For many people, the first few experiences before the camera are unsettling.
As noted, camera panic can set in and words that usually flow easily suddenly become stuck in your throat. Hesitations and mistakes come in a deluge. Actually, this anxiety that many experience is quite normal. The primary reason for all the mistakes is the split attention that develops when you go on camera. Suddenly, you are aware of everything you say, how you look, how you're standing or sitting, and just about everything else imaginable. As a result, instead of having 100 percent of your attention focused on what you are saying, you are operating at about 50 percent of your potential because the other half is busy criticizing and worrying about how things are going. This is where practice comes in. The more camera time you get, the easier it all becomes. Work on avoiding the self-criticism and put all your concentration on the presentation. It's another skill that can be learned. Eventually, you'll know the camera is there but you won't care. Any kind of speaking performance can help you adjust. Public speaking is good practice, as is theater work. The goal is to get used to having others looking at you and listening to you. Judging by the vast number of people appearing on television, it isn't that hard a skill.
Gestures and Speech
Having said that, let's consider some of the things that make you appear to be professional on camera. Those who have had some theater experience know that directors often want gestures exaggerated and speech projected so that those in the back row of the theater will get the message. Just the opposite is true in television, which is a very intimate medium. You operate as if the person you are speaking to is only a few feet away. Gestures and movements are small and underplayed. Speech is conversational. This can be a bit difficult at first because the cameras may be located at some distance from you across the studio. We tend to think that the audience is that distance away, and speak more loudly than necessary. In reality, the audience's ear is the microphone, which you may be wearing or holding close to you. As an experiment, in a practice session, you might ask if the cameras could be brought quite close to you, about four feet away. Ad-lib to the "audience" for a while with the cameras near and then ask to have them gradually moved away. You will feel yourself struggle to hold the style you used when the camera was close, as subconsciously you want to adjust your delivery to the greater distance. With the use of telephoto lenses, the audience can see you in a close-up throughout such a demonstration, regardless of where the cameras actually are located.
Eye Contact and Face
Looking into the camera lens is important because, for the audience, it appears that you are looking directly at them. The lens is your channel to your audience. This does not mean that you should stare as if transfixed. Rather, you should make eye contact as you would with a friend in a conversation. You can glance away to your notes or a script; however, avoid frequent glancing around, because it's very noticeable and annoying to the audience. The bottom line is that good, steady eye contact is key to good performance in most television productions, and so it calls for effort on your part to provide it. Communication is most effective when you look someone in the eye.
The look on your face also conveys a message to the audience. It's easy to fall into a blank expression when you are concentrating on a teleprompter or on what you are saying. Except in serious situations, the goal should be to appear pleasant, interested, and involved. Part of your job is to hold the audience, and appearing as an attractive, informed speaker is significant. One easy way to avoid looking amateurish is to remember that the camera might not leave you the instant you finish a segment. You'll look foolish if you heave a big sigh of relief or grimace a split second after you finish what you had to say. Stay "in character," holding a pleasant expression until you are sure the camera shot has changed. In some situations, the floor manager may give you a "clear" signal. On occasion, you may find you have to hold that smile for an agonizingly long period of time. Perhaps the production segment ended sooner than planned or the director isn't quite ready to take a different shot. Whatever the cause, when you must hold an expression to the point where it becomes forced, you'll drift into an eggon-face look.
On television, the way you dress will be important for several reasons. First, extremes of lights and darks do not telecast well because cameras can handle only a limited range. Second, checks, herringbones, and fine stripes also create problems and can appear as a shimmering or moving pattern known as a moire effect. Another reason dress is important is that you may perform in front of a chroma-key background. This effect is frequently used during weathercasts to make it appear that the weather person is standing right in front of a large map. In reality, the talent is standing in front of a large green, or sometimes blue, screen. Since this is an electronic effect, if the talent wears the same color of blue or green as the background, the part of the clothing that is the same color or intensity as the background will become the background map! While that may be amusing, it's the talent's responsibility to choose clothing that is appropriate for the setting. Other uses for chroma-key backgrounds include music videos, news and sports broadcasts, and commercials. Backgrounds for chroma-keys can be drawn from any visual source, and these days computer-generated pictures are often used. In the movie Space Jam, Michael Jordan did his moves alone in front of a green screen and the cartoon characters were added later through the use of computer animation.
Particularly for women, the question of dressing up an outfit with jewelry merits some discussion. Large pins are often shiny and can reflect the lights, causing flashes as you move on the set. They can also cause occasional thumps on the clip-on microphone. Bracelets and bangles can cause the same problems, and can generate stray clicks, particularly if you are using a hand-held mic or working at a table or counter. Earrings follow the same pattern. Large dangling ones, particularly with bright stones in them, can present problems for the cameras and distract your audience. That doesn't mean that you may not have a guest that shows up loaded with jewelry. The director may ask that the jewelry be removed, ask you to break the news to the guest, or, if it's a short segment, try to live with the situation. For the professional, wearing tasteful, simple jewelry that won't cause reflections or create noise is best. It's a good idea to give some consideration to what you have that would fit this category and add some to your collection if you find it is lacking. On-camera checks, in advance, are a good way to avoid problems.
