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Author Archive | Todd Hampson

Seven Tips for Church Media Production

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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.

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Transcendent Vs. Relevant: Why Church Media Should Lead Creative Culture

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In both creative and in Christian circles I hear a lot about being relevant. Relevant is an adjective that means “closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand.” It means the solution is pertinent or applicable. It makes sense. It’s current. Relevance is relevant but is it over used? Has the term been come to mean “cool”, “hip” or “in style”? The applications of relevance have to do with breadth. Reaching a wide demographic and not being out of date. The goal here is to hit the middle of the bell curve.

In contrast, transcendence is an adjective that means something is “surpassing the ordinary; exceptional”. It is “beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience”.

During the Renaissance, Christian art led the way and other art followed. Christian art was truly exceptional and others tried to emulate it. As media producers we definitely have a challenge when it comes to BALANCING QUALITY AND SCHEDULE but within that context we need to find ways to produce projects that are transcendent, not relevant. We need to lead creative culture by leading the bell curve of innovation and creativity. We need to be early adopters of emerging creativity, technology, and applications.

Whenever possible I try to bring heady ideas down to practical reality. All this talk of relevance and transcendence sounds like an undergraduate philosophy class. How can I funnel this down into my day-to-day ministry? Here are 5 suggestions that will help you lead.

1. Pray
You must start here. As Pastor Mark Batterson has pointed out, “One God idea is better than 1000 good ideas.” Whatever the project (video, animation, motion graphics, short film, live performance… you name it), if this is your calling, you must start with prayer. What we need here is revelation, not information. We need to pray for God to show up in a way that only he can. We need to treat our creative calling, like effective lead pastors treat their preaching and leadership.

2. Pick A Project
There are 1000 things on you “to-do” list and you can’t give every creative endeavor this level of attention, but you can prayerfully pick one key project on your horizon that you will commit to prayer and open up a way for God to move powerfully in that project. For most creatives who are called to their craft, there is some spark of an idea that has been in you for sometime. That just might be the project that God wants to bring to reality through you at this time in history. Don’t miss the opportunity.

3. Put It On the Calendar
Whether it’s a sermon series intro and graphics package, a short film you want to produce, or (as in my case right now) a children’s book you want to write and illustrate, give yourself a due date for the first key milestone. Then when you complete that milestone, IMMEDIATELY put the next milestone on the calendar.

4. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Tell people about your plans. There’s nothing like accountability (and encouragement) to help push you toward achieving your God-ordained goals. It’s one thing to think about producing your transcendent project, and yet another to put the first milestone on the calendar, but there is something scary (and freeing) to say it out loud to others. It ups the ante and increases the level of commitment to the project.

5. Prepare
Look at the logistics of what’s needed and begin to prepare for what’s ahead. Act “as if” you know what you are doing (because if it’s truly a “God idea”, you will be out of your comfort zone) and begin to move forward in practical ways. A good friend of mine entered a film contest where he had 168 hours to concept, shoot, and edit a short film. He could line up actors, licenses, locations, and equipment ahead of time, but he had only 168 hours to produce it. He pulled it off and learned new things about his craft and about himself that he wouldn’t have otherwise known. He also saw God provide resources and favor just in the nick of time. I mention this here because as you prepare to produce your transcendent project, the same will happen to you. You will learn about yourself and your craft and God will provide in unexpected ways.

So go and pursue your calling. Determine to set the pace produce projects with transcendence as you prayerfully seek God’s best and lead us into the front end of the bell curve! You were created for this and God wants to use you to raise the bar.

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10 Tips for Balancing Quality and Schedule: Excellence Vs. Perfection In Church Media

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Producers and creative ministry team leaders… tell me if you can relate to this tension. The artist in you is drawn to a God-sized vision for the creative project you’re working on. You see the potential for how amazing it could be and you experience that 1% high-octane inspirational spark that ignites creatives like us. You’re ready to attack the project with everything you have, then somewhere in the “messy middle” (where it’s 99% perspiration), reality hits and you realize you don’t have the time, money, or human resources to pull off your original vision.

