What Have I Been Doing?

Aside from the post the other day, it’s been more than 6 months since I posted anything here. What have I been doing?

Family– Family is good. I now have two kids who have graduated from High School, one more to go. House is generally good, but we still need to finish up the mess left from the rotten balcony. We are still heavily involved in homeschool speech & debate.

Work– Work has been crazy busy. At church, we lost a video staff person and the last remaining Communications person. For 6 months, I was doing 2.5 jobs as I covered for my team’s loss and helped out with some Communication tasks. They hired a new Communications Director, so that workload was lifted.

It is really hard to hire people since the Pandemic. Very few applications, and the ones we have moved on have not worked out. Character, chemistry and competence are what we are looking for.

Freelance– I’ve been doing a few projects for Church Media Squad. Just when they need help over holidays. I have done a few other small jobs.

The biggest project is the ballet documentary. I say documentary, it’s more of a documentary-style keepsake video. So that changes things. After more than 2.5 years of shooting generally, 1.5 years of focused work, I have a 50-minute piece that covers the last 50 years of the Longview Ballet Theater in East Texas. I was hired to shoot and edit this project. I’m not a huge ballet fan, but the story is compelling. Because this a keepsake, there are parts of the video that I would likely cut if it were up to me, but the clients will like them. I am close to wrapping this project. It’s been a long time working on it.

What’s next? I’m not sure. I have some creative ideas. I’m ready to hire the open position on my team. I’m ready to finish up the house, as soon as prices come down (ha!). I am thinking about a short doc project.

So, that’s it. Hopefully it won’t be another 6 months before you hear from me again.

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The Quality Ramp

rampHave you ever watched something you did several years ago and cringed at how bad it was?

I had this experience recently. When the pilot episode of my show became available on Amazon Prime, I watched it with my family. Ug. That was hard to do.

It wasn’t the worst video I’d ever seen. I mean, the story was basically solid. The core structure worked OK. But the lines, it’s obvious this was one of my first scripts. I kept having the actors tell the plot instead of show the plot. (Really, this is a problem in many of the episodes of the series…)

We didn’t know what we were doing. Production quality was subpar. I mean, I knew how to run a camera, but I’d never shot a dramatic scene. I’d read a book, so I knew to get coverage with a master, some over the shoulders and close ups. We had some decent (for the time) equipment, but not nearly enough lighting tools. I think we had about 3 lights, with varying color temps. We had a Sennheiser 816 shotgun, a really long microphone, and a couple of lav mics. Many times the shotgun was just too far away from the source, capturing quiet dialogue and loud room noise. I spent way too much time in post trying to fix it. And of course, it didn’t get fixed. And many of our actors were first timers. Or they had stage experience with no film experience. In post, I was in love with every line. I don’t think I cut any of them.

There were so many ways it could have been better. But the end result was still a decent story that set up a 10 episode series. A series that won awards, not because it was amazing, but because there weren’t many people even trying to do anything like it back then. A series that dealt with real issues facing Christians today. Something, that even now-3 years later- is still being seen.

I knew even back then that the quality wasn’t very good. I almost didn’t release it. I actually went and watched the first attempts of other filmmakers, and compared my work to theirs. I realized two things:

1, Everyone has room for improvement, and some successful filmmakers started out as bad as I was.

2, If you wait until you’re an expert to do anything, you’ll never do anything. You have to start where you are, and work to improve.

It’s the 2nd point that’s the most important.

How did a volunteer cast and crew spend under $9000 to produce an award winning 10 episode series that was shown on 4 different networks (JCTV, NRB, Parables, The Walk), tons of different local channels, satellite around the world, translated into another language in Romania, is still available on the internet and now a VOD streaming platform? We didn’t know we couldn’t.

I know people who are smart, talented and have an amazing idea just waiting to be produced. And that idea just keeps waiting. But part of the point of independent film is the freedom to try to make your idea. You don’t have to wait for a big studio to come by. And if you are a filmmaker who has never made a film, then you’re caught in a Catch 22- You won’t make your film because you want it to be good, but no studio will help you make your film because you’ve never made a good one.

For Christian TV producers, there is no hope (at this point) of ever getting the funding to make your episodic, dramatic show from one of the religious networks. Thats not how the model works. They exist because content creators (namely preaching/teaching/talk shows) buy time from them. They do not pay to have programs produced, and they normally do not pay for existing programs. There are exceptions, but generally this is the rule. So the chance of getting your grand episodic idea funded through a big Christians network is just about zero. You can get your show on the air for free, but even if they give you any money, it won’t be enough to cover the cost of production.
If you want to see your idea become reality, you are going to have to do it. You’re at the bottom, and you have to start moving forward to move up in quality.

