While many churches have turned to streaming services during the pandemic, Grace Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee has gone big on outdoor video walls and drivein services. Integrated Production Solutions got them set up. Andy Bosquet and Steven Samuels are here with the story.
SVC: Andy and Steven thanks for joining us on the SVC Podcast from Franklin, Tennessee and Integrated Production Solutions. Good to have you here.
Andy: Thanks for having us.
Steven: Yeah, thanks.
Very interesting and timely topic today. Seven months ago who would have thought we’d be in the middle of a pandemic, but now some churches are trying to get their congregations back physically together. You’ve made it possible for some of them to do it more safely with a drive-in approach. Before we get into exactly how you made that happen, tell us more about the new Integrated Production Solutions.
Andy: IPS started March of this year, 2020. It actually came out of another AV integrator production house tree; they acquired the assets and personnel of another company here in Franklin, Tennessee in March. So we all came under the same company and decided to start a new DBA, just to start fresh. So that’s where Integrated Production Solutions came from. The main company has been around for a little over three years. We’ve got about 15 people on staff that are full-time plus a handful of freelance and seasonal part-time people that work with us mainly on the live event and production side that Steven runs.
And so what got the idea of a drive-in church going in Franklin, Tennessee?
Steven: Actually, one of our partners, who manufactures the LED panel that we have in our rental inventory, attends a church here in Franklin and they had approached him. They said, “Hey, what do we need if we’re going to do a drive-in service outdoors?” There are still some surviving drive-ins across the country, of course, but he was trying to imagine what a church service looks like in a giant parking lot. We went together to talk to the church about what they wanted to achieve. We did a site visit and we were off to the races. We went through about four or five different versions of how we would deploy video because obviously at a drive-in event like this, that is the most crucial portion. You’ve got vehicles parked thousands of feet away so how do you allow the pastor and the worship band to communicate visually with the attendees? We were able to come up with a solution that everyone was very happy with and arrange the screens and stage on the property, which was at the Williamson Ag Expo Center. And yeah, we made it work. We’ve actually successfully pulled off two of these drive-in services; one the last weekend of April and another on May 31.
That’s a very big place. I think they can get over four thousand cars in there.
Steven: Yeah. Both services were at capacity; at least what we could see. They estimated about 4,500 cars per service. But if you think about every vehicle holding two, four, six – if it’s a van or something maybe more people. It’s a large number of folks that can still worship and come together to pray and receive teaching together in this unusual environment.
And that’s just the people. I’ve seen some pictures where they even bring their dogs with them.
Steven: [Laughs] Absolutely.
How did you get the power and the video feed working along with the use of space and access?
Steven: Just to hit on a couple of those things, it’s truly a blank slate of a venue. There are three parking lots, two of them are gravel, one is paved, and they sort of tier down so there’s clearly an upper, middle, and lower lot, each similar in size. So visually they wanted- -and we agreed–to put the stage at the upper lot where everyone can see it. So after a site visit that lasted a good bit we decided if we’re going to deploy screens we’re going to have two facing the upper lot and two that face the lower lots. The idea of trying to put screens on each level was definitely not feasible. We’re talking thousands and thousands of feet of fiber to try and get screens to every lot. Instead we increased our size to accommodate the fact that people are going to be very far away, yet they can see the screen very clearly up on the hill ahead of them. We had done events like this where we deployed one or two screens of this size, so it was just a simple multiplication to do four screens of this size. We need eight telehandler lifts. We need a 400-amp generator that’s going to run all weekend long, and then just kind of went from there. Again, it was a blank slate. We didn’t have any infrastructure onsite so we had to bring everything ourselves. It’s about a 20-minute drive from our warehouse and so I’m happy to report we didn’t have to make a ton of trips back and forth. But we were close enough to add pieces of equipment last minute very conveniently. On the one hand it was a big undertaking, but on the other hand because we were providing every aspect of the deployment from electricity to rigging to the actual video equipment itself, it was actually pretty easy.
Being outside of course you always have the weather to consider as well.
Steven: That’s right. On our original load-in, we delayed a day and then delayed three hours on the second day just waiting on a break in some pretty bad storms. And then even while we were loading in, we had to pause for about 45 minutes for a pretty bad rainstorm. Once we were set up, we safely secured all of our LED walls so that if more weather did come through, no people or equipment were at risk of getting damaged. So yes, any event outside you have to think about six or seven more variables than normal because Mother Nature usually wins that battle.
