a production nightmare, literally

I can tell the Global Leadership Summit is about to happen.  The nightmares have started.  Anytime a big event rolls around, I start having trouble sleeping and my dreams take some pretty interesting twists.

One of the bigger names at this year’s Summit is former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  I just read her book, and it turns out she is an accomplished pianist.  With that little bit of information tucked back in the recesses of my brain, it made for an interesting Summit session during my REM.

My good friend Condi was playing some Brahms for the Summit, that just happened to be taking place in an old high school auditorium, crewed by a bunch of very novice high school techies.  Needless to say, mayhem ensued.  The funny thing, it wasn’t like crazy weird dream mayhem, it was mostly just normal production mayhem that comes from an inexperienced crew.  It reminded me of a few keys to a successful production:

Test everything beforehand.  This might see elementary, but is so key.  Making sure stuff works before the service or performance helps to minimize potential distractions.  At Willow, we do a line check, we test each mic, we walk through all the graphics, we test every video (and watch the whole thing), we walk through lighting cues.  This makes sure that we have done everything within our power to make the service go smoothly.

In the case of Ms. Rice’s performance, we didn’t have the correct piano, it wasn’t tuned and we had put it in the wrong spot on the stage so the lights weren’t aimed properly.

Don’t assume everyone knows what the production values should be.  In my dream, I spent quite a bit of time pulling my hair out over things like people not having their com headsets on during the performance, eating food in the green room during the performance instead of being backstage, and it seemed like one of the crew members was like the phantom of the opera and lived in the depths of the basement.  That guy was not helpful at all.  All of this was a good reminder that just because I have production values that I hold to, doesn’t mean that everybody has the same ones, or even knows what they should be.

In the dream, I spent a lot of time talking with the crew about production values after it was too late, and the session was over.  In the dream I remember thinking that there is so much I take for granted with the team I have now.  The staff and volunteers are so amazing at what they do, that we very rarely talk about the basics of production, they nail it most every time.  (Way to go Willow Production!)

Having production values that the whole team follows matters, and if you are a leader in the technical arts at your church, make sure you are telling your team about them before Condoleezza Rice takes the stage.

photo by: edenpictures

the rules of improv revisited

After months of putting Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants” on hold at the library, and forgetting to pick it up, I finally got around to reading it.  Hilarious and insightful and if you can handle a few F-bombs, I would recommend it.  Anyway, I was reminded of the rules of improv and how much I thought they could be applied to life as a technical artists.  I wrote about them earlier, so here’s a re-post.

I was talking with a co-worker  yesterday, and I was reflecting on how easy it is to be negative about what’s going on in my church.  Negative about leadership decisions.  Negative about direction.  Negative about people.  As a tech person, I think it is easy to be less than positive because things are always changing, or things are last minute, or I’m reacting  in fire drill fashion quite a bit.  It is easy to get cynical.

Tina Fey

Many tech people I talk to call it being a realist.  That may be true, since we tend to look at things from a “how can this be accomplished” perspective.  However, in my earlier years, and sometimes even now, I would lead with “this can’t be done”, or “this is stupid” or “I don’t have time for your creative ideas”.

A different co-worker, later on the same day was talking about Tina Fey’s book “Bossy Pants” and her rules of improv and how they apply to everyday life.  I like them because they speak toward a more positive way handle situations that could really help us tech people, not just in how we approach life, but how we are then perceived by others.

 Start with Yes. –  So often the answer to someone’s idea can be no, simply because there aren’t enough resources of money or time to pull it off.  This shuts things down pretty quick and then forces the person with the idea to come up with something else.

Say yes, and… – If we are able to say yes, then offer a few solutions to pulling off the idea, often times a new, creative and more importantly, a doable idea comes to the surface.

Make statements, don’t ask questions all the time – If we are good tech people, our job is to ask questions to get to the root of what needs to happen.  However, working with non-tech people means that we need help them understand what can and can’t be done, not just assume they know that an idea is crazy difficult.

