The Collision of Technology and Creativity Pt. 2

Image courtesy of  Ged Carroll

Image courtesy of Ged Carroll

Last time we started unpacking the conflict that can bubble up when someone on your staff, usually in leadership, has a really cool idea that might be hard to pull off. You know, because the technology to do it doesn’t actually exist. I pointed out that most people really have no idea how we do what we do, nor do they know how movies are made (like we do). Thus, they simply have ideas. And as the technical genius in the room, we need to come up with a way to make it, or something like it, happen. Here’s what I’ve learned about that process.

Find Out What the Real Goal Is

If we accept the premise that simply saying, “No,” or, “Yes, but…” every time is not the best response, what then shall we do? I’ve found the best way to respond to a request like that is to hear them out. I learned to love to start thinking about the possibilities. Usually, they are very excited when telling us about it, so I try to respond with, “Yeah, that would be cool!” After hearing them out—and it’s important to hear them out…all the way—then we can start asking questions. 

Our tendency is to begin telling them all the reasons why that can’t happen. We don’t have enough time/people/budget/talent. The technology doesn’t actually exist. But remember, most people aren’t like us. They don’t want to know why something can’t be done. They want to see their dream realized. 

So try to figure out what they actually want to accomplish. In the aforementioned example, the pastor who wanted Iron Man-style air graphics, really just wanted to be able to put some words up in front of people then add to them. Rather than just saying, “No, that was a movie, it doesn’t actually exist…” my friend added, “…but I can come up with something that will get the point across.”

Find a Solution That Accomplishes the Goal

Again, we have to keep in mind that your pastor doesn’t want to know why something can’t be done. They simply want to get across their idea. If we can help them unpack what it is they are trying to communicate, we can figure out a way to accomplish it without killing ourselves. 

Before telling them all the reasons why we can’t mic a 50-piece orchestra that won’t even fit in our room that only seats 350, and besides it’s only three weeks before Easter and we don’t possibly have enough time to pull this off (deep breath…), find out why they want a 50-piece orchestra in the first place. Maybe they just want a more full, classic sound for Easter. There are ways to make that happen that are possible. 

If your pastor wants an Andy Samberg-style video every weekend, you need to have a conversation about the process that it takes to produce it. Invite them along on a shoot and edit so they can learn how time-intensive it is. Find out what they want to communicate and find a way to accomplish it without killing yourself.

All this advice is based on the idea that we don’t start with, “No,” but that we’re finding a way to have a constructive conversation that ends with everyone feeling like they win, including you. Remember, this is the fun stuff. This is why we do what we do—to pull off the impossible; to make things happen that most only dream about; to create something from nothing. Give the ideas a chance, and work together toward a solution.

Roland

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The Collision of Technology and Creativity Pt. 1

Image Courtesy of  Charlie Wollborg

Image Courtesy of Charlie Wollborg

If you’ve been in church production for any length of time, there is a pretty good chance this has happened to you: You’re sitting in a service planning meeting and whoever is in charge starts throwing out crazy ideas of what they want to happen on the weekend. A friend of mine had his pastor ask to be able to have graphics appear in the air, then sweep them away and bring new ones on. You know, like in Iron Man.

My friend had to explain to him that the technology he was referring to doesn’t actually exist. It’s a movie, not real life. The pastor then asked how much it would cost to do something like that. He was serious. 

Grumpy Old Tech Guys

It’s easy to see how tech guys can get the reputation for being grumpy. Someone comes to us with an idea like that and the full expectation that we can pull it off. This weekend. With no budget. Or staff. Our natural reaction is to get upset and start explaining to them how clueless they are and why it can’t work. 

Now, I understand that those kind of requests can be frustrating. But getting upset and telling everyone off won’t help you or the church in the long run. What we have to do is find a way to bridge the gap between expectations and reality, between what our creative directors want and what can actually be accomplished within time and budget constraints. Doing that and making everyone involved feel like they are being listened to and appreciated can be a challenge, but it is possible. There are several things to keep in mind when something like this comes up.

It Happens to All of Us

Many times, we can feel like no one else has to put up with these crazy requests. We’re pretty sure no one has ever asked for two huge crosses on the stage for this weekend. And it’s already Thursday. You might think that no other worship leader has ever asked for a band that includes almost twice as many inputs as we have on the console (they have). 

So take courage in knowing that this crazy stuff comes up in many churches. If nothing else, know that other technical leaders are dealing with the same kinds of weird requests. I find just knowing that makes it more tolerable. 

They Don’t Know How Hard This Is

One of the downsides to what we do is that we often make it look easy. And our church leaders really have no idea how hard and time consuming even a normal weekend is. It doesn’t occur to the average pastor that the technical team working that big conference he went to last month was probably larger than the entire staff at your church. They also had several months to plan and prepare, along with a sizable budget.

