Circles … and more Circles

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Stage Design is an often overlooked, but important element to set tone and add to the worship experience. Philosophically at The Crossing, we have moved away from the “themed” stage sets and do more intense sets on a less frequent basis. In other words, we go big and then leave it in place for a longer period of time.

Normally this happens as we head towards big weekends like Easter. That is the case with our current set.

Our process has evolved and become much more complex in all the moving parts.

Basic Stage Set Process (From Concept To Execution)

  1. Idea and Concept Conversation (6-8 weeks prior)
  2. Conceptual Plan Plan Drawn (6 weeks prior)
  3. Tech Leads Contribute and Weigh In (lighting, video, audio, music) 
  4. Plan finalized.
  5. Material List Compiled and Ordered (4 weeks prior)
  6. Pre-work/fabrication (if needed 2-3 weeks prior)
  7. Stage Strike (1 week prior)
  8. On site Fabrication (1-2 weeks prior)
  9. Set Install (Monday- Tuesday week of)
  10. Lighting Install (Wed week of)
  11. Audio / Music Reset (Wed/Thurs week of)

We are currently in projection mode which means we love the ability to use our high lumens center projector to environmentally project on areas of our set. As well our feeling was it was time to go circles. Yes, circles. So that’s where the concept came from.

One Note: Two years ago we were “gifted” two oval wide format screens from a local trade show. We affectionately call it “The Womb” because when hung by motors and lowered to the stage deck it creates a surround video feel. Our decision was again to use this and to be able to motor up and down depending upon elements of the service.

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(This image shows the screen in the down position)

Here are the early concept drawings:

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Explanation:

  • The colors correspond to the surfaces that would be added to each ring. Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 3.16.44 PM.png
  • The white circles were designed for projection to carry our center screen projection onto those outliers via Propresenter and masking. However, you will see in the finished pics that during the install we made the decision to move those rings underneath the screen when it was in the raised position.
  • What we called “Art Piece” are down stage left and right, are constructed with bases and sit on the stage deck.
  • Our lighting team designed a system that used cat5 to run control power from four central brains to each of the circle systems. This allowed separate control of each ring and simplified that cable runs tremendously. Yes, there were still tons of cables but were minimized.

Prefabrication:

  • A “fireman” / welder in our church took on the task of welding each set piece together. This was done over a number of days and then delivered to the church.

rings3.jpg(Stage Art Pieces)

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Once they arrived on site, a large team of volunteers painstakingly began the process of adding both the specific surface as well as the led tape. This was a slow go as the steel did not receive the LED adhesive well. 3-4 days later…mission accomplished. This was completed the week prior to installation and all of the leds were tested while on the ground.

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And then the install began.

We were VERY pleased with the final result.

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KEY THOUGHTS:

  • The larger and more complex the set project, the more time and people you need to execute. Be prepared.
  • We struck our previous stage a week ahead of when we needed access. This gave us margin to finalize our fabrication and begin install immediately the week of without having to navigate the previous set. Small thing… but huge to us.
  • There are people within your church who WANT, NEED, and CAN contribute to projects like this. And most of them have skills that normally will not be used in a church. They may even feel like their gifts are not relevant. Guess what? They are. We used our welding dude and our electrician dude (to solve our LED challenge).
  • Even with foresight, a concept and pre-work, there will be shifts that need to happen on the fly. Be prepared to make those changes as they WILL happen no matter what in order for the set to be most effective.
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Some insights on Worship from Ben Kolarcik

We are excited to have some a wide scope of influence on our teams and specifically through our worship experiences on the weekends as we partner with worship leaders from around the country.  Ben Kolarcik is one of our main worship leaders, but he actually lives with his family in Peoria, Arizona and is a frequent leader at CCV Phoenix, their campuses and partners with CIY conferences throughout the summer. His heart for worship and its full expression within the church is incredible. We love having him on our weekends and even overlook the fact he is a diehard Dodgers and Dolphins fan.

We asked him to sit down and share some of his thoughts specific to the creative process as the worship leader especially when you are working in different context and environments. So…here’s Benny K.

