You know the feeling
Walk into a room full of people, remove your camcorder’s lens cap, and suddenly your would-be subjects are aswash in a sea of anxiety
There they are: your relatives, your friends, eyes squeezed shut, heads lolling, muttering nonsense, primping neurotically, crawling with tics and twitches, looking and acting mor elike loonies on a day trip than people you love and admire. You hoped to catch them at their natural best; instead, you’re accumlulating evidence for commitment.
These people are victims of a new form of “stage fright.” Fear of being recorded, on film or video, is increasingly common. Its roots, I’m sure, lie in that same primitive fear that damned the still camera as an instrument of the devil, an unholy device designed to capture the human image and thereby steal the soul.
Could be. We won’t know for sure ’til later. In the meantime, there are a number of things you can do to make video victims more comfortable. Who knows, they might even have fun.
First, know your equipment.
If you’re a fumbler, a bumbler, forever flailing for buttons, banging into lampstands, and cursing the camera, you’re likely to install a feeling of aprehension-if not downright rear-in your subjects.
So be sure you know you equipment inside and out. Use that camera until it becomes an extension of your eyes and arms. Tape is cheap, so shoot and shoot and shoot again. Become one with every switch and button.
Get organized. Know the location of the extra batteries you know are charged. Bring extra tapes, labeling pens, labels. Know the schedule of events, if any, and anticipate where to be next.
The confidence you will gain will make you a little more transparent and fluid, which translates into less anxiety for your subjects.
Savage Camera Attack
Ah, the subjects. I’ve been one myself.
Back in the late ’50s, my Grandpa Pidanick was the family shooter. At family gatherings Grandpa would lock himself in a bedroom to load film into the old 8mm movie camera, mount a rack of eight or so sun lamps, and manually wind the crank on the spring-loaded film transport.
Then he’d come crashing out into the living room, shirring and clicking and whirling. The stark, blinding light of his sun gun forced everyone to cover their eyes and scurry out like rats, turning back occasionally with grim, pained expressions, fuilely trying to wave him off.
The mass exodus leaves only a few children, who fly in front of the camera dancing and spinning until they begin to smoke from the heat of the lamps, at which point Grandma usually comes in jawboning for Grandpa to stop.
Now, years later, those silent, choppy, poorly exposed images are cherished treasures.
Today’s technology can also be frightening. So it’s still not a good idea to burst into a room, camera ablaze. Sometimes, of course, your script may call for the thrill, but usually you’ll want to achieve a natural look: people being themselves. Video can be an amaingly unobtrusive technology. It’s quiet, light-sensitive, and easy to operate. Use this to your advantage.
Go for Normal
It’s a good idea to keep the equipment out and about.
Video’s fun, so keep it handy. If it’s around, everybody will get used to it. Bringing it out only for the cutting of the cake or opening of the present will make everybody uptight.
Shoe the camera to Grandma and Grandpa, Little Joe and cousin Spooge. Let the look in the viewfinder and “roll some tape.” Mose people will surprise you with their interest in being behind the machine and will handle the camera with respect.
The point is to get ahead of the technology and diffuse any tensions, make the gear seem normal. You’ll get better stuff if everybody’s comfortable with the equipment.
Remember that professional news and documentary shooters have their cameras with them always, even in restaurants during meals. You never know when gunmen might burst through the door to blow the head off the Mafia chieftain wolfing down cannelloni at the next table.
Fear of the Pros
All these techniques, of course, also apply to professional videomakers.
In interview situations, make it a point to initiate real human contact. True human communication can relieve some of the stress of “committing to tape” and result in a more natural interview. So spend some time talking, even if it’s only while you’re setting up.
Comfrot’s the idea. You must be confident with your equipment, well organized, and able to put your subjects at east. All this is best accomplished through experience.
So make friends with your camera. Know what’s required to keep it up and running. Be prepared to chat-to your camera and to people. Soon you’ll find you’re regularly achieving natural, relaxed, free-flowing video capturing human beings at their best.
John Hartney, has worked as a camera operator and audio technician for ABC, ESPN, and CNN.