Behind the scenes of one Tupelo church is a media tech expert making it all possible

Published 4:38 pm Monday, October 16, 2017

Ben Warnick
Originally published by Oxford Stories

Sometimes it’s cool to be a nerd.

“I used to be really self-conscious about it,” said James “Gandalf” Savage. “But now, I’m proud of my skill set and my nerdy qualities too.”

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To most, the wizardly-nicknamed Savage is a soft-spoken, quirky, 26-year-old from Corpus Christi, Texas. To those who know him best, Gandalf is a media mastermind, equipped with many skills necessary for success in the modern business marketplace.

Success has followed Savage throughout his past 12 years of media exploration. His resumé includes media work with LifeWay, summers serving with their World Changers missions organization, and his most recent addition as the director of media technology at First Baptist Church Tupelo.

“We really could not do all of this without Gandalf,” Bro. Lee Allred said. “He does in five minutes what would take me five hours to complete.”

Savage has lived in Tupelo the last 18 months. His daily career involves preparing worship services with technology, and that prep work requires Savage to wear many hats.

He makes sure video announcements are ready to go for weekly services, takes the lead with sound and stage during church services, and designs a variety of advertising and graphics for the church.

He even takes aerial shots for the church using a drone, for which he is commercially certified. With all of this on his plate, Savage knows he must have a battle plan.

“Typically, I have to look at the calendar and what’s coming up and gauge what will take the longest,” he said. “What I try to do is complete the tasks that will be done as the event is coming up. So events that are long off, but will take a very short amount of time to complete, I do those last. Then events that are coming up further down the road that will be closer to my deadline, I complete those things first for more complicated media items.”

Savage had about 10 years of experience in mass media before he began his work at FBC. Before that, he focused on graphic design, videography, and editing on a hobby level. He has a degree in psychology, but in regards to his current career, has no formal education. His self-taught approach focuses on applying his skills in church settings and beyond.

“Almost all of what I’ve learned has been learned through my experiences in churches.” said Savage. “Typically all of my experience where my media expertise has been practically applied has been in some sort of Christian or church setting. That’s been both in past churches and for companies like LifeWay, helping with various video resource ministries.”

Savage said his ability to diversify his activities in the workplace aids in his positive morale at FBC. He said the career is one of the more challenging roles he has taken in his life.

“For myself, I try to work on a variety of things,” he said. “I find that if you stay committed to a single project for too many hours in a day, you start to get burned out, and your work starts to decline in quality.

“The nature of my job ensures that I will be working on multiple projects at a time, so I like to float between projects during periods of high productivity.

“When I’m in a very creative mood, I like to apply that to other projects in some form or fashion. I don’t let myself get bogged down or stuck in a creative rut working on a single project.

“I think that helps me and the people around me. It means that at any moment, someone could have an emergency project that needs completing, and that leaves me free to be able to complete that for them, without having anything to derail myself from other projects.”

Savage loves his job in media, and said he wouldn’t want to “do anything that doesn’t involve technology.” As he continues his work at FBC, he advises students to stay practical and open-minded.

“The fastest way to get a job in media or to hone your skills is really to just do it,” said Savage. “Media technology is a field unlike any other.  You don’t have to necessarily have permission or be told to do a particular video.

“At the end of the day, I would say that more important than any degree or certification in media design is a portfolio of already created stuff, especially in church settings. They don’t necessarily know what certain certifications mean. They don’t know the value of certain degrees. All they know is that they want, for example, is someone who can make videos for them, so you show them what you have made.

“The fastest way to do that is to simply start making videos, even if you don’t have the best equipment or the best editing programs. Use your phone. Use free editing programs. Just get out and make something.  If all you have at the end of your student life is a degree with nothing to back it up, there are going to be very few people who see you as a valuable hiring option.”