Why would a church want to venture into TV Production? The answer is simple: We are a visual society. But more importantly, video expands the church’s ability to reach out and evangelize. Many large churches today use video cameras for image magnification as part of their video presentation system. This allows everyone in the facility to see close-ups of baptisms, baby dedications, vocal soloists, and speakers. But video is so much more.
Videotapes can be made of the entire Sunday morning service and then made available to shut-ins, missionaries, students, or military personnel away from the local church. Special events such as Christmas and Easter productions can be videoed, with tapes sold to assist in the cost of such productions. With video you can produce in-house promos for VBS or other special upcoming events. You can even tape special classes, such as a new member series, and make these tapes available on a checkout basis. And finally, videotapes can be produced for local public access cable or delayed broadcast on a local on-air station.
To get started in TV production you really need only a few basic tools: A camcorder mounted on a tripod, to record the event; and an editing device with recorder to produce the final tape.
The first big decision you have to make is which tape format you are going to use. If you plan on making your production tapes available to the local public access cable or on-air station, this decision will be simple. These stations will tell you the format they require. For your own distribution, VHS is the preferred format because this is the most common format found in homes. However, this is NOT the format you should use for your original/master tape because the quality of video recorded in the VHS format is low. S-VHS is a high quality version of the old VHS tape format, but equipment availability is limited.
The advent of “digital video” to the consumer product world has made available several affordable tape formats that produce a high “near broadcast” quality video. These basically include two competing formats: Digital-8 and Mini-DV. Both formats are identical in data recording methodology. The cheaper of the two is Digital-8 in both the equipment and tape cost. However, if you are planning on producing tapes for TV, you need to check first with your broadcast facility to see if they will accept Digital-8. Mini-DV is the “baby-brother” of the professional DVCam format, which can be played in any broadcast facility as long as it is recorded at SP (standard play) speed. Expect to pay more for both the Mini-DV equipment and recording tape. Maximum record time places both Digital-8 and Mini-DV at somewhat of a disadvantage in that you will be limited to 60 minutes in SP mode. If you require a longer recording time on a single tape, consider the Hi-8 analog format with its 2-hour record time.
Next, you must choose a camera or camcorder. All consumer video cameras are found in the camcorder format. This means they have the built-in ability to record video on tape. With the advent of digital video and its ease in non-linear PC based editing, to be discussed later, I would recommend considering either Digital-8 or Mini-DV. Beyond tape format you will be faced with many more decisions. The most important part of the camera is its CCDs (charge-coupled devices) or image sensors. Unless you are willing to pay several thousand dollars for a camera, you will be limited to single CCD version. However, this is OK because the quality of single CCD cameras is quickly approaching the 3-CCD versions found in high-end cameras.
The important selection factor when it comes to CCDs is the number of pixels found on the CCD. Pixels are the tiny little dots that make up the video picture and the more pixels the better. For the best picture resolution do not settle on anything less than a 380,000 actual pixels. Some cameras will claim a higher number, such as 1,200,000 pixels, but this is not the number of pixels used in video mode, but rather still capture for video photos, a nice extra feature found on many camcorders today.
Next in importance is the selection of the lens. Simply stated, go for the largest optical zoom you can afford, as most of your Sunday morning videos will be shot from the back of the auditorium. Do not consider digital zoom, although you probably won’t be able to by a camera without this feature. Digital zoom reduces the number of pixels used for the recorded image thus greatly affecting the video quality. Most cameras give you the ability to turn off digital zoom, so turn it off. Focus and exposure with manual override would be preferable. And make sure the camera has a LENS CAP, your most important accessory. Always have the lens cap in place when the camera is not in use. Once you scratch the lens the camera is useless.
Other important camera features would include: A viewfinder (eye piece) for manual focus; and LCD view screen for ease in framing during the actual shoot. Input and output jacks for Composite video, S-Video, and Fire Wire (IEEE-1394) and an external microphone jack, for taking audio from your house console or other microphone. The microphone jack is very important because the video image is only half of a good quality videotape.
Next to the camera, your most important purchase will be a tripod. As mentioned earlier in this article, much of your video shooting will occur from the back of the auditorium, thus the need for a good zoom lens. When this lens is in its full telephoto mode, so as to get a close-up shot of a person on the platform, any camera movement will be magnified many times. Controlled movement of the camera is required to follow the person as he/she moves around the platform. To do it smoothly requires a good quality tripod.
Buying a good tripod is not easy because they tend to be expensive. Where the advancement in electronics has produced a high quality camcorder for a reasonable amount of money, the same cannot be said about tripods. Unfortunately there is not a good quality consumer-grade tripod on the market, so you must venture into the professional product. What you specifically need to look for is a tripod with a real “fluid head,” so when you pan your camera from side to side or tilt it up and down, the movements are smooth. Next, look for rigidity in the tripod legs so that you do not get flex when panning and tilting the camera. A tripod with a center brace will help with its stability.
Do not be fooled by consumer grade tripods that say they have fluid heads. If the cost of the tripod is under $300, it simply does not have a true “fluid head.” However, if your budget is tight, any tripod would be better than no tripod at all. And use the tripod for all your shoots; there is nothing more distracting than a shaky unstable image, unless of course you’re shooting a video for the church’s youth band.
That’s it. You are now in the business of TV production. You have a camera to capture the event, a recorder built into the camera to tape it, and a tripod to make sure the picture is stable. But if you want a more professional look, two additional things are needed. First, an editing system to take the original master tape and turn it into a production tape that includes titles, scene transitions, and deleted (unwanted) scenes. Second, additional cameras to give your production a true television broadcast look.
With digital video your editing system can be a PC based non-linear editing system. If you already have the basic PC, you may add hardware in the form of a video capture card, and video editing software for around $250. With this configuration, you can transfer your master videotape from your camcorder to your PC, edit it, and transfer it back to your camcorder with literally no loss of picture quality. For more information on PC based non-linear editing see my article “Professional Video Editing Suite for under $250!” published in the May 2001 issue of “Technologies for Worship” magazine.
Adding a second or third camera will add significant cost to your new TV production project. The cost will not only be doubled or tripled but also added to by the cost of switching, recording, and monitoring equipment. A switcher is a device that takes the output video signals from the cameras and selects which goes to the recording device. With it you can also add transitions, and in some cases titles. An entry-level switcher will cost around $500. The output of the switcher goes to a recording device such as a VCR or other video tape deck. And finally, TV monitors will be needed so the person operating the switcher can see the video being sent from the cameras. It is important that each camera have its own monitor.
The only thing remaining is people needed to run your TV production facility. Obviously you will need one camera operator for each camera, as well as a switcher operator and a director to give direction to both the camera operators and switcher. Make sure you have at least two full teams so that you can establish a “duty” rotation, allowing for time off. The best training for your team is to have them watch good Sunday morning broadcasts then try to duplicate what they have seen. The most important part of training is to review and critique the work they have produced, as a team.
As you develop your video ministry, you will quickly want to expand it to meet the needs of a demanding viewer. What separates TV production from other technical ministries in the church is its viewer. Everyone, and I literally mean everyone, knows exactly what the final result is supposed to look like. They have TVs in their homes and can quickly assess what is good TV and what is bad. In order to keep the viewer interested, we have to produce the best quality video we can. As servants of God, would we want to do it any other way?
I hope this article has encouraged you to get into TV production in your church. If you have questions or would like more detailed information, please feel free to e-mail me.