Video Directing 101 – Song Samples


Seeing something is so much better than just talking about it. That’s the entire premise of the idea that video plays a crucial role in communicating the Gospel. So, it’s time to practice what I preach and critique some recent video at our Christmas Eve service.

Our Christmas Eve service had some exceptional special music. As a church, we don’t usually have special music, so it gave us a chance to do some extra stuff on the video that we don’t normally do. I took it as a great training opportunity. Instead of just writing this up for our team, I wanted to share it here as well.

A couple of observations to help frame the discussion:

  • We updated our video gear last year, 2013, in conjunction with a launch of our video based satellite campus.
  • This year, 2014, we added Grace Online, a live streaming service.
  • In the upgrade, I could not afford an improved intercom, so we continued to use our legacy RTS system. Although we worked with JVC to resolve an issue, they even sent an engineer to our church from CA, we could not fix it. Suffice it to say, during worship, the camera operators cannot hear the director; therefore, we typically do not aggressively shoot the worship portion of our stream.
  • A few weeks ago, we purchased a used HME DX200 wireless intercom and are very happy with it.
  • Our team has only had a few weeks of more intense directing and these are the first specials we have shot with better communication.
  • The camera ops for the service were Jaquie on 1, Tim on 2, and Brandy on 3. They executed well in both songs, and the entire service, staying active and responsive.

It was time to try some things and see what happened! As you watch the video, think of the next shot you would take and when you would need to communicate that to the camera op. These are slower songs, shot with 3 cameras. A lot more could be done with video, but here’s what we came up with.

This first video is of my beautiful wife, Rose, singing, “Messiah.” I love to hear her sing and think she knocked this one out of the park – not just singing, but worshipping. Good stuff.

This second video is of the very talented  Julia Register singing, “O Holy Night.” She is a strong member of our team both in talent and character. She hits her stride at the 3:45 mark, where she simply nails the hauntingly, beautiful melody of this song. Phenomenal.

Let’s pick the directing apart and give some detailed feedback to see how we can improve. This may be nitpicky, but I believe scrutiny makes us better.

I directed the first one, and Ed, one of my directors-in-training directed the second one. Keep in mind that I have been working in professional video for 16 years, and directing consistently for two-thirds of that time. I started working with 4 individuals to help me direct in January of 2013. I generally schedule each person once a month. Ed has directed about 12 times, or less (there’s a few assisting times thrown in there as well). I’m super proud of him and think you’ll agree that he is doing a great job. Given that distinction (12+ years to 12+ times), there really is not that much difference between these two songs.

Let’s do this:

  1. Notice in the first video, I start and end with the wide (camera 3, for us) shot.
    I like to book-end elements of the service with an establishing shot. By comparing these 2 clips, you can see the difference that makes and whether or not you think it is worthwhile. It should become natural with experience. Going to the wider shot frees your tighter cameras so they can get ready for the next element of the service. That is important.
  2. By not going to an establishing shot quicker (to bridge the elements as opposed to at the start of a new element) notice how in the second video we catch the camera switching talent. Not the end of the world, but there is a more interesting shot available if we plan ahead. This comes with experience. [yes, in post I could have started the song later to avoid that, but this is a directing exercise and we would have lost the first few measures.]
  3. In the first video [1:20], we have an incorrect rack of focus.
    When you rack focus (IE – adjust focus. Here: to put the talent out of focus on purpose), it is important to always rack focus towards you. Otherwise, you will bring the background into focus and potentially run out of room, as we did. Besides that minor glitch, the focus racks were timed well and added a nice touch with the Christmas tree lights in the background.
  4. My pacing is off in the first video.
    As I was setting up shots and explaining what I wanted to do to the ops, I lost track of the pacing in the first video. Directing should add to/build upon/emphasize what is happening on the platform. If there is a big move in the music, and you get caught staying on the same camera through the whole thing, you lose that crescendo moment. But worse than that, you could actually lessen the force and impact of the song. Yikes!
    You’ll notice I’m making a transition a few measures into the chorus or bridge, etc. Don’t be predictable, but it feels better to flow with the music (which means you should transition  when the music is transitioning. Make sense?) Let that be the starting point and build from there.
  5. Ed did a great job with the pacing; better than I did, in fact. And let that be another lesson. Sure racking focus and panning and placement on the screen are nice, but don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.
  6. Both of these videos could be sharpened with more detailed planning.
    Plan out what you are going to do ahead of time. Be prepared by knowing the music. If there is a four measure turn around, and you are on a tight shot of the singer that whole time, and they are not singing, that is not good. I don’t see any egregious error in that regard here.
    Being prepared also means lining up your next shot. There is a winging it feel to both of these videos. It helps to script out all of your shots in advance.
  7. As you develop a repertoire with your ops, they should be able to adjust their pacing to go with the tempo of the song. Their timing should match the duration that you need until the next transition. Said another way, a camera move should not end two measures before the verse ends. Likewise, if you get caught in the middle of a move just say, “Camera X, bring that to a stop” and then transition to your next shot.
  8. Make sure all your camera ops know how to check return video and know when to use it.
    Return video. Right where it should be above the zoom rocker.
    Return video. Right where it should be above the zoom rocker.

