look me in the eye

Demo Contact

photo credit: wader


As some of you know, I am slightly obsessed with all things Winston Churchill.  An indicator of that obsession can be measured by the fact I am currently reading volume 6 (of 6) of the history of WWII, written by ‘ol WC his-self.

Currently it is the winter of 1945, and the leaders of the big three allies have gathered in Yalta, on the coast of the Black Sea to meet and plan the future of the world.  During this trip, Churchill is taken to review some of the troops that have fought so valiantly for the freedom of western civilization.  Here is what he had to say about it:

At the airfield a splendid guard of honour of troops was drawn up.  I inspected them in my usual manner, looking each man straight in the eye. This took some time, as there were at least two hundred of them…

Can you imagine being one of those soldiers?  I have to believe that they never forgot that moment of eye contact with Mr. Churchill.  I am also amazed by him realizing the importance of making meaningful connection each person, especially ones that are giving so much of themselves to a greater cause, especially ones that he was responsible for leading.

There is something so vulnerable about looking someone in the eye, almost like you are allowing someone to look into your soul.  In Germany, when you raise a glass in a toast, you look into each other’s eyes as a way to say you are glad to be together.  We do this on my team when we are having communion together as a way to say we are in this bigger thing together.  As someone with personal space issues, it is definitely uncomfortable to hold eye contact with someone for any length of time…that’s my space!

There are 2 things about this story of Winston Churchill that struck me:

When was the last time I honored someone with words or an action, for the work they have done?  Regardless of how much time it might take?

When was the last time I looked them in the eye when I said it?

For my team, for your team, communicating value to them, is really important.  Look them in the eye when you give it, regardless of the space  it invades.

how to get new gear


photo credit: 2create

I can remember thinking that if I only had a certain piece of gear, that everything would be great….OK. Who am I kidding? I still think that way. Getting new gear is always so fun. Opening the box. That new gear smell.

I also thought that other churches had way more luck getting that new gear. While I was slugging away with the junk I had to use week after week, everyone else had that new gear smell permeating their whole facility.

Most of us don’t have everything we need to do the job that is being asked of us and we need more equipment. So the big question is, how do I get more gear?

Brace yourself.  Here’s the big reveal on the secret to getting the new gear you want/need:   Use the gear you have.

Jesus talked about this in Matthew with the parable of the talents.  Be responsible with what has been entrusted to you and you will be given responsibility for more.  Now, I’m not saying that you should just do a good job with what you have so that you can get more.  I’m saying focus on doing a great job with what you have.  If you are faithful and responsible with the little entrusted to you, the new shiny gear takes care of itself.

Knock it out of the park: Take what you have now and use it to the fullest.  Take production support and production [enhancement] to new levels with what you already own.  If what I mentioned in an earlier post “Production Support” isn’t happening, why should we be entrusted with more?

As a leader, I can’t wait to entrust people with more; more responsibility, more equipment, more you name it.  The only way that I am going to do that is if past history shows that someone is worthy of being given more responsibility.  A great track record is a leader’s love language.

Are you seen as someone who is responsible with what they have been given, someone who doesn’t always complain about having enough, someone that knocks it out of the park with what they already have?  Are you using what you have to the fullest?

what production can learn from Winston Churchill

Churchill announces iron curtain

photo credit: judy_breck

I was reading an article about the 71st anniversary of Winston Churchill’s first speech in parliament as Prime Minister, after the German’s had run the British out of France.  I’m a sucker for most things involving British history and I am inspired by the example of Winston Churchill, so much so that I follow The Churchill Centre on Twitter and often listen to recordings of Winston Churchill speeches…they make me cry.

Anyway, @churchillcentre tweeted about this article and it had the following statement:

Churchill did not value the British armed forces for their own sake. He valued them because they protected a nation he cherished, values that he believed in, allies he supported, and a political system that he praised as the finest in the world.

Read more:  http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/05/13/churchills-lessons-war-peace-ring-true-today/#ixzz1MLFX3OrN

That first sentence caught me by surprise.  I immediately identified with it.  As a technical artist, sometimes I feel like people think I like production for its own sake.  That I like flashing lights, just to flash lights.  Or that I like loud music, because its loud.  Or that I love shots from a handheld camera because they look cool.

Not unlike how Churchill felt about the armed forces, production by itself isn’t the point.  Production has to be used to achieve an end.

A couple of posts ago, I quoted the Willow Production mission statement:

to create life changing moments through the fusion of the technical and performing arts.

Just by the wording of the statement, you can see that production alone isn’t enough, it has to be done in conjunction with something else.  Production without content is just flashing lights, loud music and dutch angle video shots.

