Directing Non-professional Talent
We previously wrote about shooting the CEO, and we included some tips to maintain control of the shoot, relax the CEO, and get the best possible footage for the scene. In many corporate settings, you may be asked to film employees doing their jobs and speaking on camera about what they do; directing them to be themselves should not be particularly difficult. However, when your script includes dramatizations or vignettes, you'll need to direct the talent to act out a scene; that's where your directing role can be a challenge.
Generally, the closer the employees' dramatic roles are to their real jobs, the better they will perform. In last month's column on producing, I wrote about how my company used call center employees to play themselves and as well as the roles of customers phoning in. When your script includes employees performing such roles as the tardy employee or the inefficient boss, it may take a little more work to bring out the performance that is convincing to the viewers.
As with professional actors, rather than demonstrate to the employee how he or she should read a particular line, encourage the "actor" to feel what it is like to be in the shoes of the character. Set up the scenario by saying to the actor something like, "Tell me about a time when you got the worst customer service you could imagine. Remember how you felt, and be that person now."
Directing Professional Talent
This technique helps bring out a believable performance and encourages the actors to express themselves. You can even go so far as to let an actor tell you how he or she thinks the scene should be played, and listen to their suggestions for changing the script wording. These ideas could enliven both the script and the performance. This is sometimes referred to as "selective directing" where you let your actors select their own interpretations of the scenes.
Alternately, you may want to be what some in the industry call the "creative director"—a director who has visualized the details of the script and asks the actors to fulfill your interpretation of how the scene should be performed. This role may work well for a corporate video because you know the audience and the client much better than the actor does. Most likely it will be your interpretation that will create the engaging, effective video the company wants.
You may also wish to employ a combination of selective and creative directing. Discuss your ideas for the interpretation of the roles, and elicit suggestions and ideas from the actors. In any case, make sure your actors know the objectives of the video and the target audience.
Most talent agencies and individual actors post sample clips on their websites. Send to your client or manager a small collection of ones you like. When the manager has selected one or more actors, call them in for a brief audition, and record the auditions. Ask them to read and act out a portion of the script. Watch them, rather than reading the script, and look for appropriate enthusiasm. Will they create the mood you desire and bring the script to life? Then stop them and give them some direction. How do they react to interruptions and your directing style? How do they relate to you? These are important evaluation mechanisms in addition to their acting abilities.
If your actor will be an on-camera host or spokesperson, her look and mannerisms need to reflect the image of the company. Is her enthusiasm natural? What about eye contact with the camera? Can she add appropriate body movements, head nods, and facial gestures to the reading? The script may have "talking head" segments, and you want your on-camera narrator to deliver these with style.
Checklist for Use of Talent
Here's a short list of things to keep in mind when working with onscreen talent, whether hired or in-house:
• Auditions (filmed, preferably)
• Union issues such as insurance and fees
• Release forms signed before filming
• Agreement on fee arrangement
• Wardrobe furnished or wardrobe fee paid
• Call times and honest estimate of number of hours they will be on the set
• Studio directions and parking
• Meals, soft drinks, and snacks
• Makeup and hair
• Rehearsal, when and where
• Blocking of talent and camera motions
• Crew reminded to be supportive of talent
• Teleprompter or ear prompter
• Props and set
• Dressing rooms for men and women
• Backup plans if talent is sick or late
Well-selected talent can help improve your own image with the company. In addition to video production, when you're working for a corporation, you need to consider the company's overall strategic plan. You need to work as a member of a team, and the "producer" on your team might be a writer or PR person with little video experience. This producer might even think he knows how you should perform your job. It may take time to garner the respect you deserve, but as you complete each successive production, your value to the firm will increase. Whether you are an in-house employee taking on the roles of producer-director-shooter-editor, or if you are a freelancer, the company views you as a creative force and steward of its corporate image.
Stu Sweetow (sweetow at avconsultants.com) is the author of the recently published book Corporate Video Production. He runs Oakland, Calif.-based video production company Audio Visual Consultants. He taught video production at UC Berkeley Extension, was associate editor of Wedding and Event Videography, and was a contributing editor to Camcorder & Computer Video magazine.