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Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors

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Adrian JansCoaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 7, 2010 at 10:21:12 pm

Hello to everyone at the COW, I'm looking for some advice about coaching non-actors, but first, let me fill you in on the details of my work.

I'm a videographer for a company that does Internet marketing for Local level Insurance Agencies. Basically the company builds a website designed to draw in local online traffic and be as easy to use as any major carriers website. The company also flies the Head of the Agency down to our Hometown for me to film some videos of them against our green screen. Which means (at this point in my career) I am dealing exclusively with non-actors.

I film two types of videos with the client. First are some alpha channel videos, client standing up, shot cuts off around their waist - hips region, 30 second scripts detailing key points about the key pages of the website (for an example see: http://www.gdiinsurance.com/ ).

The other kind of video has the client sitting down in a chair (with part of chair back visible), bottom of shot cuts off around sternum region, usually set against a grey to white gradient and the company logo in the top left corner, scripts are 1 minute long. The audience receives the clip via email with a link to a page containing the video and some other information. Audience receives video in situations such as, if they're a new customer, or filed a claim, etc.


I'm a self taught 22 year old and I'm working completely by myself (I alone am literally the entire videography dept.) So I am always looking for ways to improve my work, and am never satisfied.

What I would really like to know, is what advice you guys have for warming up, or coaching your non-actors.

Does anyone suggest any vocal warm ups? Or anything that will help loosen up a clients mouth, get them used to breathing and speaking with their diaphragm or anything else beneficial.

What do you guys like to tell people to do with their hands if they look too stiff. Or what kind of body language do you suggest for someone who is sitting down trying to convince a Lost Customer to come back in the future, or asking for a referral.

What kind of snacks do you like to keep around for your clients? What helps to reenergize, and doesn't make it harder to speak.

Does anyone know any good books on the subject?


Things that I do already: I have mixed nuts, LOTS of bottled water, whiskey, wine, and sometimes beer for clients to enjoy whenever they like. I know anything dairy or with lots of sugar is a big no no, but I don't know much beyond that.
I ask clients if they are familiar with using their diaphragm, and have them do some basic deep breathing exercises. And while that alone makes a difference with everyones delivery, it still doesn't feel like enough to me.
And of course I do what I can with small talk before and throughout filming, but that isn't exactly my strongest trait.

Absolutely any suggestions are welcome. I know this place is full of hard working and Experienced Professionals who have no obligation to help people out, but do anyway. Any advice will make my day.


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Noah KadnerRe: Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 7, 2010 at 11:13:16 pm

I'd definitely not suggest offering anything alcoholic- I mean wow you really want an obvious drunk pitching insurance on their website???

As for keeping folks natural, well that's really directing 101 and there are a million ways to do it. I usually just chat the person up as much as possible so that they forget there's a camera there. Cover or switch off the red recording tally light as that is also intimidating to some talent.

Then beyond that- build up their confidence. That was awesome- let's try it a different way- etc. Even if they're terrible. And if possible film with two cameras that way you can cut out all the flubs and keep the few moments where they got through a sentence ok. If you use just one camera that means they have to get it perfect al the way through which is hard for most pros too. Even if it's the cheapest camera in the world- doesn't really matter because you're doing web video anyway. Just turn it on and let it roll.

Noah

Check out my book: RED: The Ultimate Guide to Using the Revolutionary Camera!
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Bill DavisRe: Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 8, 2010 at 6:28:06 am

This topic really deserves a book. But in terms of a couple of short ideas that have helped me.

The FIRST priority is establishing rapport with the subject. This typically means having them pay more attention to YOU than to the process of taping. So I'm also a proponent of rolling the camera as soon as everyone is settled and not even mentioning that you're recording.

Then, try starting by asking a series of questions that the interviewee will be COMPLETELY comfortable with - Here in Arizona where most everyone is a transplant, I commonly use "So tell me, what part of the country were you born in?" It's a dumb question. But the point is that that EVERYONE knows the answer to it PLUS it allows you to follow up with "So when did you come out here"? Or What was it like growing up back there?. The purpose is SIMPLY to start them talking. And then keep going in that direction, by asking them OBVIOUS stuff that will give them confidence in talking, until you subtly look for an opening that lets you direct the conversation around to the subject at hand.

