Church On The Move Goes to Full HD with Hitachi Cameras

Show 136, Part 1
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In this edition of the SVC Podcast, SVC Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Andrew Stone, Production Manager for Church On The Move, about a recent facility-wide upgrade that includes seven Hitachi Z-HD5000 HDTV cameras. Stone describes how Hitachi flew the cameras in at their own expense for an in-house demo and how the volunteer tech crew was trained in their use. After upgrading the surrounding infrastructure, Stone chose to bring in the new HD TV cameras to use on their broadcasts.

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From Sound & Video Contractor Magazine, this is the SVC Podcast with Andrew Stone. Show notes for the podcast are available on the web site of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at svconline.com.

They call it Church on the Move and their technical upgrades have been doing just that. Production Manager Andrew Stone is with us to outline exactly how they’ve modernized and built out their production capability with new Hitachi cameras and other HD gear. That’s coming right up on the SVC Podcast.

Andrew, thanks for taking time out from a VERY busy schedule to be with us on the SVC Podcast from Tulsa, where you’re the Production Manager with Church on the Move and apparently things are moving quite fast right now.

They are. They’re moving very fast; very fast.

As Production Manager obviously you’re in charge of production but what does that entail? What all do you do at the church?

Well, it’s crazy. Production Manager is kind of a title that I’ve used when I was on the road for all those years. You know, when you’re dealing with a tour everybody knows what a production manager does. Here at a church it’s a little different. The Technical Director is usually what this position is usually called, but for what we do here there’s so much going on. It’s part producer, having a huge hand in the producing of a lot of the things we do live, to actually balancing and managing the actual technical production aspects of what we do from lights, sound, video; anything that is required in the live arena. And then the operations, actually the event operations of what we do. So we have a lot of events here – A LOT of events – and we’ve found that it’s very needed to have the event operations people and the live technical event people combined into the same department. So I head that all up and that happens to have a lot of financial resources put at that department, so there’s a lot of financial balancing too this job entails. So it’s a big deal. There’s a lot going on here and our church is very much focused on production as an avenue of ministry. We do large events and we’re very concert-oriented. That’s the format we go for. We put a lot of resources and time and energy into putting those together. So it’s a cool job. I tell people that this really is the toughest job I’ve ever loved and that’s a cool statement. So for keeping things going at a breakneck speed that matches the name of the church, Church on the Move, it does take a pretty qualified team to do that. So sometimes I feel like I’m hanging on for the ride. [Timestamp: 3:53]

I can imagine. So describe Church on the Move for us. What sort of worship style do you have going on there?

Yeah. This is non-denominational church and it’s very edgy and music that’s very current; very much what you’d hear on any of the radio stations and any of the stuff that’s popular right now. But we’re not afraid to pull out the old hymns and give them a little bit of a refresh and do that too. Our congregation is very diverse. We’ve got the 14-year-olds that just want to rock and just seek after God and do their thing all the way up to the senior citizens who have been here since the church started 30 years ago and they wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else. So it’s a neat dynamic and we have really brought them along for the ride. And it’s a great place to be with all the diversity. [Timestamp: 3:40]

Yeah, and you’ve been doing a lot of technical upgrading there and we all know that technology marches along but you have tried to stay ahead of the curve. I was wondering what the church had as far as broadcast and production capability and what you needed to accomplish with the upgrade. You’ve gotten the Hitachi cameras, the Barco switcher and it sounds like you’ve gone HD on everything now so what capability did you not have before?

