Media Training For Great Corporate Videos– Part 2: The Video Shoot

Written by Michael Axinn

Lights, camera, but wait! Before you say “action,” you need to be sure you’ve set up the conditions for filming in a way that best serves your non-professional presenter. A video set, even a modest one, for example a cubicle in a corporate office, can be an exciting place. And making a video should always be treated as a genuine occasion. Use that excitement to bring out the best in your presenter, but don’t stress them out with petty details. Take care of everything you can before bringing them to the set. Use a stand-in to work out lighting, framing, and sound levels. Lastly, make sure you’re familiar with all the talking points and product attributes.

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Get a Strong Performance

Certain elements – wardrobe, lavalier mic placement, and the exact lighting of your subject’s face and hair – require their presence. And while your crew focuses on the production details, make sure that someone (i.e., the director) is giving them their complete attention, making small talk to underscore what a breeze this is going to be. But while you're putting them at ease, you're also taking the opportunity to observe their tone for more precise mic levels and assess the strength of their delivery for the video. You’ve told them already that the interview will be conducted as a conversation, and your observations of them in their comfort zone will serve as a reference for how you want them to be on camera. A good lavalier mic (a must) is designed to isolate the performer's voice, so there is no reason for your subject to be anything but conversational.

As you’re making your quick assessment of their capabilities, the important thing is to measure your presenter on their own terms, rather than a standard of perfection based on a professional actor or presenter. You’ve chosen to work with a real person for a reason, and their character quirks are a big part of what makes them authentic and believable. If they happen to be a bit nervous by disposition then it’s better to embrace that than fight it.

Once the camera rolls, your presenter may not ask explicitly but they will be wondering how they’re doing and relying on you, as producer, to convey to them that they’re doing well. It's important to project your own comfort and confidence to them and listen with genuine interest to what they're saying. If you appear frustrated or unsatisfied with their performance they will likely grow more self-conscious. The degree of self-consciousness will of course vary. Should they suddenly become more self-conscious on camera after having been relaxed in conversation, here are steps you can take to bring them back to the unselfconscious tone.

Keep It Loose But Keep It Focused

Your goal, when the camera starts rolling, is to keep your presenter in the conversational mode they employ when they’re at their most persuasive. Whether you decide to have them look into camera or slightly to the left or right of it (an important distinction, but one that matters less than authenticity), you need to position yourself (or the person directing) in the place you want your presenter to be looking and simply carry on that conversation. Their engagement with you will be critical in ensuring that their presentation is persuasive. If you lose focus or stop listening, their performance will reflect that. You are talking about the product now, and your questions should derive organically from the conversation rather than what’s next on your list of questions. Do keep a list but use it more as a backup to make sure you did not miss any topics. If your conversation is genuine, you will usually find that all the topics have been covered, as your presenter has long-since internalized the key talking points. If not, you can always circle back in the end, get a second reading or allow the presenter to restate certain points more succinctly.

A good trick for the first few takes is to have them warm up with non-essential material such as an introduction, their name, title, what they do, all of which can either be filmed again at the end or added as subtitles. Also, have them do one or two takes “as a rehearsal” with the camera still rolling. This will ease the flow from conversation into production. If “the rehearsal” goes reasonably well, don’t hesitate to tell your presenter they were “great,” and that you’ve already got some usable material. This will ease any last pressure they may still be feeling. Once they feel they’ve done a few good takes, they should be more relaxed. [Note: I've referred to these as "takes" but it's not necessary to formalize that process as you would a feature film.]

Video Coverage

It’s best to shoot in such a way that you can assemble your video from different pieces in post. Using two cameras will allow you to do this seemlessly. If you cannot manage two cameras, the next best option is to shoot in 4k resoltion. This will allow you to edit from a wide shoot to a zoomed-in close up to cover any jumps. This way you can tell your presenter if they stumble on a word they do not have to go back to start from the beginning. By assuring them that any glitches can be fixed in post-production, you’re also making it easier for them to hit their stride and give you a range of strong material from which to assemble a great video.

It’s also a good idea to ask your presenter at the end to restate or summarize in 30-40 seconds an idea they’ve just taken 2 minutes to explain. This allows them the opportunity to choose more succinct phrasing and gives you even more material to edit from. By now, your presenter should be flowing and should not mind taking another stab at something if need be.

However, if you’re still finding they are overly nervous or stilted in their performance then it’s time to acknowledge that fact and take aggressive steps. Dig beyond your bag of questions to get them to clarify areas. Playing a bit naive and it clear that you really need their help to understand the subject will put them in a more authoritative position that requires their expertise. Find ways to reduce the formality and them explain things as if to a friend in social soitation. Shorten your takes and have them repeat sections until you’ve got a performance that captures what’s best in their personality.

A final note about shoot time and video length. To get the amount of footage you need for a strong one-minute video, you should be shooting from five to 10 minutes; for 2-3 minute video, it can be between 15 and 30 minutes.

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