Making the Transition from Live Production to Filmmaking

It used to be that if a church needed an original video for weekend worship or a building campaign, the project usually ended up on the tech director’s plate. Or it may have landed on the worship pastor’s desk. Or it might have fallen to the secretary who managed the church’s DSLR. The video often took more time than it was worth, and the end results were less than inspiring.

Fast forward to the year 2018. More than ever before, churches are beginning to understand the important distinction between live production video and original church filmmaking. They both may appear similar, but they’re actually two entirely different creative endeavors, requiring unique skill sets and approaches. Just as importantly, ministries are increasingly embracing the fact that both disciplines are crucial for churches endeavoring to share the Gospel with a wider world.

For many tech and broadcast directors, the rush and vitality of the live production experience is a passion, driving them to stay enthusiastically engaged, week in and week out. Similarly, a handful of video production specialists enjoy having a chance to “switch-hit” between live production and filmmaking on a regular basis. A growing number of live production specialists, however, are coming to realize that creating original film and media content might actually be closer to what energizes and inspires them.

Making powerful, effective media requires serious time, effort and emotional output.

No amount of careful planning and overtime can compensate for this hard reality: eventually one’s filmmaking will hit a creative ceiling when only a small number of hours each week can be afforded to projects. Making powerful, effective media requires serious time, effort and emotional output. Eventually there will be that one passion project that begs the question of whether the live side or the filmmaking side of the house is really capturing your heart and mind.

If that’s where you find yourself in this season of ministry, a good first step is usually to begin by taking a long look at how you spend your discretionary time. Do you find yourself visiting and revisiting websites about the art of film? Have you found yourself tooling around with a DSLR just to see what’s possible? Are your friends no longer willing to watch movies with you because you insist on turning on the Blu-ray commentaries? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, it might be time to consider making your hobby your vocation.

The next step in considering a transition is one of the most important in the entire process. Set aside some dedicated, focused time to bring your wrestling to God in prayer. He opens and no one shuts; He shuts and no one opens. (Isaiah 22:22) It’s often a good idea to share your stirrings with trusted family, friends and mentors as well. They might be able to see something you’re not considering. On the other hand, they may also have some meaningful encouragement and advice that helps move you forward into the future.

Next, begin the process of networking with other church filmmaker and film team directors. This used to be a much more difficult undertaking, but thanks to social networks and websites it’s easier than ever before. Another great option for building relationships with church filmmakers could be the Church Production Live! Capture Conference coming in August of this year.

Ask some of those church filmmakers about their experiences. Find out how they spend their hours each week. Share where you are in your process. What you learn may help you discover that ministry filmmaking is just not for you, but conversely it might also fire you up for the next step in your journey.

Once you’re feeling more confident, taking some concrete steps to grow as a filmmaker. Try producing a short project from concept to completion. Perhaps you could make a recap of a ministry event or a missions project. Take a shot at telling a testimony story or modern telling of a parable. Maybe write a short film that you can script, cast and direct. You’ll learn so much about yourself and your creative strengths by simply finishing a project and evaluating the end results.

When you’re ready to move forward, take the crucial step of sharing what you’ve learned about yourself with your creative director or direct supervisor. It might be a little scary, but if you give the conversation some thought ahead of time and speak from the heart, you might be surprised by the results. Be sure to start by expressing your gratitude for the chance to serve in your current roll, and be open to God’s timing. And remember, ultimatums are almost always less effective than approaching things with an open hand.

Ultimately, making the transition from live production might mean entering a new season of ministry. If this means pursuing opportunities at new destinations, do everything you can to make yourself an easy ‘yes!’ to the people on the decision end of the hiring process. Put together a solid resume that highlights your experience, and don’t forget that live production and audio expertise are very relevant and useful in the filmmaking world. Be sure to solidify your command of cinematography and editing, and assemble an online portfolio that reflects the value you can bring right out of the gate. Having a website or Vimeo channel that features diverse types of church films (narrative, concept, recap, promo, etc.) will definite help you make a great first impression.

Assembling these materials usually takes some effort, but it’s important to minimize the leap of faith you’re asking a new church to take in bringing you on the team. All things being considered, however, church filmmaking is one of the most creative, collaborative and exciting new ministry positions emerging today. The demand for great media producer will continue to grow in the coming years, so as you consider and work toward making the transition just keep praying like it’s all up to God and working (and learning and growing) like it’s all up to you.

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