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The constant demand for content creation is one of the greatest challenges church communications folks face. You need copy for the bulletin, announcements in the e-mail newsletter, Facebook posts, and that blog that just won’t write itself.

And in pursuit of the beast, there’s a temptation to become lazy in our writing. We overuse a single adjective, we use passive voice, we dumb down, etc.

That’s why I love the new Hemingway App. It looks over your shoulder and catches all those little mistakes that you might miss in your weariness.

The app will tell you at what level your writing is, and will point out any of the places where you could improve upon your writing.

If you relate to this dilemma, and your church budget doesn’t afford you a human editor, you should definitely check out Hemingway App.

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7 Free Resources for August

It’s free resource time again! And we at the Church Media Blog have rounded up some of our favorites! These include an inspirational video, a colorful motion pack, trendy countdowns, a Covenant Worship audio track, a cool stock clip, and a popular song chart by Bellarive. Use these new resources for your ministry and share them with your media-loving acquaintances and friends!

Faith Refocused by The Veracity Project - Mini Movie

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Download the free mini movie at SermonSpice.com. (Available through August 31)

Colorful Motion Pack by 4ThoughtMedia - Motion Collection

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Download the free collection at WorshipHouseMedia.com. (Available through August 31)

Notebook Paper Countdown by Centerline New Media - Countdown

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Download the free countdown at WorshipHouseKids.com. (Available through August 31)

Light Mesh Countdown Timer by Church Motion Graphics - Countdown

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Download the free countdown at videosforyouth.com. (Available through August 31)

First Loved Me by Covenant Worship - Audio Track

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Download the free audio track at christiansongtracks.com. (Available through August 31)

Your Great Love by Bellarive - Song Chart

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Download the free song chart at christiansongcharts.com. (Available through August 31)

Stock Video by Unblind - Video Clip

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Download the free video clip at lightstock.com. (Available through August 31)

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Seven Tips for Church Media Production

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Image from Lightstock.com

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 to 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 understate 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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We’re Looking for an Excellent Graphic Designer. Is That You?

Salem Church Products is looking for a graphic designer to join our team and work on projects for WorshipHouse Media, ChurchStaffing, SermonSpice, WorshipHouse Kids, ChurchMediaBlog, and other sites in our Richmond, VA office. If you’re looking for a career with a purpose, and want to help us as we serve churches and pastors all over the world, we’d love to explore the position with you. We’re looking for someone with a versatile skill set, including excellent web and graphic design abilities. Check out the full job description here.

If that sounds like you, please send your resume and portfolio to Angela Bainter at angela@salemchurchproducts.com.

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The Tools of “With You (I Feel Again)”

WIth You BTS2 CMB

In my last post, I wrote about some of the challenges that presented themselves in the development and production of “With You.” One of the coolest parts of working on this project (besides using a OneRepublic song) was being able to rent two cool pieces of equipment:

1. The Canon C100
2. The Defy G5 (3 axis gimbal)

C100THE CANON C100
I was first introduced to the C100 at Alex Buono’s (DP of SNL’s Film Crew) “The Art of Visual Storytelling Tour” last summer and immediately fell in love with it. However, it was certainly out of my price range.

Since I started Journey Box Media, I committed to keep the company debt free, not get caught up in ‘Gear Envy’, and rely on the quality of the stories over the camera and equipment I used. So from the beginning I have shot every project on the Canon T3i that my church let me use. Yes, it’s true, Journey Box Media doesn’t own a camera.

But for this project, I decided to rent the C100 for a practical reason: lighting. DSLRs are famous for low-light shooting, but I wanted to use natural light coming in from the windows of our location. With the room being so large, and after a few test shots, I knew my trusted T3i wouldn’t cut it. Once I get above 1600 ISO, the picture becomes grainy. The C100, however, allows up to 20,000 ISO with a clean picture (and Canon just introduced a firmware update allowing up to 80,000 ISO).

The C100 is the newest and most inexpensive camera in Canon’s cinema line with some amazing features, including built in ND Filters, dual XLR inputs, and C-LOG (an ultra flat image setting that allows for much more control in color grading).

Built in ND Filters
When shooting outside or anywhere with bright light, you need an ND filter to lower the intensity of light so you don’t overexpose. This allows more flexibility for shallow depth of field while keeping the shutter speed the same.

Built in XLR Inputs
No more secondary audio recording! While, at times, off-camera audio may be the best way to go, nothing beats the convenience of being able to record your audio (with great quality) right on your video media – especially on a ‘run-and-gun’ style project. This cuts down post time incredibly, and provides a much more streamlined workflow.

