I’m sure most, if not all of us, remember a time when we were a kid and got our hands on a big, empty, cardboard box. Mom and Dad had foolishly used it for storing old dishes, clothes, and objects that hadn’t been sold at the last yard sale, but we saw the true potential behind its corrugated facade. Inside of it we could be astronauts preparing for our trip to the moon, bears hibernating for the winter, or news anchors reporting on the latest giant monster attack. And that was just the beginning.
However, as I got older I grew to resent boxes. Few things are more annoying to me than the process of moving, and the tremendous burden of finding objects that can live harmoniously inside a 18 x 14 x 12 container, despite their obtuse shapes and sizes and fragility. Just thinking about it makes me want to plant roots in my current 1-bedroom apartment and make it work for a family of 5-6. Another thing that used to give me tremendous stress is trying to think of the next funny, thought-provoking, and creatively excellent video with my current time, team, equipment, and abilities - my metaphorical box.
When I first joined NLC as the Video Producer, my typical response to the question, “Could we do [x project]?” was, “With enough time, equipment, and resources, anything is possible.” Not an entirely false statement, and I always got a few laughs from the room, but this gut-response became a hindrance in not only my attitude towards projects, but my creative process, as well.
Here’s what my thought process used to be: “We could do something with a drone!…hmmm…budget won’t cover renting a drone.”
“We could do something in super slow motion!…but the best I can do is 60fps at 720p.”
“What if we got 50 people together and…oh, who am I kidding.”
All I saw was everything that I couldn’t do, and with that came a lot of discouragement and doubt in my abilities, along with frustration and bitterness towards my current situation. Anyone in a creative position in ministry can relate to the boxes we are given—the ones made of time, manpower, and money. We’ve also all heard of the expression, “Think outside the box”, but I believe that we don’t spend enough time thinking inside the box.
Since graduating from film school, I’ve lost access to hundreds of pieces of equipment, and nearly all of my filmmaking companions have moved to LA. I went from being in California on sets with a dozen people, each with their own specialized role, to a state that may or may not have a dozen people who can successfully use a DSLR for video. And my turnaround for a video has been shortened from a couple of months to a couple of weeks. This is the box I’ve been given. And I like it. Granted, it did take me about 18 months to truly appreciate it, but here’s what this box has done for me:
- It’s made me more resourceful.
- It’s given me ideas I never would have thought of before.
- It’s narrowed my field of vision, allowing me to take action sooner instead of weighing options.
- It’s allowed me to train others in a craft that is almost nonexistent in my area.
- It’s sharpened my skills in post-production and motion graphics. *wink*
- It’s shown me that the content and story of a piece is more important than its wrapping.
That last point is probably the most valuable one for me. Learning to tell my story simply but effectively has been the best exercise in filmmaking I’ve experienced. My box has taught me to break down each video into answering two questions: What do I need to say and what do I need to show to tell this story? I keep both elements as minimal as possible, which allows me to refine and rework the content more than the flashy frame I’m putting it inside.
In film school, students would always want the best cameras, lenses, and, of course, 4K almost exclusively, no matter what the project was (Just between us, I have yet to shoot something in 4K, but don’t tell the film community). But time after time I’d see one lousy 4K student film after the next because they thought the camera and editing could rescue a half-baked idea. We’ve all seen multi-million dollar movies that have flopped at the box-office because of bad writing. We’ve also seen iPhone videos go viral on YouTube and Facebook, despite them being recorded vertically instead of horizontally (take the hint, iPhone users).
So I challenge you to always be thinking inside your box and focusing more on the message God has given you to share instead of the camera/location/resources you think you need to share it. But I also challenge you to always keep a journal with ideas that are more on the grandiose scale and keep them in your back pocket. Because one day soon your box will look a whole lot larger.
Josh Duffy (a.k.a. "Duffy") is the Video Producer of Next Level Church and part of NLC's Creative Team. He is responsible for creating and executing the videos shown at NLC each weekend. A graduate of Temple University, Josh received his B.A. in Film and Media Arts before moving to New Hampshire and using his gifts and talents to serve NLC as well as local churches in the New England region. Josh and his wife, Isha, live in Rochester, NH.