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November 29, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

All productions require some kind of on-camera talent – someone has to lend their face and/or voice to the project.  At the highest levels that means actors, trained to deliver a polished, professional performance.  In other cases, someone in the organization with little or no formal training appears on camera to deliver the message of the piece.

At the enterprise level there are a number of factors influencing who stars in a piece.  Costs are often the key issue – trained talent costs money, and many corporate productions don’t merit professional actors.  TV commercials are an exception – you’re reaching out to the public, and the right performance is critical.  In the case of key executive messages, you of course want the executives in question to deliver the messages personally.  And often having real, live employees in small roles in a production is valuable – it provides a real connection to the organization and the people who work there.

The question for many production studios is how to deal with employee talent that isn’t terribly comfortable on camera.  Is there a point where it makes more sense to hire someone to come in and deliver a talk or performance instead of an employee?  The answer, naturally, is it depends.If the event or subject in question is particularly technical or complex, it’s really not worth the time to script something or hire professional talent.  Generally these pieces (as in our case, a medical grand rounds or similar) are designed for a specific audience that is interested in the subject, may be required viewing, and it will meet the need even if the speaker is not terribly engaging.  We often capture these using built in equipment in integrated rooms, and we explain to the client that “they get what they get.”  It’s a live event, the speaker is the speaker, and we live with the results.

It gets more difficult to decide when a formal production, in studio or on location, is under discussion.  We’ve had a number of cases where the clients want their staff or selected speakers to get the experience of delivering content.  While it’s a noble task to give staff opportunities to appear and discuss their subject, it can make for a touchy production meeting and extend and complicate the recording and editing processes.  We’ve asked clients to make sure their talent is prepared to deliver the goods in the more sterile environment of our studio, and when the talent sits down in front of the camera they freeze up or deliver a poor performance.

Often speakers who deliver hours-long talks to live audiences with hundreds of spectators just can’t deliver the same performance when staring at a camera in a virtually empty room.  I’ve told talent in the past that they have to pretend like there’s an audience there, but it’s really a difficult task, especially for those of us with no training at it.  Half the time you end up struggling with re-takes or complicated editing after the fact to make something usable.

So how to address these issues, both during planning and after a recording session?  First and foremost, you really have to be honest with the client, especially if they themselves will be the on-camera talent.  There are simply times when you have to urge them to bring in professional acting or voiceover talent to complete the project in a timely and efficient manner.  Most VO talent will take a script, record it on their home equipment, and return a finished file within 24-48 hours.  The time and effort savings will often make up for the hard costs associated with it. [One caveat here – as I heard recently at the CMMA conference, be aware of the tax and benefit implications of hiring outside talent, including production staff.  It’s more than I can go into here, but be sure when hiring outside contractors to speak to your tax folks about any potential issues.]

If the project doesn’t merit hired talent (or budgets don’t permit), a screen test may be in order – take 1/2 an hour with a sample script or content, and have the talent record a demo.  Review it together with the client, and most often they will recognize if the talent really can’t handle the work.  Consider alternative approaches – teleprompting if your studio can handle it, or perhaps there is someone else in the organization with the right skills who could be brought in to do the work.

The end goal is always the most watchable production possible, and some creative thinking, practice, and plenty of honesty will ensure that the right talent is selected to give you the best results.

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