Lakewood Church: Interview with LD Tom Stanziano

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Kevin Rogers Cobus: So how long have you been working with Lakewood?

Tom Stanziano: I’ve been on staff for almost four years, but I did some freelancing with them before that, so in total about five years. My background is in theatrical and live production.

KRC: So you arrange all the lighting for all the Lakewood productions and services?

TS: I design and operate the lighting for all the services, special event concerts, and tours.

KRC: So you would have been the LD for the Easter service at the Minute Maid Park?

TS: (laughs) Yes, I “designed” the lighting for Minute Maid Park. I used three follow spots for the whole show! Just the three follow spots and the stadium lighting. That’s why I’m laughing. With the amount of people that were there, it was a huge audio setup. The media department gave me a hard time and said, this is probably the easiest setup that you’ll ever do, and it really was, but it looked great.

KRC: Did you have a lot to do with the selection of gear for the installation?

TS: We hired Bill Klages as our lighting consultant. He and I sat down and we looked at the different fixtures. It’s a very simple design. It uses standard par cans, ARRI 5 K’s, and we also went with the Vari-Lite 3000’s. The fixtures we chose are more suitable for a live application. We were more of a 8,000 seat TV studio, now we’re a 16,000 seat live venue.

KRC: Has that changed the format of how you put the services together?

TS: No, the format is still the same. We begin with an upbeat song, then a welcome from Pastor Joel and Victoria, then praise and worship which transitions into prayer time, a choir special and last, the message.

KRC: Did you have to revamp your broadcast lighting equipment in order to step up the live aspect?

TS: A little bit. We’re using follow spots for our music on the lead vocalists. With the addition of 34 Vari-Lite 3000’s we are able to use hazers throughout the entire service. And for the message, if you can believe it, we’re using the Vari-Lite 3500 as the key light.

KRC: As far as the programming aspect, do you have it pretty much dialed in, or do you come up with a different theme and look as often as possible?

TS: Every week it’s a different look.

KRC: When you say you do a different look every week, does that correspond with the pastor’s message, as in does he let you know what he’s going to be doing?

TS: Not so much. I don’t program lighting around his message. We have a song list that is produced at the beginning of the week and then it gets sent to all to the production department. During the week I listen to the different songs to get a feel for the atmosphere that they’re trying to create. Thursday and Friday I’ll sit down with the CD and program to the music. Basically each song has a custom design using a GrandMA lighting console.

KRC: What are some of the recommendations you would make to up and coming LD’s who may not have the experience or the gear list that Lakewood has?

TS: I would tell them to keep it simple. You have to focus on what’s important. For us, our main focus is the message, because that is viewed by millions of people. All the music and the other things we do are an added bonus. And that’s where some churches can lose track. Sometimes people get so focused on the music and not so much on how the message looks. My advice is to first get the message looking great. Get that to where you are happy with it, and then the choir, the band, and the worship leaders are easy to light. Then you can add the flashy stuff.

KRC: Do you usually get the same types of questions consistently?

TS: Yeah, pretty much. We get a lot of calls from churches that want to do TV, but they don’t have the TV budget. Working with Bill (Klages), he’s added a lot of the theatrics back into our production. Using the same principles that I knew, we were able to create a great look for TV using ellipsoidals, using par cans, using the things that most churches have. Not by bringing in 5K and 10K fresnels, not by doing big washes and things like that. There are professionals that would tell you that you need many lights to cover a three-foot area, when in essence you only need a few. If it’s more television or Image-Mag based, I’ll explain that the average church only needs a key light, some fill lights, and back lights. Then whatever they have for set lighting. That’s how simple it is. That’s how simple Bill (Klages) made it for us. We have five lights on the pastor, not including the set lights.

KRC: Wow, you wouldn’t think that after seeing a live service.

TS: No. You go to most TV studios, and they’ve got several fixtures just to light somebody, trying to cover every angle.

KRC: So what are the basic principles that could be broken down for LD’s just starting out?

TS: It’s the art of lighting and not the science of lighting. There is no right or wrong, just good and bad. You can use the right principles, and it can still look awful. On the other hand, you can take a very unconventional design, and have it look great. Every place is different. However, I know designers who do cookie-cutter designs, and they’ll take the same design and go from one church, to another, and another. No matter what the size, or how many in the congregation, or what the power concerns are, the design is always the same. And it doesn’t often work. I always try to go in and look at the facility saying, “What is your focus?” Is it TV? Is it dramas? So you need a design that will accommodate dramas, music, and also the message. Not everybody is focused on TV. They need a design that will accommodate their goal. If they know that in the next five years they are going to grow and expand or move into a new facility, I tell them they need to spend the most amount of money on their infrastructure- the dimming, the dimming raceways, and most importantly, the power. Then over the next couple of years, they can add fixtures. It’s no good if they spend all their money on fixtures now and then don’t have any power to run them.

It’s a delicate balance. A sign of a good lighting design is not noticing the lights at all. Lighting should enhance a production, not overpower it. It all goes back to the main focus of the service. Keep it simple and success will follow.