Is a Film-making Degree a Bad Investment?

Wall Street Journal Article bashing getting a filmmaking degree (or just pleading for loan forgiveness?)

If you want to be a filmmaker you might be discouraged by this article….

Here’s my advice from someone who’s been there:

  1. Work any day job and start shooting weddings on the weekend. Easy market to break into and put your filmmaking skills to good use. Good wedding filmmakers can make $3-5k depending on the market.
  2. When you get to a point where you can live off the side hustle, go to part time and start getting into corporate video communications. If you still want to be a filmmaker, build up your equipment and contacts to the point where you can do your passion projects. Stop waiting until you can afford a RED or C500 and just shoot with what you can get your hands on.
  3. Shoot and edit, shoot and edit – live it, breathe it!!
  4. Also consider community college and then transfer to a state school… I earned my filmmaking degree while filling laser toner cartridges as my day job and living in a trailer, had dirty fingernails at the time but now I love where I’m at – supporting my family well and loving my work.

Filmmaking is an awesome career but you can’t sit around and cry for long. Move the ball forward. Stay humble. Make people laugh and cry. Take the small opportunities and build up. Hustle!! Also nobody cares where you went to school, all they care about is your reel and your work ethic. No-one asks me about my degree – they ask if I’ve shot something similar before.

Don’t spend $100,000 on a filmmaking degree, but if God designed you to be a filmmaker, the world needs you!!

Phil Gioja of Center Street Productions (left) shooting a documentary on the Danville Building Block with Renaldo Hudson of the Illinois Prison Project (center), produced by Dale DeNeal of Second Church of Christ (right).

Facing Fear

When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I trust;
I will not be afraid.
(Psalm 56:3-4 CSB)

“Perhaps the most important question each one of us can ask about all this is, ‘Is my faith real enough for times like these?'”

John Avant, President, Life Action

I haven’t been hugely afraid of the illness personally, but for the first time last night I found myself afraid of the economic impact that the response to this illness could cause to myself and friends of mine who I know are impacted by travel bans and events shutting down.

When my future feels uncertain, I turn my thoughts to the knowledge that God is in control, and it’s His story to tell, not mine. I find a sense of peace in laying down my desire for success and even survival, and just trusting in Him.

You are on purpose.

Have you ever watched a brilliant movie on a perfect night?  You know, the kind of movie that makes you laugh, cry, and maybe even reconsider life as you know it?  The kind of deep, moving film that makes you feel a certain way, that maybe you never felt before, and that feeling stays with you for a few days?  Or maybe makes you think thoughts you’ve never had before, and opens your mind up to new ideas you never thought of.

One of the things that’s amazing to me about a really great film is how much care is put into how it’s made.  Every color is picked for a reason, every piece of music is carefully arranged, every moment is planned out and prepared for, then edited shot by shot down to the very frame.

Film is shot and projected at approximately 24 frames per second.  That means that there are about 1440 frames, or individual still photographs, in about a minute of film.  In a two hour film, there are about 172,800 frames that will flick past, one after the other, so quickly that you don’t even realize each one is a separate still image.

And yet every single frame is put there by the film-maker with an express purpose.  Every frame helps set the pace, heighten the emotion, and lead us to the conclusion.
Each person is like a frame in that movie, put there for a reason.  You have a moment in time that God has assigned to you, just you, and that time is now.  You have a purpose in life, and if you love Jesus, He will work that out in you more beautifully and powerfully than you can imagine.

Are you ready to go?

My grandpa passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer.

This thoughtful response to a question I asked him once about getting older has always stayed with me, and is especially meaningful as I think about his life.

Through his example and the stories he told about his life, he taught me a lot about work ethic, and about serving his family, church, and community.

Looking forward to seeing him again someday.

Invisible People

Home sweet home!

I survived one night in a Samsung refrigerator box on the corner of Chester and Neil in Champaign.  I had a great time hanging out with the guys on my corner and friends that stopped by.  I shot some video of the event and helped raise some donations from people passing by.

