TFWM Interview with Television Producer and Director Phil Cooke
Phil Cooke, Producer and Director with Phil Cooke Pictures, Inc. in Burbank, California is a regular contributor to Technologies for Worship Magazine. Along with a client list that includes major churches, ministries and television networks as well as secular studios, corporations, and entertainment companies, Phil still finds time to work with local churches, ministries, and religious organizations, helping them improve the quality and effectiveness of their television and video programs. Having videotaped religious conferences in convention centers and arenas across America, Phil talked with Barry Cobus from Technologies for Worship about the pros and cons of videotaping religious conferences.
Technologies for Worship Magazine: What are some of the most important reasons for videotaping religious conferences?
Phil Cooke: There are actually a number of significant reasons to videotape religious conferences and conventions. Since most of these conferences involve teaching and preaching, first, you can offer the conference on videotape to your attendees, members, or supporters as teaching tools.
Many times, it’s important for people to have a permanent copy to review later for learning purposes, archival purposes, or strictly as a way to remember the event. In fact, when I videotape a conference, I will often have a company come in who can actually copy the videotapes on high-speed recorders and have the video available to sell right there at the conference.
Think of how the impact of your conference can be extended when the attendees have a videotape copy to take home and show their friends, family, and business associates. Needless to say, this is not only a great service to the members, but selling the tapes can also positively impact your financial bottom line.
Secondly, it often makes great material for a religious television program. You can see many ministries on television right now who use their conferences and meetings as the primary source of material for their television outreach. Why? Because at conferences, people come with real excitement and expectancy, and when that’s captured on video, it often makes wonderful television programming.
Thirdly, video can be used to tie two separate locations together, or introduce a guest from another location. A relatively recent example of this is the Promise Keepers Meetings, where they have conducted two meetings simultaneously in different cities, linking them with video transmitted via satellite. Each meeting can “talk to” and “see” each other through the video transmission.
One church conference in the Midwest distributed satellite downlink dishes to about 200 churches throughout the United States. While the conference was happening at one location, thousands of people who couldn’t attend could come to their local church and watch the event “live” as it happened and join in the service. Using technology like that, the conference went in size from the normal 8,000 at the actual event, to more than 50,000 connected via satellite. I’m very excited about the possibilities technology like this opens up to religious conferences, concerts, and other events.
So you can see that from low budget situations to high budget situations, videotaping can really enhance the effectiveness and impact of a religious conference.
TFWM: So even if I have a small budget, videotaping my conference can make a difference?
PC: Absolutely. For one thing, you are building an important archive for the future. Having all the speakers, music, and special events at your conference recorded on videotape allows you to have a permanent archive for later reference. Plus, by selling the videotapes of the conference either to the attendees, or later, to your members and supporters gives you another avenue for marketing and fundraising.
TFWM: So where do I start?
PC: First of all, I strongly urge you to find a producer with experience in shooting conferences and conventions. There are many differences in shooting in arenas versus shooting in a studio or church, and you need to find someone with experience in both. I would suggest you look for a ministry or religious organization you respect and admire who has videotaped conferences. Call them and ask for their media director or television producer. They would be happy to give you ideas and advice, or the names of qualified producers.
TFWM: What about equipment?
PC: When you find the right producer, he or she will be able to advise you on the right cameras and equipment for the job. Sometimes, the arena will have camera equipment for rent, and other times, you’ll have to bring it in from the outside. Either way, your producer will be able to guide you to the right decision based on your budget.
TFWM: Is there a difference between shooting the conference for video and shooting for television?
PC: If you think you might want to use the footage on a television program, commercial, or broadcast promotional campaign, then you should definitely use higher quality camera equipment and record on a better level of videotape. For those unfamiliar with broadcast standards, the normal videotape format today for shooting broadcast television programming is called BetaSP. However, the new DV, Mini-DV, and DVC Pro formats are all digital formats that have remarkable picture quality and would definitely qualify for broadcast.
If broadcast television isn’t in your future plans, then less expensive camera equipment and videotape formats are available. Formats like SVHS (Super VHS), 3/4 inch, and Hi-8 are all examples of formats that are designed for good quality non-broadcast uses. Certainly, there are some instances where these formats are also used on television, but by and large, their uses are mostly confined to industrial, corporate, training, and other non-broadcast venues.
TFWM: What are the most common mistakes religious organizations make in the production of videos produced from conventions?
PC: Understanding just how unique and different the medium of video really is. A light bulb is not a candle you plug into a wall. A car is not a horse with wheels. A television is not a radio with pictures. A successful video program is not just a videotaped religious service or conference. See where I’m going?