This church has had a major history of broadcast with the way we evangelize. We started as a kids’ ministry. That’s where our pastor started, where there was no church. He did a show that’s called The Gospel Bill Show – and we’re talking, this is 35 years ago they started this. And it was a kids’ show; a kids’ program that was set in the Old West town and it was 30-minute episodes and it was on for several years. And it was all – every show had a point and had kind of a point that was made very clear to children and that was how he started. And so our Pastor, Willie George, as he began to feel God calling him to start a church, he was already very much aware of what it was going to take to reach out to people of all ages and he wasn’t afraid to do the broadcast thing. He knew what it would cost to do cameras. He knew what it cost to do switchers. He knew was it cost to buy your time for a radio program because he had been doing all of that on his own. So as the church came about, that was a pretty big part of what they did and that’s how they did it. So when I came here just a little over 11 years ago, I came right off the road, was very used to big touring and the rock band thing and all that, and it was one of those of let’s see what we can do here. They were on SD cameras that were from the late 80’s – and this is in 2005, so these things had seen some action and needed some love. They were using terrible boardroom-style projectors with old screens that were just dirty because they just hadn’t been upgraded in so long. The audio was poor. It wasn’t like they weren’t having church, if you know what I mean, but it just wasn’t done very well. So we started then of just starting to upgrade and it was really – I mean we’re in Tulsa. We’re not trying to impress anybody. There’s no one around to impress. We just wanted to try to bring a higher quality and a more excellent product to the people that came into the doors. We feel that if you can put a product together that’s professional and awesome and just as much to the caliber of what you would get at a concert that you paid for, there’s a lot of people that would be interested in being a part of that that may not come to church otherwise. That doesn’t just mean we have good gear and that we were trying to upgrade and do that. It meant that we had to change the way we view the art we put together; the quality of the musicians, the quality of the designs, the quality of the graphics. I mean all of that had a part so it was far more than just upgrading a bunch of gear. So anyway, we upgraded, we remodeled, we started doing a major remodel campaign through the whole campus, which we sit on 300 acres so there’s a lot of buildings, a lot of stuff to do. And that’s where it started. We didn’t have the vision to do HD because at the time, this was 2005, that was a very pricey prospect. So we actually stayed with SD cameras, but I rented them. So we did a full remodel, but we installed HD infrastructure everywhere – fiber, the whole thing – but we rented an SD camera package. It happened to be Hitachi, but it was the old SD cameras. [Timestamp: 7:18]

Okay. So the Hitachi Z-HD5000’s were sort of the crowning touch on this.

Yeah. That was a purchase. So we actually remodeled and opened our new spaces in 2009 and we had SD cameras here, but we upgraded to Barco LED walls – no projection – and that looked so fantastic compared to what we had been using, you know, these really great boardroom-style projectors that had just been beat to death, we had upgraded to the LED so it wasn’t that obvious that we were in SD, if that makes sense. So we had SD cameras but we had these awesome HD LED walls. So we rode that out and we just – we saved that money and it helped us afford some other things as part of our upgrades. So as life went on, we started realizing that our product, it’s starting to get a lot more popular. We weren’t doing a broadcast any more as far as like a local TV; nothing like that. We had kind of gone all to Vimeo and live streaming and all of that; kind of cheaper avenues. We just get a lot more bang for the buck. A lot more people can watch, a lot more people can participate, and the costs on our end are a fraction of what it would be if we were trying to do a real TV broadcast. [Timestamp: 8:33]

So I guess that’s part of the reason you got the Hitachi’s because you had already been using Hitachi cameras.

That’s right. I had gone to Hitachi. I had actually called one of the vendors that I had a relationship with for gosh, 25 years now, 30 years, and said can I rent one of your fly packs – one of your packages? I just need four cameras and a small engineering station and a switcher. Can I rent all this stuff and it’s just going to be here for a while? And it ended up being here all the way up until just a year or so ago when we finally upgraded. And so we weaned ourselves off of that and just upgraded to the nicer, the newer Hitachi HD product. [Timestamp: 9:10]

They flew those in at their own expense and did the demo right there in the church.

They did. Bob Johnston made it happen. I got in touch with him directly. I didn’t want to go through a middle man. We were at the point with what we do production-wise that I just needed to deal straight with the manufacturers and that’s what we do with most of our big capital purchases. And they were great and they were like you know what? Let us come to you and bring some stuff. We’ll do some AB between your SD and HD’s so you really have some comparison and they did. A couple of them came in and brought the whole camera chain for all that stuff. I had an ulterior motive that I didn’t tell them about until they got here and I convinced them to leave the stuff so we could actually do a weekend with it. So I said that’s how we sell it. If we can put it in the room and demonstrate how much of an impact changing cameras is going to do, that will help prove the point. They were reluctant a little bit, I think, then when they realized we were serious and we kind of had our stuff together, they did it and it was great. We’ve developed a really great relationship with them. I considered all the different brands. Hitachi, for us, was a more robust product for these reasons. It seems to be a camera that can take a beating. My experience, I had seen a lot of Hitachi’s on the road, just on road shows getting beat up, getting beat around in trucks all night, and then getting beat around with different local camera operators every day and they just seemed pretty rugged. I’ve seen them get dropped and they still work. We cringe when that happens, but that says something. And they’re very easy to operate. There’s some very nice cameras on the market, but they’re very complex and I needed something simple. [Timestamp: 10:52]

Yeah, you’ve probably got a lot of training to do on a continuous basis.

