production foundation

To build a solid foundation for production at your church, requires gobs of tenacity. If you think about the foundation of a building, most of it is underground and will never be seen. But without it, the building couldn’t stand. Even though nobody sees what goes on down there, if corners are cut, the building will eventually come down.

Braced FoundationHow you handle the unseen parts of production will determine what your ministry will become. What kind of building can you construct on a shoddy foundation? Not a very good one. And not one that will last. Yet, by building a solid foundation, there is no telling what can be built upon it.

In the world of production, most of what we do goes unseen. You are the first in the venue getting things ready and you are the last to leave. There are countless hours in the editing suite getting things just right. Sitting behind the lighting console checking and rechecking the sequence of lighting cues doesn’t just happen by itself. Testing each mic line and instrument cable has to be done so that we know everything is working before we start rehearsal.

Most of us can relate to how tired you can get at the end of a long run of rehearsals. Do you stay and clean up now, or leave it for later? Do you watch the video one more time to make sure the edits line up with the audio? Do you troubleshoot a problem until you understand what happened and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

When I started shooting and editing videos, I learned this lesson the hard way. After I had finished the project, I would start transferring it to tape while I got up and stretched my legs. Then, I wouldn’t watch the tape until we were in the service. Inevitably there was a glitch or a piece of bad audio, or whatever. What I soon realized was that I needed to watch the transfer to tape…all the way through. In one instance, it was 1 1/2 hour final edit and it was 3am. Do I watch the whole thing, or do I take a nap? If I want to make sure it is done right, I need to watch the whole thing.

These are all examples of tenacity in the basics. Since there is nobody around to see that yours is the last car in the parking lot, what you are doing is definitely unseen. What is your commitment to the foundation of production done well?

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preparing to fail

A few months ago, I volunteered to provide production support for an event at one of my kid’s school. For me, it doesn’t matter where I’m doing production or for whom, I want to do great work. I don’t want people thinking about production, but about the content of the program. I want to be as transparent as possible.

Comikaze 2013 - Bane shrugsThere were a couple problems right off the bat. The gear at this school is suspect at best. I never know which mics will work or which lights turn on with which switches. Going in, I knew I was in for a challenge. The second issue was that the people presenting at the event wanted to use wireless headsets, even though they were just standing at a podium the whole time. Knowing what I do about the system that exists, I spent quite a bit of time trying to talk people into using a wired handheld mic, since it would give us the highest chance of success. No luck.

You can probably imagine where this is going. Mic after mic failed. Either because of RF interference, a bad connector or the flimsy headset mic falling off someone’s head. Fortunately, I had set up a wired mic by the podium just in case.

This example speaks to a few things.

We talked about it before the event

I knew that the gear was questionable at best, so I spoke up. Not to complain, but just to explain what could happen. After the decision maker decided to respectfully not take my advice, we used the wireless mics.

Prepare for failure

When they failed, I didn’t make a big deal out of it and I definitely didn’t say “I told you this would happen!”. I prepared for the chance that they might not work, and then I didn’t carry the weight of responsibility whether it worked or not. I’d spoken up and someone else made the decision. I’m going to still do my absolute best to make it work, but if it doesn’t, someone else made the decision and carries some of the responsibility for the distraction that was caused.

Because production is a mystery to most non-tech people, to some degree, only you know if you are doing everything you can to make sure things go well. Are you planning properly?

Do you have a “Plan B” in case “Plan A” doesn’t work?

Are you bringing up potential issues before they happen or only after they fail?

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bridge the distance

If you haven’t picked it up by now, creative artists and technical artists are very different. We think differently. We are interested in different things. We come at the same problem from two totally different vantage points. The nice part is that both groups want to solve the same problem; we’re at least on the same page there.

IMG_1618There is much misunderstanding that originates from this one fact. Usually we are running so fast, that we only have time to deal with our own point of view. Unfortunately, when we are fully immersed in our own perspective, we can misread someone else’s perspective as opposition.