And I think you used the squareV LED video panels. That’s Steve Spittle’s company right there in town.
Steven: You know, that’s again where this event came from. Steve with squareV attends this church and he brought into the very early conversations; as a manufacturer he doesn’t rent any of his product and really doesn’t stock very much of it either. It’s all custom orders. For us, the V7w panel is an indoor/outdoor IP65 product that we’ve had in our rental inventory for a very, very long time. It is a workhorse and it is incredibly powerful in what it can do–it brings a very high resolution–a 7-mil pixel pitch–to an indoor-outdoor panel that’s also blow-through. Most blow-through options are 15-20 mil or more. This allows us to get really high resolution with blow-through. So great obviously for the weather, like I mentioned. The winds that came through in that first storm were pretty significant. Also, the panels are incredibly bright; even able to appear bright when in direct sunlight or the sun being directly behind them. They’re incredible for outdoor events.
Things don’t always go as planned so what would be involved if you had to swap out one of those LED video panels?
Steven: Yeah, so these products have been through many generations. Steve does a lot of research and development before he agrees to manufacture something. One of the things is being able to change a whole frame with four modules on it, as well as being able to change the individual modules themselves. So if you consider we used 576 total panels across four different walls, multiply that number by four to get how many modules were deployed. At any time, on any panel, we can swap an individual module or swap a frame holding four of them together. The back of the frames are extremely easy to climb. There are handles. There are little ledges you can step on. And because they’re a die-cast one-piece aluminum frame they’re just incredibly strong. We never get these panels back after even the worst storms, or the worst accidents, with any real true frame damage or anything bent. They’re just really, really durable. So yes, of course you’ll have a module go out or you’ll have a frame that may not be receiving the directions we’re giving it from the processor, so making those swaps is very easy. It’s a great product for that, especially on a long touring scenario, or for something like this when we’re dealing with such quantity outdoors.
You’ve got a lot of area to cover and cars going in and out. How do you distribute the sound from the services?
Steven: I know they had a lot of conversations about audio and different ways to handle it, but in the end they relied on FM transmission for both events. For the first one, they used a local radio station here, WAY-FM, to provide obviously a very strong radio signal. That event was really the first one of its kind in this area. There had not yet been any drive-in concerts or church services or anything, so WAY-FM was happy to partner with Grace Chapel and distribute that audio across their FM signal. Now that there are a lot more events popping up, for the second event they used a short-range FM transmitter to distribute the audio. So an engineer essentially was mixing with some cans or near-field monitors. He also had a car right next to him so he could hop in the car for a second and hear how it sounded on the radio, which was very funny to watch. Not something you’re used to seeing–a house engineer running into a sedan really quick to check his mix. But if you’ve seen photos of the space, it just wasn’t feasible to try and distribute audio with any type of speakers. That was not just because of left/right distance, but really the vertical distance to get the sound from that top lot, all the way down to the third area. None of us really knew how it would go, but after the first event everyone seemed really pleased and I expect to see this deployment for audio used a lot in the future.
Grace Chapel has now gone with a permanent installation of their own. So what is the difference in this system from the big one you set up at the Ag Center? Somewhat smaller I would think, for a single church.
Andy: Yeah. We actually deployed that whole system on their campus. It was definitely a little smaller than the 144-panel walls that Steven and his team put together, but it was still 91 panels. That’s still 23 feet wide and 11-1/2 feet tall. So it’s a pretty decent-sized wall. It’s also the 5-mil product instead of the 7-mil so we upped the resolution a little bit more. But as far as the temporary versus permanent, really the biggest thing is cables are now going to be in conduit and they’re always going to be there instead of draped across the ground, being pulled down after the event happens. So it’s a pretty easy setup and I think they’re really going to enjoy it.
How did you go about hanging the panels for the permanent installation?
Andy: Yeah, there was a lot of discussion about that as well. They are very lucky to have a lot of land for their area, so they had a field that worked out well for them. They ended up putting up a steel structure, basically kind of a goalpost setup. They’ve got, I guess, a friend that is in the steel industry and he had guys come out there and put up the steel structure. We kind of specified how high we needed it to be and how much weight it needs to hold and then we went out there and the cross piece was actually about 20 feet in the air. They wanted it to hang four to five feet off the ground so we did all the calculations. Went out there and hung it across the steel and walked away at the end of the day
And they’ll use the FM transmission scheme, too?
