Starting a TV Ministry – A Television Ministry is cheaper than you think!
One of the most common barriers to beginning a church TV production or video ministry in a church is the misconception that it will be way too expensive to set up, especially for smaller churches. And I can certainly understand this belief. After all, anyone who has spent any time watching Christian television will look at Hillsong, Bethel and Joel Osteen and conclude that a TV ministry is only for the “big guys”. But this could not be further from the truth! Regardless of how small your church is, you too can have a TV ministry in your church, and for a fraction of the cost of those larger productions. But how?
There is a common misconception that production equipment is way too expensive for a small church to even consider videoing their Sunday services, or to start their video ministry. Now, while this may have been true 15 or 20 years ago, it is a very different situation today. When I first began in church TV production, production equipment was extremely cost prohibitive. The church I was involved in was a fairly large church, and even with a Senior Pastor with a huge vision for television ministry, it was very difficult for us to source affordable equipment. It took quite a few years to get to the point where our programs and services began to look like they were produced by professionals! Nowadays a quick peruse of the Electronics section of any department store will offer up any number of affordable High Definition Camcorders which will produce the kinds of images that we could only dream of 20 years ago. However, this is only one part of the story.
Have you ever videoed an important event or situation, only to watch it later and it’s dark, wobbly, and constantly shunting in and out of focus? If we are just, say, showing Aunty Doris and Uncle Bill the video of our kids first recital, this won’t matter too much. As long as little Jimmy is somewhere in the frame then it doesn’t make any difference. But a TV ministry is an entirely different matter. Audiences used to high production values will take one look at the quality and most probably turn it off. Even if your Pastor is preaching up a storm, only the most diehard will persevere with a video that is dark, out of focus, wobbling all over the place and with hard to hear audio. But with these few simple tips your video ministry can start producing great looking productions!
1. Buy the best camera you can afford.
As I stated earlier, even a sub-$200 HD camera can produce beautiful images. However, there are a number of things you should look out for in a camera that can be very helpful in producing professional looking videos. Firstly, most cameras are fully automatic, so exposure, focus and audio are all unadjustable. More expensive cameras allow the user to utilise manual focus and manual exposure, avoiding issues such as the exposure shunting up and down and the lens searching for focus. However, if your budget doesn’t extend towards purchasing a more expensive camera, then there are ways to avoid some of these issues. I will cover the ways to make your cheap camera look great in a future article.
2. Buy a good fluid head tripod
A fluid head tripod is perhaps the most important piece of equipment in a production kit (apart from the camera of course). Sadly, the tripod seems to be the one item that most video camera owners skimp on. I have lost count of how many times I have seen people videoing their children’s concerts or other events hand-held, more often than not zoomed in the whole way. I call this “sea-sick TV”, because the result is essentially unwatchable wobble cam, with the subject occasionally appearing in the frame as the image bounces up and down like a raft adrift in a Category 4 ocean storm. And then you have the other scenario. The operator is using a tripod, but it’s a stock standard photographer’s tripod with a non-tensioned head. Whenever they attempt a pan or a tilt the lack of tension means that the movements are sharp and not smooth. A slow pan or tilt is virtually impossible to achieve. Instead, the video ends up full of whip pans and sharp, plunging tilts, giving the viewer the feeling that they are riding on a roller coaster, rather than watching a cute video of Wendy’s pre-school graduation. A fluid head on the other hand allows the user to execute smooth pans and tilts, especially when zoomed in. The difference between a non-tensioned head and a fluid head is quite frankly the difference between a bad video and a good one. The combination of a $200 HD Camcorder and a good fluid head tripod elevates the production value up several, if not many notches, compared to a $200 Camcorder handheld or on a non-tensioned tripod. And contrary to what you may think, a good fluid head tripod is more than affordable. Good quality ones can be purchased online for under $200.
