In my last blog article I addressed how to prepare yourself for being on camera; or, at the very least to ensure that you don’t entirely freak out. However, a successful on-camera experience, like most ventures in life, is a collaborative effort. It isn’t enough for the person in front of the lens to be as prepared as possible--the people behind the lens need to be equally in-tune with what is going on. This is precisely why I have always considered personality to be 50% of the hiring decision when considering new crew members. It isn’t enough to be talented if you want to be successful within the video production industry; equally important is compassion and strong social skills. You can set up the most exceptionally gorgeous shot in the world, but if you are incapable of making the subject of that shot shine, you are left with a bunch of fashion and no function.
This article is going to focus on how a competent crew can help ensure that their subjects are as comfortable as possible, and, by extension, performing at top capacity when in front of the lens. And, perhaps even more importantly, how that same crew can assuage the subject’s nerves if they are kinda-sorta freaking out.
BREAK THE ICE
Whenever you are interacting with someone new, there is always a period of breaking the ice. This is a component of social exchange that should never be rushed, as it sets the tone for any interactions to follow. When considering a crew working with an on-camera participant, things are no different than they would be at a social gathering of any sort--the rules of general social engagement still apply.
When tasked with a busy production day, there is always a tendency to want to get through the job as efficiently as possible. However, it is imperative that the crew remembers that they are working with real people, who have very real needs: chief amongst which is a need for comfort. Getting in front of a camera, particularly if it is something that you have never done before, can be a very agitating process. Respect this, and respond accordingly. Not only is this the humane thing to do, but it will go a long way toward ensuring a productive production.
As a crew member, first and foremost, you should cordially introduce yourself. If you are leading the crew, you should introduce yourself as well as all of your teammates. Make sure that everyone has had the opportunity to meet everyone else, and is on a level playing field. Next, make small talk while the final touches are being put on. Once a subject gets in front of the lens there are always some final adjustments to be made, whether this is placing a mic, or shifting a light. During this time, it is typically the province of the crew leader to initiate some pleasant conversation. Ask the participant how their day is going, where they are from, or anything else that might come up during a typical social gathering. Remember, this is a social experience, and should be treated the same as any other. I also find that it is helpful to include the crew in this interaction, in an effort to generate a sense of conviviality amongst the entire room. So, for instance, if the participant mentions that they are from the north side of the city, I might mention that the camera operator is also from that neck of the woods. This furthers the conversation, as well as begins to draw parallels between the crew and the subject, inspiring a sense of commonality.
There will certainly be times when a participant shares absolutely nothing in common with the crew. Perhaps you are interviewing a world-famous chef who has just spent the last decade of their life preparing meals for the Queen of England. In the absence of commonality, pure fascination would certainly suffice. Show an earnest interest in this person. Feel free to ask some questions about their experiences: prove that you are engaged and committed. People tend to appreciate when others are sincerely interested in what they are all about; so, if you can’t draw any parallels, turn to this facet of human psychology as a back-up.
SHARE THE PROCESS
Many people that find themselves within a room full of crew and equipment are fairly unfamiliar with the filmmaking process. This lack of knowledge leads to a sense of unpreparedness, and the last thing you want is for a participant to feel as if they are stumbling through an experience that is entirely foreign to them. To avoid this, clue your participant in on the process. Take some time to explain what a lavalier microphone is, and why it is being clipped to their jacket; talk about why you are filming with two cameras, and what options this will provide for in post. You don’t need to cram all of film school into a three-minute lecture, but it does help to offer a bit of insight into what is transpiring.
If you take the time to share the process, your subject is going to feel a lot less in-the-dark, which will, ideally, calm their nerves a bit. Moreover, this has the additional benefit of engaging a subject’s interest, as most people have a sincere interest in the process of producing videos. And, as I shared within the first article of this series, engaging interest can go a long way toward assuaging anxiety, as it tends to take someone out of their own head. Now, what if your participant has made some simple videos of their own in the past, or has been in a similar situation before? All the better! Now you can talk shop, tapping into that commonality that I addressed above.
The number one reason that on-camera participants are often nervous is that they are afraid they are going to muck something up. Sure, you will occasionally come across the individual who is brimming with confidence, and finds being in front of the lens exhilarating; but, more often than not, you will be working with someone who has very similar fears to the rest of us: notably, failure.
The fear of failure is a very potent force, and it is imperative that you do whatever is within your power to minimize it. To do so is relatively simple, and involves imparting some simple knowledge. Here are items I always make sure to mention when working with on-camera participants:
• If you ever feel like you don’t like how something you said sounds, feel free to go back and start over. We want you to be happy with your responses.
• Take your time. We can do this as many times as we need to--there’s no pressure to be perfect. (If you only have 5 minutes with a person, this one may not be valid.)
• You have permission to mess up! This is all going to be heavily edited in the end, so I don’t want you to worry about getting it right; we’ll get there--just trust me.
Additionally, if a participant is struggling greatly, and their confidence is beginning to plummet, I remind them that the way they are feeling is not unique. I make sure to let them know that almost everyone that gets in front of the camera feels the same way that they do, that it is totally normal; and that, again, we will get through this together.
This last insight is perhaps the simplest: provide for your participants! Consider what would make you feel more comfortable if you were in their position, and make it so. First and foremost, this means having a bottle of water, or beverage of some sort, within easy reach of the subject. If they are working off of a script, it may also mean having a copy of this script in an easily accessible place, so that the participant feels that their safety net is secure.
Each situation is going to be slightly different, so you will need to read the individual, and do your best to provide any creature comforts that you can. Remember, the mind and body are intimately linked; therefore, we need not just provide for a participant’s emotional needs, but also their physical needs, if we are to ensure the total possible level of comfort.
Being in front of the camera doesn’t need to be a terrifying undertaking, so long as both sides of the lens are doing what they can to make the process as painless as possible.