Looking Your Best on Skype

January 24th, 2012

You’re probably not thrilled by the way you look on Skype.  As any DP (Director of Photography) in TV or film will tell you, fluorescents from directly above as your primary (or sole) source of light will probably not be the most effective way to show yourself off.  You may look like you’re losing your hair, the shine off of your forehead could be blinding.  The hollows under your eyes, not especially noticeable in life, may suddenly inspire thoughts of Dracula.  A worn-out Dracula.  The shadow under your chin is, well, disconcerting.

In other words, you could look a lot better.  And you know what?  It’s easy to fix.

First, place a desk lamp next to and close by your computer screen, so that when turned on it will light the front of your face (Front Light).  For a more dramatic effect, move it to the side, which will create shadows on one side of your face.  Place another lamp behind you (but out of the camera’s frame).  This will be your Back Light, serving to separate you from the background and focus the viewer’s attention even more on the subject – you.  Don’t switch these lights on yet.

Now, turn off the overhead lights.  Wow, surprising, right?  Although it may seem quite dark in the office, the auto-iris in your webcam has adjusted and you can still be clearly seen in the screen.

Turn on the front light, sit back, and look at yourself.  Add the backlight and again take a look.  Switch off the front light and, once more, check yourself out.  You’ve now seen five variations – overhead lights, no light, front light, backlight, and both front and backlight.  I suspect you’ll like the last one best, although you may want to adjust the position of the table lamps – especially the front light – until you’ve hit exactly the look you’d like for that particular conversation.  For example, if you’re trying to assert a powerful position, more dramatic is usually better, and if you’d like to convey a friendlier tone, the more straight-on, “flat” look would likely be ideal.

Skyping is just another version of website video.  As in any marketing video, be sure you embrace the film-makers’ craft.  After all, thousands of film production artists have been working for well over a century to figure out just how to do it right.


Your Website Videos – Appreciating the Primal – Part 7 – Testimonials

July 1st, 2011

It’s obvious.

A written testimonial, no matter how laudatory, can never match a website video with a client looking into the camera and sincerely extolling your virtues.  There are several things standing between you and that lovely outcome, however.

The first concern I usually hear is, interestingly enough, the one which is the least problematic.  “What if I can’t get them to come in and do it?”  Well, think about it.  To even be considered, the potential testimonial subject must be someone who is a happy, longtime client, or who has had a truly exceptional shorter experience with you.  How else could they give you the testimonial you want?  And, in either of those cases, they’re usually very positive about coming in to help you out.

The biggest obstacles have to do with time and nerves.  Most clients, no matter how kindly disposed to you, have very little time.  Flexibility and empathy in scheduling are the keys.  You’ll almost certainly want to shoot all of your website videos in one day, so try to fit your testimonial subjects in first.  Plan on those doing the filming (your crew, whether professional or inhouse) to arrive early, say 7:30.  This applies equally to a weekday or a weekend day shoot.  Then offer early time slots to your testimonial subjects.  Most working people are used to starting early and will want to be finished before their day really gets going.  Make the time concrete and limited, ideally a half an hour for each, comprised of 15 minutes for makeup (an absolute must, especially on HD with lights) and 15 minutes on-camera.  That way, you can schedule your testimonial subjects every quarter hour starting at, say, 8:00 a.m., and be finished with all of them by 9:00 (even with glitches, it shouldn’t extend beyond 9:30).  That will leave you the rest of the morning to film your main videos.  If a subject requests a later time, say 11:00, then start on your other items earlier, knowing you’ll be shooting that testimonial at 11:15 when the subject is out of makeup.

In other words, do what you would do anyway – pay attention to whatever will make it easiest for your clients to help you.

You’ve got them scheduled and ready to come in.  You’ve told them what to wear (including no white whites and no tight patterns).  Now, what are they going to say?

As much as I believe your lines (or your spokesperson’s) should be scripted and memorized, I believe that testimonial subjects should speak from their hearts, including the occasional hesitation or slight grammatical error.  Don’t forget, they’ll all come in with an idea of what they want to say and how they want to say it.  It’s the job of whomever is directing your marketing videos (and, again, why a pro is by far the best choice) to modulate the pace and content.  It might involve actually re-wording what the subject says on the first pass.  It might be as simple as saying, “Tell me exactly the same thing – in half the time.”  Don’t forget that almost always each pass will improve, and it will be a short road to getting what you want.

