MIAMI’S METRO LIFE CHURCH: Multi-Format System Reaches Beyond New Facility

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Housing a growing congregation means more than moving into a bigger building in today’s media-driven society. At Metro Life Church, located in the Doral metro area of Miami, Florida, the build-out for its new, expanded quarters to serve a burgeoning membership includes an ambitious implementation of a full slate of Sony HD production equipment. In house, projecting the sights and sounds of worship services in HD makes for maximum use of the new space giving spillover crowds an intimate, immediate connection to service. Then, going beyond the new facility walls, distribution via streaming and broadcast adds a new dimension for outreach into the community and to the world beyond.

“If you’re looking for the best way to get the Word out, to reach the masses, the way to go is to use media,” said Metro Life Pastor Steve Alessi. “And if you’re going to use media, how can you afford to not do it with what is the highest standard of presentation?”

For Alessi, seeking the “highest standard of presentation” means an end-to-end Sony HD production system that includes four HDC-1500 multi-format cameras, two PDW-F350 XDCAM® HD camcorders, an Anycast Station™ portable live production system, an MFS-2000 multiformat switcher, plus PDW-F70 XDCAM HD decks.

Installation and integration for the new 20,000 square foot church facility (with room to grow to 56,000 square feet) is underway at press time with completion scheduled this fall. But the equipment’s arrival in early April just before the Easter holiday weekend inspired staff, volunteers and the professional installation crew to make an impromptu temporary setup to capture the occasion. The idea of setting up twice – once temporarily and then again for good – may seem like an added step. But it added energy and enthusiasm to carry the congregation forward through the transition. Also, it generated important new ideas as to how to best setup the production workflow to optimize efficiency.

Discovering the Power of Media
Pastors Steve and Mary Alessi founded Metro Life Church nine years ago, with Steve proclaiming the message while Mary produced and performed music. This husband-and-wife co-ministry has since grown from 10 original members to more than 1,000. The decision to leap into full-blown HD production is based on a firm foundation. This new vision for the congregation utilizing media came unexpectedly two years ago with the release of Mary’s CD, More. The recording gained national television exposure and, with it, attention to her church. As the follow-up, When Women Worship, and DVD releases and national tours to support these took off, the challenge was in finding ways to integrate this into what was happening at the congregation.

“We had to match what was on the road at home. These are not two ministries, just parts of the same whole. As both prospered, we needed to match them visually. Also, with everything mushrooming, it makes sense to take this step to get on TV,” said Mary Alessi.

The timing for meeting this challenge proved fortuitous. Congregation member Kathy Gazda had left a 25-year career as a television news producer for missionary work overseas, but now had returned and quickly accepted an offer for full-time work as Metro Life’s Media Outreach Coordinator.

The upfront commitment to adding a full-time staff member for the project as well as budgeting for other production professionals came alongside the choice to go with full-blown HD equipment.

“We needed Kathy full time to make this happen. She’s the storyteller. We also need to have other professionals to help her tell that story like the technical director running the switcher. Yes, you want to have church members involved as much as you can, but you also have to respect the need for professionals and budget for them,” said Steve Alessi.

As Gazda came on board early in 2007, she reached out to her connections in the industry and pulled together the team to select, install and integrate the appropriate solution. Over the years, she had worked in news departments from New York State to Florida that used a variety of different equipment and production formats in SD. The timing here, however, pushed her into researching the new horizons that HD offered. After surveying the market of vendors and products, Gazda, with the help of Marcelo Sanchez, technical director at CBS affiliate WFOR in Miami, selected the end-to-end Sony system.

Midtown Video, a local Sony dealer and installer, got the go-ahead to gather the pieces together and integrate the solution. For Gazda, Sony’s technology was only part of what influenced this decision.

“HD is the only way to go with digital broadcast mandated by March 2009. Sony has the superior products and, most importantly, we have received tremendous sales support and service throughout,” Gazda said.