How can we help change the perception of the non-technical people we work with, that our goal isn’t production for the sake of production, but it is for the larger impact of production used in collaboration with a life changing idea?

building a great mix

Funk 1 & 2

photo credit: realer2k

I remember the first time I had a mix really come together.  I remember the song (“Messiah” by First Call).  I remember the venue (Kensington Middle School Cafetorium).  I remember the sound board (Yamaha 2404).  This list definitely doesn’t describe what I thought would be the perfect mix.

Looking back, the song wasn’t amazing, the venue definitely was quite awful, and the gear was sub par.  So what made it so great?  Why do I consider it my finest moment as an audio engineer?

I obviously wouldn’t be writing this post if I hadn’t thought of an answer to this.  Here are a few things that applied to me in this particular situation and can also apply in most others.

1.  Know the music – I knew this song like the back of my hand.  I had been in a traveling singing group in high school that performed this song and I knew every vocal part, every guitar riff, every keyboard bass lick.  Even in a less than perfect environment, I knew what that song needed to sound like, and I worked like crazy to get it there.

2.  Trust and Relationship – The music director and I were pretty close and we had worked together for a long time.  I knew that he valued what I brought to the table and he knew that I wanted to accurately translate what was happening on the stage.  I knew he was coming prepared, and he knew I was showing up fully prepared.  We were both on the same page about the goal of what we were doing.  The congregation needed to be able to hear the words to the song and engage with the message of it.

Number 1 is almost laughable.  Of coarse knowing the music will help you get a better mix…thanks for the advice, Todd.  The second one is way more abstract and infinitely more complicated and difficult to achieve.  Knowing the music is something I can do on my own, and it depends on only me.  Trust is mutual.  It requires give and take.  It requires relationship.  It requires letting go and compromise.  To achieve it, I have to make a move, not just wait around for someone else.

No doubt, building a great mix depends on all kinds of factors, but usually breaks down around lack of trust and relationship.

What am I doing to build these?  What can I do today to take a step closer to the best mix ever?

production [insert word meaning "to enhance"]

In my last post, I talked about the conversation my team has been having about production support as a baseline for acceptability.  In my mind, this is just the beginning of what God has called us to do and be as technical artists.  I believe that the full version of who were are and what we should be bringing to our churches, involves production .

a recent example of production (to enhance)

I would define production [enhancement] as taking an idea and transforming into something amazing by adding technical art.  For someone who has agonized and worked long hours on a particular idea, this can sound like I want to make it into something completely unrecognizable.  In fact,  since production will be a part of any idea we do regardless, it means I am interested in making the most of an idea by using every technical device at our disposal.

As I mentioned in the last post, production support is objective and relatively easy to define.  Production [enhancement] is an art form, and like any other art form is subjective and requires more from us.  It interweaves production with the content, creating an inseparable connection between them. It propels the content of our services away from great art on stage with good production support, and towards to an encounter with God.  For my team, this is our mission statement:

“To create life changing moments through the fusion of the technical and performing arts.”

This requires us to work in collaboration with the other artists who are producing our services.  It requires high levels of trust between the artists on stage and the artists in the production booth.

When I think about it, if I have a creative idea, I know that I want to have control over it and to make sure that my vision becomes a reality.  Giving it over to another person or a team of people to potentially make it into something else sounds a little scary.

From a tech person’s standpoint, when you are presented with an idea, do you treat it with care and respect?  Can we be trusted with someone’s creative idea?  Will we enhance it or turn it into something completely unrecognizable?

the baseline

Baseline and Meridian

photo credit: Chuck “Caveman” Coker

We have been having some great discussions on our team about the purpose of production in the local church, especially our local church and in the course of the conversation, I have realized that there is quite a lot I take for granted in the expectations of production.

As I have been thinking about it, we have been talking about two very different, yet very interconnected ideas about production.  In a very simple way, it can be boiled down into 2 types:  production support, and production .

At the most basic level, to do production with excellence at the base line, we are called to support what is happening on our platforms.  This means mics are on when they are supposed to be, lights are pointed at the right things and the correct graphics are on the screens at the right time…very objective stuff.

So many churches I have been to, or even events at the local high school, don’t even reach this basic level of production.  While production support is the base line for what should be expected, more often than not, even that isn’t achieved.  Without this baseline covered, how can we hope for people attending our services to be able to focus on the message of what we are supporting?

Production support is just the starting point for an amazing technical arts ministry at your church, but to fulfill our roll as a technical artists, we need to start by nailing production support. Am I covering the baseline?  Are you covering the baseline?


Obviously, I haven’t talked about [word that means "to enhance"]. I’ll unpack  that next time.  Meanwhile, if you have a word suggestion, I’m all ears.


a privilege

pineapple mayhem

I had an opportunity to work on a Friday night.  Most of us in the world of production, both in the church and out, don’t think this is a big shock.  Many events happen on a Friday night, and this is something that just comes with the territory.  Leave your family.  Watch your friends go do something fun.  Miss out on family movie night or in my case, the famous Elliott family homemade pizza night.

