Directing for Speakers

A few months back I directed a show that was mostly speaking. It was one of the most demanding clients I have ever worked for and thus one of the worse gigs I have ever done. The client basically stood behind me while I was directing and told me how to direct the show. I’m used to clients telling me what they want but this client in particular forced me to break almost every rule of directing I have ever learned. I started doing shot counts because the client would get on my case if I sat on a shot for more than 5 seconds. They wanted tons of audience shots and the only way I could get enough in was to get shots of the back of people’s heads, which they loved. Normally I fight a client on some of this and explain why the backs of people’s heads don’t make good shots but that wasn’t a battle worth undertaking. I could go on for hours about the rules I broke and the frustrations of the show. But it is shows like this that make you really evaluate why you direct the way you do. For most people directing speaking is much easier than directing music but it is in no way easy. It is all about knowing your audience and trying to communicate to them through video. Knowing what your audience needs is half the battle. IMAG When it comes to speakers and IMAG I am a firm believer in a single camera approach. A single camera approach uses a single shot of whoever is speaking for the duration of their message/ presentation. The shot is usually a medium to a Medium close-up. I’m a big believer that IMAG’s main purpose is to connect and engage the audience in the room they are in. The reason I am a fan of Single camera IMAG for speaking is because it allows the audience to really lock in with the speaker and connect with them. When a speaker gets up and starts talking, an audio engineer usually stops mixing and lighting designers will usually sit on a single look; it is time to sit down and engage with whoever is speaking and the goal is to create an environment that draws people in. We use lights to draw people to the stage and highlight the speaker so people know where to look. Audio is used to distribute what the speaker is saying throughout the room. Video is used to connect the audience with the speaker when it is difficult to get a good view of them. As a production crew it is our job to create an environment that engages the audience and distribute what is happening on stage. It only takes a single camera to get the audience to engage and connect the audience with the speaker. A quality camera, tripod and operator can give a great experience for all people in attendance. So why would we ever need to switch shots? In my opinion there has to ALWAYS be a purpose when switching shots. To “Break it up” is not a good reason, in my opinion, at least for IMAG. While already in a stimulated room designed to engage do you really need to continue to engage them by switching, or are they already engaged? I have never had a client (other than the story above) who has wished I switched during a speaker, a single camera holds in their connection and engagement with the speaker. Many skeptics would bring up that they have a pastor that moves too much and that they are forced to use volunteer operators. I have seen and experienced it all and no matter the situation a single camera still works. It does take practice to follow talent around no matter if they are runners, walkers, pacers, jumpers, fakers, sitters and don’t move an incher’s. Here is the quick rule of thumb; the faster they move, the wider shot you may need, adjust your shot to your talent. I have a pro operator who can get a head shot from 100’ away and then follow talent perfectly even if they are running around, but I don’t let him. A) because the shot is too tight of a shot and B) because too much movement can make the audience nauseous. With volunteers it just takes coaching and practice with the expectations that they are going to be on them 100% of the time. The key is to find the right volunteer. I have had volunteers with hardly any experience that can follow challenging speakers with ease, and I have also had some long time volunteers that are great operators who can’t. It takes the right personality to be able to follow speakers for a long period of time. You just have to find them. But there are always exceptions to the rules such as: Dipping into a presentation/ graphics, cutting to stage prop(s), transitions shots, and when a single speaker multiplies into 2 or more. But all these reasons have purpose: notes, scripture, photo’s, or drawing people’s attention to an object or device. Purpose drives the switch. One thing to keep in mind is that from the control room your view is different. When you are in the control room you are not in the room, so if it seems like you need to cut from your point of view, go and sit in on a speaker from time to time to actually get the audience’s view. Regardless of your philosophy on directing speakers for IMAG, 2 rules always hold true. No wide shots, and no audience shots. Wide shots disconnect the audience from the speaker and audience shots make people feel uncomfortable in the room. Leave those shots for the people not in the room. It always comes back to the purpose of what you are doing and understanding that you are not the only product, IMAG is just a piece of the puzzle. What I mean by that is if the IMAG screens turn off there is still lighting and