Years ago, I toured Big Idea when they were a large studio working out of a converted Woolworth Department store in Lombard, Illinois. There was a handwritten sign scotch-taped to the door of the “321 Penguins” production unit that read, “No project is ever done. You just run out of time.” That sign has been good reminder to me as an animation producer and creative team leader, that I need to balance quality and vision with budget and schedule.

If you produce media for ministry, then you know this tension well because another weekend of services is coming at you like a run away freight train. I’ve worked in ministry circles and I’ve worked in animation production and there’s a common thread in both: the due dates just keep coming and you are forced to balance the two dueling brothers: quality and schedule.

There is a way to harness these wild and unruly brothers and let them actually work FOR you instead of against you. We don’t have unlimited time (even open ended projects need to ship at some point), and we’ll never reach perfection until eternity (can you imagine the art we’ll create in Heaven?!), so we need to embrace our limitations here and strive for excellence.

Excellence is defined as: the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.
Perfection is defined as: something that cannot be improved: something that is perfect.

Here’s my working definition for excellence when it comes to media producers.

“Excellence is the pursuit of creative perfection knowing we won’t get there.”

It’s the pursuit that drives us. The artist’s journey is never ending. Excellence in media production is achieved by embracing the limitations and learning from every project. So, what does that mean on a practical level? How can I use that in my day-to-day producer role?

Here are 10 tips for balancing quality and schedule:

1. Plan early and touch often.
The creative teams that thrive and don’t burn out are teams that are led well and plan well. Planning an Easter service 2 weeks out does not allow room for excellence. Another easy mistake to fall into is to meet way in advance but neglect setting milestones thereby leaving the project untouched. Other demands will get in the way if you don’t schedule milestones and assign tasks.

2. Develop systems even if (or especially if) you aren’t the systems type.
People are your greatest resource, but systems allow room for excellence. There should be a process in place for each key creative task. The processes should intentionally move the ball forward and funnel ideas into concrete tasks.

3. Support the vision of the lead pastor (or client).
Every good organization should have a point leader and a leadership team who cast clear vision about where you are going. Your creative vision should support the overall vision of the church or organization. This will give you a sense of mission and purpose as you navigate thru time and budget constraints.

4. Collaborate.
Use the body. Tap into the creative resources around you. There may be other staff or volunteers you may want to invite to the table. The creative team at my church is made up of a mix of staff and volunteers. Chemistry is key here. If you build a team that works well together, that too will help you balance quality and time.

5. Develop a budget and schedule for every project.
I can’t stress this enough. It will help you see where resources are going and it will force you to take a realistic look at the schedule and what you are committing to.

6. Block in the “Big Rocks” for the whole year.
I recommend meeting in early November or early December to plan out the entire next year. Things are bound to change, but the more planning you have done (with milestones set), the easier it will be on your team if an audible needs to be called at some point. Schedule in the important things before other demands schedule your time for you.

7. Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
In your pursuit of excellence, set some goals to get better in key areas. These are not resolutions, but concrete measurable goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

8. Embrace the limitations and use them to your advantage.
There’s nothing scarier than staring at a blank canvas with unlimited options. By embracing our limitations (budget/schedule) it forces us to put parameters on our project, and these parameters force creativity. Using a limited color palette helps you make art direction choices. The same is true for producing media. Let your limitations force creativity.

9. Let go.
Figure out what only you can do, or what you do best. Let go of everything else thru delegation and allowing others into the process. Is it risky? Sure. But so is trying to do it all yourself. Keep your sanity and bring others to the table.

10. Don’t Underestimate Post
I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post a while back explaining the 4 stages of animation production using characters for each stage and I depicted post-production as a beast because…well, post-production is a beast! I have often underestimated (read under-budgeted and under-scheduled) post production. Leave twice the amount of time you think you’ll need for polishing and post-production.

So, in your pursuit of perfection, remember we can only strive for excellence and there will always be room to improve. Don’t take it so seriously that you lose your joy or sense of calling, and remind yourself often why you got into this gig in the first place…to use your talents to serve Christ and His Church. Plan well and plan early even if you are not a natural planner (I can relate). It’s a skill you can hone and it will help you, your team, and the body of Christ in the long run. Go and pursue excellence…but make sure you ship on time!

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