 There are no mistakes, only opportunities – This sounds pretty cliche, but I really believe that for us to improve and get better as tech people, we need to push ourselves.  This means mistakes will happen.  What we do with the mistakes is what matters.  Will you repeat the same mistakes over and over or will you make adjustments to make sure you learn from mistakes.

How can you apply them to situations you face every day?  How could the rules of improv help how you work with others?  


Creative Commons License photo credit: Gage Skidmore


I have just started listening to the book Imagine.  It talks about how creativity works.  I’m pretty sure I would recommend it to everyone I know to read, but I only just started.

The author, Jonah Lehrer talks about how helpful constraints are to creativity.  Actually not just helpful, but essential.  The road blocks help our brain get past what is obvious (left brain thinking) and start to look at the problem from other vantage points (right brain thinking).

This feels so counterintuitive.  Shouldn’t creativity be endless without any limitations put on us?  I hate constraints.  It could be a constraint of time, or manpower, or budget, or ideas.  You name it, I don’t love them.  In fact, if I am honest, I spend quite a bit of time wishing I didn’t have constraints, or complaining about the limitations placed on me.

It is easy to look around to other departments, or production teams at other churches and think there aren’t any limitations to what they can do.  I know this sound ironic coming from the Technical Arts Director at Willow Creek.  From the outside, it can appear there isn’t anything holding us back from doing whatever we feel like.  Believe me, we have our own set of limitations.

After reading this section of the book, and staring at my own constraints, I am starting to look at them in a different light.  If the research is right, the really creative solutions are right around the corner.

If I have an equipment constraint, how can I figure out how to do something with what I already have?

If it is a time constraint, how could we alter an idea that helps to multiply the time we have?

If it is a budget constraint, is there another way to accomplish the same effect for less money?

These are all great questions to ask when confronted with limitations.  I know it is a generalization, but most tech people are known for just saying “no” when confronted with road blocks.

How can we move past the road blocks to come up with more creative solutions?

photo by: opensourceway

creation isn’t easy

Writing a blog has been good for me…for a few reasons.  Probably even a few I don’t know about yet.

It causes me to sit down and focus on putting into words, all the things that are floating around in my head.  Writing down what I think, feel and believe helps remind me of what I think, feel and believe.

For me personally, this has been like free counseling.  On some level, I don’t care who reads this blog, since it is really just a vehicle for my own process.  I figure if you are reading this, and can benefit from it, then that is a huge bonus.

As a technical artist in the local church, writing has put my in touch with how difficult it is to be creative.  And writing is a brutal art.  When I am reading or critiquing someone else’s writings, it all seems so simple.  One person is brilliant and another person can’t write to save their lives.  To the brilliant one, just keep cranking out the great content, and to the non-brilliant person, stop writing.

This shines a light on the fact that so much of doing production is about execution:  taking someone’s idea and turning it into a thing.  While there is technical creativity to make something as good as it can be, I am typically sitting behind a console executing.  If it is good or bad, the person who created it takes the glory or the heat.

[Side note: check out my conversation with Blaine Hogan from the Gurus of Tech Conference, where we talk about the dynamic between content and execution]

As a technical artist, I generally don’t live under that kind of pressure.  I have my own kind, but I can completely discount the weight that content creators are under.  Whether it is a new song, or a message, or a video, the people generating that content go through pains that I would never understand had I not decided to start writing on a regular basis.

Not only is the creative process excruciating and lonely, but then you have to lay your ideas out for everyone to see…and judge.  You open up your innermost self to the critique of perfect strangers, and to people who know you really well.  Just with these 2 things, it is amazing that anything gets created at all.

As production people, we are designed to figure out how to make something work better.  As a result it is easy for us to point out what isn’t working in someone’s idea before we ever get to what is working about an idea.  If I think about it, I tend to assume that people know about the parts that are working, so I skip over them.