Television and video have their own strengths and weaknesses, and those strengths and weaknesses need to be properly exploited if we are to be as effective as we possibly can.
A videotaped religious service is not the most effective use of the medium, but today, church and religious services probably represent the vast majority of religious video programming. That’s not to say that sermons, teaching situations, conferences and conventions shouldn’t be on television, but they need to be done in a more innovative way that takes better advantage of the medium.
For instance, in a live convention or conference, you’re sitting in a crowd of hopefully interested people. You experience first hand the worship and music, you can feel the electricity of the moment, and you can often sense the energy and the excitement as the speaker paces back and forth across the stage.
But when you watch that convention on video or television, you’re often by yourself, watching the service through a glass TV screen from the other side of the room – and more than likely, you’re doing something else at the time. Very few of the things that make it exciting in a live situation come through as you watch it later on television.
Therefore, we need to take advantage of creative video and television techniques to translate that event into as powerful a program as possible. The most successful producers today are the ones who are well versed in those techniques and know how to transform a live event into a compelling television experience.
TFWM: In your lectures and workshops, you often speak on the topic “Increasing Your Effectiveness on Camera”. When you work with pastors, evangelists, teachers, religious leaders, program hosts, actors, and other on-camera personalities, what are some of the secrets to effectiveness?
PC: Don’t get locked into one style of preaching or teaching on camera. For instance, just because you’re a pastor or teacher doesn’t mean that you have to do everything standing behind a podium. One of my greatest joys is taking pastors who think they can only function well behind a podium, into other settings – a living room, a back alley, a beach, a homeless shelter, a desert, a mission field, etc. They’re quite often thrilled and amazed to discover the possibilities of ministering in more creative and unconventional settings.
Talk to one person. Whether you’re preaching, teaching, or hosting a conference or convention and you’re being recording for video, don’t think about those millions of people in TV land – think about one person. There’s no way you can effectively focus on ministry while trying to imagine the multitude of needs, hurts, and struggles of the entire television or video audience. So calm down and focus on one person, just as if you were talking to a friend. You’ll be amazed at the difference it will make.
Know your audience. Beyond the immediate audience at the conference or convention, learn about audience demographics and talk to your producer about who your audience is. Until you discover who’s watching out there, how can you be most effective?
TFWM: Is this the type of information that’s in your book “Producing Effective Christian Television Programs”?
PC: Exactly. Aside from producing and directing media projects, I have always had a heart for helping local church and ministry organizations improve the quality of their video and television programs. The fact is, every program produced within the religious community reflects on us all, and therefore each of us needs to be doing everything we can to improve Christian programming.
I’ve discovered that most organizations are concerned about the real, practical, day-to-day aspects of producing video and television programs. Should I shoot my conference or religious service? Should I rent or purchase equipment? What type of equipment should I use? Where will I find a crew? What about music? How about fundraising? Where can I find a director?
I believe that most people are already convinced that video, television and motion pictures are important avenues of extending their Christian faith – they just need practical information on how and where to start. Looking around, I couldn’t find a single book that answered those questions, so I decided to write one. It’s really written for anyone who’s ever watched current religious television and thought “I can do better than that, but I don’t know where to start”. The book represents more than twenty years of producing religious programs, and the information would easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if you hired a consultant. But now it’s all in one reference book, available from the National Religious Broadcasters.
TFWM: What’s Next for Phil Cooke?
>PC: First of all, I’m actually very excited about videotaping religious conferences and conventions. As I said before, technology is opening up some fascinating doors that we only dreamed about a few years ago. We have to keep moving forward and my great challenge in life is moving out there into unexplored territory. Even with risks and dangers, it’s an exciting place to be, and it’s the only place a real breakthrough in Christian broadcasting will happen.
Second, one of my great passions has always been to produce and direct motion pictures. That’s always been a difficulty for religious organizations because of the high expense and lack of quality of many past projects. We are currently developing projects along that line, and I think it’s one of the critical places where we can have a voice and make an impact in our contemporary culture.
Third, I want to stay on top of what’s happening in the internet world. Phil Cooke Pictures, Inc. has set up a world wide web site at http://www.cookefilm.com that was designed to be a resource for religious program producers and organizations. In one place we want people to be able to download program budget worksheets, storyboard forms, information on equipment, creative ideas, and other essential information. We’re just in the early stages of discovering those possibilities, but anything that will help bring us closer together for information or inspiration, I’m all for it.