I do a lot of technical directing in my church’s productions. I also have the privilege of teaching newer directors the basics of directing.
I figured I would share the 3 main tips that I teach all my new new directors. This article is great for new directors, and also good for experienced directors who just like to read random people’s rambling articles.
3 tips for Video Technical Directing in a live church production
When working in a live church production, there are many roles required to pull everything off. One of the most important roles in the video department is that of the technical director. The technical director is the person calling shots and putting up the camera feeds on the big screen. They’re kind of a big deal, so it’s very important that the director is trained and always on-point with the flow of the service.
The point of a live video production is to convey the worship atmosphere to anyone watching the video. The viewer needs to feel like they are part of the live congregation and get a similar worship experience. So, how do you, the director, accomplish that?
Before we dive deeper into directing, we need to get a few things out of the way first, and this is very important. Your camera operators need to be trained and comfortable behind the controls. I understand, your camera ops might be volunteers, but they still need to know how to operate and do their job well enough to be able to use their creativity. They need to be able to compose and frame a shot without being told exactly how to. They also need to be able to “keep up” with director’s lingo during the service. This will all make your job, as the director, much easier.
That being said, there are three simple tips that I tell new directors to always keep in mind.
1. Always be thinking ahead.
This is one of the most important and obvious things that a director needs to know. As the director, it is your job to know what is happening before it happens. If there is a solo coming up, you need to have a camera ready on the soloist BEFORE they start the solo. If someone is about to speak from stage-left, get a camera on them BEFORE they start speaking. You need to always be one step ahead and think about where your cameras need to be to capture the moment.
Although your camera ops need to have the same mindset and be ready for the next move, it is ultimately your responsibility not to fall behind the action. Run-throughs and rehearsals are crucial for directors. When watching rehearsals, you get to see where everything is happening and how to best capture the moment. When I direct, I have a service order in front of me for the entire service. That way, nothing sneaks up on me.
Usually, you will have access to the worship set before show-time. This will give you a chance to listen to the songs and give you a good idea of how they will be played. Knowing where the verses and choruses are will help the flow of your directing and help you think ahead.
Always having a “fallback” shot will definitely help with this as well.
A “fallback” shot is basically a shot that you can fall back to in any situation. If you have all of your cameras pointed at a singer, what happens when the singers stop for an instrumental break? Or what if the band decides to throw in a last minute bass solo, and you don’t have a clear shot of the bassist yet. In situations like that, it’s a great idea to go to your “fallback” shot. Wide shots usually make good “fallback” shots. Drum shots also make great “fallback” shots because the drummer is almost always doing something interesting. Always having a “fallback” shot will save you whenever the action stops or something unexpected happens.Remember to always asses where each of your cameras are and make sure you have a “fallback” shot for any situation.
2. Be specific.
What does this mean? Here is an example: you’re directing and you see a guitar solo coming up after this chorus, and you know you need a guitar shot. Most new directors just naturally say, “Somebody get the guitar.” Then, every camera gets the same guitar shot. Now, all of your cameras are redundant and not usable.
Be specific on which camera you are talking to. If you are trying to tell camera 2 to slow down their zoom, don’t just say, “slow down.” Say something like, “Camera 2, slow down your zoom.” Adding a few extra words eliminates confusion for your camera operators.
If you see that cameras 1 and 2 have identical shots, be specific on which camera needs to change their shot. Don’t say, “Cameras 1 and 2, you have the same shot,” because both camera ops are likely to change their shot. Instead, say “Camera 1, change your shot.”
Remember, you have a bird’s eye view of the entire situation and every camera angle, your camera ops don’t. Let them know exactly what you are thinking when directing.
3. Don’t micro-manage your camera operators.
This one is tricky. As a director, it is your job to direct the camera ops and give them guidance and instruction. But, at the same time, don’t micro-direct them. Let them do their job. You don’t need to waste your time telling them how to get every single shot.
Yes, there will be times where you want exactly a certain type of shot, and that is fine to tell them that, but don’t do it every time. You need to give the camera operators creative freedom to make cool stuff happen. You’d be surprised at the awesome stuff that comes from camera operators when you just let them do their job and use their creativity.
How would you feel if your boss was always looking over your shoulder tell you how to do your job. Bosses are there for guidance, they’re not there to do your job for you. It’s the same with directing camera operators.
Newer camera operators might need a bit more guidance then seasoned camera operators, so if you know you have a new volunteer on a camera, be patient and direct them for shots, but still let them figure things out on their own.
Bonus tip: Don’t be afraid to cut.
When I first started directing, I would always use the fader on the switcher, especially during worship sets. I would never cut between shots, because I was afraid to. It is simply much easier to mix between shots because it doesn’t take much timing or thought, and it’s just easier. But, I soon found out that, if you want to get good at directing, and properly convey the emotion and energy from the live worship environment, you have to cut sometimes.
You need to find a good pacing of the songs to cut to. For new directors, it’s usually easiest to simply cut on the beat of over measure or two, but, eventually, it’s good to cut both on and off the beat.
During a high-energy song, if you are only doing slow dissolves between shots, you are absolutely killing the energy that is happening on the stage. There are times to dissolve, and dissolves are very powerful when used correctly. But, using dissolves for EVERY transition, is not using them correctly.
Cutting is especially appropriate for dialogue scenes. If you are transitioning from a wide shot to a tight shot of someone simply talking or praying, a dissolve usually looks weird. Whenever I transition between cameras with people just talking, I always cut.
You will only get better.
Knowing these tips will not make you the perfect director, but they will help you along your way. You will only get better with experience. Every director develops their own unique style of directing over time. Remember to be patient, and let the flow of the service happen.