As our Creative Director I have filmed quite a lot of interviews over the years and have been on the other end quite a few times in front of the camera as well! So whenever I’m filming I always feel sorry when I have to film someone who has never been on camera before and is a little nervous about the whole thing – so I thought, why not write a blog from my experiences to give fellow interviewee newbie’s some advice!
These ideas aren’t going to suddenly make you David Attenborough overnight but I do feel that if you can go into an interview (or general piece to camera) with these few tips in mind it may just ease the initial blow a little bit!
Before we get started my first piece of advice is to know that these types of ‘talking to camera’ pieces are referred to as ‘Talking Heads’…the first time you hear this it does sound somewhat derogatory and you will feel like a piece of meat being used for your head whilst talking…but yea…just so you know 🙂
Depending on which style you or your production team are going for, there are 2 common ways of filming anyone talking:
This is exactly as it sounds. You will be sat central to the camera and you will speak into the lense for all the world to see.
It can sometimes be a bit easier since you are looking at an inanimate object but really only works well for information pieces since you are speaking directly to your audience. If you’re doing an interview with someone my advice would be to request the following method.
This is the most commonly used method for video interviews and if you watch any news report of an interview this is the method which will be used.
You will be filmed slightly from the side and will be told to completely ignore the camera and talk directly to your interviewer, who will stand about a foot to one side of the lens. This can sometimes be tough to start with since there is a massive production camera sat to the side of you and you’ll (naturally) really want to look at it! But having the eyeline of an interviewer can also be a great help to stop wandering eyes.
Now I use the term ‘focus’ loosely here since my advice is to not actually focus on anything as-such.
As described above, you will either be looking down the lens of a camera or directly at an interviewer. The lens can sometimes be daunting since in the back of your mind you know what is going on behind that lens…it’s capturing your every move! And also the interviewer method can be a bit off-putting since it’s quite hard to stare at someone directly in the face without feeling a little awkward. So here’s what I found works best:
Find the area you’re meant to be focusing on, so let’s take the interviewer example. There they are, stood to one side of the camera ready to interview you. Look directly at their eyes to get the right eye level and position but once you have this position locked, simply focus on something behind them without your eyes. They become blurred which takes away all that pressure of staring at someone and since you’re probably looking at a wall right now you can really think about what you want to say without worrying “have I stared at this person in the eyes for too long!?”
There are 2 ways of doing any piece to camera and that’s either with a script in front of you…or not!
There are pros and cons of each method so please have a good think about which way you want to do it – the production team may try to advise you on the method they wish to do it but for me it should always be the way you want to do it since you are the one on camera and need to feel the most comfortable.
This usually involves some sort of autocue/teleprompter setup where an table or phone screen is used with the words scrolling upwards to allow you to freely read your lines. The crew may also just have the script printed on large paper and will hold this up – I personally don’t like this method however since you can see the persons eyes moving whilst trying to read let to right.
The pros of being scripted are of course not needing to remember your lines and can simply speak the words that are infront of you.
The cons are that sometimes reading a script can come off very rigid and makes you lack any on-screen character since you are simply standing there reading from something. You can also start to sound like a primary school pupil reciting their Christmas Play lines!
The other con is that if you’re using an autocue/teleprompter setup then you have to have good eyesight and also good reading ability. So if your eyesight isn’t that great or you get your words muddled up easily when reading then this may not be the best option.
This is the most free-form method of speaking on camera, it gives total freedom, autonomy and sometimes causes live broadcasters to have to make apologies. You can quite simply say whatever comes to mind whilst your being filmed and if you’re working with a team who have good editing skills they should be able to edit out any ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ etc so don’t worry about that.
The pros are that if you’re good at just speaking your mind and are great at articulating your thoughts then you will come across great on-camera and be able to project your personality.
The cons are that if you’re not great at thinking on your feet and struggle to articulate your thoughts then this can do the complete reverse effect and make you look a little foolish on camera and not get the right ‘voice’ across that you were intending.
Another con is simply down to memory, this is where I personally struggle with unscripted since although I can articulate my thoughts…I do forget to say major points within the piece to camera and usually have to end up re-filming and trying to remember the key points
This then leads on nicely to another system I found worked recently – bullet points. Instead of having a script to read you can also just have a big piece of paper with bullet points on of the key things you need to discuss and have someone cross them off as you talk them through. Just make sure this is in an area where your eyes are flicking across the room to check.
My final piece of advice is to remember that there may be a lot of people on-set and unfortunately not much can be done about this so it’s good to bear this in mind so it’s not such a shock when you walk on set.
If you are concerned about how many people may be there on the filming day then it’s always good to ask the production team you’re working with.
Single Shooter – 1 person
So this is a nice and simple setup which a lot of smaller production companies use to keep cost down, you will simply have a single person who will set up the single camera and your microphone and will either interview you or be behind the camera filming as you speak down the lens.
Small Crew – 3 people
This would usually refer to an interview piece to camera and would consist of 3 people: Camera-Person, Sound Recordist and an Interviewer.
You will more than likely only deal with the Interviewer and just get slight direction from the camera and sound people but each one of them will be dealing with you for their respective purpose, so the camera person will advise you where to stand, the sound recrodist will sort your microphone out and test your sound levels before you start and the interviewer will of course, interview you.
Production Team – 5+ people
This really only applies to if you are going to be filming in a studio but I thought I’d add it to the list just in case!
So this will be where you have a whole team of people ranging from lighting technicians right up to your Director on the day.
You’ll usually just deal with an assistant on the day who will advice and prompt you for the general stuff then when it comes time for production you’ll deal specifically with the director who will tell you everything and you can ask anything to.
This is of course the most daunting out of the three options and is really an extreme version, but just in case it happens and someone points the finger at my blog 🙂
And there you have it, they are my top pieces of advice for anyone who is going to be on camera for the first time. It can be a daunting experience for certain people but if you have a good production team dealing with you then you’ll be absolutely fine and they’ll put your mind at rest.
I hope that helps and feel free to email me if you have any other queries at firstname.lastname@example.org