Three Simple Rules for Making a Talking Head Video That Isn't Deadly Dull

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Talking head videos – where someone speaks to camera – can be great marketing tools. They can be made quickly, cheaply and don’t require fancy sets or talent for hire. Often they’re an excellent way to create rich media for websites, blogs and events, plus an excellent way to put a face to your company in an inviting format.


They can also be spectacular bombs.


You’ve seen them: videos where the speaker monotonously drones on for 5, 10, 12 minutes. (Just saying here and now, only an award-winning actor can deliver something worth watching for that length of time, and even then...they don’t.) Bad talking head video is often filmed in a poorly lit corner of an office. The camera never moves, ever, so you’re sure not to be roused from your imminent nap by the hint of some action.


Want to do it differently? Here are three rules for making a good talking head video:

1. Create a Story


For this part, you're going to need a good producer, writer or producer/writer combination. Much of the work they do happens before a single frame is shot. They pre-interview the people who are going on camera to hear what they might say. Knowing the key points helps create a framework for telling a story. They decide what interview questions to ask when the subject is on camera. A Treatment is created that maps out the way the story will be told. The Treatment includes an approach to how the B Roll (non speaking footage) will be shot so it can be edited into the talking head portions and provide some visual interest.


An Example: When I shoot talking head videos, the interviews are integral to the way the story comes out. Though sometimes, a scripted video is needed with someone reading off a teleprompter (which is an art in itself and very difficult for people not used to being on camera). In this video, we didn’t have much to work with. A half day at an Air Canada office near an airport with one person on camera to promote the use of the new BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

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I created a conversational feel to things. I wanted the interview subject to feel at ease and forget there was a camera pointed directly at him. Notice he’s mostly looking slightly off camera, at me, who’s asking the questions but not seen. I like the more casual look of this interview style. I focus on gently coaching good answers from him, because I’m always listening for where the sound byte is that I’ll need to edit from later. I want him to laugh, look away from camera like he’s thinking, and pause naturally. These are normal human reactions and gold when they’re caught on camera.


2. Be Creative with the Camera


For this part, you'll need a good crew. Talking head videos rarely need a director like a commercial video would. Though depending on the budget, a director can be assigned. But most of the time, these videos can be shot with a good producer and Director of Photography (head cameraman) working together to get the best shots. The camera and lighting make all the difference to the way the video turns out. Often the most dismal, grey locations can be significantly masked by good lighting and good use of close ups and camera lenses. This is especially true when shooting B Roll. Footage of someone walking down a corridor is only going to be so interesting, unless you change up the lenses to vary the way the shot looks.


An Example: My crew shoots with a Canon 5D, a fantastic SLR style camera that shoots some of the most beautiful HD video you’ll ever see. In the old days, we used to haul around back-breaking TV cameras. Now, all our equipment fits into two suitcases, which sometimes surprises our clients. In this Air Canada-BlackBerry video, we spent a lot of time getting the lighting right because our interview space was fairly unimpressive.


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The B Roll shows how boring walking scenes in corridors can be heightened by different lens changes and different angles. And we keep the camera moving, all through the interview. Our goal is to do anything we can to gather as much varied material for editing later.



3. Edit with Heart



For this part, you need an editor with sensitivity. No one would really play exactly what the camera shot without edits, but sometimes talking head videos can look like they came straight out of the can – as is – directly onto the screen. An editor, working with the producer, picks the best sound bytes and B Roll. Once the content is in place, the editor chooses the music. Music can really help create a feeling of inspiration or excitement. Then the real work begins: the editor places the shots that match the beats of the music and the words spoken. If they do it right, the orchestration of the story and visuals should leave a lasting impression.


An Example: My team edits for brevity. In the world of quick consumable YouTube and mobile content videos, anything longer than two minutes might as well be two hours, with an intermission. No one will sit still long enough to watch. This Air Canada-BlackBerry video runs 1:30 mins. We edited so the impact is in the constantly changing visuals, the thought provoking sounds bytes and a few magical editing tricks that pull the whole thing together.