Making of The Road Video (Easter 2016 Part 2)

(This is a guest post from April Holladay,
Co-writer and Director of our Easter element, The Road: Simon Peter)

As stated in the previous entry, The Road: Simon Peter is a concept we used three years ago for Easter, The Road: The Walk to Emmaus. It was originally taken from a long form ad for Johnnie Walker Whiskey featuring Robert Carlyle (Once Upon a Time) and yes; you read that correctly, a long form commercial about whiskey which is absolutely brilliant

Creatively and honestly, intellectually, it is important to search all forms of creative content… ALL content for that matter. As creative’s we cannot be isolated and as artists, we all must be thieves. We take; we re-shape, re-form, re-purpose and improve ideas and concepts making them our own. From news stories, movies, TV, commercials, Internet…all of it is necessary to spark original thought and concept. Although this would appear a paradox, it is as old as Homer crafting the Iliad and the Odyssey.

For Easter 2016 we decided to steal from ourselves. The Johnnie Walker ad was far in the rearview mirror, but The Road: The Walk to Emmaus was something we had always wanted to re-craft. We had learned hard lessons on that shoot but definitely had the vision to create a unique and different brand of storytelling or at the very least create a trilogy.

Interesting how in three years you forget the battles of a project. When everything is done…sound, music, lighting and the finished project has hit the mark, elicited great conversation and people are excited, you tend to forget… the heat, the wind, the battle to keep dust of the camera, props from blowing over, timing, time, sound from a moving vehicle, 5 min and 36 seconds of memorization, the one continuous shot which means if anyone messes up at ANY point you begin at the very beginning (not always a great place to start…Sound of Music reference), batteries in golf carts dying, trucks getting stuck in the mud, shooting on BLM land, carrying a gun “just in case” a bobcat crosses your path, the hours of prop preparation, hours of rehearsal, script adjustments and a team of volunteers and staff who are willing to go above and beyond to make something that transcends us. To illuminate a story.

Some of our lessons we learned well, quite well. To tiptoe for a moment to the technical… The Road: Simon Peter, we shot in 4K, although we knew we would be unable to show it in 4K. We used this resolution for stabilization. It would be viewed compressed at 2K or 1K. And with the Dave Cowan magic edit stabilization skills and steady hands we got as close to shooting on tracks as humanly possible.  We shot on an uneven desert landscape and a Steady Cam really didn’t do the trick on The Road: The Walk to Emmaus. You will see this as you compare both videos.

Before you do, let’s chat about the specifics of this project and process:

Originally, we landed on the idea of The Prodigal Son story. It would mirror the Emmaus story simply because it was just that, a complete story. As Shane, our Senior Pastor began to prepare his message and thoughts on Easter it became clear that The Prodigal story was not where Easter was going to land, it was landing at a “Comeback” moment. Peter’s story is a great story of a comeback and it relates heavily to most, if not all, people listening on Easter. Who doesn’t like a comeback story right? So we threw out the beginnings of the first script and began to concentrate on Peter. We outlined everything we knew about Peter. Pulled from scripture, commentary (secular and religious) and began to create the structure. At first we wrote to the character of Peter and how he was transformed, Version 1. As our scope became narrow, we focused on comeback, Version 2.

Thin skinned creative’s be warned…As a writer and a collaborator you have to be willing to let go of ideas you think are brilliant, they just may be too weighty or lengthy. You do not write in a vacuum, so having one or two trusted people who are intimately involved in the process is crucial. It doesn’t mean they are always right… you may have to fight and go twelve rounds but this is a critical part of the process. Be flexible but specific. As the Director and co-writer I had to know when to take off the writing cap and when to focus on execution. The questions you have to ask yourself…what is possible to execute and does it fit with the complete package of the service? As a writer you must…edit, edit, edit. In the real world we call this “killing your babies.” Because what is on the page really is your baby and you have to be willing to sacrifice it for the greater good. BTW, we shot Version 7.

Which came first, the Rooster or the Story? In this case it was a pretty good balance. We began initially with the story and added props along the way. Sometimes a prop will drive a segment. For example, we loved the idea of personifying a storm. Because of time, and trying to make a live water effect in the desert, we decided to put Ed in a T-shirt with the lettering #STORM as he holds an umbrella. It drove the point but it wasn’t the point. The story continued without pause. Once the props are decided the team goes to work to try and secure. We wanted a 14ft metal Rooster that lives at a ranch near by.

We tried and failed to rent it from the owners, we settled for Rocky the Rooster, fourteen inches high and perfect. You always have to work within your budget and weigh the possibility that the prop or set you want just may become the point as opposed to simply the dressing it’s supposed to be. We ordered from Amazon, borrowed props and had props made. We knew wind was going to be a factor so we tried to order or borrow pretty substantial items. Just know when you order online be prepared to re-craft to suit your purpose. Our assistants were making mud pies in the desert to hold things up! We were happy with most of the props. In retrospect we should have changed the stands for the globe, the rocks and the net…next time.

