Building a Visual Team
This article was originally published in the July 2008 issue of Worship Leader magazine.
It is tempting to consider feature films the vision of a single director. Sure, hundreds of people work on a production, but we call it a Hitchcock movie or “A Paul Thomas Anderson Film.” Frank Capra was the first director to get his name above the title (as in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life). We tend to associate horror with Wes Craven, gangsters with Martin Scorsese and quirky comedies with Wes Anderson. But even the most popular filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas understand the value of collaboration. The Indiana Jones series pooled their talents to generate thrills, spills and adventures.
The media minister who wants to create enduring videos must build a strong team. Filmmaking is an inherently collaborative art. It may begin with an individual’s idea. But you need actors, crew, and musicians on the same page, contributing to the overall effect. A gifted cinematographer can make a boring set look beautiful. If we fail to pay attention to sound, we will regret it throughout the post-production process. We need additional eyes and ears to make a solid short film.
To achieve excellence, we must develop creative partners. The next generation of filmmakers understands that two brains are often better than one. Consider the success of dynamic duos like the Coen brothers and the Wachowski brothers. They provide a sounding board for each other throughout the process. “Is this funny?” “Is this dramatic?” “Do you believe that?” Filmmaking duos range from the urban dreams of the Hughes brothers to the artsy European cinema of the Dardenne brothers. Mark and Jay DuPlass make low budget films like The Puffy Chair and Baghead. If they’re not laughing behind the camera, they know the audience won’t snicker either. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan have created mind-bending films like Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige and The Dark Knight. They always explore the dual nature of humanity, how we underestimate our capacity for evil. As King David needed Nathan to set him straight, we need someone to give us perspective—like a creative collaborator.
Not all of us have media-savvy siblings. It may take awhile to figure out with whom we can work with for hours at a time. But when a gifted screenwriter like Paul Schrader teams up with a visual stylist like Martin Scorsese, their combined gifts are greater than their individual talents. Dark classics like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull resulted. We may also want to team up with those who disagree with us. The Exorcism of Emily Rose was co-written by Biola film-school graduate Scott Derrickson and his skeptical partner Paul Thomas Boardman. The frightening courtroom drama presented both sides of the argument for a supernatural realm because both opinions were present throughout the process.
Heads and Tails
My feature documentary, Purple State of Mind was created as a fair fight. My agnostic partner on the project, John Marks, had veto power every step of the way. We often forget that a profound Christian author like G. K. Chesteron sharpened his thoughts through a friendship with the atheist playwright George Bernard Shaw. We need an outside perspective on the truth we seek to communicate.
The cost of cameras and post-production has allowed for unprecedented independence. We need fewer resources and people to make a short video or even a feature film. Yet, we still need a venue and an audience. Even independent filmmakers turn to the studios to distribute their movies. In church media, the pastor and staff often must sign off on a project. This is not interference. They have a responsibility to the congregation. Media ministers are called to serve the final arbiters of art—the public. Movies are made to communicate. When a video works, it becomes a truly moving picture.
How do we create more effective media for churches and communities? Show it early and show it often. Allow enough time for rough cuts. Polish that rough diamond until it sparkles. The final collaborator is the audience. They’ll let you know if a song, mood, or performance isn’t working. If they consider the concept unclear, it is. If they find it funny, it is. Movies are made to be seen and heard. We cannot accomplish our goal without the communion of others. We must involve the audience in every stage of the creative process—from concept through completion.
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Invite someone who has a different perspective than you to help you make your next short film. Let them have as much say in the ideas and finished work as you have.
Use an audience for every aspect of your next creative process. Run the concept by people and get their input, then have others join in every aspect until completion.