I’m an introvert. I like being in the booth. I’m happy to let the people on stage do their thing…while I stay in the booth. Plus, I’m pretty busy running around trying to make their ideas happen.

Because of this perspective I had as a younger version of myself, I spent a lot of time waiting for people to come to me and to get to know me; to understand the challenges I was facing. I figured the music director would ask me out to coffee any minute.

History has shown me over the years that I will wait a long time. It has nothing to do with the music director not caring, and it has everything to do with the reality that we are all really busy and we are all feeling alone and misunderstood.

One day the light bulb went on for me. If I wanted to be understood and if I wanted to feel like somebody gave a rip about my world, maybe I should do something about it. Maybe I should make the first move.

While there is a physical distance that separates the booth from the stage, there is a chasm of another kind that separates the stage and the booth. It is a gap that exists because of our differences, perceived and real. It is distance that exists because Satan wants to use our differences and the physical distance that separates us to drive us further apart.

Thanks for the pep talk, Elliott!

What are some practical ways you can shrink the spiritual, emotional and personality distance between the booth and the stage?

learn a new art form

I’m a huge proponent of becoming more acquainted with the creative process. As someone who is usually executing other people’s ideas, I don’t fully understand what is involved in coming up with those ideas. I just need to make them happen. From my limited perspective, the creative process can seem very black and white. The reality is very different.

Art roomFor many of us, there is something that we are really good at. Whether you are an audio mixer or a systems engineer or a lighting designer, you are an artist of something. You are exercising your creativity in some way. Because we tend to be most comfortable staying in the realm where we know we can succeed in, we tend to get locked in this perspective of the world.

Breaking out of the rut you might be in, can be very useful to helping understand other people’s perspectives. Learning a new craft can also help you get in touch with what is really involved in the creative process. How many of us wished that our senior pastor would sit down with us while we edited so they could understand what their changes meant? What I’m suggesting is the same thing, only we’re the ones learning something new.

I have a fairly short attention span, which means I’m trying new things all the time. Photography. Watercolor painting. Piano. Guitar. Sculpture. What usually happens is that I don’t get really good at anything, but I develop a better appreciation for those who are really good in those areas.

It also has helped to understand that just because I can think of an idea, it doesn’t usually turn out that way in real life. If I’m trying to paint something with watercolors, the water does what it wants and I just need to go with it. If I have an idea for a sculpture, it might take me 10 tries before it even resembles a fraction of my idea.

The exercise of learning something new helps to expand my perspective from just my own limited one, to one that includes a few other data points. Not that I can fully know all that my creative arts counterparts are dealing with, but having a mercy for anyone in a creative process can help us work together better.

Learn something new. Widen your perspective.

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wait 5 minutes, then freak out

In my early days of work at a church full time, I was the technical director of a church that met in a high school theater. It was a brand new facility and the theater was state-of-the-art, so it was a pretty sweet set up. On the downside, we had 3 semi-trailers full of gear to set up and tear down each week. Fortunately, there was a great team of volunteers who knocked it out every week. Freak Out signFor the most part, we had a pretty robust system for getting all this stuff set up and working on time. However, there were several times that there was a glitch in the system. That one time I overslept. Those times when the custodian opening the building overslept. And the countless times that rooms in the building were double booked. I can remember one such time where the cafeteria, which was our video overflow room, was also rented out to some kind of yoga group. When we realized there was an issue, most of my team started to freak out. Not just mild freak out, but full on “how can church possibly still happen” and “this is a major disaster” types of panic. In that moment, I wanted to join in with the whole team freak out. I figured it would be a great bonding moment for us. But although I  wanted to panic, I was pretty sure that wouldn’t help any of us. Not only would it just be one more person losing it, but as the leader, I was certain my team needed to see me stay calm. In the split second it took my brain to go through this exercise, I decided to stay calm for 5 minutes while I tried to solve the problem. After 5 minutes, if we hadn’t come up with a solution, I would join my team in freaking out. But for at least 5 minutes I would hold it together for the sake of my team. After 5 minutes, I would stop worrying about my team and give in to my panic. In this example, and in pretty much every example since I started living with this mantra running through my head, a solution was uncovered within the 5 minute window. If you are a leader in production, how do you handle a crisis situation? Does your team know that you can be trusted to hold it together long enough to come up with a solution? Do they look to you for everything to be all right or do they know that you will join them in panic mode?