But remember, their job is not your job. So when they come up with a crazy-creative idea that would make for an amazing sermon illustration or special service, they aren’t trying to make your life miserable. They really don’t know how hard it is. I say this not as criticism of them, but for your benefit. If we fly off the handle at them for coming up with this idea, it creates unnecessary tension. People tend to think that others are like them. And you may not have noticed this yet, but you are not like other people. We technical types will start working out in our heads all the things that it will take to pull off one of those wild, out-there ideas before we even hear the end. Most people don’t do that. They just have a cool idea.

No one likes being around someone who says, “No,” to everything. My friend Van says we are sometimes categorized as “dream killers” because we are always saying no to our pastor’s dreams. It’s no wonder there tends to be an undercurrent of distrust and tension between the tech team and the rest of the staff. 

So, what is the solution? Stay tuned for the next post…

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Why Make it Beautiful?

Image courtesy of  http://kevinashphotography.com

I recently happened across a discussion that was started by a pastor who was looking at the bland, white walls of their sanctuary with terrible acoustics and struggling with the why of making it look nice. Thankfully, he understood the need to fix the terrible acoustics. But he was legitimately struggling with the why of making the room look better than blank white. 

Now, as a technical artist, you might think my first thought would be to attempt to justify the need for a ton of LED lights, environmental projection and cool stage sets. And while I think there is a place for that, I didn’t go there first. My first thought was the great cathedrals of Europe. Then I thought of what the Temple of David must have looked like. I’ve seen some artist’s renderings of the temple, and it had to be amazing. 

Who Do You Worship?

Looking at those temples and cathedrals, one has to ask, “What is the motivation to create such an awe-inspiring structure?” In the case of the temple, David wanted to create a temple that was as amazing as God himself. That’s probably not possible, but he sure gave it a shot. The great architects and builders of Renaissance tried to build spaces that would put all who entered into a state of awe and wonder. They figured that since we worship a great, awesome and amazing God, the buildings where we worship should be great, awesome and amazing. 

When you enter such a building, or even see pictures of them, you can’t help but be inspired. The longer you spend in them, the more the Gospel story unfolds itself. Those architects were master story tellers and managed to tell a complete story with the building itself. And that doesn’t even begin to consider the artwork and paintings that often filled the space. 

Little White Boxes for You and Me

Fast forward to today and what do we have? White boxes. Instead of creating buildings that inspire wonder and awe, we build the cheapest, most boring church buildings we can. Well, not all of them, but many fit this description. Contrast this to the mall or the Vegas strip. If one were to evaluate what we value based on the time, energy and money we spend on the architecture, one would potentially come to the conclusion that we don’t really value our God much. 

Spend Money on Ministry!

The cry we often hear when it comes to not spending any money on the building is that we should be spending it on ministry instead. While I think spending money on ministry is a good thing, I think that argument is based on a fundamental lack of faith. The great cathedrals of Europe cost a small fortune to build, and often took a century to complete. But look at the results! Hundreds of years later, they’re still wonderful. 

Today, we live in the most prosperous nation in the world, and we scrimp and build our “houses of worship” with the lowest bidder. The Bible says God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He’s not really concerned about finances. Yet we pinch every penny and build the most boring, uninspiring building to worship the God who created the entire universe. Does anyone else see the disconnect there? 

Strike a Balance

Now, I understand we live in a different time and place. A $100 Million cathedral might not be the best idea today. However, our buildings don’t have to be ugly and boring. I think it’s more important to be intentional about creating a space for worship than it is to spend a lot of money on it. 

I travel to a lot of different church buildings and I’ve seen the ugly white boxes and I’ve seen buildings that are incredibly cool and welcoming that didn’t cost a fortune. It’s all about creating a space that is inspiring, calming, welcoming or engaging—depending on what you’re going for. It could be as simple as a few thousand dollars worth of ultra short throw projectors on those blank white walls (they’re good for something!). Or it could be a paint and some cool found objects arranged in a way that tells a story. 

Technology is Changing

A few years ago, every church that wanted to be “relevant” (in quotes because it’s been so over used I’m not sure it’s relevant any more) put up a bunch of moving lights, fired up the hazer and tried to do a rock concert every weekend. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, unless you do a terrible job of it. Or it’s not at all the culture of your church. Some of the best worship experiences I’ve had were in very simple, but very intentional rooms. They used technology—lights, haze, video, graphics—but that wasn’t the focus. You don’t have to go crazy. But you can make it beautiful. You should make it beautiful. It should match who you are as a church. And it should reflect the God who created the universe all around us. How’s that for some inspiration!