Today I’m rolling out something I hope to do on a semi-regular basis, Cre8ve Communication, short eight-question interviews with creative communicators and storytellers.
To kick things off, I had to start with an individual who has been inspirational to me, Paul Nevison. Paul serves on the creative team at Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. If you’ve seen any of the videos or documentaries from Hillsong Church in recent years, chances are Paul has been the man behind the camera.
I’m stoked to introduce you to Paul and believe he has some wise words to share, whether you’re a filmmaker, storyteller, or communicator.
Q1 – How did you get started in film?
Film and storytelling began for me growing up as a kid in New Zealand. On weekends and school holidays my friend and I would mess around with his father’s Hi8 video camera.
We would make our own episodes of Mission Impossible. My friend and I were the only actors, but we played a cast of hundreds from heroes to henchmen.
Because one of us always had to be operating the camera, we could never actually have two people in the one shot at the same time. Editing was all done in the camera as we went, watching back a scene and recording over the top if it wasn’t good enough.
After I finished high school I studied Journalism and Television production at university and then worked in news and current affairs for the national broadcaster…. I learnt a lot working with veteran journalists, directors and film crews.
I moved to London in early 2000 where I freelanced at the BBC and others until starting work at Hillsong Church London in 2001. At the end of 2007 we moved our family to Sydney where I’m now part of the creative team at Hillsong Australia.
Q2 – When did you start using your gifts in film/storytelling at Hillsong Church?
To be honest I didn’t see any correlation between what I did professionally and my faith. They were completely separate and it didn’t occur to me that these two worlds could meet.
That can seem a strange thing to say when we look around at today’s media saturated churches, but even 10 years ago, media in a church context was still a fairly new concept.
The moment I first realised the potential of what was possible and how my professional skills and faith could collide was when we took a camera on a trip to Uganda. We were visiting a Compassion International project where many people from church were sponsoring children. I filmed our experiences and put together a story to show in church the following week.
The reaction from the church was amazing. The service had bearly ended and people were running out to sponsor kids…so many in fact that they ran out of sponsor kids.
I guess after that Sunday I saw the potential of storytelling in a church context and how through the lens you can link individuals together for something bigger than themselves.
Q3 – What are some projects you’ve been involved with during your time at Hillsong?
Being part of a church like Hillsong means you get the privilege to work on a myriad of different projects….you just never quite know what’s coming up next.
Primarily I work on story driven projects, documentaries and people stories…my journalism background helps out with these kinds of projects for sure.
More recently I’ve worked on the Hillsong United social justice feature documentary The I Heart Revolution: We’re all in this Together and The Scarlet Thread, which is the short film that accompanies 2011′s Hillsong Live worship project God is Able.
It’s back to music in the next couple of weeks as we start post production on Hillsong United’s DVD record of the Aftermath tour in Miami.
Q4 – What has been your biggest highlight so far?
As someone involved in communication, I guess any time the message connects successfully with an audience that’s a highlight….it’s the reason we do what we do.
When we released the I-Heart film in cinemas around the world that was an amazing experience….partly because it was the culmination of a 4 year labour of love for the small dedicated team that pulled it together, but even more than that was the fact that most of the feedback we received had nothing to do with the look and feel of the film, its style or artistic qualities. Instead people told us about how after seeing it, they were challenged to look at themselves, their faith and their responsibility to those whom we share the planet.
The message is what seemed to come through and is what stuck with people and for us as film makers that was really rewarding. I love the art and aesthetic, but I’m way more concerned with people coming away with a compelling message they need to digest and think about.
Q5 – Why do you do what you do?
I really see my role as a storyteller and creative, is to enrich and enlarge people’s view of God. Jesus was the ultimate storyteller and constantly used the framework of the parable to unlock and impart truth to people. I want to do the same…to communicate truth with words and pictures in ways that are unexpected and surprising.
The message is eternal and our job as creatives is to retell that eternal truth in new and interesting ways. Particularly in the church context we have to remember our audience has been blessed with an intellect, so we have to resist the temptation to spoon feed with obvious cliché. Just as the parables have multiple meanings, we have to communicate in ways that challenge through a more layered approach.
I’ve got a long way to go….but I’m trying and learning and hopefully getting closer.
I think if you have your eyes open in a deliberate way, you can glean inspiration from every where.
While I generally subscribe to the idea that most creativity is essentially a remix; having borrowed or built on what has gone before, I also really believe in developing the discipline of finding times to go “offline”. Deliberately resisting the multitasking, micro-distraction, ‘always on’ culture and training yourself to deeper meditative thought //slash// prayer….I’m still working out how that works, but I think finding mastery over the outer and inner noise will inspire creativity that goes beyond the remix.
