Training the IMAG Team

I’ll admit it; I’ve struggled with finding ways to train our IMAG team. Part of it is time; since Isaiah left, I’ve been mixing almost every weekend, so I really can’t sit with the team during service. Part of it is schedule; we don’t have a midweek rehearsal, and even during our Saturday rehearsal before service, the lighting guys are programming and that makes meaningful IMAG training difficult. And it still takes me sitting over there, which I can’t do when I’m at FOH. But still, they need training.

A few weeks ago, I remembered someone telling me (and I wish I could remember who; if it’s you, please comment and I’ll give you credit) about recording a “TD Commentary” track over their line cut for the weekend. That seemed like a good idea, so I gave it a shot. First I’ll tell you how I do it, then a few things I’ve learned doing it, and finally the results.

The Tech

The process is actually pretty straightforward. We record a line cut of the service into FinalCut Pro every weekend. Apple thoughtfully includes a Voice Over tool (at least in version 7…) that makes it very easy to watch the video and record a track of audio. I will do a really quick edit, pulling the musical segments together for one service during the weekend. Sometimes I take two services if I think there is valuable material in a different service.

I have had a Blue Snowball USB mic sitting around my office for 2 years looking for a purpose. Turns out, it’s great for this. Once the video cut together, I mark in and out points for the commentary. Finally, I simply fire up Voice Over and talk into the mic. One word of caution; make sure you have the target track assigned properly. I didn’t the first time and had to sync it up manually. After that though, it’s worked great. When you stop, it drops the audio track in the target track.

I normally drop the level of the line cut mix down about 12 dB so you can hear the music, but don’t have to struggle to hear me. If you mess up, stop, and mark a new in point. The whole thing works pretty well.

The Lessons

The first team I did this for was all guys and they were eager to learn. I would comment on shots I liked, shots I didn’t like and how they could handle transitions better. The second team was 2 women and one guy. This team was doing a lot more wide shots than I wanted and I made the mistake of saying I didn’t like every wide shot. In fact, I was rather critical of this second time around. That led to my big teaching moment: Be nice.

I knew I was in trouble when I received an e-mail from one of the camera operators (a woman) that simply said, “Mike, we need to talk in person or on the phone.” I knew I had blown it. After talking with her, I discovered that I had really hurt her feelings and she felt I was trying to make her quit.

I was able to assure her that I did not want her to quit, and apologized profusely. We worked it out, and she’s still on the team. The big lesson is to stay as encouraging as possible. Even if you’re just watching the footage go by and commenting on it, you’re critiquing someone else’s art. Since that week, I’ve tried to say as many positive things as possible, and even when I have to correct something, I try to suggest alternatives instead of simply saying, “I don’t like this shot.” 

When reviewing the footage, I will comment on almost every shot or transition I like, while only occasionally pointing out what I don’t like. And overall, it seems to be working.

The Results

I’ve seen a huge difference in our IMAG over the last month. Once the teams started hearing and seeing what kind of shots I want to see, they’re delivering them more and more often. The services are more consistent and it’s really looking a lot better. We still have some misses here and there, and I’ve not worked my way through all the camera operators yet, but it’s working. The directors know more and more of what I’m looking for, so they can direct more appropriately.

The reality is the best way to learn how to shoot and direct live video is to shoot and direct live video. There will still be mistakes, bad shots, and cuts you get burned on. But we see that all the time even in professionally produced stuff on TV. I’m OK with mistakes; as long as the overall product is getting better and heading in the right direction. 

Right now, I’m posting the videos in our Vimeo account and keeping them password protected because of the whole copyright issue. I’m currently only sending out a link to the team that was on for that weekend, rather than a general link for the whole team. My thinking is that if I do have to be critical of a few things, it’s better to keep it on the team. Once the overall services are closer to where I want them (and they’re getting there fast!), I will start sending the link out to the whole camera team so everyone can learn and be encouraged with what I’m looking for. 

I still think being able to sit with the team and help direct would be beneficial, but I just don’t have the time right now to do it. So this is the next best thing I can come up with. It only takes me 45 minutes or so after the service to do, and it seems like time well spent.

How do you train your camera team?

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