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Marcia McFee Dr. Marcia McFee
Dr. Marcia McFee is an author, Key Voice Blogger, worship designer and leader, professor, preacher and artist.

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United Methodist Church


Roles of the Design Team

June 23, 2016
This is an excerpt from Dr. Marcia McFee’s new book [Think Like a Filmmaker © Marcia McFee, 2016]. Find out more HERE.

Films require a vast number of people in multiple departments to pull off the artistic vision and the details related to the vision. Let’s take a look at some of these roles (Nel Paul et al., The Film Director’s Team) and how they might inform our own attention to the kinds of team members we need for sensory-rich worship design.

One analogy of the director of a film is to what I’m calling a Visionary—the pastor(s) of the congregation. The overall concept starts with their discernment, as we talked about in the last chapter. The “buck stops” with the director of a film as they work with all the artists to create a cohesive expression of the message. Someone has to have their finger on the pulse of the whole. Just as a film director needs the creative input from the whole team, we also need ideas and tasks to be generated and shared by the whole worship team at particular places in the timeline. But there must be a visionary who is able to steer the team along a common river of intent. When the Visionary does their job well of casting the vision in a clear way at the beginning of the process, guiding the team will not take a lot of effort. This is crucial to lowering the stress of working with a team.

The screenwriter has responsibility for the story in verbal form. The pastors have responsibilities related to this at the beginning of the process but in worship, unlike film, most of the writing of liturgy and sermon preparation will be done later in the process. The word-smithing role can be shared with members of the team that love verbal-linguistic communication. Being part of a think-tank reflection group for the preacher(s), searching for readings, poetry and liturgy—or better yet writing their own—can be a stimulating and creative outlet for these folks.

The production designer and art director oversees the the overall design, or “look,” of the film—they deal with anything that will appear before the camera. Their team consists of the set designer, property manger, set decorators, and costume, hair, and makeup people. The visual arts team is instrumental in helping to create a “look,” an environment, a color scheme, and symbol/object choices for the worship series. This is a role that is often at the forefront early in the process so that all the team members can visualize and feel how the essence of the message will be embodied in the space. This is true of films as well as the art department, who researches what the visual concept of the film will be. Once the “ethos” or palette and visual design is decided, the visual arts team will collaborate with media and dramatic arts to make sure the arrangement of the space, the symbolic objects, and even clothing and vestment choices are cared for intentionally.

The cinematographer, or director of photography, is the camera and lighting supervisor on the film production and has responsibility for camera operators, gaffers and electricians, sound operators, and grips. They work with the director on how to bring the story to life through the focus and perspective of the viewers. They will decide camera angles and movement and filters. “How” the audience sees is part of this role. Media arts teams are not just about images and words on projection screens in worship. Even if your church isn’t using projected media yet, you will still have a media arts team. Media artists are those whose role is to make sure that “how” the congregation sees (lighting) and hears (sound) is attended to carefully. For those churches that do use projected media, where the focus of the congregation is directed comes into play as media artists discern when and what to project on screens and with what timing, movement, and flow this will happen. They will ask questions about whether a still photograph or a moving video image is the right choice during any given moment in order to enhance what is going on rather than pull focus unnecessarily. They will also create montages of still or moving images that are themselves proclamation of the message and will work closely with the music artists for timing in, out and perhaps during a visual Word. In churches that stream their services or provide live camera feeds to screens in worship, the media arts team will be making artistic choices about camera shots that will deeply affect the ways that the congregation or viewers at home experience the service.

The sound designer of a film deals with the overall mix of the film sound—not just music, but also added sound effects that enhance the experience of the story aurally. Media artists will also contribute to sensory-rich worship as they search for sounds that can enhance a sense of “place” in the story, such as wind or waves or storms.

The composer on a film is an artist whose work cannot be underrated. Music is the emotional coloring of the film. It provides continuity, flow, pacing, and timing. The main purpose of the music of a film is to further the story and our immersion in that story, so musical choices are highly important. Those whose purview is the musical arts in worship are tasked with these same responsibilities. Their choices for congregational, choral, instrumental, and ensemble music can either invite us deeper into the experience of the story or take us out into “left field.” As we will discuss in depth in Chapter 5, instrumentalists in worship also have the ability to provide continuity, flow, pacing, and timing as we move from one worship element to the next. As film composers sculpt the energy of the film, they are keeping the (unseen) audience ever in mind, knowing when to ramp up the intensity and when to change the tone and feel of the moment to draw viewers in. Being “in tune” with the body of worshipers (not just musically, but energetically), enlivening and actively sculpting the energy of the congregation in their musical participation are essential skills for song leaders for meaningful engagement of the people.

All roles are equally important and establishing communication between all of the arts is essential during the creative process.

Questions to Ponder:

How are each of the five major arts areas (musical, verbal, visual, media, and dramatic arts) represented on our worship design team? Is anyone missing?

How does our worship arts team represent a filmmaking crew? How well do we communicate with each other about the choices we make for worship?


Stay tuned for my next post, in which we’ll begin diving into a closer examination of each of the five major ritual arts areas: music, verbal, media, visual, and dramatic arts. We’ll start with the visual arts. If you’d like to learn more about Think Like a Filmmaker, visit the book's website HERE!


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