Saturday, 18 August 2007

Priestcraft and the Art of Television Directing

In my previous life, for 20 years, I made television programs for a living. On April Fool's day 1968 I became an employee of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation when I started out as a member of the floor crew (the guys who swept the studio, moved sets and so on) at DNTV-2, a small television station in Dunedin, New Zealand. About 18 months later I wrote some scripts for a children's program. The producer of that program became the Executive Producer for the station and offered me a job as a producer-director responsible for the weekly Monday night sports magazine show and for live telecasts of sports on the weekends. I was 22 years old with all kinds of delusions of artistic televisual grandeur. Sports was an excellent training ground upon which to learn my craft.

In 1974 we immigrated to Canada where I did a brief stint as a studio cameraman at CHBC-TV in Kelowna before being hired by CKY-TV, Winnipeg, to direct the 6 o'clock news. CKY gave me the opportunity to do my first drama and documentary programs. In 1980, we moved to Calgary to work for what is now ACCESS Network.

Since I was ordained in 1991, I've often thought that in many ways being an Anglican priest, or any kind of pastor, is very much like being a television producer/director. The time has come to explore that idea.

At first I thought this should be entitled Pastoring and the Art of Television Production. But then I wondered, is what I do just pastoring? Or is it, more accurately, priestcraft? The word pastoring doesn't seem to include the priestly sacramental things I do whereas the word priestcraft seems to include the pastoring part of the job. So priestcraft it is for now.

Back to the topic at hand. Consider, for example, what makes a good television program. Just before going to seminary in 1988, I taught television operations and production for a year at Mt Royal College in Calgary. I created an acronym for my Mt Royal students:


If you want to make a good television program, that's what you have to know, I told them. You had to know SQuAT. It got their attention. SQuAT?

S stands for STORY. The story is all. It has to be good, compelling, appealling, and the director must know it intimately.

Same for a priest/pastor. The story is all and the story is Jesus. The pastor must know it (and Him) intimately. Just as in the case of the television script, the words of that story must come off the page, into the heart, soul, mind and body and be told (proclaimed, broad and narrow-cast) in word and deed.

Qu stands for QUALITY, which must be high. In the TV business it's called production values. We need high quality people and equipment to tell a good story best. Pictures must be well composed and sharp and the sound must be clear, well-mixed and in sync with the picture.

Ditto in ministry. How we live our lives and do our ministry is the "picture" we present. That picture, too, must be well-composed and well-focussed. What we say and how we say it (our sound track) must also be clear, balanced, unambiguous and in-sync with the "picture" we're transmitting.

A stands for AUDIENCE. We must know who they are. To whom, exactly, are we telling the story? Is your primary audience male, female, young, old, where do they live, what are their interests? If we don't know who our target audience and what they're like, we can't know how to tell our story.

Pastors also must know who their "audience" is. We have two. In worship our audience is God. As lead worshippers we direct the cast and crew (congregation) as they "perform" for the Living God. For our preaching, teaching and visiting, our audience is our congregation or the people with whom we have contact in our ministry outside the church. How do they need to hear and experience the story for maximum impact?

T stands for TEAM. Making television programs is a team effort. I was a producer/director, not a performer, a shooter, a set-designer, composer or a sound man. I needed all these people to get the story told. My job was to know the script (story), visualize it and create an enviroment where the creativity in each team member could flourish. I needed to inspire them with my vision of the story. When I did that well, team members could excel and magic could happen.

It is also worth noting that the set or studio is not a democracy. There can only be one director; a leader who casts the vision and calls the shots (literally in the television world). Committee-made television shows tend to be bland, colourless affairs.

Likewise, the pastor has a responsibility to learn and visualize the story, cast the vision and equip the saints (the team) for the work of ministry...which is to get God well worshipped and the story well told and acted (lived) out.

Priests/pastors have to get to know SQuAT.