Stage backdrop design might be one of the unsung heroes of the church world these days.
In this day and age, everyone knows you can add video to your backdrop ...
As a scenic and lighting designer, such a statement sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, but if you can really stop and think, almost everyone is going to look at your church online, before they ever step foot through your doors.
By showing the branding of your church in stage design, it is going to be almost as important as your church’s website design, and even the worship that is happening in front of the set.
I think we can really transform the “why” behind how we spend so much time thinking about this piece of the puzzle.
Most of the time I find myself working in the round at Trinity Fellowship, so backdrop design is pretty tough for me. That’s mostly because I want one so bad.
However, what this does mean for me is that when I do get to design one and use one, I am so overly intentional about it.
I wanted to share of few of the tools I use to make the most of my opportunities.
1. The resource triangle
The key to using the resource triangle is understanding that you can never have all three, while being able to reckon with that fact and work in those confines.
I think we can all agree that we always strive for good, so then it’s just figuring out which of the other two meet your church’s available resources. In my case, at Trinity Fellowship (and I’m pretty sure most churches) want cheap or inexpensive, so that takes care of that portion for me.
I know that most leaders you work with ultimately want fast as well, but that’s because they have a lot going on. Make it part of your role to be proactive and start working on options before an event or set change is even on their radar.
I have found that if you can provide a range of options for them that they can see in front of their face, they are more likely to decide quicker and give you that needed time to execute.
Before I move on, let’s define fast … really quick.
When I think of fast, I’m thinking about the time spent in terms of man hours, so utilize your team, find volunteers, ask a few new friends for help, or whatever strategy you can come up with, to up the number of man hours available to you, in a short number of days.
I tend to strip down other rooms elsewhere on our campus for the big events, if I have a big enough team available, so I can use extra lights, extra projectors, or build out new scenic pieces for the event.
2. Keep a full inventory of your gear
Like I mentioned in the previous point, at a lot of our event setups, we will strip gear from across our campus, to make one big look in a room for a short period of time. This keeps our costs low, and gives our volunteers pretty simple tasks to complete, while feeling highly productive.
Most people really love the feeling of pushing gear into a room for a big build-out. Keeping a full inventory of your gear also lets you know exactly what you have, what’s broken, or what may not be easy enough to remove for a quick turnaround.
I think you might be surprised to find out just how much tech gear your church has around, once you get it written down in one place.
3. Take a design class
I am blessed to have been a theater kid in college, and took multiple set design classes, and that was great for a season. It quickly became outdated, though, with where the church atmosphere and culture are heading.
The most relevant classes I have taken that I can apply in my work were graphic design courses, when I’m sketching out backdrops. They help teach balance, priority, placement, colors, and negative space.
The online graphic design courses I went through really helped shape my mentality of thinking in what I am trying to communicate by way of my backdrop, instead of just something that looks modern and cool.
I know we can all make geometric LED tape designs like the church down the street, but we’re not serving to compete with that church’s look. We’re here to help communicate the message that our church is sending out, so keep that in mind when the pen hits the paper.
4. Work with your lighting
The first thing to keep in mind when you are designing a new backdrop is how is your lighting system going to interact with it? There are few spaces at my church that I design for, and one has a really deep stage, which makes integration with lighting super easy, and I can practically create whatever comes to my mind.
One of our other spaces has a pretty shallow stage though, so I really have to think through my lighting angles and know beforehand if the set will be washed out by the time I’m done, if I can move my front lighting, or if I have the option to hit the set with extra color, without blowing it out.
One of my common solutions to this issue is to raise the setup a few feet, and to put some beam fixtures at the bottom of the set, add in some LED or pixel tape, or just install something that looks nice when lit up white and to integrate pieces of that element throughout the backdrop.
5. Don’t forget video
In this day and age, everyone knows you can add video to your backdrop, but sometimes we get so busy throwing in everything that our creative brains can think of, that this gets lost in the mix.
I recognize that not everyone can afford a super nice LED wall backdrop; as I have only used them a relatively small number of times.
We all have pretty good access to TVs, though, and I’ve rolled TVs from our small group rooms into the worship center on more than one occasion to use, as a part of my set.
I have also made my own projection screen from Unistrut and spandex (flame retardant of course).
The flexibility that can come with video is immense, now that companies like Church Motion Graphics and Visual Church Media are so focused on backgrounds for the church world, With what either of these companies offer, you can create a backdrop with a big impact, with pretty minimal effort.