Now, let's consider standing in front of the camera. The basic rule of thumb here is to stand up straight, lean slightly forward, and stand still. Young performers often have the tendency to put most of their weight on one leg, which can result in one hip sticking out, making the talent look very unprofessional. You also cannot rock from side to side, shifting your weight from one foot to the other. Remember, television tends to exaggerate movement and rocking on camera can cause you to move you in and out of the proper frame and may make the viewers seasick as the camera tries to follow you. If a graphic such as a corner insert is being used, an unaware performer can rock into and go behind the graphic. What to do with the hands can be a problem. Using one to gesture while letting the other hang quietly beside you is often the best approach. The hand-in-the-pocket stance may be more comfortable for men, but will not be appropriate in many situations.
Sitting in front of a camera is similar to standing. Obviously, it's easier to stay still while sitting, but the television performer must still remember the basic rules: sit up straight, lean slightly forward, and keep still, as shown in Video Clip 3.8. When sitting, the same rules as for standing apply: avoid slouching, and sit erect, but relaxed. Leaning too much on one armrest can give you a distorted appearance. Watch out, too, for a tendency to slide into a slouch as the program goes on. It can be so gradual that you won't notice until it becomes very obvious to the viewer. Position your body so that it is facing forward or nearly so. Extreme body twists are decidedly unattractive. If you find yourself in a situation where you are directed to a camera that is to the side of you, turn your whole body toward it. Cameras also tend to exaggerate the distance between people, so chairs on the set are often placed quite close together. However, we like to be a certain distance from someone we are conversing with, and being closer makes us uncomfortable. This can cause you to unconsciously lean away from the person seated next to you or across from you, again creating a rather awkward position as seen by the camera. 'Whether standing or sitting, there is one thing that is certain—the camera will catch whatever goes on in front of it. If you fidget, the audience will see it. So when standing and sitting, be comfortable, but be still.
Another way to earn a director's respect and to be a polished performer is to become good at handling objects, particularly those to be shown in close-up. The director may designate a spot where all objects are to be held. Be sure to use it. Otherwise, get the object in front of you and hold it steady. It will take several moments for the camera operators to get the shot, so give them plenty of time. You can glance at the studio monitor to see if they have it, but don't try to help position it. The monitor does not show the mirror image to which we are accustomed. It's a "real" image and movements go in the direction opposite from what we expect. Trying to move the object to improve the shot can result in a ridiculous chase where the camera operator is desperately trying to get a shot that you keep changing.
If a guest produces something unexpectedly, ask to take it and then hold it steady for the camera. If it's something like an engagement ring, take the guest's hand and admire the ring, while providing that stability the director needs. Be especially careful if a shiny surface is to be shown. Shiny surfaces tend to reflect the studio lights and can result in a glare that makes things impossible to see. The simple tactic of tilting the object slightly forward will cause the glare to be reflected toward the floor, while not harming the view of the object. Book jackets and photographs are one of the most common glare problems and one that you can help with easily. Developing the habit of tilting everything slightly forward will relieve you of remembering to do it each time you handle something for a close-up.
You may often find yourself working in an unscripted situation, which requires a greater level of communication between you and the director, who is trying to be sure that the right pictures are ready at the right time and that nothing unprofessional or distracting occurs. Consider a talk show where you are the host interviewing a guest, who is a sculptor. After a period of conversation, you and your guest will get up and cross to an area where there are several pedestals, each displaying one of the guest's creations. Often the time at which you will make the move is only approximate, with you determining the exact moment. But if you stand up suddenly, the director might be in the middle of a close-up of you, which suddenly becomes a shot of your belt buckle, as shown in Video Clip 3.11 or Figure 3.5. Use your conversation to call attention to an upcoming move, such as, "We have an outstanding display of your work I'd like to take a look at." Don't move immediately, but wait a few moments so the director has time to adjust the shots. You can also telegraph the move by placing your hand on the arms of the chair or otherwise shifting your position to indicate you are about to get up.
Quite possibly the director will go to a shot of the sculptures while you are on your way there. You will be expected to continue the conversation as you walk. This means walking, talking, and perhaps watching the microphone cords while in the transition. The crew should have made sure you have plenty of cable and that it's not snagged, but a quick check of both your and your guest's cords can save the embarrassment of having a mic pulled off and falling to the floor while you are making the move. If the decision is made to have a camera follow you while the crossing is made, take your time. The camera operator wants to follow you smoothly, so walk at a steady pace, perhaps addressing the audience as well as your guest. Try to avoid turning your back to the audience. Once you have arrived, you will be moving from one pedestal to another, discussing each work. The director will probably have shown you where to stand in each case and which piece to go to next, but again he or she will need a cue as to when you are getting ready to move to the next one. Again, a phrase such as, "I really like this next object" will alert the director to a coming change. It is probable that much of this will be reviewed during the rehearsal, but it's up to you to do your part. Remembering the director's challenges will make you a valued partner. Furthermore, there will be occasions with no rehearsal when you will just have to use your knowledge and experience and make up the actions and words as you go along.
In a more structured situation, the director may dictate exactly where you are supposed to stand at a given moment. This is sometimes indicated by a small piece of colored tape placed on the floor, with a different color of tape for each performer. If you are on camera while making a move, you will need to use your peripheral vision to see your destination. Getting to the correct spot is known as hitting your mark. Avoid looking down at the floor and searching for your spot. This takes some practice, but professionals take great pride in never missing a mark. Frequently, the director will have planned a new shot to take just as you arrive at your mark. The next camera will be pre-positioned. If you miss the mark, you will create a situation where the crew has to make a quick adjustment or use an awkward shot, perhaps showing only one half of your face. Hitting marks is something that can be practiced anywhere. Just set up a mark and walk to it while looking straight ahead or to the side.