The best interviews I do are where the subject eventually asks "Shouldn't we be recording this?" and you can answer - "We've BEEN rolling, in fact, we're almost done."

Interviewing is about rapport. It's about psychology. It's about eye contact and intense listening. It's about body language and smiles and silent nodding and encouragement and making the subject feel like everything they say is the MOST important thing in the world.

And it's nearly impossible to do well while simultaneously running video or audio gear.

A few basic ideas from someone who has done a few hundred on-camera interviews. Hope they help.

Good luck.




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Mark SuszkoRe: Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 8, 2010 at 3:44:06 pm

I agree with Bill and do much the same as he does.


Don't offer nuts as snacks; some folks will have a reaction that tightens the throat. Same with any drinks that contain sugar. No dairy either; makes the mouth produce phlegm. Soda or sparkling water can make people gassy and burpy. Best drink for recording sessions is room temp tap water. Best snack is nothing, because you don't want to have to lose a shot due to smething showing up on or between teeth. In fact pack disposable toothbrushes and floss picks so they are on hand in the bathroom.


Turn off any tally lights and monitors in the guest's line of sight; they can be huge psychological barriers and distractions. If you need an eye line into the lens, sometimes it helps to put a tiny little toy or sticker on the camera, just above the lens, as a focal point that's less intimidating than the giant unblinking glass eye. I knew of a news shooter back in the day, for WFLD I think it was, that always had one of those tiny troll-hair dolls glued just above his lens on the front of his camera: whenever he was in a multiple-camera live interview situation, the speaker would nearly always look towards that camera the most, giving that camera op the best shot. Because of that stupid little funny troll doll. Brilliant.

Try not to make them memorize or even read prompters. Prompters used badly are a crutch, not an aid.

The key to the best performance of non-actors is to direct them in such a way that they are just being themselves. You do this by interviewing them using leading questions and by insisting that any answers they give you incorporate the question back into the answer. I demonstrate this by ahving them interview ME with a question about my favorite ice cream. I show them a bad example answer: "Rocky Road". I explain that "Rocky Road" is not a sentence and not something I can work with. I ask them to ask me the question again and this time, I do it the way I want them to do it: "My favorite ice cream lately is Rocky Road, because it has chocolate and nuts and marshmallows in it so there is a lot of variety going on in there... blah, blah, blah...." They always get this example, and usually after one or two practice questions, they don't need reminders. You need to keep the questions somewhat open-ended. Asking the question multiple times, under the excuse of needing different shots for editing, or sound checks, or lighting adjustments, gives you continuity insurance and enough alternate versions of the same material that you should be able to edit around any huge errors cleanly. With this technique, you can completely drive the finished narrative any way you need to, and slyly insert key terms or phrases into the dialogue that they will incorporate without thinking about them. Between the two of you, you are interactively "writing" the "script" in real time thru this "peformance". Later, you knock out any non-sequitors and all your questions, and what's left is a well-arranged and structured monologue that came from the heart of the speaker, delivered with a natural authenticity, because they are his or her own words. More or less. Art Linkletter just died this week; the guy made a career out of posing the questions in ways that set up what he needed the person to say. You need to know enough about the subject to guide the interrogation, to cover all the bullet points in the right order. Then you frame your leading questions to uncover those bullets.


There is not much "business" you can give a person to physically do, sitting in an interview chair. If they fidget a lot, decide if calling attention to it will make them worse, or if they can handle it. Often what you need to stop a fidget is to distract them with a very opinion-centered question, it needn't be on topic. Ask them who in their right mind would be a Cards fan, for example. Or what they think of Washington these days. Or make a comment about loud cars with booming stereos that ruin your audio tracks. Anything like that will derail them as their feelings kick in and they will loosen up.
Sometimes you or one of the crew plays fall guy to some deprecating humor joking about some harmless foible. Again, just a simple momentary distraction can help re-set the interviewee's behavior.


