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The Story, the Timeline, the Upgrade

If you work in media production at a church, you’ve probably realized this simple truth: There is never enough time. When you work at a church, you know that Sundays come with alarming regularity. As a result, we can’t always create our preferred level of visual quality every Sunday of the year. Our ideas of content and quality often have to take a back seat to the message because that’s what people need to hear. But deadlines aren’t all bad: They challenge us to do our best with what we have.

There have been many times in my career in which I’ve only been given one word or phrase (sometimes even just a color) from which to create a video. Other times, I’ve had the opposite problem—too many ideas or Scripture passages to cover in one short video. The great thing about a quickly approaching deadline is that it gives us a clear framework through which we can evaluate ideas. My creativity runs too wild if I don’t have a framework. There is something about having to run, and run now, that makes me more attentive, creative, active, and excited.

With all that in mind, I’d like to show you my process for producing effective work on a tight timeline. I call it The Story, the Timeline, and the Upgrade.

THE STORY

The story—not my demo reel—is what’s most important
As an artist with a family and hopes and dreams for my career/calling, I am always thinking about the future. For a video producer, this means being prepared with a demo reel that shows your creative abilities. I am a huge fan of having an amazing reel, but you can’t let your desire to create a dazzling portfolio piece get in the way of a story you need to tell this Sunday. If you are passionate about what you do, your reel will come together as a natural byproduct of your work. Our first priority must be communicating the message to our audience.

It’s about the audience
When I create a video, I know I’ll have the audience’s attention for a small window of time. We have the exciting privilege of being responsible for what is communicated during that time. Do your best to keep the audience in mind, focusing on what God would have you say to them in whatever amount of time you’re given. Be efficient and tell the story.

Listen to your pastor
Your pastor has a calling and vision for leading your community, so listen when your pastor speaks. Especially listen when your pastor is talking about the story of what your church has done, is doing, and where God is leading. Listen to the small things. How is your pastor burdened about certain causes? How does your pastor talk about the future? How is your pastor feeling about this weekend’s focus? Now, how are you going to communicate that in the video you’re working on?

Determine the core message
At this step, I do everything I can to develop a clear and concise sentence that articulates the purpose of the video. This core message is my target. It’s what I will be graded on. It’s what will impact the person in the seat. What are you trying to communicate? An idea? A feeling? A question?

Thrash
After you identify the core message (the what), it’s time to figure out the video’s concept (the how). I like to gather the project (and anyone else who might have good input), and then we pray. Next, I write the central idea or sentence in the middle of a whiteboard. To thrash is to simply generate as many ideas—good or bad—as we can and get them up on the board. You’ll come up with more ideas than you need, but hopefully, you’ll find one that works so you can get started, define your next steps, and delegate.

Use what’s already out there
The best way to create amazing work is to spend the bulk of your time on tasks that only you can do. If there are resources that will sufficiently communicate your core message or that will save you time as you create your video, take advantage of them. If there’s a video, a template, a vector pack, a stock element, or another team member that can help you, make it happen. Remember, Sunday’s coming.

Own it
Whatever part you’ve been given in producing a video, own it. Play your part in communicating the core message to the audience. In my experience, this is how you gain trust with supervisors and team members.

THE TIMELINE

Sprint
When I begin creating my video, my first objective is to fill my entire timeline from beginning to end. Sprinting is a good metaphor because the goal is to work quickly while creating a skeleton of your idea. Don’t worry about details and finality in this stage; just assemble a timeline that communicates your core message so you can show it to others. Use drawings, scans, Google/Flickr images, and any music you want to fill the timeline, and do it as fast as you can! Get the basic structure in place first, and you can build on it later.

Get other people’s eyes on it
Even if I’m a little embarrassed by my initial timeline, I show it to other people as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter if it looks terrible because I can explain that. What matters is that I’m on the right track in terms of core message and visual concept. By getting early feedback from others, we can talk about minor tweaks or major changes that will help the video better communicate. These early conversations are vital to the success of a project.

Get the basics down
Once I know I’m headed in the right direction, I need to get the video to a bare minimum state in which it can be shown to our audience. That means deleting the placeholder elements I used during my sprint and inserting real footage, images, voiceovers, and music. Once that’s done, I’ll have a better sense of how the basic structure of the video serves the message.

Get people’s eye on it again
Again, I want feedback from people I trust and who understand the message I’m trying to communicate. I like to upload the video to Vimeo (www.vimeo.com), put a password restriction on it, and then send it out to my feedback circle. Obviously, I’m hoping for constructive criticism at this point, and it’s helpful to remind yourself and others of your time constraints.

Listen and push back

Listen closely to the input you receive because the people viewing your video more closely resemble your weekend audience than you do. As the producer of the video, you might be too close to it to see it through the audience’s eyes. At the same time, as the producer and a video production expert, feel empowered to stand behind the creative decisions you’ve made. Engage in a dialogue—conversation and conflict are good. Just remember that it’s about the message and reaching the person in the seat on Sunday, not about your pride.

THE UPGRADE

Collaborate
Now that you’re in the final stretch, it’s time to upgrade your video wherever possible. If there’s anything anyone else can do to help you make the video better—from visuals to audio—enlist their skills for this phase.

First pass—tighten the presentation
A great message can be told with white text on a black background, but bad fonts or sloppy kerning can distract the audience. As I upgrade, my first pass is dedicated to looking for anything that’s “off,” even if it’s just a little bit. I want the transitions to be tight, the audio to be mixed, the basic color correction to feel right, the text to be readable, and the timing to be smooth. Once all these adjustments are made, the video is ready because the message is communicated (especially if it’s late Saturday night). Anything else I do from here on out is about going the extra mile and upgrading the video as timing allows.

Second pass—wow factor

This phase is definitely the most fun for me. At this point, I have a project ready to show, but I get the opportunity to exceed the expectations of my colleagues and the audience. These final artistic enhancements can make a lasting impact, so I try to be as intentional in these upgrades as possible. I also spend the majority of my second pass focused on the most pivotal moment of the message. I also have to be careful I don’t cloud the message with too much creativity—a dazzling visual effect that renders your text unreadable hurts the overall product and compromises your mission.

This process—The Story, the Timeline, and the Upgrade—has proved to be a winner for me. Of course, the process looks different from one project to another because every project is its own animal. Some projects begin with more assets, requirements, and direction, and some projects begin with less. Also, some projects are testimony videos, and some simply feature kinetic type. Whatever you’re working on (it doesn’t even have to be a video), these principles will help you make the most of a tight deadline. After all, Sunday’s coming! 

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davidwomack@churchleaders.com'
David Womack is a Creative Producer for Igniter Media, and before that he produced videos and other creative elements for a large church in the Dallas area.