audio to deliver the experience. It’s different with web and broadcast because the final video product is the only piece of the puzzle on those platforms. Broadcast/Web/Record When you are directing cameras for web, broadcast, or record purposes it is important to understand the difference in your audience. As soon as someone walks into an auditorium, they are immersed into a very specific environment made for them to listen, engage and connect. Environment is an important part of the experience. When the room is removed it becomes much harder to engage and connect. This is why the needs of Broadcast are different from IMAG. The biggest difference when it comes to switching for broadcast is the ability to take wide shots. But what do wide shots do? Wide shots allow us to capture the feel of the room so that those that aren’t in the room can connect with the room. IMAG uses tight shots, which connects us to the talent, wide shots connects us with the room. Directing for Broadcast requires us to connect the audience to both the talent on stage and the room. My rule of thumb is Stage/ talent first, the room second or said another way, content over crowd. The content of what a speaker is saying or trying to communicate will always trump the feel. But if you can get the feel in there too, then you begin to start communicating in a much better way. Directing The worse thing a direct could ever do is to dis-engage their audience. The problem is that this is easy to do. The goal is that each transition performed would not be noticed by the viewers but instead keep them engaged. Jump cuts, match cuts, and bad camera work pulls viewers out of engagement. But cutting at the wrong time can also pull viewers out of engagement. Here are just a few rules when directing for speakers. More energy, more cuts Just like music where faster songs require more cuts and slower songs tend to use less cuts, the same is true with speakers. When they are talking fast, making jokes and all around giving off more energy you may want to cut more often. When they are talking slower and producing more intimate moments, you may want to cut less often. Tighter when they are making points In every speakers speech they will always have some points that are key. Different speakers present them in different ways, some are obvious and others are not. But when key points are being made, tight shots help in assisting the speaker to really drive their point into the audience. It’s like when a parent is trying to communicate something important to their kids they tell their kids to “Look at me.” In these cases it is important to have a tight enough shot so the audience can look into the speakers eyes. Wide when they are referencing the audience A lot of people compare directing with telling a story. This is a great way to think about it, and when telling a story visually you want to grab shots of the things that are being referenced from a speaker. I never go out of my way to do this but if I can get a good clean shot when it makes sense I will. But more commonly if a speaker tells a joke and the audience laughs, get a shot that includes the audience, or when the audience is asked a question and to respond via raising their hand, also get a shot with audience in it. Keep it moving on the wide shots As I mentioned earlier, content before crowd, so I never want to sit on a wide shot for too long. With any shot you take you need to change it before people loose connection/ interest. The best way to keep their attention/ connection longer is to always have movement in the wider shots. Keep timing in rhythm Timing is everything and it is one of the hardest things to learn. The best directors should be able to know when to change shots using instinct and the longer you work with a speaker, the more you learn their rhythm. However, there are some obvious times that make it easy to change cameras. Here is a small list of a few: Changing topics, a long pause, punch lines, end of a question, sudden change in movements and as they begin to talk faster. But individually every speaker is different in their rhythm, study their body language, dictation, and facial expressions. The more you direct the quicker you will be able to learn people’s rhythms. When in doubt go tighter If you don’t have a shot to go to, or if for any reason you aren’t able to cut cameras for a longer than normal period of time, always sit on a medium or medium close up, much like your IMAG shot. This goes back to content over crowd, viewers need to first connect with the speaker and we as directors can get away with sitting longer on a good shot of the speaker than with a wide shot where you are disengaged with who is talking. I personally am not the best director when it comes to speaking. I have to really force myself as a director to engage if I want to direct a good product. It is a lot less of an instinct for me as a director then music is. I think it is because for me I have to really tune into what the speaker is saying to have an effective product and that tends to be hard for me. It takes work and practice but in the end will produce a good product for all viewers.

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About brhoda

I freelance doing a few different thing in the video and live production market. I worked for a church for 5 years directing services and designing control rooms.
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