To make The Road: Simon Peter effective we needed another location that was somewhat remote and rugged. Our initial thought was the backside of The Valley of Fire.

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Gorgeous, rugged, remote…too remote, too rugged. How would we ever be able to bring 15 people with trucks, trailers, golf carts, props, camera and sound to a location that was not easily accessible? We would have to hike in everything and there was no way the golf cart would make the long day in the dirt; we shoot and do sound from the back of a golf cart. Option two: we discovered a beautiful, remote, dirt road access around a BLM reservoir. A bit tricky, but much less tricky than our initial location. One hour from Las Vegas, we made two site visits before our shoot. We should have made three…with props and our narrator Lee Coate (@leecoate). Time and budget typically don’t allow for this, but next time we need to make the time. For The Road: Simon Peter shoot this is how we rehearsed…Lee and I walked the parking lot measuring out where props would probably go. We cleared ¾ of a mile and guesstimated the route. We walked the route at least six times on the first day of rehearsal. When he was fully memorized we walked it at least eight calling out props as we walked. On the day of the shoot we all arrived at the location by 6am, it was still dark. We burned at least 3 hours of daylight for rehearsal and set up. You do your best with what you have. Lee was ultra prepared and it was crucial to the success.

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No shoot goes as planned. Let me repeat…no shoot goes as planned. There are always challenges and curve balls. Never be surprised but always be prepared. Time will kick your fanny. And if you are shooting outside, the elements are never your friend.

This type of video is extremely challenging for everyone involved. It is one continuous shot done without a teleprompter. So technically everything has to be on point. There is no “fix it in post” moment.  And for Lee, the timing and the absolute memorization needed to be perfect. It wasn’t just about memorization or hitting his marks, he had to truly communicate the story and engage the audience for 5 minutes and 36 seconds. The props…important, but we should be able to take away the props and the story would be just as engaging.

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Was The Road: The Walk to Emmaus and The Road: Simon Peter a creative risk? Absolutely. It was a personal risk for all of us as well. We had many discussions revolving around if we should do the concept again. Trust me, there were much easier ideas on the table. But where is the fun in that? We were as rehearsed, planned and ready as we could be and we still had 40 challenges hit us. But because we were prepared, we were flexible, nimble and could adjust.

Yes, we will go back to the desert again, the Sturm Und Drang (Storm and Drive), the adventure and challenges of this piece keep us coming back.  We find different color, textures and story each time.

We encourage you…take a creative risk; you never know where The Road might lead you.

Learnings:

  • Find ideas and creativity anywhere. Be a thief! But remember, kind thieves all credit their source…even it’s just to your team
  • Look at past projects with fresh eyes… can you create a brand or a series based on a previous concept?
  • Be creative entrepreneurs. Find different ways, “out of the box” ways to solve technical problems.
  • Do not be afraid to shoot in the middle of nowhere from a crazy idea
  • Be ultra prepared so you can be flexible and nimble

It Begins…The Creative Process (Easter 2016 Part 1)

This is part one of five posts unpacking our Easter Process @ The Crossing

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Planning for Easter is unlike any other normal weekend throughout the year. It is the “Super Bowl” for the church as attendance spikes and more importantly, many who are unsure of where they are in their faith will come onto our campus and enter our services. It is from this perspective we tackle the planning of Easter programming.  There are many elements that we tac

kle when the planning begins. This year was unique in that Easter arrived early (March 27th) so our timeline post Christmas had to be sped up tremendously.

Our first creative planning gathering for Easter took place on February 9th. This was just over 45 days from Easter so we knew decisions needed to be made. To provide better focus, we choose an off-site location away from most office distractions. When we gathered at noon, we had carved out next five hours if necessary to start putting Easter together.

Two words…Creative Discipline.

Our process begins with:

Review (Where we have been)

  • Previous Year: This conversations centers around the previous year even looking at our run sheet from that Easter worship experience.
  • Learnings: Any learnings we documented from the previous year. All of our ministry departments do this post-Easter and it is an obvious help with perspective as we head into another weekend.
  • Impactful Creative Elements: We progress to a conversation around recent elements within our weekends that have been impactful. These often serve as a source of inspiration and ideas as we tend to lean into our strengths for these bigger weekends like Easter or Christmas.

Primary Target
We then move to our Primary Target. This is a great conversation that stimulates discussion around where we fill people in our immediate community are emotionally, spiritually, and even economically.