    Return video is usually the program feed fed back into the camera. On a studio configured camera, it is most often selected with an RET button above the zoom rocker (See picture). During music, look at return often. For instance, in the first video [3:48], when I am panning from a tight camera 3 to a tight camera 2 shot: each of those cameras should be looking at return to match the speed and position of their shot. Camera 1 (the camera not involved) by using return, would realize both cameras are on a tight shot, and could quickly jump out to a medium wide for another option.

  9. In the second video, Ed has a nice pan from Camera 3 to Camera 2 [2:55]. But then I think the song loses a little momentum.  Somewhere around 3:05, I’m watching thinking that something needs to happen. A slow gentle push on camera 2 would have been the ticket. At the 4:30 mark, he has a nice :20 push from Camera 2 to close out the song. That’s what I’m talking about.
  10. It’s a wonderful thing when you can count on your camera ops to help get you out of a jam.
    Towards the end of the first video, I’m completely off camera 3 tight at 3:54. Then I start my dissolve to camera 3 wide at 3:59. That’s pretty darn fast. WTG, Brandy! I hope I gave a heads up on that. Something like,”Camera 3, as soon as I clear you, quickly give me a wide shot to close the song.”
  11. In retrospect, it may have helped to light the band and include a few shots of them. As it is, we are missing that part of the story. However, by keeping them in the background, we were able to highlight the singers and songs in a way we would not have been able to with a brighter platform.

I hope others enjoy this peek behind the curtain into our process.

One thing I have learned this year is that my training schedule of having 4 directors (each serving once a month) has not been a very good plan. I am a strong believer in setting up your team for success, and it is challenging to learn all the technical specifics and develop finesse at the same time. Be that as it may, our team is making progress, has a great attitude, and consistently delivers. So although it is not optimal, we are learning. Also, I could train better by not being so heavy handed and wanting to take over (something I believe they will appreciate me admitting here).

Feel free to offer constructive feedback or ask questions in the comments section below.


11 thoughts on “Video Directing 101 – Song Samples

  1. I am thankful that I get to work with such an amazing team.
    All of the “directors-in-training” do a great job. They are calm in the seat and do a great job working with us ops no matter what level of expertise.
    Mike, you make running the camera so easy! You do a great job of giving detailed specific instructions, praising a job well done, and reassuring us that everything is ok when we make mistakes. I have learned so much in that past year!

  2. I am so very proud to be a member of this group. The experience and camaraderie is uplifting. The joy of the lord falls upon me when I am given the opportunity to bless (or at least I hope so) the members of GCC with quality camera shots that allow them to be transported to a higher place in their worship of our Lord. It is easy to be swept away with the level of talent we have at GCC. They can be mesmerizing.

    You asked for techy stuff… well I’d like to see camera 3 bring in the distance shot to a mid range shot as its base line. I say this knowing Mike you like the far away look but I think the cameras will meld better when we transition shots. It seems to take forever to get it to a good solid transition point. I’d also like to see what would happen if we did more pulls to transitions. I noticed we did the same oush then transition several times. You know me I like to play and get into the music. Add the energy to the music that can’t be felt when not experienced in real time.

    But this is just my thoughts…which you did ask for. I do know I love working with every one of you and have been blessed by this opportunity to serve.

    1. Good points, Jaquie! Thanks for adding your two cents!
      I would just caution, when mixing pulls or pushes, that the director should call that switch. Otherwise you could have camera 2 lined up on a waist shot ready to push tite, and Camera 1 also on a waist shot ready to pull.
      I tend to think of pulls in terms of taking me away from the action, and pushes bringing me into the action, but I don’t think it is as cut and dried as that.
      Keep those thoughts coming, it is definitely worth adding to our repertoire.
      Thanks for all you do for our team!

  3. Thank you for posting this Mike, it’s pretty neat to see the actual finished product. I appreciate your teaching and patience with all of us. You make it easy to do this as you are very laid back. I for sure need to continue to work on my pushes and transitions to different screen shots. I know in time, with your help, that will come around.

  4. Thanks, Mike for this load of scarce, detailed and educating pieces of information. I’ve been on a church production team for about 3 years and we have an 8-camera set up. We have more angles to play with and varying shots. One new thing I learnt is that purposeful blurring in your first video. We will try that. Thanks once again.

  5. Thanks, Mike for this load of scarce, detailed and educating pieces of information. I’ve been on a church production team for about 3 years and we have an 8-camera set up. We have more angles to play with and varying shots. One new thing I learnt is that purposeful blurring in your first video. We will try that. Thanks once again.

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