Practical sources of inspiration I use are:
“This American life” podcast: a weekly storytelling master class from Ira Glass and team.
Vimeo: an online community of film makers
Instagram iPhone app: iPhone photography, visually challenging you to make the extraordinary out of your daily ordinary.
Q7 – Obviously, most people are well-aware of Hillsong and the remarkable work you and your team do but what would you say is something we wouldn’t know or expect?
It can be something of a blessing and a cursing to be part of a church that has a profile like Hillsong. It’s great in the sense that because of the labour and leadership of those past and present, we have the privilege of creating on a platform that, by God’s grace, has a measure of influence.
The downside is that a lot of people assume you have all the answers and are somehow immune from making mistakes.
The truth is that while we have a public, and in some instances international platform, it just means there are more eyes to see us when we fail….and contrary to some belief, we do fail fairly regularly. Not always in an obviously catastrophic way, but the little failures of the message not being communicated clearly enough through our creativity, or a creative moment that doesn’t go off quite as planned. The good thing is that most people often don’t realize things have gone wrong as our team have become quite skilled at recovering gracefully.
I’m completely biased, but our creative team are a pretty amazing bunch of people, from content creators, musicians, production and project management, we are all about seeing the message of Christ reach people. I love working in a team where collaboration and synergy are fostered….the different parts we bring compliment and enrich each other so that the final outcome is so much more than what we could have achieved on our own.
We come from different starts in life, with varied gifts and talents and whether our creative attempts triumph or fizzle it’s great working with a team that are committed to something bigger than ourselves….the cause of Christ expressed through His church.
Q8 – What advice would you give to church creatives?
There are probably three maxims that have really helped me over the years…the first two relate to character and the last one involves a lot of metaphorical violence and has become my golden rule in the actual process of creativity.
When it comes to character, I believe if you maintain a teachable spirit as well as not letting limitations define you….your creative journey will go well.
The most creative people I know remain students of their craft, they don’t let their years of experience suppress their hunger to grow and refine their gift. Taking the stance of a student is even more critical when you begin to achieve a measure of success; you have to resist the temptation of becoming an expert.
Once you put on the “expert badge” you end up becoming too afraid to risk failure and mix things up, cutting yourself off from a whole range of cool and unexpected results.
When you see yourself as an expert you stop the learning process and limit the gift inside you. If we put too much confidence in our repertoire of ‘smoke and mirrors’, we lose our sensitivity to see and respond with our creativity to what is happening around us. We can become a one trick pony, continuing to speak in places where people have long since ceased to listen.
When we realise we are specks in the context of the universe, specks that God loves for sure, but specks all the same, it takes some pride for a speck to say “I know everything”…..I’m learning to guard my sense of wonder, because through that wonder you’ll always stay a learner.
When it comes to limitations I love this quote from Henri Mattisse:
“Much of the beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium”.
The truth is that there are always going to be limitations. Limitations in skill, budgets, equipment and having the right people to help….if our ability to do something is determined by what we don’t have, then we wouldn’t ever do anything.
Even when budgets do get a little bigger, skills increase or you get that upgraded camera, they still can’t fully facilitate what our potential for creativity demands.
I’ve discovered that creative curiosity is always unsatisfied. After climbing one mountain to catch the view, creativity sees an even bigger mountain beyond and wonders what the world looks like from that vantage. Creativity is always moving, always climbing….and therein lies it’s allure and frustration in equal measure.
We have to choose to not let ourselves be defined by the restrictions and become focussed on what we don’t have, but rather let the roadblocks point us down new paths where we can use what we do have.
When it comes to the actual process of creating remarkable things, violence achieves much. I live by a quote from the radio presenter and producer Ira Glass, when he says in relation to story.
“It’s time to kill and it’s time to enjoy the killing because, by killing, you will make something else even better.”
Rather than being destructive, the process of pruning is actually the biggest creative force we have.
You often get so emotionally attached to the stories you are trying to communicate it’s hard to see what’s important….to see the great amongst the good.
We have to kill and cull so that the truly great stuff can have room to flourish.
Blogger Nick Cernis puts it this way:
“To make something great, you have to find the courage to ditch the things dribbling along at half-past average.”
When I’m telling a story I have to resist the temptation to want to put everything in; every visual idea, every great interview grab, every frame of cinematic beauty regardless of how early I had to get up in order to capture the shot.
Less is nearly always more, so for the sake of your audience you have to hold things back….prune the good so that only the great remains.
Huge thanks to Paul for helping kick off Cre8veCommunication.
What are some things you’ve taken away from what Paul has shared today?
And, who else would you like to see featured in future interviews?