Good lighting is another key difference between an ok video and a great video. Modern HD Camcorders look beautiful under full sunlight, but use them in a dim room and it’s another story. In a low light environment the camera will attempt to compensate for the low light by introducing “gain”, an electronic amplification process within the camera, whereby once the camera’s exposure reaches its limit the camera will add more voltage to the pixels, causing them to electronically amplify or brighten the image. Whilst this process will allow the image to be seen more brightly under low light, a visible “graininess” will be introduced on the image. More often than not this graininess is very prominent, and the crispness and clarity if the image is diminished. The best way to avoid this graininess is to light the scene or stage. Once again, lighting is not as cost prohibitive as some may think. Lighting can come in several different forms – tungsten, fluorescent and LED. Each has their distinct advantages and disadvantages. Tungsten burns very bright, and so small stage or pulpit area can be lit with approximately four lights, depending on the size of the room and the wattage of the lights (I will go into more detail on wattage and lighting set ups in a future article). Inexpensive 500-1000 watt tungsten lighting can be purchased at most hardware stores, as can some fluorescent work lights (however these flouros aren’t as bright). Tungsten lights are very hot, so in a small room they can heat the room up very quickly. Additionally, because they do burn hot the bulbs tend to burn out quicker, so you might find that you are replacing globes regularly. The most common form of tungsten lighting in churches are PAR Cans. These lights are relatively inexpensive, however they can have very narrow beams, meaning that the subject may end up walking in and out of pools of bright light, which will play havoc with the camera’s exposure. Flouro lights aren’t anywhere near as bright as tungsten, however, they are cool burning lights, so are great for small rooms. LED lights are another option, although they are a more expensive option than either tungsten or flouros. Newer PAR cans have evolved from the tungsten type into LED lights, so this type of light might be a viable alternative. However, these LED PAR cans have some problems also. I will go into more detail on lighting in future articles.
I started my Television career as a location soundo for a national nightly TV News program. We used to joke with the camera ops that TV was simply radio with pictures, and in some respect that is correct. Whilst images without sound can still tell a story, good audio accompanying the vision completes the story. In a ministry environment the audio is perhaps the most important element of the production. Without being able to hear the speaker clearly, the viewer will become frustrated and turn off. Audio is perhaps the easiest element of our production to get right. Most churches will have some kind of sound system that amplifies the audio for the room, so it is usually simply a case of either running an output from the desk straight to the camera, or into a portable recording device such as a Zoom H4n. However, there are some things that can cause issues, so I will cover audio in a future article also.
5. Post Production
Even if your plan is to stream your services live to the web, a good post production set up is still an essential part of your production kit. As is the case with all of the other elements we have looked at, an edit suite is not as expensive as you might imagine. When I first began to edit I was editing on what is known as a linear, or machine based system. Each machine was worth around $120,000, and we were editing with three of them. As technology advanced we were able to source smaller and cheaper VTR’s, but it was still an extremely cost prohibitive system. And then along came computer based, or non-linear edit systems. When these systems first became available you would still not get much change from $100,000, but, thankfully, a lot has changed in the last 15 years – in fact even in the last two years we have seen dramatic decreases in prices! The edit suite that I use is a Mac based system called Final Cut Pro. When I bought the system in 2008 it cost me around $12,000 (although I also bought a Mac Book Pro as part of the edit suite package), whereas now a copy of Final Cut Pro X will cost just $300 from the online Apple Store. You can also purchase other apps that allow you to Colour Grade, burn to DVD, do Motion Graphics, and sweeten your audio, with each of the apps an additional $52 each. Other systems, such as Adobe Premier, which is a cross platform editing program, costs around $1800 as a part of the production suite. This suite contains Colour Grading software, Adobe After Effects (my preferred Motion Graphics software), audio software, Photoshop and a host of other video and graphics software. Both of these edit systems will be more than adequate to produce top quality video productions. Other manufacturers have produced similar non-linear edit systems, so once again it comes down to what you can afford. However, for pure value for money you cannot go past Final Cut. In fact, it is the system that is used by most professionals, and this fact alone speaks volumes regarding its efficacy.
So, as you can see, for under $3000 your church can set up a good quality Television or video ministry. A resource that was once the sole domain of the Mega-Church is now available for the much smaller local church. So what is stopping you? If you have a vision for a Television Ministry in your church, do it!
Shaun is the Senior Pastor of River Christian Church in Kariong, on the NSW Central Coast. He has 20 years experience in the Broadcast Television Industry starting his career in TV News, then moving on to Multi-Camera Studio Directing and Studio Camera Operating for a Pay TV network. He then spent 7 years as the Producer/Director of Jesus Television (later called CCTV), producing television content for C3 Church Oxford falls in Sydney, Australia, and for the last ten years Shaun has worked as a Freelance professional Television Cameraman, Director and Editor, shooting sports, concerts, and producing, directing and shooting various Television Commercials.