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Quality and excellence glorify God. All projects have limitations. Here are some ways to work within those limitations and still deliver a final product that you and your team are proud of. As I’ve worked with church and para-church media teams I have seen many similar pain points arise. Here are seven key principles that will help any ministry media producer or team avoid these pain points and operate with more excellence and efficiency.
1. Have a system
A good friend of mine got a job at a very large church where things were done with excellence but was shocked when he found out on his first day that there was no system in place for initiating or tracking creative projects. They had a key employee that got the ball rolling on any request their team was given. The problem with that system is that it’s 100% reliant on one individual’s talent and work ethic. If this person were to get sick (probably due to burn out), or leave for another job, a dysfunctional mess would appear in the wake.
2. Over-clarify deliverables and details
Too many problems arise when a brief conversation about a creative project takes place or a creative meeting concludes without a follow up clarification. It is wise and efficient to carefully layout all details of a project including milestones, responsible parties, and if anything is needed from the client (ie. lead pastor, children’s pastor, whomever is requesting the service) to get started. I recommend having a short (1-2 page) agreement that people sign (or at least email saying it’s approved) just to make sure that you as the producer fully understand what’s expected of you. There is a tendency to get too comfortable and assume everyone is on the same page. This also gives you an opportunity as a producer to make sure all of the details of the project are realistic based on time, budget, and expectations.
3. Clearly I.D. milestones for all phases
Producers need to develop a firm understanding of the differences between development, pre-production, production, post-production (and even promotion/collateral). It’s also very worthwhile to take a meeting to carefully explain these to key staff who may be requesting creative projects. Because most creative ministry projects have tight budgets and tight timeframes, it’s very producer-friendly to break down functions by phases so that you can clearly point to approvals that are “point-of-no-return” (PONR) milestones. For example, when we produce animated shorts that have a specific budget and time frame we make it very clear to our clients that no timing changes will be possible once the animatic is approved. The animatic locks the timing on our edit and we create assets, split up scenes, and time out the lip sync based on the client approved animatic. The key here is clear communication. Don’t assume anything. Make sure your client knows all PONR milestones.
4. Recognize development for what it is
Don’t let someone who’s anxious to move forward pressure you or your team into moving into pre-production before development is complete. If you are not clear on the concept, purpose, script, storyline, characters, world, art direction, or tone of a project it’s still in development. Make it clear that you or your team can’t move into pre-production until you are sure development is completed. It’s common for teams to blend development and pre-production together, but if you are not careful you will waste valuable time on unneeded storyboards, video shoots, script writing, voice recording or other asset creation when you find that development was left unfinished.
5. Give more time to pre-production than you think it needs
It is very common to assume that the bulk of the work is in production. This is simply not true (except for maybe traditional 2d hand drawn animation). Most creative pipelines (including graphic design, motion graphics, and video production) require just as much work in preproduction (and sometimes post, see below) as they do in production. Mentally, we give more weight to production because that’s where the magic really comes together, but be sure to carefully account for pre-production in time and budget as well as expectations. Production loses out if assets are rushed or minimized in preproduction.
6. Make sure you have the right people in the right phases (switch bus seats if needed)
Many creative teams are made up of people that came on board at different seasons of a ministry’s growth. Many have learned new skills or have become more clear on their core creative strengths. It is very worthwhile to take a careful look at the make up of your team (in terms of skill sets) and make sure everyone is in the right seat on the bus. Many creatives are multi-talented and have a hard time seeing their own core strengths. It’s great to try everything, but to be excellent and efficient, it’s a healthy exercise to evaluate your team, not to compare their talent, but to make sure that you as the leader have them in a position where they will thrive. (BTW, I have a book and a free workbook that teams of artists can use to identify their calling and core creative strengths.)
7. Don’t under estimate post-production
I can’t overstate this. So often we feel the surge of relief when the tough work of production is done, but don’t underestimate post! It’s easy to let production deadlines slip because some view post as a bit of a buffer, but it’s valuable to build adequate time and budget into your culture and systems regarding post-production. The last thing you want to do is have to pull an all-nighter or deliver something that lacks polish because post-production didn’t get the time or budget it deserved.
I hope these tips will help you as a producer or creative team member. One last word of advice. When introducing any of these concepts to your team or your leadership, be sure to be gracious and patient since the process and terminology may be a bit foreign to them. Feel free to send them a link to this post as a primer to your discussion with them.