Andy: Yes. They’re going to do the same thing, FM transmitter to get the audio and then video will just be done through a local computer. They’ve got a pretty substantial WiFi system across their campus so they’re just going to drop a laptop there and actually stream from the main room off that computer and feed that to the NovaStar processor that’s feeding the wall.
So all of the switching and control is right there in the computer.
Andy: Yes. The computer is going to stream what’s coming from the main room, but the NovaStar processor actually has switching capabilities. Since they only have the one source currently they won’t really be doing any switching. But if they decided they want to have a movie night and tie a Bluray player in and pay for the license to show a movie, yeah, with that NovaStar processor, they would just switch to a different input and away they would go.
Well, this is an idea that’s catching on in a lot of places. Before attempting the drive-in approach, what important infrastructure features should a church have in place? The power and the WiFi would be good to have.
Andy: Yeah. I think it all depends on the application. Like I say, Grace had a good bit of land so it was easy for them to create space, but then they did have to think about how do I get signal there? Currently they’re running a generator out there. There’s a little barn set up next to the LED walls. They’ve got a generator on the other side until they can get power pulled to the barn. They actually added another little room onto the barn to house all this equipment. I know some other churches have actually decided just to use their current parking lot and they just face it toward the building. At that point they’re able to pull power and signal and everything from the building itself. So there’s not a lot of infrastructure that they have to spend money on, which is good for them. So I think it just kind of depends on the setup of the church. I know Grace did have to add another little entryway into that field as far as being able to get cars in and out of the place.
This is a very imaginative solution to getting a congregation together at a safe distance. What other effect do you think the pandemic is going to have on churches since it may still be a while before they can get people in there shoulder-to-shoulder again.
Andy: Yeah. Like I said, I know a few churches that have started doing this drive-in movie setup. I’ve got another church here in town that is renting out spaces in various venues, various hotels, restaurants and they’re getting up to groups of 50 together and streaming the service from the main campus. So find locations and then take RSVPs on their website. Instead of just streaming everything, they’ll just meet as smaller groups of the church until hopefully things get back to maybe normal. So it is becoming more obvious that people are thinking outside the box. I think for a lot of them who have jumped into streaming very quickly, that will be a positive out of all this. They’ll have the ability to stream – to expand their reach from that one building or multiple buildings out to anyone in the world.
Did you have to modify your installation procedure to stay safe and maintain distance with the crew working out there?
Andy: Not – not really. I mean, it was a crew of only two guys so it was pretty easy. I had one guy on the lift and one guy bringing panels out to the lift every once in a while when he ran out of panels. They were pretty easy to distance themselves on it. We haven’t had to change up much at all, really, mainly because once this all hit we had about six weeks of everybody frantically panicking and not spending any money, not doing any projects except for buying up a bunch of streaming equipment. Once we kind of started ramping back up, we haven’t had any cities we’ve needed to be in that have had high case numbers. So we’ve been real lucky on that at this point, and we’re pretty happy about that.
Well of course you’re working outside on this, too, so that makes it safer.
Andy: Yes, correct.
So what have you got coming up now? What’s on the agenda for Integrated Production Solutions? Are there more of these in the works?
Andy: For the integration side, a lot of churches are looking at opening back up hopefully fairly soon. So we’ve actually got a few LED projects that are inside the building. There’s a new building here in town that will be done in October, assuming construction stays on schedule. There’s a new amphitheater here in town and we’re just getting ready to deliver them a massive quantity of Lyntec power products for powering that whole entertainment system, being able to cycle things on and off as needed. So on the integration side that’s kind of the big things we’re touching on right now.
Sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Andy: [Laughs] I hope so.
Steven: I was just going to add on the production side of what we do, rental-wise, there are of course people seeing these drive-in services and now the drive-in concerts are starting to pop up as well. Alan Jackson is doing a couple of drive-in concerts; we’re lucky to partner with another vendor that’s providing some of the gear. We’re just going to send some LED for that as well. There are a lot of those types of rentals being enquired right now and I think it’s going to continue that way. Even just doing this event at the Williamson County Ag Center, they have talked about hosting events. They’ve had to cancel the State Fair that usually comes there and cancel other things, so they’ve seen how we can deploy something outdoors like that and still get a massive quantity of people together. So hopefully we continue business like that.