By Graeme Spencer
Many years ago, we were filming a conference in the UK and I was directing. During one of the sessions, I noticed that there was an irritating piece of white rubbish (garbage for my US friends) on the extreme left of the framing of our wide camera. It was noticeable every time we pulled out to show the whole stage (which was a GREAT shot and one I wanted to use). So, I decided to ask one of our camera guys to leave their camera, and sneak out along the front row of the audience to grab the trash and remove it. Then, I would be able to use the shot – a great plan I thought.
Unfortunately, the speaker who was on the stage was somewhat taken aback by what he thought was a cameraman sneaking up on him. He stopped mid-sentence and proceeded to draw attention to the cameraman. The speaker in question was from a very troubled background on the rough side of the streets of New York and (I hope) jokingly proceeded to tell my cameraman that he had a switchblade in his pocket that he kept in case people crept up on him. Needless to say, the cameraman backed off pretty quickly.
Whilst everything stayed lighthearted and people saw the funny side of it and didn’t mind the disruption caused, I minded. We as the media team had become the focus of everything that was happening, which is not a good thing. It’s important that nothing we do as we film disrupts or distracts the in-person audience. We need to learn how to be invisible and do our jobs in a way that captures the event well but also honors those in attendance.
With more churches than ever streaming and otherwise broadcasting their services in the post-pandemic world, it’s important to keep quality of production in mind. Here are some recommendations for becoming invisible and not being a distraction:
Think through your camera placement.
The first thing to look at is where your cameras are. This is always a balancing act as, of course, you need to make sure you have the cameras where you need them to film the service. But you need to be sensitive to not put cameras where they will be distracting. This is even more important when it comes to cameras that are towards the front of the auditorium, near or even on the stage. I always recommend that these are towards the side and out of the natural eyeline of anyone looking at the preacher. This is less important during worship, though even then you should consider this – filming the audience is what zooms were invented for! OK, so that’s not true but when filming the audience use the zoom on the camera lens to get in close without having to be physically close. There is nothing worse than someone having a camera stuck in their face when they are concentrating on a moment with God.
Dress for work.
ALL BLACK is the way to go – black t-shirts or polo shirts and full-length black trousers should be what your crew wears. If you are shooting in extreme heat then shorts might be an option but you want to avoid that if possible and stick with long trousers. Black helps your crew blend into the background much easier.
Practice good intercom technique.
For crew within earshot of the congregation, understand that when you are talking and you have a head set on you will talk louder (we all do this). Be mindful of that and talk as low as possible. If you have a long message to relay, consider going where the congregation won’t hear you and then speaking. As a general rule, I prefer my camera team who are within earshot of the congregation to not talk at all unless there is an emergency. Instead I have them communicate with camera “nods” and “shakes”, and thumbs up and down in front of the lens.
Get your control room in a separate room.
Now, I realize this is not always possible. But wherever you can, please do it. It can be very distracting for an audience hearing tech teams talking together at the back of the hall. It will help with your communication and also eliminate this as a distraction to get it in a different location. BUT you also want to try and make sure the room is sound-isolated if possible. Otherwise, when things are quiet in the main area, and you are talking away – even in a different room – the sound can still travel.
Limit how much the team moves around.
Back to the story I started with. I was the one who told the cameraman to pick up the discarded paper, but in ordinary circumstances my team knew to move around as little as possible so as not to cause distractions. As a general rule your team needs to be as static as their jobs allow them to be. Take breaks before each service so you don’t need to during, and limit any movement during the service to what is needed to get the job done.
Have hide holes on stage for your crew.
This is something that can work well, particularly during worship. Can you create areas on the stage where your hand-held camera operator(s) can hide? For instance, behind a well-placed side drape or a large bass cabinet. It’s useful for when you are filming the stage and don’t want your camera operator(s) in shot. If you can lay the stage out with this in mind, it can enhance the production.