However, this particular Friday night a few weeks ago, I was so proud to be at work.  Our church held an event for our middle school ministry.  At Willow Creek, nothing is small.  No event is uneventful.  We had almost 3000 12-14 year olds in our main auditorium.  Now, my first reaction to the idea of this happening in our main auditorium was “Those kids are going to trash this place.”

How many tech people get a chance to do production for an event that has potentially eternal impact on the lives of middle school students?  How many churches are willing to open their nicest space to the destructive force of 8th grade boys?  How many places have so many kids inviting 2 or 3 friends, that we only have one room big enough to fit them all?

I love production.  I love my church.  I love doing production at my church.  I love doing production at my church to help spread the gospel to 2500+ tweeners, regardless of the obvious reasons not to.

So many people who work production do it to help sell more cars, or sell more pharmaceuticals, or for inebriated people to enjoy a wedding reception.

I count it a privilege to be a production person for a greater purpose, even when it means I miss homemade pizza night.

not like every sunday


photo credit: jramspott

I was struck this Easter by the feeling of being connected to what everyone else was doing.  The feeling that I am a part of something bigger.  Working from week to week, pulling off services once every 7 days, then throwing in a few extra events during the week and a big event from time to time, it is easy to get super focused on what I am doing.  It is so easy to have tunnel vision for what is happening right in front of me.

It isn’t wrong to be focused on what is at hand, but working in church production, there is something bigger going on than the production of the moment.

This past weekend, a couple things hit me.  One I shared in my post holy production week about all that Christ did for me.  The other was the sense that I was a part of something much larger than just the Easter service at Willow Creek.  Seeing so many pictures on twitter and facebook, from places like Seattle, Germany, Detroit, Atlanta and South Africa, made me realize that God is doing something all over the world.  As a technical artist in the local church, I am a part of thousands of other technical artists helping to support the service that celebrates the hinge point of history:  Christ’s resurrection.

I am so proud to be a part of such an amazing group of paid staff and more importantly volunteer staff that pulled off staggering productions for the sake of spreading the more staggering message of what Jesus did for all of us.

Thank you to those of you who posted pictures and comments of what was happening where you were this weekend.  Not only was I inspired by your creativity, I was reminded that I am a part of something much bigger than what is right in front of me.

holy production week

We are the reason that HE gave HIS life

photo credit: upto6only.com

I have been reading through Hebrews lately, and wondering what it all really means.  There is so much Old Testament stuff going on, I have been confused, but I just keep pressing on, because once I start reading something, I have to finish.  With it being Holy Week, I felt like maybe I should abandon Hebrews in favor of reading the Easter account, to help my frame of mind going into a very busy week.

Then I came across Hebrew 12:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I was completely floored by these verses.  Of all the things to read this week, considering how tired I am, how many things aren’t going exactly according to plan, how big the hill in front of me is to climb; this is exactly what I needed to read.

Whatever I am feeling pales in comparison to what Jesus endured for me.  Jesus joyfully ran his race and has finished the work set before him, for me.  How much more can I push through and persevere to the end of this weekend?

Over all the world, untold thousands will be hearing the message of Christ this weekend, and much of it will be made possible through the efforts of church technical artists.  Fix your eyes on Jesus and what he has done for these people, including you, “so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

seeing into the future

Looking Good. . .

photo credit: MrsMinifig

This week, my team was on the opposite side of the process vs. product discussion.  This time, ignoring the process would make the service better, but the price to be paid ended up being too high to make the end result worth it.

It is impossible to know without a doubt what matters more in the moment.  Walking the tightrope between process and product is an attempt at seeing the future.  As a leader, making decisions requires you and I to look ahead at the potential outcomes and make the right choice.

As I said, there was a request recently that would make the service better but jack with the process.  The request was fulfilled, but every spare moment was crammed with trying to make it happen.  As a result, we lost focus on other things that then became distractions during the service, actually making the product worse.  For us, being distraction free is a base-line, non-negotiable value for production, so this seems pretty unacceptable.

The thing about walking the tightrope all the time, is that it is  difficult to know before hand when the process is the most important or the product matters more.

Someone asked me how I make the choice.  In order for each side, product and process, to believe that both matter, decisions need to be made in either’s favor in somewhat equal amounts.  As a leader, the production team needs to know that the process matters to me a lot, and the programming team needs to know that the outcome of the service or event matters to me a lot.

Trust is key.  Do the people you work with trust that you are making the right decision?  Are you giving equal time to both sides of the tightrope?  Hopefully, all signs point to yes.

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