The camera allows for individual level control, with meters and a headphone jack for monitoring. That’s something I can’t get with the T3i.

C-LOG
In the T3i, I record the visuals with a very flat setting. This allows for the most versatility in color grading. The C-LOG takes it to a new level, almost matching the RAW capture you can get in RED cameras. Though there is not nearly as much information captured as in those cameras, I found more flexibility than I needed in color correction. Even if you just throw on a preset color style from Magic Bullet or Looks, you can get a great looking grade to your image.

I loved the camera and it will definitely be my next purchase. The C100 is currently $4,999 on B&H.

G5THE DEFY G5
Many of you may heard of the Movi (the first well-known motorized 3-axis gimbal). It’s basically a steadycam on steroids.

The Defy G5 is a lower-priced version of the same concept. It allows for great movement by the camera operator while keeping the camera level and smooth.

While the possibilities are amazing with this tool, the important thing to remember is that it’s a tool. One of many we use in visual storytelling. It can be very easy to get caught up on the moving camera trend, but that will actually diminish it’s effect. Camera movement is a lot like bolding text. If everything is bold, nothing is.

So the key is to be selective and intentional with the camera movements.

In “With You” I wanted to have camera movement for the opening shot, to establish our teen as a loner. He has purposefully shut everyone else out.

Once he walks through the doors to his “prison”, the camera movements become static, as if there is no where to go.

Then, towards the end, once his mom sees his interaction, dancing and laughing with new friends, the camera starts moving again. There is now life within, as well as movement and joy.

I also had the shot in mind about our friend Eddie (older gentleman) taking the framed picture to his wife. I wanted to follow the frame to allow us time to see the image and see the dancing continuing behind him, as he is taking the joy with him to his wife suffering from Alzheimers.

This shot did not come off perfectly, as my arms got tired. It was the last shot we got with the movements. I learned quickly that many workouts were needed to strengthen my arms.

While the movement did take some getting used to, I was able to get comfortable with it within a day. The most challenging part of the G5 was balancing. It look me about 45 minutes to balance my first time, but after several tries I was able to balance it within 10 minutes.

I took the G5 with me on a trip and got some test footage with it.

The Defy G5 can be purchased for $3,800 on Defy’s website.

In the end, I decided the G5 was not the tool for me to invest money in right now. I would not be used in every project, and at $4,000 I’d much rather get a camera I’ll use on every project.

With new technology being released practically every week, it can be so easy to get caught up in the gear game. Let’s stay committed to telling better stories, regardless of what tools we have. Use what you have to the best of your ability, and spend the time in story development to create the best story you can. That’s our responsibility as storytellers.

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The Challenges of “With You (I Feel Again)”

WIth You BTS1 CMBFrom the moment I heard the song “Feel Again” by OneRepublic, I wanted to create a film with it. The song demands smiles and movement, and I wanted to bring that visually to life.

What I didn’t expect was that it would take 6 months to complete the project.

Licensing
The first and most obvious challenge was attaining the rights to the song. A project like this requires both the sync rights (by the song owners allowing us to put images to the song), and the master rights (by the record label that released that specific album).

After some research on BMI.com, I was able to track down the appropriate agencies for both. This took several weeks, going back and forth between large record label companies, waiting a week for an email that reads “We do not handle this song anymore. Try this person at this company.”

I almost gave up at this stage, but thankfully I kept trying, and eventually found the right combination of people.

Story
The development of story was a tricky process. I had to have some sort of story overview when requesting the Sync and Master rights, but I didn’t want to put in a ton of development time just to be told “we don’t do licensing for that kind of project” (which I’ve been told before by The Civil Wars and The Lumineers).

So after tossing around a few ideas, I settled on the idea that it would involve a “lifeless senior center brought to life by interaction.” This provided enough of the story to complete the applications, but left us a lot of room to figure out the details.

Once the licensing looked promising (I had to pinch myself), I was able to spend serious time working through the story of the project. For this process, I enlisted a few trusted friends and film students. I wanted to allow the story to develop, and out of this several-weeks-long process came the story of a ‘numb’ teenager who has to sit at the senior center his mom works at every day after school.

Location
Location scouting is never easy, especially when you need a full facility and as many extras as you can get. We planned a day of visiting retirement homes, noting the size, layout, and residents. Our first searches were for assisted living facilities (older residents), but quickly realized those gentle folks would not be able to get up out of their wheelchairs to dance (which the story required).

We decided to go with a 55+ Golfing community. We live in Florida so there are plenty to choose from. Amazingly, we had a connection with the manager of one place, but on first visit we were afraid the room was too big. Really, I was scared that either we couldn’t get enough people to help out, or that if we got enough, I wouldn’t know how to ‘handle’ that many extras.

