Video Directing 101: Pacing


Directing a live event is like a multi-layered dance. The people on the stage are leading the dance. The video director is following. In the same manner, at another level, the camera ops are following the lead of the video director.

That is the imagery you should bring to the task. As the leader of the dance changes pace, you as the director, or camera op, should follow suit.

To make this point clear, let’s look at the dance between the camera operators and the video director during music. One rule that makes music look really good on camera is to always have movement. Even a camera assigned to a tight shot of the main singer can include small pushes and pulls that create enough movement to keep the line cut interesting. But a camera op should not get ahead of the video director by starting their move too early or ending too early. If that happens, I will sometimes actually say, “Let me lead the dance.” The intention is that the camera operator wait until I am ready for their move. After I give them the standby, then they can start.

Another thing to be mindful of as a director is that many times a good camera operator will show you the move they want to make as well as practice it a few times for timing or to get it smooth. It might be “fancier” than normal, like a pedestal up push over the congregation to the stage. In that situation, as a director, I say, “Camera 4, I see that move, reset.” That operator will ready themselves and wait. I may want to use that bigger move for the lead in or out of the bridge (for example). If it’s a long way off, and I want other shots before we get there, I’ll say, “Camera 4, let’s come back to that for the bridge.” Then as we get closer to the bridge, “Camera 4, stand by for your pedestal move.”
That is the dance I am talking about.

Pacing and the sermon

Most speakers change their intensity to match the emotional force of the point they are making.

  • They might start a rant and begin spitting out phrases in a tango like fashion as they build to a crescendo point. I would venture to say that all good speakers speed up in passionate points, but with some it is not as noticeable and you have to really pay attention. Others begin to increase in volume. Sometimes, an organist can jump in to accompany the speaker. If that happens, you should be reaching a crescendo in your pacing on camera cuts as well. Don’t forget to cut to audience shots or a wide shot to show the congregation in engagement with the speaker. If someone in the audience raises a hand or says amen, you should be ready to jump on that like white on rice, and then cut right back to the speaker. This is a necessary part of what is happening in the room. Your pacing could be as fast as a camera cut every 3 to 6 seconds.
  • Likewise, a good speaker will naturally slow down as they make an emotional appeal. They might even be getting choked up themselves and pause to regain composure. When this happens, think: tight, tight, tight. Get in there and show that emotion. And don’t be afraid to linger on that tight shot. Consider training your tight shot operators to start a slow push in to capture this emotion.
    Think of that scene in the movies where circumstances have conspired and now our couple is arm in arm as the waltz begins to play. They begin to dance. For the first time, they realize they are in love. They only see each other. The room disappears …
    OK, you get the picture. Camp on that shot until the moment passes.
  • You may have an occasion where the style of a speaker is not giving you much pacing. Sometimes, in the church world, we distinguish between two styles of speaking as preaching verses teaching. In that context, preaching is more animated while teaching is drier (I’m not validating the distinction, just using it as an illustration). If you are directing a teacher, who does not move away from the podium, and uses less inflection, you will need to bring some artificial pacing into your line cut. In a word, you will need to lead the dance. But use discretion.Your line cut will not feel right if you are blasting away with a high energy pace. Listen for main sermon points and sub points, scripture readings and illustrations to serve as your pacing markers instead of visual and volume cues.

Always be preparing for the next event

Another aspect of the dance that I want to underscore is the importance of always being ahead of the service mentally so your camera operators can prepare for what’s next. The dance is fun, but there is a responsibility you have to your dancing partners. Let’s use an example from a service template.
At Grace, our service order usually looks something like this:

  • Opening song
  • Welcome, prayer, and congregational greeting
  • Announcements
  • Offering / Offering prayer
  • Worship
  • Sermon
  • Closing

The director must allow the cameras to get ready for worship during the offering.
If you use hand held cameras, and you need them on the stage to shoot the instruments during the start of the first worship song, you cannot wait until worship starts to get them into position. They have to get in position during the previous event. You must orchestrate your line cut so the cameras that need to move are not needed as they get into position. That is how you lead the dance. If you don’t do this effectively, you will needlessly frustrate your operators or have them running into position, which quickly gets tiresome and old.

I often use the wide shot to bridge the elements of the service. Besides being an effective use of the establishing shot, this allows the other cameras to prepare for the next event in the service.


Pacing is like a dance. A good dancer flows in style and moves that match and enhance the mood and tempo of the music. A good video director uses pacing to match and enhance the natural flow of the service. For the best program possible, as the video director, adjust your tempo to the action in the room. Pay attention to visual, verbal, and volume cues and pace your directing style accordingly.


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