I have some standard but heartfelt speeches I always give the talent.

One of them goes:

"I know you're not an actor, and the audience knows you're not an actor. We wanted someone real, someone who knows what this is all about. That's you. You're here because you already know this stuff, you live this stuff, you're a content expert. And people respond to that. When you talk about what you know, or what you feel passionate about, you naturally come off well, as an authority, you take on a presence with the audience, because they know you know what you're talking about. This is not some kind of test; this is not a game of gotcha. I don't get paid to make folks look bad. I get paid to make people look AWESOME. We're going to throw away all the bad takes, I'm going to trim this down in editing so we show only the best you have to offer. I'm going to light you well, and compose the camera to make everything look as good as I can. We'll cover some parts with graphics and footage as well. So don't let mistakes bother you. Nobody's going to see them after I get finished with this. We're only going to ask you things you already know, and so you don't need to act. "Acting" just hurts our message. We don't need actors. We just want you to be you."


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Alan LloydRe: Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 9, 2010 at 6:56:33 pm

"I know you're not an actor, and the audience knows you're not an actor. We wanted someone real, someone who knows what this is all about. That's you. You're here because you already know this stuff, you live this stuff, you're a content expert. And people respond to that. When you talk about what you know, or what you feel passionate about, you naturally come off well, as an authority, you take on a presence with the audience, because they know you know what you're talking about. This is not some kind of test; this is not a game of gotcha. I don't get paid to make folks look bad. I get paid to make people look AWESOME. We're going to throw away all the bad takes, I'm going to trim this down in editing so we show only the best you have to offer. I'm going to light you well, and compose the camera to make everything look as good as I can. We'll cover some parts with graphics and footage as well. So don't let mistakes bother you. Nobody's going to see them after I get finished with this. We're only going to ask you things you already know, and so you don't need to act. "Acting" just hurts our message. We don't need actors. We just want you to be you."


YES!

A client recently had a guest in the studio for a brief taping. Nice guy, pleasant presence, outstanding knowledge of his subject. Made a couple nice, conversational takes.

Then the client came in.

He (sadly) wanted something more akin to a Billy Mays-style shoutfest. Not to speak ill of the dead, and apparently a good guy as well, according to a friend who had worked with him, but Billy Mays was responsible for as many mute-button pushes as anyone in recent memory. It was also not the expert's normal style.

After a few less-than-successful takes, we settled on something that managed to make the guy sound like himself while appeasing my client's more over-the-top tastes.

If it's not a speech delivered to the camera, maybe something more "plotted" or a scenario, I also suggest that the talent do something instead of be something. Tell them to do a particular thing, as it's easier to expect non-actor to do that in a stressful, unnatural setting.


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Jason JenkinsRe: Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 8, 2010 at 4:52:27 pm

Great advice in this thread! The only thing I can add is; don't try to make them speak using their hands if they don't naturally do that. There seems to be thousands of directors across the globe telling their talent to "Use your hands and when you bring them together, match up your fingertips". Yeah... that looks soooo natural. One of my pet peeves!

Jason Jenkins

Flowmotion Media

Video production... with style!


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Adrian JansRe: Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 8, 2010 at 6:53:34 pm

Wow, I'm really thrilled with the response I've gotten in this thread, and much quicker than I expected too. The COW really is one of the best resources a young person that is motivated to learn could hope for.

Everyone seems to agree first and foremost that its crucial to start with conversation. I always try to do what I can with that, but you guys have really given me some great suggestions for conversation starter/movers.

Mark Suszuko - That suggestion you gave about asking opinion centered questions is truly a Golden piece of advice, some of the most immediately useful I've seen on the subject. Big thanks for that one! (And everything else you said)

Bill Davis - You said this topic deserves a book, and I couldn't agree more. Could you suggest some titles for me to check out? I just don't know where to begin looking.

