well. And I really like the way they work, and the people I will be working with. Mandy and I feel this is God’s plan for us.

The very first project I will jump feet-first into is a major series of shoots for Christmas. Lots of locations and lots of cast.

Everyone is very excited about the move. Way too much to do to get ready for the transition.

Some of you may be wondering about the film projects I have been working on. I still have three short film scripts and a feature length one completed. I am still working on more feature length projects. I still expect to shoot those projects, but we will be based in east Texas now. One of the things I want to do there is what I was able to do here in Orlando: build a community of Christian filmmakers who want to create content with a biblical worldview.

Not the Dave Ramsey Way, But…

We did it. After selling the house we are debt free.

I thought about calling the Dave Ramsey show and asking to do one of those debt free scream things. I could imagine how that call would go…

Dave: Now on the line we have Scott who is with us to do a debt free scream, that’s so great! Scott, what’s your story?

Me: We owed a lot of money and in just over 5 weeks we got rid of it all.

Dave: Wow! How did you pay off all that debt so fast?

Me: Oh, we didn’t pay it off. We sold our house. But we’re debt free!

Dave: Did my people even screen this call?

 

Yeah, probably not going to call him. I’m sure he’s busy, anyway.

It is a weird feeling though. Maybe because where we live is so tied to our identity in Western Culture. If you live in an apartment or house, own or rent, alone or with roommates or with family or with your parents, these are all a part of our American identity.

We’ve bought and sold a ton of houses. I’ve paid my fair share of fees. It would be OK with me to never own again. Of course renting in Central Florida is as or more expensive than buying.

Right now we are focused on find out the next thing is. And without a mortgage hanging over us, we are freer. Someone calls tomorrow, we can move immediately. We can save. We can prepare.

For the next step.

Telling Stories in Interviews

cameraI have a confession. Even though I have worked in media production for over a decade, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really had a strong sense of the components of story. I mean, I knew about story. But I had little need of writing content. Mainly I would do highlight videos and interviews. In interviews I’d have the subject tell me their “story” and I would pass the interesting parts along in the final video.

I rarely had powerful, gripping interview videos. And when I did, I assumed the content was just better, or the people were better on camera. Don’t get me wrong, the other videos were fine, but a lot of times they were just conveying information, not telling a story. Yeah, that’s embarrassing. I was a professional, but I didn’t have the concept down.

So, for the last few years I’ve been doing better at understanding the parts of story… but that still didn’t necessarily translate into my interviews. I read “Story” by McKee, I recently read “Save the Cat” by Snyder. I wrote 10 episodes of Peculiar, and have been working on my feature length project, Flawed. I am getting better at storytelling The other day I was editing an interview for a church, and I realized I was naturally editing with story in mind. I started identifying the inciting incident, the conflict and resolution, the parts of a story. It was all right there in the content. The final edit will always better if you keep this in mind.

So how do you always make sure to get the parts of the story recorded?

There are 4 basic things you need in order to have a story: A beginning state, and inciting incident, conflict, and resolution. There can be more parts to stories, but if you don’t have one of those 4, you don’t have a story. You have information. You can ask a few basic questions during the interview to make sure you get the parts of the story you need.

Interview questions that lead to a story:

Beginning:
This is the exposition.
Tell me about X before Y.
What’s the backstory? What were things like before the change? Describe what the life/the ministry/circumstance was like before.

Inciting Incident:
This is the event or idea that started the change or growth.
How did Y begin?
What brought this about? What changed? When did the problem first surface? Tell me how you first learned of this new opportunity?

Conflict:
This is the process of growing, changing, accomplishing the goal, overcoming obstacles.
What were the obstacles moving from X to Y?
What was the hardest thing about doing this? Tell me about the problems this caused, and how you overcame them. What happened when you tried this new thing?

Resolution:
This is the result.
Now that Y is here, describe your circumstance.
What’s the ministry/project/life like now? How have you changed?

That’s it, pretty simple. Obviously you can draw out more of the story in each section if you want. But if you answer these questions you will end up with a basic story for your interview.

Example of Interview with Story Elements:

Beginning: 0:00-0:30
Inciting Incident:0:30-0:55
Conflict:0:55-2:45
Resolution:2:45-3:53

It’s Dead, it Just Doesn’t Know it Yet

model tombstoneThe paid time/donor model for Christian TV broadcasting is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet.

I know there are program producers and stations and networks that will vehemently disagree with me on this. That’s OK. Eventually, no one will be able to deny this. There are some programs that are still working, but others are reworking what they do because of dropping donations. And it will only get “worse” as time passes.

The practice of paying non-profit, education license TV stations for a block of time, and then asking viewers to buy something or give something to your organization so you can continue to afford to make shows and buy time… is dead. Or at least on life support.

I recently described paid time/donor shows as having a limited shelf life (I’m mixing my metaphors.). These aren’t the same as churches producing teaching/worship shows. Those will always be around, because churches will continue to invest their budget into extending their ministry into their community. But the ones without the church backing, that rely only on donations from viewers, on selling things. Those will become less and less viable. Viewers who faithfully watch and support teaching programs with money are shrinking. They are literally dying off. And as the viewing and giving habits of younger audience members begin to have more of an impact on religious stations, things will begin to change.

The model to replace it hasn’t been fully formed yet. I had hoped to get in on the cusp of that new model, but those of us making shows that we are not buying time for are kind of out on the rough seas, looking for a harbor. (I know, I’m mixing my metaphors again. How about we’re in a private room in the maternity ward, hoping to check out of the hospital? No? You know what I mean.)

Today another network, CTN-Lifestyle, will start broadcasting my show, Peculiar. Not in the middle of the night, but during primetime and 3 bonus times. This cost me nothing but the time to email and ask, and then upload the programs. OK, it also cost me the time, effort, and resources to produce the programs.

This brings the number of networks (groups broadcasting the show to more than one market at a time) broadcasting Peculiar to 5. With 3 individual stations either already broadcasting, or about to start. With more in conversation. The amount of money spent by me to buy this air time is $0.00. It is possible to place programming that appeals to a younger audience on religious stations without buying it.

The flip side is that we cannot expect support from viewers who just want to write us a check. So, how can we afford to make more programs? Even at the super micro budget we had for Peculiar, that’s still a chunk to recoup… and then make enough on top of that to afford to make more episodes.

I did have one network give me a little bit of money for the show. Just enough to cover closed captioning. But that is not the norm. I really want to vent about the realities of Christian TV and it’s upside down funding model. I will restrain myself, and simply say that it stinks.

Retail? I wouldn’t bet on it. So far retails sales of my show’s DVD have been slow. It may eventually make back what we spent to create the show, but not any time soon. Unknown actors, unknown show, unknown director… very hard to reach a tipping point in publicity. For profit company broadcasting on non profit stations, so there’s no direct sales through the broadcast. Someone more skilled in marketing of this kind of thing may have better luck.

So, stations won’t buy it (cause most can’t afford to) and retail is sluggish. Netflix and the like aren’t much better. You might… might… get $10,000 for a streaming deal. That might cover your current production costs, but it won’t cover production for the future. So what’s left?

I’m not sure.

I do know that Christian radio stations sell spots… I mean, provide informational announcements for underwriting sponsors. Maybe a TV show can do something similar? Why not? I’ve spoken with one local religious stations about this. It’s possible. But likely that would be a station to station proposition, and not something that larger networks would consider. Not at this point anyway.

I don’t know the answer. But with the current model on life support, and more and more opportunity for new programming to air, we need to figure it out soon.

What do you think?