Media Arts in Church- True Innovation

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

My answer came before uncapping the dry erase pen. Give me a G5 Mac with all the hot tools, and an accomplished Aftereffects artist, and a crewed light and grip truck and HD camera – no, wait, make that the entire Pixar Story department. I want the resources!

Business has pulled the innovative wagon since the industrial revolution. Big profits mean big investment, and that means bigger profits that mean bigger budgets for innovation, which means big profits. It’s a good thing.

There used to be a string at the front door. Pulling it rang a bell and the butler came. Over time, with electricity, a multi-hundred dollar industry has evolved: electric doorbells. The only thing missing today is the butler, but that too, is likely an improvement.

So it’s solved; if you want innovation, get a big, well-funded company.

Education is another area where you’d expect to see new things. My limited recollection paints a blurry picture of small churches adapting education and business technologies into their ministries.

Just after applying the hair conditioner, another thought hit me. There are wildly inventive people calling me every day. They’re not well trained Aftereffects professionals. Nor are they well-funded, generally. They are usually from small churches with a growing volunteer base. In fact everything is growing at their church; buildings, youth departments, personnel problems, the doughnut bil… All in all, we’re seeing some jaw-dropping innovation.

Unbeknownst to the lumbering mammoths of business and education, the agile modern-day church is moving about in media technologies at light speed. Our flagship product, SundayPlus, permits the playback of many different kinds of media: QuickTime movies, digital images, typography, sound effects, music, PowerPoint presentations and Flash Animations. Sales teams and teachers have access to this content too. Digital cameras and non-linear editing software options are everywhere.

But here’s the difference between our little churches and the Fiduciary First National Mortgage and Loan sales presentations; the churches are doing it! This is an amazing thing. This is what made me stand still and watch small rivulets of warm soapy water wind their way down the shower curtain on their way to the septic system. This is it:

the church is leading business and education!

How many teachers are asking “What is the best video codec for presentation playback?” Or, “When I drop my AVI captured DV stream into my NLE, why can’t I seem to output anything but MPEG1?”

What salesman is saying, “I want to build a powerful moment for my audience by creating a series of images of balance that introduce a silhouette of my key concept, offsetting it with dissonant music to charge the viewer’s mind.” Or, “Hey, I know, forget my 27 point outline, I’m going to just show images of the 10 key ideas with single words watermarked over them!”

These conversations are just not happening in the boardroom or teacher’s lounge.

I’ll tell you what. Our phone lines are lit every day with just this kind of talk. Our media directors, whose return phone number rings at a car dealership or appliance store, know what codecs are. They know that live, on-the-fly thrill-seeking is found in experimentation. They know how to make their audience sit up and watch. They know the value of belly-laughs and quiet contemplation. They aren’t afraid to fail, they’ve done it and found that God stood in the gap.

Make no mistake. This is a wave we’re riding. Our software has found its way out of the church and into business and education. Complete with the preloaded lyrics and Bible translations. The common ground is story telling. Audience and presenter.

Here are some things that innovative media directors, whether a dedicated staff member, volunteer or worship leader, can do to stay ahead of teachers and sales presenters.

The Human Lever
When you work in an environment of humans being, you have the unusual edge over tight communications budgets. That is, the church is made up of some amazingly talented people. And I’m not just talking about the local church. The community of believers are, I have found, delighted to participate with another church half way around the globe.

Resourceful websites are everywhere. Look for discussion groups that feature media production topics. Meet with local webmasters to see what they are doing. Invite a non-believing web-master to design the projected visuals for the next sermon series. The media directors we’ve seen succeed, are interactive with other daring storytellers.

Read All About It
Subscribe to the trade publications that communications designers are reading. My favorite is Communication Arts, Also, look at Image, for a journal on the arts and religion. It’s also important to stay current with the visual trends for architecture, color, balance and unbalance. One way to see what others are doing is obtain promotional materials and online galleries from digital camera manufacturers, software developers, and other manufacturers who are happy to show what their customers are accomplishing using their technology.

You’ve Gotta Get Out More
OK, so beyond ideas that hit me in the shower, there’s this wild world of stimuli wrapped around us. If we cocoon ourselves between our homes, the car and the office, we’ll miss immersive experiences without number. That digital camera or DV video camera should not be more than an arm’s length away from you. Schedule content development time outside of the office. I’m not talking about fair-weather captures.

You want imagery that shows sorrow, get out and shoot during the next rainstorm, or gray-skied day. Barbed wire and rotting fence posts, rusted steel lying around a junkyard. We must get away from the concept that God’s love is only shown in a field of daisies.

Always wanted to travel? Good. Do it today. Remember that guy in your church who travels for his job? He’s stacked up about a million air miles. For 50,000 to 60,000 award miles on most airlines, you can fly round-trip internationally. That means the cathedrals of England or the back alleys of Guang Zhou are all within reach. If you can’t grab awards travel, consider a cheap flight. With Priceline and others, I can fly from Sacramento to London cheaper than to Dayton, OH.

Practice Makes Perception
Here’s the final and perhaps most important thing a media director can do. What sets a church multimedia artist apart from a teacher in the classroom or even a run-and-gun sales presenter is rehearsal and development time. R&D. A media director who is sitting in on a rehearsal is contributing all the time to the look and feel of the moment. They are watching and listening to the messages in the audible space as well as 3-dimensional space, and connecting multimedia resources they have cached for future moments.

These are the makings of edgy failure and gutsy use of technology. Creative meetings should always include the media director. If the preaching pastor is delivering a message on hope, somebody has to be thinking, “What video clip do I have, or can I get, that shows the contrast to hope? What image says ‘here is the face of hope’?”

Sometimes the best thing to project is nothing. Somebody with courage and purpose must make the suggestion, or we’ll end up with something inappropriate. The practice of the elements and community sparks new ways of perceiving future moments.

So I pop the cap back on the marker, and watch as the water smears my final answer on the shower wall. As the two words slide past the soap dish, I’m satisfied that while Hollywood budgets are tempting, fast computers and wicked cameras look predictably like the right call, for now I’ll stick with, “Those Without” the unlimited resources.

Lou Douros is President of Grass Roots Software, publishers of Prologue SundayPlus church presentation software. He lives and works in Grass Valley, CA developing tools and resources for Christians in the arts.