The key is not to cut and move on until you’ve got it right.  You’ll have the urge to release the client when the testimonial is getting close, but in the end neither of you will be happy you did it.  It’s always worth another couple of passes, if that’s what it takes.  When it’s just right, you’ll know it, and will be very happy you held your client there for that extra couple minutes.  Also, most often, each take relaxes the subject.  As he gets on top of his breath and in his body, the deeper notes will come out.

Finally, don’t forget that you don’t have to use the entire testimonial.  Listen carefully, be the audience.  The idea is to get approximately :20 seconds for each piece, but if you find there’s a :12 second gem in the center of it, that’s all you really need.  You’ll just edit it out in post.

Now that you’ve got your testimonials handled, the next performance element we’ll discuss for your website videos are those people portraying office workers, clients, and the like.

In the film world, they’re called Background.

Your Website Videos – Appreciating the Primal, Part 6 – Appearing On Camera

June 26th, 2011

The script is written, the location chosen, so what’s next for your website video?  You’ve got the what and the where.  Now you need the who.

One of the biggest difficulties for most clients in the process of putting together their website videos is who will do the talking.  Many business owners immediately gravitate to the notion of hiring a spokesperson.  Not uncommon, and not a terrible idea.  But remember, the key in the intimate setting of website videos is trust – personal trust.  No spokesperson, no matter how talented, can match the actual founder, CEO, or sole proprietor who is running the company.  Yes, perhaps for product videos, or manufacturing.  But in the world of service, there’s nothing like hearing it directly from the boss.

Remember the Carl’s, Jr. ads with founder Carl Karcher?  A perfect example of the power of the owner – even if he’s not an accomplished performer – telling you about his company, as opposed to a hired actor.  They turned the company around, even though Karcher would clearly have preferred handing the job to someone else.  In fact, that discomfort was a large part of the appeal.  And those ads were for TV, where that immediate personal connection isn’t nearly as important as it is in your website videos.

Which leaves you with… you.  For most businesspeople, the notion of appearing on-camera is daunting.  This includes owners and executives who are otherwise quite comfortable in public settings.  For example, I recently shot the CEO of a company with annual revenue of several hundred million dollars.  As we were heading to the location in his offices where we would film him, he told me that he could raise a billion dollars in a week.  That he’d often spoken before 5,000 people without the slightest discomfort.  That he’d been interviewed on TV and handled it easily.

But with memorized lines and a camera rolling, it was a different story.  And, when we reached the location, set the lights, and did our first on-camera rehearsal, he stumbled.  Two, three times.  I could see the tension beginning to creep in.  He said, “See?  Every time.”

My turn.

While the CEO clearly thought he was failing due to his mysterious struggles doing on-camera narration, I knew differently.  He was actually in a common actor’s battle.  A line or two which don’t, for whatever reason, want to click in.  In each take, everything else flowed.  It was just that one line.  The solution is simple, sensible, and only known to those who have done it.

Tie the line into a life.  Actions which have a sensibility to the words will carry that difficult dialogue along.

The line was, “I’m quite honored to be an important element in continuing a half-century of our founder’s legacy.”  I had him take his hands, which had been in his pockets, and clasp them together on “honored.”  With the slightest of moves, the hands became fists on “important element.”  Then he separated them into an open ‘hug me’ stance for “founder’s legacy.”  Simple, comfortable, small moves.

He tried it once and grinned.  “That’s great!  Let’s go.”  It had clicked.  We did three takes and he never stumbled.  Time to move on.

This is precisely why having the right director on your website videos is essential.  Only a trained eye can help the on-camera performer – pro or non-pro – through the process.  Remember, even the greatest actors need a director to achieve their best performances.  That’s why, back in ancient Greece, the first actors invented the first director.

And this is especially true if, as recommended, the on-camera host is the owner or a top executive of the company.  That mountain in the way of a smooth performance is usually no more than a speed bump.  But it takes a professional director to get you over it.

Next up – how to deal with Testimonials.