Prestonwood Baptist Church

Unlocking the Beauty of Broadcast

Prestonwood's Journey with MRMC Robotics

From its modest beginnings in 1977, Prestonwood Baptist Church today is a thriving community of more than 59,000 members between two campuses. Prestonwood’s central mission is “To glorify God by introducing Jesus Christ as Lord to as many people as possible, and to develop them in Christian living using the most effective means to impact the world, making an eternal difference in this generation and generations to come.”  This mission has guided every decision and initiative undertaken by the church since its inception, including its journey with broadcast production. Central to this is the work of PowerPoint Ministries, the radio and television broadcast ministry of Dr. Jack Graham, Pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church. In 1999, with the completion of the Plano campus auditorium, the church began broadcasting its services to local and global audiences under the banner of PowerPoint Ministries, laying the groundwork for what would become a cornerstone of its outreach efforts. 

While Prestonwood’s commitment to broadcast and streaming was unwavering, the technology at their disposal needed an upgrade. The pre-existing setup, comprised of outdated robotics and limited camera capabilities, hindered the church’s ability to fully realize its vision for dynamic and immersive broadcasts. With several services filmed each week and 15,000 weekly online viewers, Prestonwood chose to invest in MRMC Broadcast robotics to allow them to efficiently deliver the beauty of their service in a way that also benefits their volunteers and community. 

Bryan Bailey, Director of Media at Prestonwood joined the team after serving at First Baptist Dallas as the Minister of Media for 6 years. Throughout the years, Bryan has developed a desire to train volunteers to operate technology at the highest levels of excellence. Working alongside Armando Escobedo, who has overseen systems and staffing at the church for 17 years, William Schaefer, the team’s detailed and insightful engineer, plus Craig Harper from Sony Faith, a longtime member and on the board of PowerPoint Ministries, this team worked on an updated, tailored design that would meet Prestonwood’s specific needs. They also consulted with MRMC’s Tom Landsman on the best choice of robotics.  

Overview of Camera Positions

“Our previous setup included nine cameras, so we were familiar with the kinds of angles we could capture and how to build this into a traditional broadcast workflow. The current set-up was one-to-one operator to the camera. During the pandemic, when we had the opportunity to shoot with no hinderances, we realized just how much the setup limited our camera angles. The flexibility and dynamic movement provided by the MRMC robotics energizes the content we create, and our viewers at home feel more engaged. Tom really helped us to capture our vision and provided invaluable advice on the kinds of shots that could be captured with the solutions MRMC was proposing. The partnership between Prestonwood and MRMC extended beyond the installation, collaborating closely to fine-tune the system and explore its capabilities.”

Bryan Bailey, Director of Media

Prestonwood Baptist Church

Pushing Boundaries

The new setup now has 18 cameras, including 15 dedicated to broadcast and three for point-of-view shots. The installation is a mix of track and pedestal robotics placed in asymmetric positions within the pews. An MRMC QRS-1 Quiet Rail System with an FR-7 PTZ adds gentle motion to wide shots. There is also an FR-7 mounted on an LLS-1 Lift System next to two Ulti-Heads mounted on SLH-1 Lifts that provide tight follow shots using large broadcast cameras. Then, three TRH-1 Track Robotic Heads with PTA-2 Robotic Arms provide multiple angles and height options around the auditorium. 

“This installation timeline was very short.” explains Tom Landsman “We began on Monday. All cameras needed to be moved from manual controls to an automated shared control platform in less than five days. This included new redundant servers and the (3) operator stations. This transition from the legacy system to MRMC robotics happened on schedule, with detailed integration management from Broadcast Technical Service of Houston, TX. All the data, video, tally, and power tie-ins were in place before we arrived. Detailed systems integration is an underappreciated necessity to meet tight timelines. BTS’s support was critical, ensuring the system was fully activated in less than five days from start to finish. We started the build on Monday the volunteer operators started training on Friday for the upcoming Sunday telecast.”

One of the standout features of the MRMC system is its seamless support of live performances, where unpredictability is the norm. With the addition of MRMC robotics, Prestonwood can now capture every angle and moment of its services with precision, clarity, and, importantly, subtly.  

“We are amazed by how much more discreet the robotics are compared to having a camera operator in the pews. Our operators can now control the cameras from a different location, providing them with more creative freedom. They feel more confident knowing that they aren’t going to disturb anyone when moving the camera into different positions.” 

A Profound Impact

It must be noted that what Prestonwood and PowerPoint Ministries have achieved would not be possible without the fantastic volunteers. The volunteer operators come from various backgrounds, ages, and experience. The desire to provide them with better tools and an improved experience was another critical factor in their decision to move to camera robotics. “The impact of MRMC robotics on Prestonwood’s broadcast producers and operators has been immediate and profound. From a directorial standpoint, the new set-up delivers on multiple levels – tighter follow shots, improved scheduling, and cross-training opportunities, all contributing to enhanced production quality and efficiencies. We have also developed a training program to onboard all those involved in the new technology and processes, comprised of a mix of online lessons and in-person, hands-on sessions. All 21 of our volunteer camera ops have successfully converted to the new system.”

The training program has been well received. Camera robotics require a shift in mindset when considering their potential within a traditional broadcast setup, and there is often a steep learning curve, mainly for more advanced operators, as there are habits that need to be broken and new reflexes to learn.

The production process differs from news or studio broadcast, where everything is scripted and planned. Throughout our production, we use a lot of on-the-fly moves to capture dynamic shots of the live service. Scripted songs are occasional, and for those, we use scripted shots. But what makes the MRMC system so great is that it caters to both scenarios. It is the software that is the game-changer for us. As we continue to learn the full capabilities, it just keeps opening up more options, in the best possible way. We can build pre-defined shots to capture spontaneous, yet common, actions and quickly adjust manually if needed.

Reliability was also a deciding factor when choosing MRMC. “It’s scary to fully commit to an unconventional workflow. If the system goes down, we’re toast. There’s no backup. I’ve worked in situations where the systems would crash & glitch. The hardware and software for this installation had to be solid, and so far, MRMC has exceeded expectations. After 5 weeks of hard testing, the system hasn’t crashed. When we test this scenario, a reboot takes 10 seconds.”

Bryan and his team are so impressed with the robotics that they are looking at ways automation solutions can further elevate their productions. One of these options is to install MRMC’s automated tracking software, Polymotion Chat, to help with the unpredictability of presenters and performances. “The system’s smoothness and ability to set up a camera with a head-to-toe shot and have this run automatically will free up the operators to focus on other things, a great choice for when we are short-staffed.”

Overall, Prestonwood’s decision to update its setup with advanced robotics represents a significant investment of time, resources, and faith in the potential of new technology. Bryan, his team, and MRMC are very proud of the efforts and the results of this project and hope it will help light the way for other churches that are also looking to expand the ways they can spread their faith and vision.

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