Getting Ready for Prime Time
The production layout calls for three of the four HDC-1500 multi-format cameras setup in studio configuration on tripods with the last mounted on a jib. The PDW-F350 XDCAM HD camcorders are handheld to get candid shots and will also be used on the road with the Anycast Station system to capture Mary’s music ministry.

At home, the MFS-2000 multi-format switcher will serve as the backbone. Initially, plans are to distribute video of the services through streaming media while details of the service format, production workflow and the like are sorted out. Then, once it’s ready for prime time, broadcast distribution will commence.

All content from the HDC-1500 cameras is mixed down into PDW-F70 XDCAM HD decks providing uniformity with what’s captured with the PDW-F350 XDCAM HD camcorders. The blue-laser optical disc storage will eventually be augmented by a server-based asset management system to deliver workflow innovation. As the church develops capabilities and establishes a distribution deal, the tapeless media serves as a robust, inexpensive archival format.

Fernando Iglesias, Consultant at Midtown Video, has managed the implementation. One of the more challenging aspects has been working out the best relationship between the Anycast Station “studio in a box” and the MFS-2000 switcher. The Anycast Station system serves as the switcher for the “house” mix – the video going to the screens in the sanctuary while the MFS-2000 switcher handles the broadcast mix.

“It’s an interesting setup, 100% HD. The Anycast Station system is loaded with HD cards taking isolated shots from the cameras and adding input from the computer to post the lyrics to songs to the displays on stage,” said Iglesias.

Two producers can run this two-switcher setup or the TD can also take over and run it all single-handed as needed.

“Adding the Anycast Station system on top of the main switcher makes this a very versatile setup that allows for making very sophisticated, separate feeds working with two producers. With just the TD using the MFS-2000 switcher feeding the Anycast Station/house mix, we can get still get a nice, parallel production.”

Working out how this all fits together followed a last-minute decision to shoot this year’s Good Friday/Easter Sunday services. The bulk of the gear arrived just days before making it possible. But was it practical? With the decision to go forward, a mad scramble to gather the missing pieces – fiber optic interlinks and the like – began. The mad dash to get ready meant a late night Thursday that carried over to Good Friday.

There were good reasons to make this extra effort for a temporary setup. Having a Good Friday and Easter Sunday shoot would be a memorable occasion that would help acclimate church members to having cameras in the sanctuary.
“We felt very strongly that we needed to make this debut to introduce the congregation to having cameras present and to see the value. It’s a hump we need to get over, but since everything in the new building is unfamiliar, this is just one more new thing,” said Gazda.

The shoot went amazingly well given the on-the-fly setup. Fortunately, Midtown Video also has a major rental business so setting up such events goes with the territory. This first go in HD gave Gazda a sense of the demands that go with producing HD excellence.

“The Sony XDCAM HD camcorders and HDC-1500 cameras are very straightforward. The Sony engineers punched in the settings and then the cameras were matched by putting that information on Memory Stick® media. We will be doing much more in the future to develop our own ‘look’ with the shading/painting settings.”

What were her first impressions?

“I was worried about the lighting. After, we went down to Midtown because we didn’t have an edit suite setup. I was thrilled. It came out much better than I thought. I found that both the XDCAM HD cameras and the HDC-1500s work well under difficult conditions. A lot of time, we were looking into black. The HDC-1500s are especially impressive how they see into black!”

The Easter production suffered only a single technical glitch. One of the HDC-1500s went black as a congregant inadvertently disconnected the fiber optic link. All in all, the last-minute, first try delivered more than what was hoped. It provided the congregation a taste of what is to come, the full installation and integration is going forward with a great sense of excitement and anticipation.

“We wanted the congregation to see this as soon as possible, and the people were floored and enamored by the incredible quality it delivered. They are proud to be a part of this and eager to get this going,” said Steve Alessi.

While there are other options, Alessi sees this as the best investment.

“Finding the funding for HD production has really come down to an act of faith. We could afford SD right now, but where would that leave us in a year? Also, if we went that route, what kind of people would we attract?” he asked.