  • What are they feeling?
  • What are they fearing?
  • What are they struggling with?
  • How do we help them discover where Christ can fill in the gaps in their life?

Before we just start throwing ideas on the wall, we want to focus our thoughts on those we are hopeful will walk in our doors for the first time or the first time in a long time.

In this case we talked about the frustration so many feel with the expectations they are living under. It can even be someone who would be assumed to be successful or “living the dream”, but yet inside they are wrestling with thoughts of inadequacy, failure or even secret sins. They may even feel disqualified.

We also discussed the idea that at Easter so many people RETURN and pondered an experience around returning. This had some real momentum with our team for a few moments and we loved the imagery it invoked.

A lot of this conversation centered around a male perspective. We intentionally lean that direction as a default.

Initial “No Bad Idea” Segment:

At this point we begin throwing things out centered around different ideas we have accumulated for inspiration (we keep an Evernote with ideas specifically for Easter/Christmas) or just thoughts people on the team have had in preparation. These are literally just random visions of visuals, videos, interactive elements, etc. These all keep put down…nothing is discarded this early in the process.

Great Ideas are always an evolution of Initial Randomness

Our final ideas are almost always an evolution of this initial brainstorm process.

This year we had conversations around some of the following:

  • Prodigal Son (representative of returning)
  • The Great Divide between God and ourselves (some conversation around a video at the Grand Canyon representing this reality)
  • Color vs. Grey (we discussed could we use color and the addition of color to symbolize life and/or new life)

We also started a discussion around music. Since this is something we lean heavily into it is often the driver of our creativity. With this, laptops starting humming and tunes began flying. We compiled a list of potential songs such as:

Resurrecting- Elevation worship
Man of Sorrows- Hillsong
Risen King- River Valley Music
O Come to the Altar- Elevation worship
One Thing – Hillsong Worship
Come Home – Illuminate
choirOur conversation eventually really centered in on the idea of “coming back” and was connected to what we knew from our communicator at that point as his message was coming together. At this point we were narrowing on prodigal son and that is when The Road video surfaced.
The Road is a video concept we had executed 3 years prior based on a commercial known as Walking Man.  The idea is to unpack a narrative utilizing props in …one take. Not cuts. Our team had always talked about eventually using this concept again when it was appropriate. This seemed to be the time.
(Wednesday Blog Post will be the journey of producing the Road Video)
Letting It Simmer:
We began laying in a rough sketch of the service. Very rough. At this point we were opening with the Alive song as a big opener. A couple worship songs into The Road video, message and a response song. On Easter we always have a full 25 minute message with a “Call To Christ” response moment. So we began working around those elements.
This was the point when we wrapped it up and it began to simmer.

The “simmering” of creativity is crucial.

Now here is the thing. Very little from that first gathering ever came about in the way we thought. In fact, none of it. Songs were moved. Video content changed. Items were added. But laying a rough was important for us as we began to turn up the heat.
Prodigal Son …became the Comeback of Peter
Opening Moment with Alive…became a Spoken Word (adapted)
Alive Opening Song…became chill Resurrected building to a moment with Choir
Communion went from a concept to full execution as a part of the service.
Learnings:
  • A preliminary plan is important part of process. And then be prepared to watch it change.
  • Understanding your desired response to the service experience is an important part of the creative process. If you just start flinging Easter ideas on the wall…you will get a convoluted mess. It may be filled with creativity, but lack impact.
  • Big days like Easter are times to be tempted to go too far over the top. Our strategy is to just do our normal service …on steroids.  We don’t want people to experience something that they never would again when they return.

Tomorrow…  a look at a massive video project we took on…

Take Your Creative Team to Mars…

rightkindofcrazy.jpgMaybe we need a little more crazy within the church. Part of moving there in our creativity is expanding the sources of “inputs” into our process. A great way to push into this is by exploring the creative process from different perspectives.

That’s where Mars comes in.

In August of 2012, millions of people around the world watched as the rover Curiosity landed on the planet to begin a new phase of exploration. It was a journey nine years in the making and only accomplished through strenuous effort and innovation from hundreds of brilliant, innovative minds. Ultimately the rover was able to reach the surface through an never before attempted maneuver. It was lowered to the surface of the red planet by a sky crane powered by booster rockets. It sounds like something out of an IronMan movie, but it was actually birthed through the minds of engineers and scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.