Generally speaking, as a group, we need to be better at empathizing with our counterparts who are creating week in and week out.  Theirs is not an easy task.

How could we encourage the content creators that we work with each week?

When you huddle up after the first service this weekend, start with something encouraging. 

Whether it is the worship leader, the actor in a drama or the senior pastor, everyone needs to be encouraged to keep creating.  And without a steady stream of great content, those of us in production won’t have anything to support.

photo by: Nic's events

leading up, part 2

After writing my last post, I had to cut some content out, simply because there are too many facets involved with leading up, so I thought I’d turn it into two posts.

(insert lame pun here)

Going back to the podcast I recorded with the gents from Tech Arts Weekly, Duke DeJong pointed out that it is so easy for us technical people to talk about gear, but the real news is life change.

Leading up means I am putting my successes and failures in the context of ministry impact, which is something that pastors care about.  They care less about replacing projector lamps or getting a new sound system.  They care deeply about spending the church’s resources on things that will reach more people or help the people that are already there become more like Christ.

How is the work you are doing contributing to life change?  That’s what your leaders want/need to know about.

Van Metschke, the TD for South Hills Church was talking to us about one of his key volunteers and how their life had been changed through his involvement on the production team.  He really didn’t fit in anywhere else, and he has thrived using his gifts for the body of Christ.  He is now continuing his education to learn more about the technical arts, and while we were talking, Van received a text from him mentioning how his fellow students are commenting on how Christ shows through him.

The trouble for many of us is that we spend so much time with gear and dreaming about equipment upgrades, that it is easy to lose sight of what we should be spending time on:  developing people.  Pushing our teams to be more Christ-like.  Pushing them to accomplish things that they didn’t think were possible.  Showing them what production looks like in the context of the local church.

If we are only ever working on the gear side, that’s all we know how to communicate.

How much time are we spending focused on what really matters, so that we can communicate it to our leaders? 

photo by: Rhian vK

oxymoron: production leadership

Production leadership…in some ways it is an oxymoron.  You know, like jumbo shrimp and the tech person’s favorite passive aggressive.  Let me explain.

"jumbo shirmp"

Most people in the world of production, whether it is in the church or not, like to be behind the scenes.  Most of our jobs revolve around not being in the spotlight.  Even the function of our jobs is to be transparent.  Flying under the radar is something we do.  We are successful when nobody notices anything.

If you are a part of a larger organization, there comes a time when someone needs to stand up and become a leader of this group.  Leadership requires being out front.  Flying above the radar is necessary.  Learning to communicate to tech people and non-tech people alike is a must.

I was reminded of this concept last night while recording a podcast with the guys from the Tech Arts Network (check out the podcast here.)  We were talking about the idea of leading up, the concept of leading our leaders in what our teams need.

Because I am used to just doing my job without anyone noticing, I realized last night that I withhold the good news and the bad news from what is happening in my ministry from my leaders.  I don’t do this on purpose, it just falls into the “under the radar category”.  So many times I only interact with my leaders when I need something or when they need something.  There are very few instances when we have a conversation about the everyday stuff that is going on in the production ministry.

I think a big part of leading up is to engage with our pastors on a regular basis.  Not necessarily in a meeting or some kind of one on one time, but as we go.  A quick email about a volunteer who is going through a tough time, or when passing in the hall, mentioning that we had a volunteer appreciation night and how well it went.  As Mike Sessler mentioned in the podcast, going to a ministry directors meeting and not wanting to share the “pedestrian” details of what is happening in production, has got to end.

For the production ministry to thrive, it will require something outside of your comfort zone.  If you are in production in the local church, you are obviously passionate about what you do, otherwise there are better options for employment elsewhere.  That passion needs to come out in ways that help your leadership understand what is going on in your ministry.

We need to step out from behind our consoles and black shirts and learn how to be an advocate for our team.

God moves in all areas of ministry.  He can move and does move on our teams in unique ways. 

Our leaders want and need to hear about it…often.

photo by: Ozchin