Finding & Working with On-Camera Talent

4 Types of “Talent”

In filmmaking, you’ll eventually be involved trying to find and get the best “performance” out of 4 main types of talent who are in front of the camera:

  • Actors – friends or people who want to “act out” roles in your film
  • Hosts – people who conduct on camera interviews and help carry the story
  • Interview Subjects – Experts or people with a stake in the story issue
  • Animals – that are part of or support the storyline

Finding the right talent for the roles

On the surface, most people are naturally camera-shy and don’t want to be videotaped. However, lurking inside most of us is that untapped creative actor who would love the chance to discover their inner abilities in front of the camera. Your job as filmmaker is to find those people then help them bring out their on-camera talent. Here’s how.

Finding Actors might be easier than you think. Most schools and communities have drama classes or clubs. Once you have your storyline or script done, you can post fliers in those drama clubs about “auditions” for your list of characters. Have your potential actors read several lines from a couple of your characters and write down their score on a scale of 1 to 10 next to their name and contact information. And don’t overlook class clowns, type A personalities, people on the debate team, or people in student government. Most have already discovered their thirst to be in front of others and to make a statement. Just be sure once you’ve selected your actors that they understand your limits on funding and what they will receive in return for their acting. Fortunately, most will act just to see themselves in the final production and get a copy.

Finding a Host hinges on the subject matter or storyline of your film. Keep in mind that the host will guide the viewer into the film and navigate between the interview subjects. Their biggest talent however is in interviewing other people and extracting the heart of the issue. The best hosts are people who:

  • Are knowledgeable about the subject – the more they know, the better they can probe subjects during the interviews.
  • Have inquisitive minds and ask compelling questions – news reporter personalities
  • Have a good sense of other people’s feelings, which are the essence of good interviews
  • Have the ability to speak spontaneously in front of the camera

An Example: Finding a Nature Host or Scientist

Try it yourself: What would you look for in a host for your show. This example is of us and we're simply who we are. You want to find a host that appeals to your audience.

So finding your host will be defined by the subject matter of your film. Let’s say your doing a film about the chemical plant dumping pollution into the river. Possible host choices might be a person with strong skills in chemistry or environmental science, or even someone with skills in political science or business. Ideally, look for someone who also has similar qualities to “actors”.

Finding Interview Subjects will probably be the easiest job of all. You want people who are either experts on the subject of your film or have a vested interest in telling the world their side of your story. Either way, you’ll quickly end up with a good list of interesting people to support your film. Plus, most people who are interviewed don’t expect to get paid for contributing to a documentary. Refer to the Story page on this website and the list of people who could be interviewed for the chemical plant storyline. There you’ll get some ideas on how adapt the list to match the subject of your film.

Finding Animals can be a little tricky. If your film isn’t about domesticated animals like dogs or cats, you have an increasing challenge when you try to work with less domesticate animals. Cow, pigs, horses, and other barnyard critters can be pretty crazy to work with. And wild animals like bears, deer, cougars, and alike require professional help. So what are your choices if you want to include animals in your story? Here are some inside tricks.

Your local zoo or aquarium might have the right animals for your film. Your challenge is to videotape them in the right way to make the footage fit in nicely with your film. For example, if in the chemical plant storyline, the elderly fisherman was talking about all the fish he used to catch and how now there are only minnows left, you could shoot footage at the aquarium to support his interview – a nice trout or bass, then minnows. You might also buy a whole dead fish from the fish market and shoot several scenes along the edge of the river or near the discharge pipe. You could even let the dead fish float by as the elderly fisherman is looking into the river.

But what if you want real wild critters in your film? Well, thank heavens for the Internet and the advice here. Simply check out our Stock Video section in the top menu of the website and you’ll find a variety of sources to download free wildlife footage taken by other professionals and us. Also, don’t overlook the possibility of special animal trainers and keepers. You might be surprised to find local people who would let you film their raptors, bears, wolves and other wildlife. Check out your state natural resources agency for a list of people in your area with permits to keep wild animals. Most are proud and happy to show off their wildlife on film.

Working with Talent can either be a great joy or a pain in the backside. How you prepare to work with your talent could make the difference. Here are some tips that will make the job easier for your talent, which in turn will make everything easier for you plus get you better results on film.

Set the stage early by giving your talent their script or storyline a few days beforehand so they can become both familiar and comfortable with their role in the story. The more they know, the better job they will do.

The day of the shoot before the camera rolls, take a relaxed moment to visit with your talent and go over what everyone will be doing. Instill confidence in them by reinforcing the facts that;

  • Your job is to make the videotaping process fun for everyone, especially them
  • You will make them look and sound good – of course they already look good
  • You will do however many takes it requires to make them look and sound good
  • It’s only tape, so no one should worry about not being perfect on the first take
  • They are perfect for the role and know their subject well

During the videotaping, keep a positive attitude by telling the talent they are doing great, even if you want a different performance. If you want them to do a re-take, tell them all the things they did perfectly and how you only want a little variation on a certain part. Again, positive re-enforcement can work wonders at boosting their attitude. Finally, if you’re working with a host who is addressing the camera, occasionally smile and give positive body gestures during the filming. You’ll see their performance soar.

Now that you’re in control of all the people in front of the camera, it’s time to take a closer look at setting the scene or making all the right camera moves to capture the essence of your film.

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