That means starting with your script idea and writing it, even if it is horrible. And then keep writing and writing, and creating and creating. Read, learn, study. Get better. improve. Shoot short films. Do projects. Create, and try and keep trying. and keep improving. One day you’ll look back and go, wow, those first things I did were awful. But if you never did your terrible projects, you wouldn’t be able to do your better ones now.

Everyone starts at the bottom of the quality ramp, and if you want to get better you have to keep moving forward.

Video Workload: You Get What You Pay For

quality triangleBased on a true story. Details have been changed and names withheld. Stories like this are too common.

Once upon a time there was a large church which had 2 staff members who, in addition to other duties, created videos for the ministry. The two staff members were overworked. They had completed over 40 video projects from start to finish in the last year, in addition to keeping the live video for services and events functioning, and other odds and ends projects. These two staff members almost always did all pre production, production and post themselves, without any help. None of the 40+ projects had any budget beyond a few hundred dollars in a catch-all line item of the organization’s budget.

Some of these 40+ videos were simple talking-heads, while others were much more complicated. The lead time on these videos ranged from as much as 2 weeks to as little as 24 hours. As you might guess, some of the videos weren’t as high quality as they might have been, and a few leaders on the staff wondered why that was. The two video staff members never sat down with their supervisors and explained what it would take to have high quality videos produced at a pace that was sustainable.

One day the leaders of the church were in meeting talking about an important video project. They decided that they couldn’t risk this video looking bad. It must look great, communicate well, and be professionally done. So they decided to outsource the video project to “professional” videographers. The leaders did not reach out to their overworked staff to handle this project, but instead took it upon themselves to hire a team to execute this production.

They asked the most vocal critic of the video quality of the church, a photographer, to produce this project. He hired some amazing talent to help; there was one of the best cinematographers in the area, a top notch editor, an ex news reporter to help with interviews, and of course the photographer would take pictures as well as produce the project. For this important project they were given a 6 week lead time. The professionals groused and grumbled about the lack of time to do their best work, but agreed to give it a try. The church leaders never asked to see a quote.

During the 6 week timeframe, the professional video team accidentally ruffled feathers and caused misunderstandings because they didn’t know the normal procedures of the church. The two video staff members were sometimes asked detailed questions about the video project, even by the same church leaders who decided to bypass them, but they we unable to answer. Much of the church leadership was in the dark about the project until it was revealed.

The weekend finally came when the video was to be unveiled. A video staff member received a download link with a message that music used in the video could not be broadcast or streamed on the internet. The message was delivered just hours before the video was supposed to be used in the service which was streamed and broadcast. They reported this to their supervisor, who told them to try to get the rights, and if they couldn’t, then ask the editor to replace the music. The professional editor didn’t have a grasp on how the end product was supposed to be used. The video staff spent Saturday afternoon negotiating with the publisher of the song, and came to an agreement on licensing. The cost for this license for one song from an unknown, indie-musician was almost $1000.

Church leadership had just received the first inkling of what this video was going to cost.

The video itself was a 7-minute masterpiece. Beautifully shot. Brilliant story interwoven with highlights and interviews. It was very well done. Everyone was pleased.

Then the bill arrived.

The final bill came back at about 1/2 the annual salary of one of the staff video guys. For one project. As the invoices came in church leaders were aghast. They certainly expected to pay more than they ever had for any video project before. But for the bill to total in the tens of thousands? What were they paying for? The supervisor of the staff video producers asked if these numbers were normal. With the exception of the photo/producer’s invoice which was inflated and the “interviewer’s” invoice which was absurd, the rest was not only normal, but the charges were less than they should have been for the time required. The rental was reasonable, and the day rates obviously discounted.

Most members of the professional team were trying to give the church a break, but the church leaders had no idea what it costs to do video projects of this caliber. The staff members who had been responsible for the video work had not educated the leaders who assigned the work. instead, they just did what they were told as best as they could.

In the end, invoices were paid (Though some were negotiated lower) and for a time church leaders had a better understanding of what it costs do produce amazing video content. But they didn’t increase the budget for any of their other projects, and within a few weeks the time lines for projects were as short as ever before. A few months later, the 2 staff members no longer worked for the organization.

What’s the moral of this story?

If you want high quality video it costs. It costs time and money. The quality triangle applies. Good, fast, cheap: Pick two, you can’t have the third. 

You get what you pay for. The producers on staff should have talked to leadership about how the truncated timelines with no extra budget were impacting the quality of their projects. And church leadership should have listened.

How many churches throw so much work on a tech that he cannot execute most of his duties with excellence, and then become frustrated with lower quality results… and begin looking for a replacement? How many techs are afraid to speak to their bosses about unrealistic expectations because they fear being fired or worse, sidelined?

Techs, save yourself the headaches of stories like this one. Talk to your team, your staff leadership. Let them know what your workload is, and how it affects your performance. Learn how to speak and explain in a way that they can understand. Ask for help if you need it. Church leaders want amazing ministry. We’re in this together. If something they are doing is impacting quality, they want to know. A lot of leadership (anywhere, not just churches) is allocating time and resources based on circumstances. Your boss can’t lead you if you won’t give him critical information about how you can best do your work, and deliver excellence.

 

1 Alternative to Saturday Services

night churchThere’s a trend in growing churches looking to make room for more congregation to add a service on Saturday night. You filled up your Sunday morning schedule, filled all your possible venues. So you need another worship service. It seems like a no brainer. Just add that service to the day before.

This is part 3 of a 3-Part series on Saturday services.

I worked at a church that had a Saturday service for years. There are some things I know about now that I wish we had talked about before we started it.

In Part 1 I tried to talk you out of it by giving you 3 reasons NOT to do a Saturday service. In Part 2, if you still wanted to do a service on Saturday, I gave you 2 ways to make Saturday services successful.

Now I want to talk about 1 Alternative to Saturday Services- Sunday Afternoon

Many of the reasons to do a Saturday service and most of the reasons not to do one are addressed by having an additional service on Sundays. You still get the additional worship space and time, without the extra day.

Evening and Morning Options. Doing a Sunday afternoon still offers a time that service industry people can attend. They can work in the morning and still make the later service. But, you can’t have the late service too late, or you run into parents worried about bedtime for school the next day.

Cheaper material costs. The room is already cooled/heated for the day. It will cost less to add a few extra hours onto the cleaning staff, or have them come later, than to add another day. It will cost less to hold a Sunday afternoon service than a Saturday service.

Less personal cost. Instead of two days, you end up with one long day. It’s like having two Wednesday’s in a week, sort of. Still a lot of stress on that day, but staff still gets a full weekend. Volunteers still serve just one day. Ask your staff if they would rather give up a few more hours on a day they are already working, or give up another day. You already know the answer.

Lunch. Long days mean a lunch problem. Depending on when your afternoon service is scheduled, there may not be time for everyone to leave for a meal and come back.

Cater it. Come on, you were thinking about adding the cost of a whole Saturday worship event, feeding the staff and volunteers who stay through to serve in a Sunday afternoon will cost a lot less. I’m not saying give them steak and lobster. Serve pizza, sandwiches, or whatever will keep everyone’s energy up through the afternoon. Why not use the prayer before you eat as a time to share successes or thoughts with your core worship execution team? Use this break time to build relationships and team.

A growing church has to add something. Either a new venue or new service times. Make sure you count the cost of adding a new day of worship services before you do it.

What will you do to make room for your growing congregation? New Saturday or Sunday services? Or is there another option?

2 Ways to Make Saturday Services Successful & Sustainable

night churchThere’s a trend in growing churches looking to make room for more congregation to add a service on Saturday night. You filled up your Sunday morning schedule, filled all your possible venues. So you need another worship service. It seems like a no brainer. Just add that service to the day before.

This is Part 2 of a 3-Part series on Saturday services. 

I worked at a church that had a Saturday service for years. There are some things I know about now that I wish we had talked about before we started it.

In Part 1 I told you 3 Reasons NOT to do a Saturday service. But maybe you’re unconvinced. Maybe the benefits outweigh the cost. How can you successfully have Saturday night church without burnout of staff and volunteers?

Successful Saturdays:

Weekend Crews. Change your weekend service structure so that the same people are serving all weekend. From staff to volunteers. From tech to worship. And then, rotate the crews. Don’t have them serve every weekend. The churches that do this will have a sustainable schedule.

There’s a bonus to this. Every so often I would be asked why something worked well on Saturday- some timing or execution aspect of the service, but didn’t go as well on Sunday services. Or why by the last service of the weekend we had someone make a mistake that hadn’t been made earlier? We didn’t have the same people filling every spot from service to service. We didn’t run a weekend crew. And since people changed out, execution was sometimes different.

