Creating And Using A Ministry Documentary

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If this is the case, then I would argue that video is worth an untold number of words. No other medium gives us such flexibility, power and ability to tell stories.

Several years ago, I worked at a church as the director of media. My primary job duty was to make sure that Sunday morning worship went off without a hitch. It was a medium size church and my staff were all volunteer. Making it to Sunday morning often felt like a marathon and to be honest with you – if the songs were right, the lyrics correct, the microphones not feeding back and the pastor was preaching, it was a success! This experience has led me to entitle this, “survival mode.”

Many of us engaged in active ministry are in this “survival mode.” Let’s face it – you are getting hit from every direction. Everyone is wanting support. Deadlines gloom ahead, and often your deadlines can’t be met until other people finish their work, and all to often, these people run late – often forcing you to work late hours, come in on the weekend, get up super early the morning before worship or all of the above!

When you are stuck in “survival mode,” you are trying to do just that – SURVIVE!

However, looking back on my experience I have since realized that I was missing a huge opportunity. You see, every Sunday morning I controlled what went up on our screens. It was my responsibility to create the order of worship and then to produce the service. I got so caught up in ‘supporting’ worship that I failed to realize God had given me a direct vehicle to speak to the congregation any time I wanted.

No, I did not usually speak in front of the congregation. On rare occasion I might be asked to teach for Sunday worship, but overall I thought that I was there to simply support the calling of others. Little did I realize that I had the opportunity to produce any video that I chose and drop it in the schedule of worship. God had given me an amazing opportunity to speak directly into the lives of people.

The Power of Video
Video offers us the possibility to do several things. First, it’s out of the norm from what’s expected for most worship times so people tend to pay attention to it.

Second, it’s often preceded by the lights fading down or other visual cues that lead people’s focus to the screen.

Third, it lets me take the viewer ANYWHERE I WANT THEM TO GO. For instance, I can go to the local supermarket and do man on the street interviews – I can ask hard hitting questions, such as, ‘What do you think of God?’, ‘How do you think the world will end?’, ‘How do you feel about modern religion?’, ‘How do you feel when you visit a church?’ and other such questions that will solicit an answer that might just shock an audience. My audience gets to stand over my shoulder and listen to people answer any question I ask. There is something about a video camera that causes people to open up. I can’t explain it – but it’s true. People just tend to tell the camera things they wouldn’t otherwise tell someone. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to be famous, but whatever the cause – it works. Perhaps I want to take my audience to the mission field and introduce them first hand to the people we are partnering with. Maybe I want them to see first hand the children that are dying in the streets because they haven’t had food in days, if not weeks. Perhaps I want them to have a face to put with a cause. Maybe I want to highlight an event that just happened at the church so they see what they missed or experience how God worked.

The uses of video are endless. Many times a narrative can be created that just causes people to pause. You can see many examples of this on sites like, and other popular content provider sites. Video touches the lives of people in a very special way.

So, what are some things that you can use a worship documentary for? I commonly see videos used for missions awareness/involvement, fundraising, retreat recaps and promotions, special event highlights, upcoming announcements, man on the street interviews, sermon trailers, and much more!

Creating a worship documentary is all about telling a story. Videos allow you to tell a story by the use of visuals that are augmented by audible segments. A good story can be told without anyone ever saying a word. If you think about a typical movie, realize that it averages two hours in length. However, if you were to look at a typical script, the dialogue is much less. Video is a visual medium. It uses words and music and sound effects to drive the point home. The use of all these senses when combined with lighting and camera angles transports a viewer from reality to your story. When you realize that most of the story is told by what you see and augmented by what you hear, it revolutionizes your way of thinking about video production.

Telling A Story
When it comes to telling a story, there are two primary ways to do so. First, is what I call the “news way.” This usually involves a process of finding a story by shooting everything in site, shooting some more, and when you are done – shoot something else. Then, you get back to the studio, spend hours upon hours going through reels upon reels, logbooks, and shot sequences. When it’s all said and done, you make a story out of the footage you have. Sometimes, you go back and-yes – shoot some more to fill in the gaps.

The second approach is by far my favorite – the “planned way.” By planning your story, you develop a story idea, flushing it out, planning your shots, storyboarding the story you want to tell, and then shooting your plan. When you get back to the studio, everything cuts together like the storyboard and edit time is reduced significantly.

Creating a ministry documentary is much less about the technology and much more about the craft of storytelling. In this day and age, any sixth grader can run a non-linear editor and to some extent put together a movie. The trick to success is being a good storyteller and understanding how that translates into the video medium.

People often ask me to teach them how to create short films, documentaries and other video projects. The very first thing that I tell them to do is to go home and record their favorite sit-com, a local news channel, and 15 minutes of a national news network. DO NOT WATCH IT WHILE YOU ARE RECORDING IT. After you have recorded the shows, get alone, mute your TV and watch the segments in FAST-FORWARD.

Doing this teaches you how to tell the story via camera. Notice the camera angles. Notice the way the cinematographer and director step in and out of the shots, how they frame the shots and how they use cut away material (known as B-Roll).

You should be able to watch any of the listed segments above without audio and while in fast-forward be able to get the gist of the story. When you experience this you will really have an appreciation for how much of the story is told visually.

I also recommend that people watch projects similar to their own. For instance, if you are doing some sort of instructional video – watch public television shows such as The New Yankee Workshop or This Old House. These guys have been doing instructional video forever, and they understand how to use camera angles and graphics to teach the viewer how to achieve success. You might not be teaching construction, but the methodology of how they tell the story will apply.