Around 10:30 or 11:00 I climbed into my cardboard home for the night.  I didn’t sleep well, if at all.  It was cold and long, both of which I expected, but it was also loud.  An 8th of an inch of cardboard doesn’t block out noise at all, so every footstep, every horn, every siren I could hear as if I was still standing on the street corner. I could also hear every conversation of every person who walked by on the street.

Sleeping quarters

One of the guys at breakfast this morning said it best when he said he felt invisible.  I remember hearing someone who was leaving a bar around 2:00AM exclaiming, “What? Are there people in all these boxes?!”

On my drive home I realized that we treat so many people that way in our lives.  We just brush by them like they are invisible, rarely if ever taking the time to realize that they are people too.

I had a great conversation with a couple of homeless guys at breakfast this morning that had joined our group for the night.  They covered everything from where to get the best eggs in town, what bars would let homeless people in for free water and restrooms, to how they’ve managed to survive this terrible winter.

Food, water, shelter, clothing.  Their challenges are not so different than my own.  I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to see them as real people, rather than invisible.

I made it!

I also wouldn’t want to wish that night’s sleep on anyone. It’s great to be back in my warm, comfortable house, and as the forecast for the next week is headed down to zero again, I’ll be thinking of my newfound friends who don’t have anywhere permanent to call home.

If you are interested in more information about the homeless in Champaign, get connected with CU at Home.

How’d we get here?

Have you chosen a difficult path? Don’t panic!

Every once in a while I think back over the past couple of years, and just get this weird feeling of “How did we get here?” Not exactly in a bad way. More like despite all the mistakes and dumb stuff along the way, coupled with the challenge of picking a very difficult path in life, we’re still standing and moving forward. Not always where I want to be, but not dead in the road either. God’s truly blessed us along this path in many ways.

I can’t take credit. Often my solution to problems is to put my head down and just push harder. Somehow, despite ourselves, I believe God has been the one to carry us through everything we’ve been through – going full-time with the business, expanding the portrait studio, growing our family, etc… We’ve lived through too many ‘just in time’ moments and little miracles that give us hope for the future to think otherwise.

Romans 5:2-5
…we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

2 Corinthians 4:17
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

When you’re down, don’t quit. Don’t panic. At the precise point when things appear the most hopeless, the way out is about to appear.

God can work through life crisis

Mark's Story - A door closedThere’s so much potential for discussion packed into this short video that it’s tough to know where to start.

Many guys that I know derive a large part of their identity through their work & credentials. I think God designed us that way – to love work & to love what our work says about us. We like to be needed, to be called upon, and to serve people in ways that make us feel more important.

What I love about Mark’s story is that God used the loss of his job to help him see that he was relying more heavily on his experience, connections, and credentials than he was on God. Ultimately, despite the circumstances, God remained faithful and taught Mark that He could be relied upon.

Another thing I love about Mark’s story is how God used the community around him to respond and encourage him in his time of need. It’s a great reminder to all of us to think about, pray for, and encourage others – it can mean a lot more than you’d expect.

Our lives changed

I’ve posted a lot about my business lately, but here’s a small glimpse into my personal life. Last year we started talking again about adoption and foster care. We weren’t sure if this would be the best year to take on another new thing, but God led us a step at a time, and we began foster care classes in February. After several home visits and inspections, a couple months of classes, background checks, and other stuff, we received our license.

Then we got the call, and accepted a baby boy who needed temporary shelter.

It’s been four years since we had a baby, and I completely forgot how much work they are! And how little sleep we’d get! But it’s been exciting for me to have a boy around the house who’s been very willing to stay up late and watch movies like The Hulk, Ironman, and a lot of other movies I’ve gotten behind on over the past few years, or sleep nearby while I’m working late.

One of the challenges is not knowing what the future holds for him, and not really knowing how to feel about that. I’ve shared with friends that it’s opened my eyes and made me realize that we really don’t know what the future holds for our own children either, and that we shouldn’t take any child for granted.

We’ve been praying since the beginning that God would send us the child He wanted us to care for. It’s been a whirlwind and a storm in a lot of ways, but for now I love it and am glad God led us down this path. I hope we can make a long-lasting difference in his life, but I already know he’s made a difference in mine.

Ten Ideas for Video in Church, Part 1

I’ve spent some time over the past couple of years considering how a church could use video more effectively to build up their local congregation, as well as reach out to others.

My church is fairly modern, though located in a rural area, and attendance tends to be around 400-500. We’ve spent a substantial amount of time, money, and other resources on video, including planting a video venue church campus in another small town about 35 minutes away. We are currently working towards planting a second video venue campus in the other direction.

Video is such a great communications tool in the modern church that I’ve decided to compile this list of video ideas. My hope is to encourage and inspire others involved in church media to consider how they might use video more effectively as well.

Idea #1. Hold a Video Contest!

On the surface, this might seem like a lightweight idea, or maybe even a waste of time. There are three reasons, however, that I think holding a video contest is a great idea for a church.

The first reason is because making a video requires a lot of planning, thought, and careful execution. Teams taking part will learn a lot, not just about video, but about the content of their video. If the contest parameters are set well, this is a great opportunity for groups to learn about their faith together.

The second reason is that working together creates an opportunity for teamwork and bonding. There’s nothing like working all night on a last-minute editing project for making lasting memories.

Third, a video contest will illustrate who in the congregation has talent, creativity, and equipment. You might encourage a whole new set of eager video volunteers. And it could even be fun!

Idea #2. Video Bumpers

I’m not talking about a ride at the fair. Bumpers are videos that typically play just before the sermon. They are usually around 2-4 minutes long, and can be a great way to transition at that point in a service, letting musicians exit the stage and the pastor enter while the audience’s attention is held on the screen.

Bumpers are great in theory, but once you decide to use them, it becomes a whole new ballgame. How do you find bumper videos for every week of the year? is probably the best online video site for church video. For $10-40/video, you can find a wide variety of content on nearly any topic.

Youtube is another place to look. Pick any big church pastor – they will have a plethora of short sermon clips or thought pieces on Youtube. There is a lot of great food for thought out there.

And then you can produce your own custom video bumpers. There’s a lot of potential power in creating your own, in-house custom video bumpers that goes beyond what can be found online.

For example…

Idea #3. Counseling Basics

If you’ve been a part of a church for any period of time, you know that churches aren’t made up of perfect people. Life is often difficult and confusing, and people need counseling sometimes. However, a sense of pride or fear can keep people from seeking out help. A series of bumper videos with a local counselor or pastor which speaks to some of these issues can help bridge that gap. This will enable some to start the healing process on their own, and also help others to feel more familiar with the process and know whom to seek out for help.

Idea #4. The Big Questions

Another clever way to use the bumper video space in a message is to address big questions, like ‘Did Jesus really rise from the dead?’, ‘How did we get the Bible?’, and ‘How can I know I’m saved?’ Even if these don’t directly relate to the sermon for that particular week, a steady diet of content like this will substantially bolster a person’s faith over time. If it’s presented by someone the congregation knows and trusts, all the better.

Idea #5. Mission Trip Reports

Missions trips often start with a flurry of excitement. Announcements, prayer, Facebook posts, and fundraising letters get the ball rolling. But when the team arrives home, they’re exhausted. It’s also a challenge to fit a missions trip report into a tight Sunday morning service. With a little skill, however, a short video can effectively communicate the purpose for the trip without sabotaging the service. If church members have been asked to donate funds towards the trip, a good video report will help them feel that their money was well spent.

In Ten Ideas for Video in Church, Part 2, I’ll cover 5 more ideas on how to effectively use video to build up a church body, as well as reach out to others.

Ten Ideas for Video in Church, Part 2

In Ten Ideas for Video in Church, Part 1 I introduced five ideas for building up a church congregation through the use of video. Here are another five.