Engineer Adam Steltzner was at the center of of these efforts and though he doesn’t look like a typical engineer, he was the perfect leader for this intense 2.5 billion project with so many unknowns.  He has now written his own account of this journey in his new book, The Right Kind of Crazy.  (You can read an excerpt here.) Part personal memoir, scientific insights, creative process and leadership lessons, it is a recommended read for those involved in innovation and creative problem solving. That is where the book really shines. right kind of crazy

One key concept that is helpful for church creatives he calls,  holding onto doubt. Here’s how he describes it:

“I recognized that I had to learn to hold onto that open question. I called it holding onto the doubt. I had to be able to sit beside that open question without feeling anxious, without rushing. If I did that my answers were better [because] I more deeply understood the question.

This is not analysis paralysis. I’m not talking about waiting until you have 100% certainty in the answer. These are fuzzy questions for which there won’t be a final analysis until Mars, and you’ll have to invest billions of dollar to get there. Those are the questions I love. Frequently the answer lies inside the question, like a bud waiting to bloom. When you’re up against a question that subtle, you have to hold onto the doubt and really sit long enough in its presence to let [the answer] unfold in front of you.”

Holding onto doubt is an amazing concept as we run through creative process with our teams. In the hurry to have an idea we can execute, there is the temptation to settle or to fail to properly process. Through our 2-4-6 weekly process, we put a natural barrier around settling. It forces us to hold onto doubt.

Don’t fall into that trap. Steltzner calls this staying “in this dark room”.

When you are up against an impasse, a creative block, an inability to find a solution, you can become very anxious. You feel like you’re in this dark room, this black state, and you don’t know where the exit is. Sometimes you don’t find the exit until you’ve given up trying. It’s not that you’ve given up hope, or resigned yourself to always being in the dark room. It’s that you’ve let go of your preconceived notions about what that solution was going to be. You’ve got to be open to a broader set of solutions.”

Learnings for Creatives:

  1. Don’t release the doubt around an idea too soon…if ever. When you do you will miss holes or enhancements on the idea.
  2. Be aware of those on your team due to “wiring” who will not want to wrestle with doubt. It will make them uncomfortable. Don’t let them hijack the role of doubt on your creative.
  3. Bringing a TEAM into the dark room is preferred over going there in ISOLATION. The dark room alone is a scary place to be.

Grab the Book Here

Listen to the Accidental Creative Podcast with Adam Steltzner Here.

Adam Steltzner, engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and author of “The Right Kind of Crazy” (written with William Patrick). He tweets @steltzner.

The Power of a Penny: Wkend Recap (Feb. 28)

Sometimes we wink at the focus of the weekend…other times we stare deeply into it and embrace it fully.

Ok, that’s probably a bit too mushy and queasy a visual image, but there is some truth in the perspective.

Our approach to each weekend is to fully immerse those gathered in the direction of the day through visuals, music, environments, message, and any potential takeaway items. From week to week our CPT (Creative Programming Team) works in unison with our Production Team to accomplish this from start to finish.


Our Goal: To create an uninterrupted worship experience that fully immerses and engages the participant in a moment that catalyzes movement in their hearts and lives.


This week was an example of that process. As we continued our Messy Grace series, the focus was on our identity in Christ and specifically Paul’s words in Romans 8 regarding adoption.  Our communicator this weekend (Lee Coate) had a direct, personal link to the topic through his own adoption so we leaned into that experience and included a video narrative in which Lee told his story of adoption concluding with an element of his story centered on a penny.

Watch The Video Story Here

This element was wrapped into the day as we handed each person a penny as they entered the auditorium. The message concluded with a explanation of the pennies significance and application for everyone in the room. We close this moment with the Danny Gokey song “Tell Your Heart To Beat Again” and utilized our Center Video Screen to add some time lapse visuals of movement, growth and new life.

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The key to the day was the seamless connection between the elements that left a mark on individuals.

Learnings:

  1. When your communicator has a personal connection to the topic, lean into it.

  2. Look for ways to move your congregation from observers to participants.

  3. Takeaways can be a powerful tool when used correctly and appropriately

Continue reading “The Power of a Penny: Wkend Recap (Feb. 28)”

Carlos Whittaker (@loswhit) on Creativity & Divinity

This past Sunday, Carlos Whittaker (@loswhit) led us in worship.  Carlos is one of our regular worship leaders here at The Crossing and refers to us as his “Vegas Church.” It’s always an incredible weekend when Carlos is with us drawing people into worship and our church community truly looks forward to having him with us.

We asked him to take a moment and share some thoughts on Creativity in the church context. Here’s what he had to say… specifically about Creativity & Divinity.

Watch. Engage. Share.