We do and these are volunteers we’re using. Our staff is all people that are – that have done this as a career so they know what’s happening. But our volunteers are, I would say, 96-97 percent all have no experience. They’ve never touched a camera before they walk in so we needed something that made sense; that they’re not trying to figure out. I don’t want them coming here to serve and leaving feeling bad about what they did because they didn’t know how to operate some complex piece of gear. So that mattered. That mattered a lot. So anyway, it was an easy decision for us with the Hitachi stuff. [Timestamp: 11:29]

And it’s all going through a Barco FSN-1400 switcher, I believe, so what do you do with that? I guess IMAG is one thing you’re doing with it.

We do everything. That’s become the core of our entire video setup. And I was not aware that Barco had a switcher. The FSN-1400 is a mainframe-style switcher and then there is a control surface that’s called the FSN-150. So it was just great. We had a relationship with Barco because of buying the LED product and they were a fantastic company. They do great things. I was told from some associates that work for CSPAN that Barco had a switcher and CSPAN had changed and started using Barco switchers in all of their setups. We know CSPAN is not doing rock shows or big awesome crazy things, but they are 24 hours a day doing something somewhere in the world and their stuff’s got to work. So I got in touch and Barco, again, “Let us ship you one.” So they shipped us, I think it  was Serial #5 was the one we got and it never left. We kept it and it was just awesome. It did the things we wanted it to do. We wanted to be able to do a strobe effect so we’d kind of get a cinema feel on everything. We wanted to do a black and white at just the drop of a hat. There were some things we wanted to do that it handled very, very well. It had a massive amount of native inputs and card slots to change around the different inputs and it was just the right thing. And it’s become the hub of what we do so it’s mainly live events, but everything that we’re doing is cut through that. When you see anything that we’ve done that’s online or that’s streamed or live or otherwise it is a live cut so it’s not something that we’ve built in-post, it’s a live audio mix, it’s a live video cut. That is our program feed. A lot of people wouldn’t do it that way. We just chose to step the bar up and make it happen for everything and it’s been a real win. [Timestamp: 13:33]

And I would think that, as we talked about before, the training went very smoothly on those and how many of the cameras do you have? Where do you have them located in there?

Right now we’ve got seven of the 5000 cameras and they’re positioned all over the place. So three of them are used as handhelds. We kind of do zone defense, so to speak, so around our stage there’s just three operators and anything in their area is what they’re assigned to shoot as we sculpt out our events. Then there’s four stationery cameras in stationery positions. Two of them, though, are on dolly tracks in the room so we can actually get some really nice lateral movement from those shots from their locations. And then two of them are centerline cameras with big, large 55X lenses on them. So those are more of a broadcast style kind of a sports lens setup because those are all the way back near front-of house, so they’re about 80 feet from the stage. So we put big lenses on them so they were able to make it happen and it’s really cool. In addition to those seven we do have a high-and-wide shot that is a PTZ, a pan-tilt-zoom, camera that is a Panasonic, I believe. And it’s the typical one you’ve seen in a million places. I don’t remember the model number, but it’s kind of a little round dome camera that’s got a remote that sits in the video room and we use it for our nice panning wide shots and all that stuff. There’s a slew of GoPros around the stage so we don’t talk much about them because they don’t look fantastic, but they’re a great, great bailout shot for us and a great way to capture quick little hits with certain musicians and all that. So there are 11 cameras as part of just our normal setup, but seven of those are the Hitachi that are manned with operators. [Timestamp: 15:23]

Well, with that many cameras it’s probably hard to miss anything that happens in there.

Yeah, I know. You’d think that, but the way the stage is, it’s a 170-degree wrap so it’s a large-thrust stage; a very wide room. It’s amazing how easy it is to miss something. So we put a lot of effort into pre-planning and doing our blocking before we do a live event and that has really helped us a lot. [Timestamp: 1:48]

I know that’s a lot going on to cover the service with that many people and keeping them trained, but it sounds like you have all the technical bricks in place and it’s been great hearing about how you’ve brought it all together. Andrew Stone, Production Manager at Church on the Move in Tulsa. In Part 2 we’ll get into Pro Presenter and some other things you use in the production. Thanks for giving us a look at this one.

You’re very welcome. Thank you.

Thank you for being here with us for the SVC Podcast with Andrew Stone. Show notes are available on the website of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at svconline.com. Be with us for Part 2 when Andrew discusses the front of house mixing and stage monitoring at Church on the Move. That’s on the next SVC Podcast.

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