Staff up! Before you launch. Don’t launch and wait 6 months to see if your staff can handle it. They can’t. They will need help. Hire part time, or full time staff to cover key positions. You are doubling the people you need to cover weekend services. Have new volunteers trained and ready to go. Make it a big push in the congregation. You’re growing, how exciting! Now ask your people to step up and do the work.

I know. More staff? Am I kidding? Ask more of our people? Yes. There is a large amount of work and stress, preparation and execution that goes into every weekend service. Adding a new day without adding new people will, long term, hurt you.

But if you can’t/won’t do these two things, there is another option. One that won’t kill your staff and volunteers. But will still offer a morning and later services times and additional worship space without adding a new venue.

Next: An Alternative to Saturday Services- Sunday Afternoon

What are some other ways to make a Saturday service successful?

“Whom Shall I Fear”, Chris Tomlin, Worship Songs and Changing Circumstances

You hear me when I call, You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night, It cannot hide the light

Whom shall I fear

You crush the enemy, Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield, Though troubles linger still

Whom shall I fear

I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies, Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies, Is always by my side

My strength is in Your name, For You alone can save
You will deliver me, Yours is the victory

Whom shall I fear

And nothing formed against me shall stand, You hold the whole world in Your hands
I’m holding on to Your promises

You are faithful
Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)
By Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash and Scott Cash, EMI

Tonight at church I sang a song I hadn’t sung in almost a year. I posted the lyrics above. A little over a year ago Chris Tomlin released a new record, and this was one of the songs from it that churches began to sing in worship. I liked it, catchy tune. Easy to sing.

Not too long after that my work world was rocked by the abrupt explosion of my main freelance gig. In one swoop I lost half my income. I was forced to dive into my corporate AV gig, working too many hours for not enough pay. As I watched my time with family shrink at the same time our savings dwindled, listening to this song was hard.

The one who goes before me? Who stands behind? Who walks beside me? Where was he when my employment took a dive? I take my responsibilities to provide for my family very seriously. I felt like I had been left open on this one.

I knew, of course, that things could be much worse. I had a home, food, and even full medical from my place of under-employment. But I still had some issues with the situation. This was a new experience for me. I was frustrated.

I knew that God was with us. I believed that he had plans for our good (Jer 29:11) and that all of this would somehow work together for our good (Rom 8:28). But I wasn’t feeling that at all. It was hard to see it in day to day life. The song would come on the radio or up in my playlist, and I would listen and feel frustrated.

Fast forward to tonight. In three days I travel to Texas to start the next chapter of my life. I’m going to be doing something I love at a great church. We really feel God brought us to this place, at the time. So when that song started tonight, I had a totally different experience.

If the events of last year never happened, the likelihood of us ever moving to Texas would have been greatly reduced. The things I have learned while trusting God to provide this past year… I’m not saying you should run out and take a job that pays half what you need to live, but you really learn to trust him in this kind of thing. God really was going before, behind, and beside us.

I’m always amazed at the way you experience worship based on where you are in life, and how God is dealing with you at that time.

How do your circumstances effect your worship experiences?

Why Are AV Techs so Negative?

Let me interrupt my series of personal posts to talk about a question I know people have asked.

Put any group of 3 or more AV techs in a room and within 15 minutes at least one will be crying and moaning. We are, on the whole, a negative group. We rarely focus on the positive. In fact, right now I am fighting the urge to explain just how bad many events are, and why there are so few positive things to talk about. I seem to want to fall into the pattern of complaint even here.

But even in less than ideal situations, not everyone trends toward the negative. Why do AV techs?
I think two factors play into it.
1. In order to be good at what we do, we have to be detail oriented and analytical. So we notice problems. And we figure out why things went wrong. Therefore, we know what is wrong. And we do it for everything, not just technology. We don’t shut off the analytical part of our minds.
Since we analyze everything, and we have to find flaws and issues for a living, we tend to drift toward that in all situations.
2. There are extraordinairily high expectations placed on us. We don’t serve on life or death situations, but some clients act like it is. AV techs are under enormous pressure. Things should function perfectly. But most of the time you don’t have the right gear to pull off perfection. Many times the techs are put into a hard spot, pulling off miracles with substandard gear and minimal prep time. And when something fails, they are often raked over the coals for it.
So we get defensive. And we collect horror stories. And when we get together, we tell those stories. We vent. We bemoan the gear and the expectation and the performance, and generally dump on anything that wasn’t perfect.
Because of those two factors, we often get into a pattern of negativity, many times without realizing it.
Want your AV Tech to be more positive?
Listen when they tell you about broken gear, or better ways to accomplish something. Don’t rip their heads off when something goes wrong. Analyze it with them, and take steps to keep that from happening again. Foster a more positive environment. And when you hear them slip toward the negative, steer the conversation toward something positive.

