Q&A: We need to film 3 senior managers. But how?

Our client needs to film 3 of their managers, each separately talking to camera.

The content is industry thought-leadership material, and is scheduled to appear on their website.

My problem is: How can I be sure they’ll look and sound good?

Any tips or advice you can offer are welcome.

Business Development Director
Media Agency
London

 

Broadly if I had 3 talking head managers to film, then I’d suggest:

> One of them will naturally be good on camera

> One could be good

> One will be difficult to produce well.

However, your client will probably expect each of the 3 managers to speak authoritatively on their chosen field, with their speech based on a few cue cards or similar.

Not too different to delivering a powerpoint.

However, pitching to camera for a video isn’t like delivering a powerpoint to room full of people.

It’s vastly different.

Here are some of the differences:

Runtime

> a powerpoint presentation is long, personal, and has an audience in sight.

> a video has to be short and concise, and delivered to a cold lens.

Speech Foibles

> Ums, ahs, and speech mannerisms in a powerpoint are largely invisible

> Ums and ahs in a video stand out like a sore thumb. So does “know what I mean” and other personal speech-isms.

Personal Appearance

> Powerpoint means a room full of people like you, warts and all – and at a distance

> Video is close-up and reveals your every flaw.

Audience Empathy

> Talking to an audience gets warmer. One can feel one’s way in, like an actor on stage.

> Video is cold, instant, and gives no audience support whatsoever.

Solving the Problem

Scripting

Video has to be short, as audiences drop off quite quickly.

So a concisely prepared script is essential.

Forget informed ad-lib, unless you’re a videogenic genius.

This means using a teleprompt.

For an “amateur” to work well with a teleprompt, a crew is needed:

> an experienced video director who can coach / coax a great performance from a possibly a potential “woodentop”.

> a teleprompt operator who can quickly edit the last minute text changes the subject will undoubtedly want. Then run the teleprompt at the right speed for the subject.

> A near-silent camera operator who can handle all the lighting & camera issues, and be “invisible” in the room, ie, stay quiet and keep a low profile (nothing’s worse than “too many camera ops spoiling the broth” in a delicate talking head situation)

Location

Greenscreen or office / boardroom location are both fine.

Generally I prefer green screen, with a nice corporately branded background keyed behind the subject – something that’ll look good on a website.

The “MD with potted plant” in the boardroom is a bit old hat.

A live office can add a good level of energy.

But a live office may embarrass a nervous subject (and many are secretly very nervous), especially with colleagues watching (and sniggering?)

I’d suggest using green screen either:

> as portable green screen in the boardroom, which is a suitable size for an ad-hoc film studio.

> in a professional green screen studio facility, with cool lights, teleprompt, and everything laid on – for a fee.

The Filming

First off, “honour the subject”. Make them feel special. Relax them. Do this first.

Next, explain to the subject that you’ll need to film the piece 5 times.

You might only need 3 takes, but if you say 5 takes then they’re prepared.

Let then read the piece slowly off the teleprompt, while being filmed.

I don’t recommend rehearsals, as some subjects get it right very quickly, yet can also tire very quickly.

So be ready to catch the lightning when it strikes.

Film the slow read, then make script adjustments, so the subject likes the flow.

It’s in this time that bonding takes place between director and subject.

The subject starts to trust the director. On occasion it can be likened to a priest in a confessional.

Go for a second read – a bit quicker.

Encourage the subject to use their arms and eyebrows with head tilts and turns to emphasise key points – “work the face”

They’ll start to express themselves physically, instead of standing like a woodentop.

Now go for a 3rd read – even quicker.

It should be enjoyable.

Now here’s a bit of “rossiter magic”.

On the 4th read, ask them to do it a “bit loony”.

Get them to exaggerate everything – over the top.

Make it fun to do.

The “loony take” will often be the one that makes the final cut. Believe it.

Summary

The above production approach is a systematic process.

It allows room for flair and creativity.

But mostly it’s systematic.

Which means it’s a reproducible formula, and not an act of god, or luck, or fate.

It’s been tested through thick and thin over the years.

There are many other approaches too.

But if you’re not sure, then the above works.

Use it.

Then you can confidently film senior managers.

Here are some talking head samples of various managers and CEOs.

www.rossiterandco.com/talkingheadvideo.htm

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