Big Room Directing

Extras
We put out the word, visited one of their weekly bingo nights, and hoped we would get 30 people to show up. We had 55 actually show up! We were blown away.

The shoot took 4 hours, and for the first 2 hours the seniors enjoyed a free lunch and bingo games. Then it was time for the dancing! I didn’t realize until afterwards that I accidentally forced these great people to dance for 20 minutes straight, and they were very tired. Some of them tried to escape at one point, and we had to reassure them that we were almost finished.

Big Room

One of my favorite moments of the project was the Viewing Party we threw at the senior center. We provided cupcakes and punch, set up a big screen, and enjoyed the film together. They loved it, and demanded a second showing. It was great to be with them as they watched themselves, laughing at each other and enjoying the moment.

Takeaway
I don’t know if “With You (I Feel Again)” will be a hit or not. What I do know is that it speaks a message that is close to my heart: all we are asked to do is to love the unloved. They are all around us, isolated, lonely, and shut off from life. If you see an opportunity, take it. Show interest. Love as Christ has loved us. And in doing so, even the most lifeless can feel again.

In my next post, I’ll write about my experience with two new pieces of equipment I used for shooting “With You”: The Canon C100 and the Defy G5.

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7 Free Resources for July

We at the Church Media Blog have been busy digging up some of the best free resources for church media and worship folks. These include three fun and/or thoughtful mini movies, an audio track by Yancy, an Uncle Charlie track for your #kidmin, a stylish stock clip, and a song chart by Passion. Take a few minutes to click through to each site and get these free resources for your ministry… but don’t be quiet about it. We want as many people to know about these great resources as possible – even that pastor down the road. You know the one.

What is Your Work? by Shift Worship - Mini Movie

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Download the free mini movie at SermonSpice.com. (Available through July 31)

A Prayer to the Potter by Brightside Creative - Mini Movie

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Download the mini movie at WorshipHouseMedia.com. (Available through July 31)

This Little Light by Uncle Charlie - Song Track

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Download the free song track at WorshipHouseKids.com. (Available through July 31)

Juice Box Christian by Shift Worship - Mini Movie 

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Download this funny classic at videosforyouth.com. (Available through July 31)

Our God Reigns by Yancy - Audio Track

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Download the free audio track at christiansongtracks.com. (Available through July 31)

Let it Be Jesus by Worship Together - Song Chart

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Download the free digital sheet music at christiansongcharts.com. (Available through July 31)

Stock Video by Rocketship Films - Video Clip

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Download the free video clip at lightstock.com. (Available through July 31)

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Top Worship Songs of 2014

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The good folks over at Worship Leader have compiled a list of the 20 top new worship songs for 2014… at least so far. We think it’s a great list and we wanted to share the top ten here with you, along with some links for where to get MP3s, tracks for worship, as well as digital charts and sheet music.

10. Future/Past – John Mark McMillan (from Borderland)

Grab the mp3 or digital sheet music.

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9. I Am – Crowder (from Neon Steeple)

You can find digital charts here, and the MP3 here.

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8. You Lift Us Up – Paul Baloche (from Paul Baloche Live)

Grab the MP3 here.

7. At the Cross (Love Ran Red) – Passion, feat. Chris Tomlin (from Take It All)

Get digital sheet music and charts, as well as the MP3.

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6. Vapor – The Liturgists

Get the MP3 here.

5. Only King Forever – Elevation Worship (from Only King Forever)

Grab the MP3 from iTunes.

4. Joy – Rend Collective (from The Art of Celebration)

Pick up the Audio Performance Track or a Video Track for Worship.

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3. Christ Be All Around Me – All Sons & Daughters

Grab an Audio Track for this one at ChristianSongTracks.com.

2. This I Believe (The Creed) – Hillsong Worship (from No Other Name)

You can get digital sheet music at ChristianSongCharts.com, or grab the MP3.

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1. Forever (We Sing Hallelujah) – Kari Jobe (from Majestic)

Grab digital charts for this top song, or pick up the MP3.

For their full list of top worship songs, click here.

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WorshipHouse Media Summer Sales [Video]

We’re excited about the return of the huge summer sale over at WorshipHouse Media.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one of your favorite WHM producers will offer their ENTIRE library at 50% off. This includes all of their best-selling mini movies, song tracks, backgrounds, countdowns, and more. This is a great opportunity to stock up on media for your church and to build your library of great content to use all year long.

The sale kicks off on July 9 with Centerline New Media.

View the promo video to hear some of the many reasons you will love the Summer Sale!

Show Notes:

WHM On Sale Store.

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