20 Tips for Directing Talent

You might be inclined to reserve the term “talent” for someone who is a gifted actor, or at least someone who has some type of on-camera experience. But in the world of video “talent” refers to anyone who steps in front of the lens. In reality, you’ll need to use regular people from all walks of life and professions as talent for your videos. People who are not used to talking in front of the camera. People who will rely on you to make sure they will look good on tape.

Whether your subject is your boss or your grandmother, you need your talent to be a natural, communicative, easy-to-relate-to element of your video production. Although you want talent to look natural, it won’t happen by chance. You’ll need to help them put forth the performances you want. This process is called directing. Without the right tools, coaching amateurs on-camera can be a stressful and unpleasant process. But don’t sweat it. Here are 20 tips to help you get great results, without spending your profits on Pepto.

1) Meet Before the Shoot

Meet with your subjects a day or two before the shoot to tell them what to expect. Give them copies of the script or interview questions so they aren’t surprised on the day of the shoot. The goal is to put your talent at ease. That starts by letting them know what will be expected of them at the shoot.

2) Set Up Before They Arrive

Arrive at the set well before your talent does so you can get everything set up before they arrive at the shoot. It is hard to concentrate on your subjects when you are rummaging through your camera bag, looking for adapters, scrambling for an extension cord or running to the store because you forgot a blank tape. If you are unprepared, you’ll make your talent nervous and add unneeded stress to the shoot.

3) Go to Their Turf

People feel more comfortable when they are in familiar places. Consider doing interviews on the subject’s turf rather than in a formal studio setting. It will help the subject relax, and provide for a unique backdrop.

4) Meet Them at the Door

It’s a good idea to have a friend act as an official greeter on shoot day. This person should be able to answer basic questions, direct talent to a suitable waiting area and make your guests comfortable while they are waiting. This will help relax the talent, and keep them from getting under foot before you are ready for them.

5) Use a Stand-in to Set the Lights

Video lights can get extremely hot, and your subjects will feel the heat if you leave them under the lamps too long. To keep your talent as fresh as possible, have a friend stand-in while you position your lights.

6) Clarify Roles Before You Roll

If you’re shooting a panel discussion, reinforce the need for the moderator to be conversational yet concise; addressing the panelists, not the camera. If you are making a training video, you might want the talent to talk directly to the camera and stick to a script.

7) Roll Tape While They Rehearse

A rehearsal will help your talent become more familiar with the material and more comfortable in front of the camera. When you do rehearse, it’s not a bad idea to roll tape. Some of the best takes may come when the talent is relaxed and not “on” for the official shoot.

8) Don’t Let Them Know You’re Recording

Many camcorders let you turn off the tally light that indicates when a camera is recording. A piece of black tape is another way to mask the tell-tale record indicator. If your talent gets nervous when the light comes on, cover it up.

9) Turn Lights Off During Breaks

Lights produce heat, and excess heat produces excess sweat. Sweaty talent isn’t comfortable talent. Uncomfortable, shiny talent isn’t good for your production.

10) Be Personable

Call each person by name and make sure you’re genuinely friendly. This will help your talent feel more comfortable and at ease. They will respond to your coaching better if they think of you as a caring friend.

11) Be Attentive

Listen to the concerns of your on-camera subjects and be sympathetic. You may need to assure one subject that he looks good, and another that her response doesn’t sound silly. If someone isn’t saying what you want or need, you may have to help him find his words.

12) Roll Lots of Tape

Tape is cheap. It may be to your advantage to let your subject talk about a topic as much as he likes – in any order he likes – and edit the session later. This is often easier on your talent, but makes for a more involved editing process.

13) Have Her Talk to a Person, Not the Lens

Many people are uncomfortable talking to a camera lens. Make it easier for these people by having them speak to a person next to the camera instead of directly to the lens itself. It helps if the interviewer sits in a chair next to the camera and the two have a conversation, ignoring the lens altogether.

14) Don’t Let Him See Himself on a Monitor

No one likes the way he looks on TV. The camera adds 10 pounds, shows off facial flaws and reveals the truth about hairlines. Don’t make your subject feel self-conscious by making him watch himself as you shoot.

15) Get Him Talking

Get a subject talking by asking a series of personal questions not related to the video shoot. After a few minutes of talking about a pet or hometown, your subject will feel more comfortable talking about more relevant subject matter.

16) Give Her Something to Hold

If the talent doesn’t know what to do with her hands, give her a prop to hold. Often this will keep a subject from fidgeting noticeably on camera.

17) Stick to Areas of Expertise

If you’re using talent who’s an expert on a given subject, be sure to ask questions specific to her area of expertise. An expert on video lighting, for example, is probably not the best person to interview about audio or editing techniques.

18) Eliminate Distractions

Usually, the fewer people in attendance at the shoot, the better. Your job is to help them concentrate on their role and the topic at hand. Too many people milling around can make your subject uneasy.

19) Keep Takes Short

It can be difficult to maintain focus if a subject is allowed to ramble for several minutes. Encourage your subject to speak in sound bites, keeping answers to less than one minute each.

20) Be Flexible

What works for one person may not work for the next. The situation largely depends on the individual involved. Some people improve with practice while others get worse. Some accept coaching easily and others become more irritable. Be prepared to tailor your coaching technique to each person you tape.

It’s a Wrap

A video is only as good as the people who appear in it. Superb camerawork, lighting and editing are wasted if the on-camera talent is not up to snuff. So before you embark on your next video shoot, make sure you pack your director’s cap. A few minutes invested in building relationships with your subjects can pay off with a stellar on-screen performance and you can save a few bucks on antacid!

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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