A few other things I'd like to throw out there.

Noah, you make a very good point about watching people around alcohol. While it hasn't been an issue yet (in fact, so far clients have only indulged in a drink as a celebration at the end of filming), it is important that I don't let clients embarrass themselves, as thats simply unprofessional and would reflect poorly on myself.

The reason I want to keep snacks around, is because often times my clients are flown in from out of town, and can only afford to spare one day for filming. Obviously I'm not going to let them leave until I have product I think they will be happy to show the world (because this isn't just their reputation, its mine), which means with some people, recording the 12 short scripts we have to get through can be several hours out of a day. And while my bosses give me petty cash to take the client to lunch, I often times find they need something in between to keep them going. However Mark, your idea about toothbrushes and floss is great.

Again, I am so grateful for all this wonderful advice, and I'm sure lots of other people reading this thread will be thrilled too.


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Andy StintonRe: Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 8, 2010 at 10:58:40 pm

Best thread I've read for a long time. Lots of amazing advice.. A good book to read is larry King's biography. He explains within the pages his secret... Which is keep the question simple and react with a simple question..

Andy Stinton
Corporate Video
Live & Stage Events
Business Practices


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Richard CrowleyRe: Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 9, 2010 at 2:33:25 am

"Could you suggest some titles for me to check out? I just don't know where to begin looking."

I am reminded of a popular book that isn't necessarily written for interviewing on-camera (or on-mike), but probably good info on establishing rapport with the interviewee...

"How To Talk To Anyone About Anything!" by Jill Spiegel ISBN-10: 0964332574


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Nick GriffinRe: Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 9, 2010 at 9:54:04 pm

It's really quite hard to have anything to add to this string of wonderfully informative posts, but I'll just mention a couple that have not yet been brought up.

Isolation and privacy is critical. You want your interviewee to have a one-on-one relationship with you and the two of you should be looking right into each others eyes. I almost always sit a few degrees to the side of the camera so the subject is talking past and not directly addressing the camera.

Having other people in the room is best avoided if at all possible. If they have to be there to operate camera or sound, they should wear dark clothing, stand very still and do their best to blend into the background. If they are the client and insist on being present (the good clients know not to do this, BTW) I make sure that they are immediately behind me. Keeping a single line of sight in this way keeps the subject looking at you and NOT bouncing their glance around the room to see what the other person(s) may think of their answers. That looks horrible at best and Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" at worst.

Like Mark, I always apologize in advance for the fact that there will be a great deal of redundancy and remind them of that when asking to repeat or re-phrase an answer. "What's another way of explaining that?" and "What does that mean to you?" are good questions. In fact, most questions are good if you keep them short and very open ended.

Finally, the biggest secret to getting them to be themselves and relax is for YOU to be yourself and give off an air of engaged relaxation.

Best of luck and great thread, guys!


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grinner hesterRe: Coaching Client-Actors/Non-Actors
by on Jun 17, 2010 at 4:45:23 pm

Disarm em. I am very laid back and have no problem calling even the highest of execs dude. I explain we're just having a conversationa nd as you have found, oftena drink helps em with that. When I can, I talk them out of dogging their video with their presence rather than with some talent but as you know, you can sense when not to play that card. When you sense that, man, don't go against it.
Don't hesitate to bust a take and tell em why. Their hands have to be natural...again from that we're just having a conversation thing you told em in the beginning. Have fun... so they will too.
Dont yell action or speed or anything else that will serve no other purpose than freaking them out. Don't overdo the production. Lights, booms, and people not required only add to their anxiety. A dude with a camera is far less intimidating than a tv crew. What the "uh"s and the "ya know"s. You can edit these out if it's a vo but if they are doing standups and doing this, you have to ease them into not doing it. Set em up if you need to. Ask a question and let em answer to create that very conversation you are telling them you need. Lastly, good enough won't be good enough later. You too will get frustrated and it's easy to say we're fine when ya aint. Don't. Tell em it was perfect only when it was or they will just keep doing the wrong thing.



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