Stinky Box of Video Tapes

The box of recorded videotapes landed on my doorstep some years ago. But in my mind, I can still picture the terrible footage and hear the poor audio track to this day. I shudder even now as I write about this. But there is a valuable lesson to be learned from this little exercise in torture.

The tapes had been shot by a faith-based media group that proudly claimed to be “experts” in television & video production. Their production team even traveled the world teaching other ministries & organizations the “how to’s” of shooting and creating tv programs, preaching shows, profiles, testimonies, music clips, teaching videos and other segments.

Their boasting aside, it was my inner hunch that their energy and fanfare was mostly just “smoke and mirrors.” An illusion, nothing more. My main question: Did they truly know what they were doing?

A leader and colleague much higher-up in the group’s sponsoring organization had asked me to professionally evaluate a Middle East shoot he’d commissioned them to produce. VHS copies of their camera source tapes were quietly shipped to my door. What was my conclusion?

I pushed the first tape into my VCR and began viewing. The camera location was a hotel balcony. There on the screen was footage showing the colorful rooftops of a faraway exotic city. Towering minarets, the snarl of traffic, a landscape rich in ancient texture and detail – it was all being photographed in shaky camera moves, impossible zooms and pans with amateurish, wobbly composure. No shot was steady. The lens wandered from object to object with no plan, never stopping at any moment for more than mere seconds on-screen.

I was watching home movies.

The person shooting this footage was completely clueless to the basics of proper framing and camera work. Had the camera person ever taken “Video Production 101” in college?

Worse yet, the location audio from the camera mic was picking-up someone nearby speaking into a handheld microphone, narrating directly onto the source footage during the actual taping. I quickly recognized the speaker by his familiar voice, a longtime family friend who was a very gifted communicator. But instead of the production crew capturing the rich sounds of a vibrant, exotic city, what was being recorded was simultaneous narration by someone sitting on a chair close to the camera…unseen.

This was bad. Awfully bad.

Whoever was eventually assigned the dubious task of editing this stinky mess of raw footage would certainly have his/her work cut out for them. I was already imagining their distant screams from a continent away. For sure, blood would eventually be seeping out from under the editing suite door. The torture was that bad.

After gritting my teeth through 2 or 3 more tapes, I mercifully stopped. It was like fingernails being scratched slowly across a chalkboard. As a professional, I could take no more. Doing my due diligence, I sent my report to the leader, confirming (I later learned) his own internal skepticism about the group’s skills, talents and abilities.

Lesson to learn? So many terrible production values in faith-based media are tolerated because leaders and groups place far too much reliance on the MESSAGE and ignore the METHODS. BOTH are equally important.

In a Digital World, never underestimate the METHODS (plus skills required) for communicating your message.

Unfortunately, many faith-based groups focus solely on AVAILABILITY and HEART when developing their media team. (Get me someone cheap. Or someone free. Better yet – get me a volunteer.) Are these dynamics important – yes! But TV, film, video & documentary production are equal parts artistic craft, creative endeavor, project management and technical science that require SKILLS, CREATIVITY, TALENT, ORGANIZATION and KNOW-HOW.

These diverse abilities don’t just fall from an apple tree on a Tuesday. The craft of media production takes a LIFETIME to truly master.

Learn how to compose a picture. Shoot footage. Write a script. Conduct an interview. Organize a project. Capture ambient sound. Mix audio. Setup equipment. Create a meaningful sequence. Edit a project. Compose a soundtrack. Move an audience. Most of all? Learn how to tell a story.

Start there. After that, let’s talk.

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2 thoughts on “Stinky Box of Video Tapes

  1. You definitely have a point here Craig… We in ministry need professionals like you to teach us HOW to tell the story in an interesting way. Thank you for your sharing this!

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