How can you do drama when you don't have a drama team?
That was the puzzle facing us when what had been a very strong drama team (more than 20 people at its peak) at my home church suddenly folded some years ago. The leader moved to another town, and most of the good actors also either moved or found other ministries they wished to be involved in. For two years we had almost no drama input, apart from an occasional Easter or Christmas event.
Recently, a solution suggested itself to me. We have lately been using PowerPoint software and a data projector to show song words, sermon illustrations and other visual input. Why not make up dramas using still photographs with a recorded soundtrack?
It works! I have produced two now, and they have both been a great success. Here's the process:
Find a script that will lend itself to this kind of approach (some just don't translate well from stage to screen). And, of course, you need to co-ordinate with the pastor or worship leader to make sure that it fits with the theme of the service or message.
Find your "actors". The beauty of this approach is that they don't need to be able to act. You will simply pose them to illustrate your script as it progresses. People who can give good facial expressions are generally better, because you will probably want to include some close-ups.
Record a sound track. It does not have to be the same people who appear in the photographs, especially if they are hesitant about reading. I record our sound tracks at church after the Sunday morning service, which means I have access to good quality gear for free. I am fortunate that we recently acquired a CD burner at church, which allows us to record straight to CD. This makes computer editing much easier (not having to transfer from tape to the computer). However, if you only have access to a tape recorder, that can still work.
Before you start photographing, spend an hour or so planning your shots. Write your ideas against the script. Think about location, costuming, how many people you want in each shot, etc. Mix full-length photos with what TV people call mid-shots (roughly waist up), and close-ups. Sometimes I will use extreme close-ups (eg, just the eyes). Change your vantage points, sometimes photographing from below, or get up a ladder and look down. It is important to have variation, and it can dramatically alter the mood of the composition. If you are struggling for ideas, look at a TV programme and see how they frame their shots. And don't be afraid to ask your cast for their own suggestions. They may come up with some great ideas you did not think of.
An average 5-6 minute production could take 50-60 photographs. (My most recent used 90!) I suggestion you aim for an average time on screen of around 3 seconds for each slide. Sometimes you will want to use a number of quick-fire shots, and sometimes you will want to hold them longer. But be aware that 7 seconds can seem a long time for a photograph in a drama of this kind. Photography will probably take about two hours (don't rush it).
I suggest that you borrow a good quality digital camera for this work. It means you can take more photos than you might need without worrying about wasting film, you can see the results as you go (and re-take those that are not good enough), and it is easier to process them.
As you can see from the above, it is possible to do the sound recording and photography in one day, or at least over two days. That sure beats many hours of rehearsals. The downside is what follows: Processing.
Step 1 – edit your soundtrack first. If you have a computer, a very good free program called Audacity is available. This will do pretty well anything you are likely to want, including mixing in sound effects, music, changing volumes, fades in and out, etc. And it is very easy to use.
Step 2 – edit your photographs. If you have never used an image editing program, find someone who can help you. I use Photoshop, but there are many simple programs available (many of them free). Try and correct colour so that your photos look as similar as possible in colour. Crop out bits you don't want. Don't be afraid to crop real tight. As you edit, check your shots off against the script, to make sure nothing is left out. You can sometimes fill gaps by downloading photographs from the Internet, or by taking them from photo collections. These can also provide good backgrounds.
Assemble the package in PowerPoint. You can add the soundtrack so that it plays automatically, or on a mouse click. You can have several soundtracks in sequence. You can add video clips as well. There are many transition effects you can use between slides.
An alternative to putting all the photographs in PowerPoint is to use a simple video editing package, like the free MovieMaker that comes with Windows XP, and then put the completed video into PowerPoint. MovieMaker Version 2 is easy to use, and with it you can compile a video from still photographs. This makes timing the photographs to the soundtrack a breeze. Be aware, though, that some computers will not play the final video (even some XP computers) – you will need to test on your church computer.
Hope you have as much fun as we do!