Video Directing 101: Telling a Story

VideoDirecting101

The goal of video directing is to tell a story. We do that by capturing an event, not creating an event (although that idea has a place). Part of telling a good story is telling the whole story. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you are going to be an effective story teller, you must learn to position your cameras to properly capture the event.

It does not matter how fluid your pacing is or how effectively your team communicates, if you don’t have your cameras positioned properly you will miss key elements of the program and fail to communicate the whole story with your audience. This is very important and must be carefully considered. In this post we’ll look at the foundation–telling a story–in order to properly consider good camera placement.

The focus of this post will be on directing a church service, but I believe the principles can be applied to any live event.

What story?

The next time you are sitting in your sanctuary (or wherever your church family gathers), imagine writing a short story that captured the essence of your church service. I’m thinking particularly of the elements required to write a story like: setting, characters, plot, style and tone. Some of the things you might describe include:

  • The architecture of the building (modern or traditional)
  • The stage layout/design and colors in the room
  • The number of seats. The kind of seats (theater style or pews)
  • The clothes people are wearing
  • The age/race/gender of the people in the service
  • The overall flow or theme of the service
  • The worship songs that were sung and the instruments in the band
  • The style of the worship leader
  • How the congregation responded in worship
  • The topic of the sermon
  • The style of the preacher
  • How the congregation responded to the message

Notice how a compelling capture of a church service has more elements than just what the preacher/pastor/priest is saying. And although these are all elements you would describe, a good story also rouses emotion, utilizes tension, and stirs passion.

Consider the Sermon on the Mount. Why do we even call it the Sermon on the Mount? Well, partly because the story teller didn’t just record Jesus’ words, he also described the setting. I can’t even think of the beatitudes without imagining Jesus on a hillside speaking to the crowd.

Hopefully, my point is clear: to tell the story of your service, you must capture a complete story. After watching your program, the viewer should be able to describe all of the bullet points above.

The 1 Camera Dilemma

Many churches want to begin recording and streaming their services with 1 camera.

Don’t do it.

There is no way you can effectively capture and tell the story of your church service using one camera.

It would be better to not use video until you can afford to purchase the right tools. I guess someone could object based on the idea of starting small and growing. After all, something is better than nothing, right? I can hear scripture being taken out of context to support this (despising the day of small things, etc.).

Most of us would cringe at publishing a church pamphlet riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Such a document would hinder the effectiveness of our message and actually tell a different story about us than the one we intended. I doubt we would offer the defense of something being better than nothing. It wouldn’t matter if the mistakes were oversights or ignorance, if the communication we intended failed. One camera cannot provide enough grammar (structure and syntax, if you will) to communicate well.

Indulge me with another analogy. I live near Charlotte. I could purchase a used bicycle to travel to California for a conference. It’s cheaper than a plane ticket and is a mode of transportation with many benefits. However, it would take too long to get there and create more issues (food, lodging, weather) and defeat the initial purpose. It would be cheaper in the short term, but ineffective. If you were my friend you would stop me.

I’m that friend. I’m trying to stop you.

Capturing verses Creating

We must approach any task we do for Christ with integrity and authenticity. This is especially true when we are communicating the story of God’s work of redemption.

I don’t have to convince you that there is great power in video images. A power that can be manipulated. One of my favorite examples of this is the first televised presidential debate. To my knowledge, the producer, Don Hewitt, never publicly admitted to manipulating the outcome, although he did admit that Nixon’s choice of not wearing makeup cost him the election (see this article). Hewitt himself acknowledged that people who listened on the radio thought Nixon won, while those who watched it on TV, thought Kennedy won. Although the charge of intentional manipulation is “debatable”, this point is clear: shot selection, camera angles, and other techniques can create a perception of events that could be different than reality.

There is no place for manipulation in communicating the Gospel.
There is a distinct difference between capturing emotion and creating emotion (or capturing energy and creating energy; capturing a move of the Spirit and creating a move of the Spirit, etc.).
Using quick camera cuts, and even editing in crowd shots from other services, one could create a product of a high energy service that didn’t really exist. That may be an extreme example, but the pressure is there to use techniques to manipulate the viewer experience.

On the other hand, I have no desire to be a passive spectator. As the director, I have a strong creative impulse to enhance and translate the live event into the most effective video story I can. I consider it to be a creative challenge.

I completely understand that the video story will be different than the live experience since it is a different medium. But proper camera techniques convey what is really happening. I like to have my tight camera begin a slow push in as the speaker is making an emotional point. This, in my opinion, is a great way to capture the emotion that is happening. This is not creating something that doesn’t exist otherwise.

What I am really after is an open approach to the service that serves the goals of the Holy Spirit. What I want to avoid is an approach that brings an agenda into the service that forces a predetermined outcome.

There is a genuine tension here. Even as I write this, I am aware of it. For example, I want to avoid empty seats in the sanctuary. Even though it is “part of what is really there” I direct the camera operators to reframe the shot to avoid empty seats. I don’t want to belabor the point. I hope you’ll wrestle with the tension between capturing and creating.

Conclusion

The first step in capturing a compelling story through good video directing is to understand the story you want to communicate. After you understand your goal, you are ready to place your cameras to effectively capture the service. We’ll look at that in depth in the next post titled, Video Directing 101: Camera Placement.

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