My Dream Job

work

I recently explored a return to church work. Not in the same capacity as before, but generally a “working for a church” job.  Ultimately our family felt that God wasn’t in that move. So we stayed planted. But it was odd to think of working for a church when I wasn’t called to do that particular work. I know that a lot of people do. Right now, I’m working for an AV company and that isn’t my calling.

I work for PSAV. I work on corporate shows, loading in gear, running the events and loading the gear out. It’s a decent gig with good benefits. I wish it paid more. But God has always provided, and every bill has been paid on time. 

Still, that’s not my calling.

What am I called to do? Create TV/Video/Film from a biblical worldview that appeals to younger audiences. By “younger” I mean under age 50.
 
So, my dream job is a way to do that and make a living. What does that look like? Not really sure.
 
Maybe I will just do one project that is financially successfully. Peculiar, for as well as it has been received, has not earned back the money it took to make it. Not yet anyway. I’m still looking for the scripted religious TV financial model.
 
Maybe there is a church that is inspired to do non traditional TV and looking to hire a producer. I would love to have the budget that some of my previous church’s spent on traditional broadcasting to do a show or two. Maybe there is a TV station or distributor looking to do the same.
 
I don’t know. In the mean time, I work to make ends meet and I work to fulfill the calling on my life. Some day those might be the same.

How Not to Reprimand Someone

argumentSometimes it’s easier to learn how not to do things through your own experience, or watching someone else make a mistake. The other day I saw someone making a mistake, and it reminded me of the right way to handle similar situations.

Several of us were coming off of a shift where we had been striking a good sized show. The strike went fairly well, and even with a few obstacles to overcome, we had finished a few minutes early.

As we dropped by the main office to clock out the crew, made up of people who are not assigned to that property, was looking a bit worn. We were all tired. Most had been crawling over truss, wrapping cable and pushing cases.

This particular property has very strict guidelines for dress. It doesn’t matter what you were doing, you have to meet those guidelines. I knew this going in, so I took care to meet the expectations. Note everyone on the crew did. I also happen to know that the property had recently been cracking down on those who were not wearing the appropriate attire.

Hey, no problem. It’s their property, their rules. If I want to work there, I follow the rules. But not everyone on the crew felt the same way. More than one had on sneakers and shirts that did not meet the guidelines. The fact that we had just finished tearing down a set added to the rumpled look of some.

As I was clocking out I noticed two supervisors surveying the crew. They singled put one and began to reprimand him in front of the rest of us. It seemed to be a training exercise for an employee, with the others watching and coaching.

It was uncomfortable to witness. I assume, because I can’t think of another reason, that this guy was chewed out in front of the rest of us because they wanted all of us to hear the rules again. It was the wrong way to handle the situation. I know the employees was embarrassed, and likely to blow off the chiding. Those watching this unfold were not thinking about how much we needed to stay in dress code. We were thinking that these guys were total jerks for reaming out someone like this.

If you need to address concerns with an individual, that should be done with just you, the individual, and possible a 3rd party. Not in full view of coworkers. You call him aside or into another room.

If you need to bring an entire group onto the same page, then you address the group. You don’t’ dress down one guy in front of the group.

Handling it the way it was creates animosity between worker and supervisor. It does not demonstrate or earn respect. In fact, it makes me question their leadership more than want to comply. I will follow the rules because I know that is the expectation. I won’t follow them because of this poor example.

Was the employee wrong? Absolutely. The supervisors at that location had every reason to dress him down for his attire. But not that way.

I don’t know how the reprimand ended up because I left once done clocking out. I had no desire to stay. And nothing would be learned, nothing would be of benefit from witnessing the rest of that exchange.

The only good thing that came from this was that I was reminded of better ways to accomplish the same goal.

You Will Reap the Good You Sow, if You Don’t Give Up

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Gal 6:7-9 ESV

Today at church we talked about this verse. We talked about other stuff too, but this was what resonated with me.

Specifically, verse 9. Don’t grow weary of doing good, because in the end, you will reap what you have sown… if you don’t give up.

That last bit there, that’s ticklish. We reap the good if we don’t give up. Not just if we sow for a while and then go on with something else. If we don’t give up.

Perseverance is huge when you are chasing your dream. God gives you vision. God has a good task ahead of you. The likelihood is high that you will not see all of your effort come to fruition immediately.

But, if you don’t give up, you will reap what you have sown.