We have clients who take the opportunity to shoot quick client testimonials on their smartphones or compact cameras, and send them to us for editing.
This is the advice we give them, to help them, and us, deliver professional and persuasive videos:
1. PICK THE QUIETEST ROOM YOU CAN FIND
Nothing interrupts more shoots and ruins more takes than noise.
- Avoid rooms near high traffic areas: lunch rooms, reception areas, elevators
- Air conditioning hums. If possible, turn it off
- If there are others in the room, before you start videoing, say (loudly):
- “Everyone. Turn off your phones now!”
- and before you roll, call out: “Quiet please!”
Don’t forget to turn your own phone off so you don’t look like an idiot when it rings. And show no mercy to those who break the silence
The microphone on your phone will amplify ambient noise and make the subject’s voice sound muffled if they’re more than a metre away. For the clearest sound:
- Plug an external microphone into your phone
- Put the microphone on a desk stand close to the subject
- If you’re using a lapel mike, clip it on so their clothing won’t brush against it
- Hide the cable under the subject’s clothing, and run it back to the camera out of shot
2. MAKE YOUR PHONE CAMERA DO THE WORK
If your phone camera has these settings, here’s how you should set them:
- Video Quality: Select the highest setting – Extra High or Superfine
- Resolution: Select the Full HD setting – 1920 x 1080, or 1080P
- Don’t use the 4K setting. Files are very big and you don’t need it for web videos
- Frame Rate: Select 25 fps or 30fps (US)
- White Balance: See below
3. POSITION YOUR SUBJECT FOR LIGHT, NOT BACKGROUND
Lighting is far more important than background because:
- You’re shooting a person, not a background
- The person will (or should) block most of the background anyway
- If the background is interesting, it will be a distraction
- If you want to show background stuff, shoot it separately and use it for ‘cut-aways’ (see section 10 below)
The sun or daylight through a window is usually your strongest light source, so:
- Stand or seat your subject next to a window
- Position them so the window lights half their face from one side
- Move their chair (and desk) if necessary to get the light on their face right
- If possible, turn off overhead fluoros
- Look at the person through the camera
- Light the shadow side of their face with an off-screen light or a big white reflector (a whiteboard, for example) until you see detail and their eye socket isn’t a dark shadow
4. WHITE BALANCE IS EASY AND USEFUL
Most modern phones feature auto white balance and it does an awesome job, especially if you’re subject is lit by daylight.
Under artificial light, it colours can be a bit ‘off’. If so, click through the different white balance settings on your phone until you find one where the colours you see on yur phone screen match the real colours you see with your eyes.
5. SHAKE, TWITCH, BUMP, TILT & WOBBLE
Shakey or tilted footage is maddeningly distracting, so:
Turn the Screen Grid or Guidelines on and use them to keep the horizon level.
If you don’t have a tripod, find an alternative way to hold the phone steady. Put it on a pile of books (remember those?) and tilt it until it’s pointing at the subject. Then hold it in position while you shoot. Or hold the side of the phone against something vertical – a wall or door frame.
The important thing is to get the camera into the right position and hold it dead still. And the world is full of things that will help:
- A cheap tripod
- A door frame
- A window frame
- The wall
- A desk
- A table
- A pile of books on a table
- Anything solid and fixed
- On top of the back of an office chair*
*Office chairs are also good for dolly (moving camera) shots, if you’re adventurous and have lots of time.
6. TURN IT ON AND LEAVE IT RUNNING
Stopping and starting shakes the camera, moves it from a carefully set up shooting position, makes you miss good takes, and wastes time during the shoot.
Memory is cheap, so:
- Put a fast 32GB (or bigger) memory card in your phone – it will hold hours of HD video
- Set your phone to record to the memory card rather than to its internal memory
- Check if your phone/camera sets a time limit on videoing. Disable that ‘feature’
- Start videoing and leave it running
Check it periodically during natural breaks to make sure it’s still recording (paranoia is good).
7. KEEP IT SHORT
Most people won’t watch an online video beyond a minute or two. So tell your subject that shorter is better.
If they deliver a long convoluted sentence, or get bogged down answering a question, gently ask them to repeat what they just said.
Say something like “What you just said was brilliant. But too long. Say it again in a couple of simple sentences.”
8. PUT THEM AT EASE. KEEP THEM AT EASE
Testimonials are about confidence and credibility. If the person you’re videoing is fluent, confident, and personable, it will probably go well.
If they are hesitant, nervous, anxious, or have difficulty sounding natural, your primary job is to put them at ease and keep them at ease. Clear all observers from the room. Be patient and tactful. And if they gain or regain their confidence, you’ll get great material.
If they don’t, then stop pushing. Give it a rest. Postpone the shoot to another day. Be gentle. Remember, they’re probably more disappointed than you are.
Consider hiring a professional video team or videographer with the gear, experience, and techniques to get a good video performance out of even a very shy or nervous person.
9. DO IT AGAIN
People perform better after they have rehearsed. Once they have delivered a good, usable statement or answer, and you’ve captured it on video (check the video to make sure you got it all) ask them to run through it again, while it’s fresh in their mind.
- Tell them it will make them look even more professional and confident
- It will give you two takes of all the good stuff, which will:
- give you a safety/backup
- make editing easier
- make the final production better quality
- make the performance more polished
Most people, even CEOs, appreciate the opportunity to polish their delivery so they look more assured and competent
10. A CUT-AWAY WILL SAVE THE DAY
Possibly the most dull and lifeless piece of video you can ever produce is one long static shot of a talking head. B-o-o-o-r-i-i-i-ng ! ! !
Cutting away to other scenes will relieve the visual monotony in the same way that blinking relieves the strain of a long stare.
Before or after you shoot the presenter, walk around and shoot some 10 second shots of whatever they’re talking about.
shoot products if possible. Manufacturing facilities. Test facilities. Corporate premises including the building, its signage, the reception area, the factory, storage areas, and the meeting rooms.
These are cut-away shots which the editor will use to relieve the monotony of the talking head.
If the presenter mentions support staff, shoot some support staff at work. If the presenter mentions production, shoot the factory. If they talk about product, get some shots of the showroom. See?
Cut-aways could include wide shots of the building exterior, the reception area, shots of the showroom, wide shots of work areas, products on display, wide shots of a factory, production line, assembly plant. Trucks leaving the dispatch dock. etc.
Cut-away shots are great bandaids for covering the joins where you’ve edited out a mistake. If you can’t shoot cut-away shots, use still shots or brochure shots, etc.
Cut-away shots will make even the most boring talking head video more interesting.