Set Junkie

In Touch broadcasts to viewers worldwide—and Gary Longenecker is one of the people who make it happen.

"Ah ha!"

Gary Longenecker stands triumphantly in the doorway, a battered rake in his hands and a mischievous glint in his blue eyes. Everything had been set—the subject in place, video and audio crews ready to record—but Longenecker hesitated. To him, there was something wrong with the look of the scene.

When you’re working on location, anything and everything can happen. Sunlight that shone perfectly through a window one minute can spoil a shot the next. That’s where creativity comes in—something Longenecker, In Touch Ministries’ Director of Photography, has in ample supply. He straps the rake to a hodgepodge of grip equipment, adjusts the angle, and the light filters through it, creating a pleasing shadow on what had previously been a blank wall.

And with that, it’s time to roll camera.

Scene One

The ability to improvise is essential for anyone who wants to make a living behind a camera, which is what Longenecker has been doing for more than 20 years, six of them with In Touch. But the job is a natural fit for a man who admits that sitting still every day “isn’t an option” for him.

“I didn’t just want to capture the drama; I wanted to help create it.”

Born in 1971 in Norfolk, Virginia, Longenecker had two all-encompassing passions growing up: baseball and Star Wars. If he wasn’t immersed in the game, perfecting his skills as a second baseman, he was pretending to be in a galaxy far, far away. Even after his family relocated to Atlanta, both remained constants in his life until baseball ceded the stage to a still greater love: his high school sweetheart Angela, whom he wed in 1994.

Lights, Camera, Action

But Longenecker wasn’t interested in just watching movies. He wanted to know how films like George Lucas’s science fiction epics were made. “When I was really young, I read magazines about special effects and was curious about lights and cameras. I thought the entire industry was cool—a community of creative people who used technology to convey an idea.”

Because of this insatiable curiosity, Longenecker decided to abandon his plans to become an architect. Instead, he paid the bills by working three jobs (delivering Chinese food, cleaning offices, and—naturally—working in a movie theater) and pursued a career in film instead.

It was at Georgia State University that he discovered just how powerful a camera could be. “In one class I took, we analyzed Citizen Kane,” he says. “Every decision Orson Welles made as the director was intentional, and spending a lot of time with his work showed me that camera angles, lighting, depth of field, dialogue, and even the musical score mattered. I knew movies were entertaining, but it wasn’t until then that I really understood they could also be an art form.”

He put that knowledge to good use while working for several companies in the Atlanta area to create commercials, documentaries, music videos, and even TV shows like the Golden Globe-winning series I’ll Fly Away. And each job taught him something about the industry as well as his particular areas of giftedness. “Film school is one thing, but being in the field and doing the work is another,” he says. “You pick up what you need to know just by doing it. I learned more about lighting on a set than I ever did in a classroom.”

“I want the secular market to follow us again—to look at what Christian filmmakers are producing and say ‘Gosh, that’s excellent.’”

Longenecker began as a production assistant but quickly moved up to third camera operator and eventually to feature camera operator. As time went on, he became more involved in deciding the best way to shoot a scene rather than simply following someone else’s instructions. “That’s how I knew I wanted to be a cinematographer and a director of photography,” he says. “I didn’t just want to capture the drama; I wanted to help create it.”

In 2009, Longenecker began feeling it was time to move on and begin a new chapter in his career. “I didn’t know what it meant exactly,” he says. “My passion has always been storytelling, so I thought God wanted me to work in feature films.” But Longenecker and his wife had two small children, and he didn’t relish the idea of being away from them for weeks—sometimes even months—at a time.

There was also the end result to consider. “I wanted to work on something impactful,” he says, “something I would be proud to tell my kids I had helped create.” And that’s why he chose to join the team at In Touch Ministries. Since then, he has been an integral member of the broadcast department, working on everything from product spots and segments like “Ask Dr. Stanley,” which air during the weekly broadcast, to large-scale projects like Christmas specials, Dr. Stanley’s photography expeditions, and the recent ministry trip to Israel.

“I’m just a set junkie,” he admits. “I love the creative process—everything from planning a budget to setting up a shoot. I love the hectic pace and kinetic energy of it. And the best thing is that if I do everything right, I get to vanish and let God speak through what we capture on camera.”

To Be Continued

Quality work is key, according to Longenecker, because Christian media has a huge challenge ahead. “There was a time when God’s people led the charge in the arts,” he says. “Whether it was architecture, music, sculpture, or painting, the church commissioned it. People of faith helped craft culture. Today, the secular market has the edge, but I want them to follow us again—to look at what Christian filmmakers are producing and say ‘Gosh, that’s excellent. We need to follow their lead.’”

That kind of forward thinking is why he was asked to take part in one of the largest projects In Touch has pursued in recent memory: the construction of a new state-of-the-art studio, which was completed last summer. An advocate of renewable energy, Longenecker was responsible for researching and installing the studio’s cutting-edge LED (light-emitting diode) system.

The studio contains 14 massive lighting racks. According to John McKinnon, Director of Broadcast Operations, “If they were filled with standard incandescent lights, the racks alone would use enough energy to power 42 houses. The LEDs require a fraction of that.” They also generate less heat, which reduces the need for air conditioning and allows In Touch to be a better overall steward of money and natural resources.

The broadcast team is also interested in making the most of another valuable asset—people. To that end, they encourage production assistants (those employees just beginning a career in broadcast) to try their hand at everything from operating video and sound equipment to editing and producing. If one discipline seems to be a good fit, PAs can transition into jobs that allow them to put those skills to use. One such success story is Eric Johnson, who began with In Touch seven years ago and now works under Longenecker as a camera operator. “People in this industry usually don’t want to share information, but Gary is the opposite,” Johnson says. “He’s totally selfless. Without doubt, he has helped to hone the talents God has given me.”

In Touch has a unique place in the world, according to Longenecker, and he is committed to helping the ministry flourish. “I’ve seen it firsthand,” he says. “When I travel to the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, and every corner of the United States, I see just how well recognized and respected In Touch is. Thanks to Dr. Stanley’s vision, we’ve been able to provide a clear, consistent message for decades. I’m thrilled to be a part of it and to do whatever I can to keep making things that are what I call ‘awesome amazing’ for God.”

Related Topics:  Work

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