Idea #6. Highlight Special Events

It’s important that the whole church congregation has at least some general idea of what’s going on outside of Sunday morning. My church is large enough now, especially with two campuses, that things can be overlooked. Our church held a VBS program recently, but I wasn’t a volunteer. Apart from the fact that there was a sign in front of the church, and I helped build a few stage props, I have no idea what happened. Did anyone attend? I’m fairly knowledgeable and involved, so if I don’t know, there’s a large segment of the church that knows even less.

Also, we occasionally have missionaries visit our church. Often missionaries are given a Saturday or Monday evening to share their stories, rather than Sunday morning. However, this means lower attendance for these meetings. That equals fewer people in our church knowing who we support and what they do. A highlights video on Sunday morning within a week or two of a missionary visit would help close this communications gap without significantly disrupting the Sunday service schedule.

Highlighting special events helps people connect with the broader activity of the church and creates a greater sense of family (“Oh, I didn’t know you volunteered for that! Looks like you had fun!”). Also, if the content of the video is engaging, people will be more interested and may participate the next time a special event comes up.

Idea #7. Faith Stories

There’s nothing like a heartfelt testimony of what God is doing in someone’s life. It’s important to know information about Jesus, but to see what he can do in real life is amazing and worth talking about. Any church that has had ‘open mic’ events, however, knows that the sharing of personal testimonies can be challenging and time-consuming. Our church staff actively looked for authentic testimonies to share, and then contracted with me to produce tightly edited videos to communicate those stories.

We played these faith stories on Sunday morning, but then I began sharing our faith stories on Youtube and Facebook. Not only did this enable people to watch videos they’d missed, but they could also share them with friends, and often would share these testimonies over an hour-long online sermon.

Idea #8. Baptism Testimonies

Baptisms are almost always accompanied by a statement of faith, and sometimes a longer testimony. However, it can be a very emotionally charged, public moment. Also, microphones don’t mix well with water so are not always well placed. Because of this, baptism testimonies can sometimes be a little rough for the rest of the church to comprehend. In some cases well-produced videos, similar to the faith story idea, could play a role in helping to share clearer, easier to understand, and more touching testimonies during baptism services.

Idea #9. Evangelism & Outreach

I’ve worked with a missions group that reaches out to indigenous people groups through video production. They will produce videos using local church groups that speak the language they are targeting, and then take these videos up into the surrounding mountain ranges and put on impromptu film screening events, where they show the films and preach. Crowds always gather to see these films.

Part of the reason for success is the recognition factor. ‘Oh, I know him, he’s the rice farmer from across the valley!”

Another example; our town has a yearly event that spoofs ‘Dancing With The Stars’, and they feature well-known local ‘celebrities’ as a part of the dance show. They draw a huge crowd and raise a significant amount of money for a local charity. It’s because of the recognition factor.

A locally produced film with local actors will attract attention. I experimented with this idea at a church I attended prior to moving to this area. We shot a film during the church’s summer daycamp, using the kids as actors, and drew a decent crowd of kids’ parents to see the end result. I could see the same thing working with a youth group project.

As an added touch, DVD copies made for the parents could include a custom message from the pastor or an appropriate promotional video of the church to further help reach out to them.

Idea #10. Support other local ministries

I started to notice something a couple years ago. I never realized how many small, struggling non-profits there are that need to communicate, but don’t have the budget or skills. In almost every community there are food pantries, homeless shelters, foster care and adoption offices, crisis nurseries, and many other non-profit groups working tirelessly to meet the needs of the ‘least of these’. Churches can be a bit inwardly focused at times, and forget that there are people serving God beyond the church walls. What an opportunity for your church video team to serve the world by helping local non-profit ministries tell their stories through video, and provide a venue and audience for those stories to be played.


This is in no way an exhaustive list. I know I’ve left a few things out, but I’ll close by saying this; Video can play an important role in church, bigger than we think. However, video alone isn’t enough. Video is just a tool to facilitate the next step in a person’s life. In a church setting, hopefully that step will bring them closer together as a church family, and ultimately closer to Jesus.