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put one foot in front of the other

The GLS is over…at least in North America. It is one of my favorite events to work, for many reasons. One of those reasons is that I get a chance to have a front row seat to hear some pretty amazing messages.

In the season I’m in right now, which involves much future uncertainty, Louie Giglio’s message was very timely for me. He had some great content like:

Matterhorn“Life is short. God is big.” and
“To climb the Matterhorn, you’ve got to take one step at a time.”

The second one really resonates with me. I don’t have to know every detail of how to get to the top of the mountain, I just need to take one step.

It reminds me of the classic Rankin/Bass production “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and the song “Put One Foot in Front of the Other”  OK, maybe it isn’t exactly the same thing, but what a catchy tune!

For those of us in an uncertain season or in a time where what needs to get done feels too giant to tackle, let’s just take the next step; let’s point ourselves in the right direction and just make the move right in front of us.

So I’m going to dig in and start moving in the direction I sense God leading. Regardless of the size of the mountain, I’m going to get up and take the next step.

To quote the eminent philosopher, Kris Kringle: “If your time of life is at hand, a good place to start is to stand.”



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more or less, cowbell

It’s my favorite time of year. I have the privilege to work with an amazing team to pull off the Global Leadership Summit, which is broadcast around North America to close to 100,000 people live, and then rebroadcast throughout the rest of this year to another 100,000 in cities around the globe.

As we ramp up to this event, we are working hard to solve every potential problem we can think of. Whether that’s getting the scenic design exactly right, or making sure all the audio tracks are working or checking all the camera shots; we are trying to take care of as much stuff today, so that when we are in the event, we can focus on new issues that might come up.

Once we have everything hooked up and working, we then start broadcasting live to all the satellite sites. This is the first time all the sites have their projectors and screens set up and the first time we are sending live content to them. One of the tests we run is the audio/video sync test, making sure that the audio and the video are arriving at the same time.

This is where the cowbell comes in.More cowbell

I have a love/hate relationship with the cowbell.

I hate the cowbell because I have to sit on stage and start banging on this thing until all the sites tell me they’ve had enough, until every site says the sound of the cowbell and the visual of the cowbell match. Do you know how long that can be? Do you know how difficult it is to remain passionate about playing the cowbell over that amount of time? I know that Will Ferrel makes it look so easy, but believe me, it isn’t. There’s nothing I hate more than playing that stupid cowbell.

On the other hand, I love it because it is the way we are making sure everything works. It is one more detail that we are taking care of before we hit the actual event. It is a way that we are making sure the event is distraction free before we’ve distracted someone.

I love the cowbell because it is a small example of what I believe in, that the technical arts have the power to transform people’s lives. Not through playing a cowbell specifically, but what playing the cowbell represents: creating a distraction free environment where people can focus on the content instead of the production.

I don’t care how much I hate playing the cowbell, if it means that we are doing everything we can to make our event the best it can be, I’m in.

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prevent a problem or have to fix it

The pace of doing production in the local church can be crazy fast. Every week, a new service needs to be planned and executed. It is relentless. Sometimes this pace catches up with us in bad ways. If we are running so fast that we don’t have time to think things through, we can start burning people out or spending too much money on an idea.

problemsI’ve been listening to the book by Ed Catmull from Pixar called “Creativity, Inc.”. It is a must read for anyone involved in creating and executing services. I think we could all agree that Pixar has figured out how to create some pretty amazing movies, so I’m ready to agree with anything Mr. Catmull has to say about how they do it.