The one thing that all of your TV sitcoms and commercials have in common is the storyboard. A storyboard is a set of pictures that are usually hand drawn or sketched. They show visually what the camera will see – every angle change, pan, tilt, crab or crane. Remember – video is a visual medium.

Planning video is also a visual task. Storyboards allow you to see what the video will look like before you shoot it. You can also move these around to re-tell the story, then, when you are satisfied, you can take the boards on location and you know exactly what to shoot. They are a great tool for handing your videographer and saying “frame this.” Now, everyone is on the same page. When you get back to the studio, you can hand the same set of storyboards to the editor and say, “cut this,” and he or she knows exactly how to edit the story for your liking.

The Common Elements
There are a few common elements to the producer when making a video. The primary ones are B-Roll, interviews, archival video and stock footage.

B-Roll is one of the staples of video production, but is often overlooked by the beginning video producer. Video can get down right boring if all you have is talking heads on screen. The idea of taking cut-away footage (B-roll) and splicing it into the video is a great way to emphasize what the person is saying and help communicate your story. It’s also a great savior for bad cuts, tape hits, and other technical problems that you might face in the edit room. Another form of B-roll that is sometimes overlooked is the use of still photography. Still images can be used very effectively in video. Sometimes, people use effects such as the Ken Burns effect where the image is larger than the screen and panned / zoomed to help give it life, other times multiple images are used at once. There are numerous ways that still photography can be incorporated into video – and be extremely effective tools for the storyteller.

Interviews are often found in documentary style films. The interview allows you to get up close and personal with someone and identify their feelings and emotions on various topics. The interview can be very effective at communicating ideas and concepts directly with the viewer. Often times, these concepts are more accepted when brought to the viewer via a third party (the interviewed person) versus directly from the producer or host. Often people identify with other people that they associate as “normal” or “just like me.”

Archival video from past events is another great source of footage that can be used. One of the first things I learned in my acting classes was the simple fact that everything on the screen should support the story. For instance, have you ever watched a scene where there is a TV playing in the background? 90% of the time, the program that is being played on the TV in some way ties to what the scene is about. There are all kinds of ways to get your story across to the viewer. Using content that has been shot for past events is sometimes an excellent vehicle to do just that.

Stock footage is the video producers dream! Usually, stock footage is B-roll that was shot by someone else and bought by the producer under contract for the project. This is usually the case when sending a crew to video scenes for your film would be too expensive or when you simply don’t have enough time to do so. Stock footage is available for just about anything you can imagine and prices range from a few bucks to several thousands of dollars. Each supplier has different contracts in what is and is not permissible for use – make sure to read your contract and use the material legally.

One important element that should not be overlooked in telling your story is the use of music and sound effects. Audible cues often set the tone for the scene. At the very least, a music bed will allow consistency in the story (if appropriate) and help create any noise floor problems you might have with the audio. I am a firm believer that audio, music and sound effects should be of the highest quality for any production. Again, many producers make their music available for purchase. More and more programs are coming out that allow you to easily compose your own music as well. If budget permits, having a score written for your film is always a huge plus.

When making the video, especially if it’s a community piece (such as a man on the street interview) you have to be especially careful to not taint the story with your own bias. It is very easy to manipulate footage so that someone says exactly the opposite of what they were really saying. We see it all the time in the news where people are shown in a way that they later claim is not what they said. It is vital when doing pieces about what other people’s opinions are that we maintain the integrity of what they are really saying – not what we want them to be saying.

Shot Sequencing
A final thought about creating a worship video is shot sequencing and framing. Part of telling the story visually is all about how you frame the shot. I had mentioned earlier in this article about videotaping your favorite show and watching it in fast-forward. Part of what you will learn from this exercise is how people use shot sequencing to tell the story. Typically, you will start with an exterior shot or a wide shot. This is called the ‘establishing shot.’ It establishes where you are and often, what time of day and/or season it is. Next, is typically a wide shot, which is followed by a medium shot, then a close up and sometimes an extreme close up. It is rare that a director or producer would go from a wide shot to an extreme close up.

Remember how we discussed setting your pace and not startling your viewer? The human mind tunes into the story as the shot gets closer and closer. With each shot you get more and more intimate. You will commonly see a shot of just a person’s eyes. A truthful actor will tell the truth in their eyes. A lot of emotion can be drawn out with a shot like this. It’s as close and intimate as you can get.

Also, don’t feel like you have to always show the person who is talking on the screen. This is often a rookie mistake. Many times reaction shots of other people do more to emphasize what the main person is saying than simply seeing the person say it. And your ‘reaction shot’ doesn’t always have to be a person. For instance, horror films are notorious for not showing the actual stabbing as it occurs. Instead they will switch to a blood splatter shot or a dark shadow shot. This is in part to keep ratings down, but it’s also because the human mind will imagine itself what just happened – many times making the event more real to the viewer than special effects could achieve.

Reaction shots give a lot of credibility to what the person is speaking is saying. We do it every day with worship – the teacher makes a statement of fact, we switch to a small group in the audience nodding their heads in agreement. The same is true with worship videos.

Mix it up. Keep the viewer engaged and most of all – TELL THE STORY. What story do you want to tell?

Brad Herring operates Church Production Resources – a ministry based business driven to help churches world-wide embrace media and creative arts to reach the lost and disciple the believer. For ministry resources and training opportunities visit his website at: