Back in the day, I got roped into being in a bunch of fun, silly, behind-the-scenes videos that chronicled our shenanigans on the road – emphasis on the shenanigans. Being one without shame, I have no problem being the slap-stick humorist, the self-deprecator on camera. Maybe laughter is the mask I hide behind, but why is it that some people are born photogenic and some of us, well, look like a seasick walrus* on-camera even when trying not to be funny?
(*No shade to walruses, rocking tusks is a lot of look and nobody looks cute while seasick)
You’ve heard of someone having that “IT” factor, that certain je ne sais quoi. Be in the presence of someone famous (even when you don’t know they’re famous) and you’re likely to find that there’s something magnetic about them. But even among mere mortals, true talent has something there that transcends the boundaries of teachable skills or good looks (though that doesn’t hurt either). It’s like the camera has this magic decoder that can peer inside the inner sanctums of the soul, or something.
This is why within our domain of tourism marketing, utilizing the right talent for the job is of paramount importance. Sure, you can throw your friends and family into the shot (or, in a pinch, the crew), but talent has the ability to reach through the lens and engage people. Let me clarify that “Talent” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “Actor.” For the kind of work we do, having on-camera experience can be a bonus but being an actor may not translate on-camera in the way we need it to – in fact, it can almost be a detriment. What makes good talent so special?
- They give good face – They know the right level of expression, have confidence, are familiar with their angles, and aren’t afraid to look the camera squarely in the eye when necessary (that lens can smell fear!)
- They take direction well – “YOU can’t tell me what to do!” if you find yourself ever saying this, being talent might not be for you. Good talent understands that taking direction is part of the job, you are relying on the people/the crew watching your performance to guide you if you’re not quite hitting your mark.
- The delivery is believable – The lines sound natural. Even when they’re scripted, you believe what they’re saying and aren’t overly “host-y.” When they tell you how good the fried okra and cracklins are, you’re like YES, that sounds DELICIOUS!
- …But they can also ad-lib – Getting someone to say something candidly, “in the moment” sounds easier than it is. If I asked you out of the blue to describe the place that you’re currently sitting and reading this blog in, you’d probably say something boneheaded like “uh, it’s nice.” Nice won’t cut it on-camera! Ask skilled talent, and you’re liable to get improvised poetry that dives into the very depths of the human experience. Maybe that’s a stretch, but it will definitely be more nuanced than “uh, it’s nice!”
- Not a human prop - Good talent isn’t just a human prop, they’re able to actively engage in their surroundings in a natural, candid way and draw you in. On a dolphin watching cruise, they will point so convincingly at the horizon that you will squint at your screen looking for that majestic beast (hint: there is no dolphin, bringing a camera on-board a boat is like instant dolphin repellent).
- Able to engage other humans – Along those same lines, they’re skilled at performing interviews with other, usually inexperienced on-camera personalities. Normally, there isn’t a whole lot of time between “hello, nice to meet you” and “we’re rolling, action!” Good talent can befriend an interview subject quickly, make them feel comfortable, and ask the right questions to generate the sound bites we need. They’re so friendly and disarming, you might just find yourself inviting them to Thanksgiving.
- They take the pretty bites (and know plenty of other tricks, too) – Even when you’re asked to do something simple on camera (eating, walking, etc.) good talent knows how to do it without looking awkward. For instance, good talent eating on-camera? Captivating enough to make me want to eat at that restaurant even if it’s 3000 miles from my house. Me eating on-camera? Total crime scene. When filming a dining shot, they know better than to take a normal sized bite. Don’t quite understand what I’m getting at? Record yourself eating sometime. Cringeworthy, isn’t it?
- They stick the landing – Sometimes it does become necessary to utilize experienced talent when trying to film skilled activities – you wouldn’t have an inexperienced snowboarder attempt a triple cork slopestyle without some decent chops now, would you? Of course you wouldn’t.
These are just a few of the many, many reasons that hiring professional talent is probably a good idea for your shoot. Not all who call themselves actors are necessarily the right fit for the job – for instance, theater acting requires a much different skillset than acting for camera. And, sometimes even mere mortals can out-perform more seasoned thespians, so your talent pool need not be too shallow. This is why it’s important to vet your talent based on past experience and tangible samples of their past performances. And if there aren’t any samples available? Ask them to send-in an “audition” sample based on what you’re looking for. Regardless, understand the nature of your video and whether true talent is required – or whether human props will suffice.