Here’s a great quote from the book that applies to what we do every week:

“The cost of preventing problems is cheaper than the cost of fixing problems.”

The cost can be measured in time, people or money. Are we running so fast that we don’t have time to think through potential problems? Are we sacrificing time to prevent problems that we end up having to fix them instead.

When I think about fixing a problem that we could have solved before hand, there are only so many times that you can do that to people before you start burning them out. There are only so many times you can do that before you run out of money. There are only so many times you can do that before you have no more time left.

There will always be a tension between preventing problems and fixing problems. We will never know every problem that needs to be prevented until it is upon us. Hopefully over time we can learn from these experiences and behave differently next time.

For me, the balance should land on the side of people. If we burn people out, pretty soon we won’t have anyone left to execute the ideas. On the other hand, if we have to prevent every problem, we will never get anything done.


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show your work

Remember when you were in math class, and your teacher would take points off your test if you didn’t show your work…where your answer came from? You couldn’t just write the answer down, he wanted to see your tough process and how you got there. It was a way for him to know that you understand the material.

125489887_124cf772c5_bWhen we lead with the answer “No”, we are not showing our work. For people who don’t generally understand the world of production, you are keeping them in the dark by not explaining how you got to “No”. Part of what keeps us from sharing all the details is that we assume one of two extremes: that most of it is over people’s heads or they already know how impossible their idea is and they are asking for it anyway. My guess is the truth is somewhere in between.

When I am working with my kids on homework, and pushing them to show their work, they usually get defensive about how much they know about the subject and that they shouldn’t have to show how they got the answer. But without the details, I’m not totally sure they understand the concepts.

How often is my knee-jerk reaction to someone’s ideas because I’m defensive about showing my work? What if they think I don’t know what I’m talking about? What if I don’t know what I’m talking about? While opening yourself up to someone critiquing your thought processes, you are also giving them a glimpse into what is involved in executing their idea.

Many times, the only way an idea is going to happen is if you and your team execute it. And the way the body of Christ is designed to work, each person has their role to play. You are the expert in what it takes to pull off ideas, so don’t be defensive to show your work.

making ideas float

One of my favorite, yet cheesy bits that David Letterman does on his show is “Will It Float?” Basically something is chosen, like, say, a cheese log. Dave and Paul Schafer vote on whether it will float or not, then they drop the object into a tank of water. That’s pretty much it. (BTW, a cheese log sinks)

IDEAIn the world of production, we have people asking for us to pull off all kinds of things. Some will float and some will not.

When you are talking about making an idea float, you need to not only steward the resources you have been entrusted with, but you need to steward the idea that has been presented.

In the past, if we didn’t have the resources to do someone’s exact idea, I would usually just tell them it couldn’t be done, and expect them to come up with a new idea. This was before I realized how difficult it is to have an idea in the first place.

When I approached brainstorming this way, I’m not a team player, I’m not providing solutions, but only pointing out problems. The amount of time and effort that it takes to come up with a new idea is not something to take lightly, and if something can’t work with what we have, how can I help shape the idea to fit what we can do?

If it hasn’t been clear to you already, nobody really knows the world of production like you do. What better person to help figure out how to make an idea work than you?

When you first hear an idea, and how production plays into it, you are only skimming the surface. It is based on what someone else imagines can be done with production. When you start imagining how to accomplish the idea, you are drilling down to the idea’s essence. In my opinion, any time you can simplify the idea into its primary components, you stripping away the unnecessary parts and getting to the heart.

Once you are there, you are able to see more clearly what production can add or subtract, to bring out this essential part of the idea. Just writing this down I get excited! This is where the fusion of the technical and creative arts really come together! This is what God had in mind when he created you and put you on the team you’re on!

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