“Straight to Camera Talking Head” versus “Documentary Style Interview”

 

Putting promotional or explainer videos together involves thinking through  the most interesting format in which to present information.

Sometimes a promotional video needs to be all voice over, but usually I think it adds interest to  put people in the picture.  Having someone make their case, even if only for  a few seconds, adds a human dimension.  I wrote in the last blog post about the benefit of business owners and staff themselves presenting on camera, as they’re the ones needing to build rapport with the viewer. We all like to put a face to a name. But how best to do it?

The primary options are ‘talking head’ straight to camera, or an interview. Which is best at getting information across?  Of course it depends on the situation, people and purpose.

Straight to Camera

With this format, the subject will stand or sit around 3-4 metres from the camera and look straight into the camera lens.  A teleprompter is set up in front of the lens which the subject reads their script from.  If the subject has read through the script a few times beforehand, they’re less likely to sound like they’re reading and more like they’re talking directly to the viewer.  Here’s an example, where I filmed Felix against a green screen.

Pros of Straight to Camera

1.  Stick to script:  By rehearsing the words and having the script scroll by,  the dialogue will be absolutely on message and concisely put, straight to the point, no ums or ahhs  or waffle.
2. Predictable and more polished: Everyone knows what will be said.  If the subject has practiced, it should look and sound professional and reasonably natural.
3. Comfort blanket:  It can be easier and feel safer for the subject.  It’s also easier to edit later, compared to interviews.

The Cons

1. Can look wooden:  Of course the down side of reading from a teleprompter, is it can look and sound like that’s exactly what you’re doing.  Just reading a script.  If your eyes are too fixed on the screen, if you sit up stiff and straight with little body language or vocal expression, it can look  wooden.  This isn’t what you want when you’re trying to build a relationship with the viewer.  For most of us in business, we need to be a little more expressive on camera than feels comfortable.  Talking to an expressionless camera isn’t so easy.
2. Predictability:  Presenting to camera is okay  as a way to deliver training, we’re used to it.  But to just state your product or company selling points and benefits can be bland.  Predictable can be dull.  I think It’s okay for say, 15 seconds, but beyond that, the clip needs other footage of what you’re talking about.
3. Viewers Perception: The context for the communication, and who’s delivering it, determines how it is received.  Let one of your loyal customers  espouse your selling points in an interview instead, it’s much more convincing.
4. Too Polished: Not everyone likes being talked at or “preached” to.  And you don’t always want to look too smooth.  After all, do you really  watch those advertorials on shopping channels, with Chuck Norris telling you why to buy that exercise machine? (I better be careful I’m not a hypocrite here 🙂

The Documentary Style Interview

The interview format includes these options:

  • showing only the subject, not the interviewer.  The subject looks slightly to the left or right of the camera lens where the interviewer is.
  • Interviewer included, with two cameras one on each person, plus some wide shots of both people
  • interviewing a group of people, where the conversation between them adds value

Pros

More dynamic: Because it won’t look scripted in the way talking straight to camera can. The subject is interacting with a real person, not a camera lens.  You will have discussed the questions and answers beforehand, but showing a real conversation is likely to yield more facial and vocal  expression and it looks more natural.  The interviewer can ask a controversial question to yield a strong reaction and explanation for a viewpoint.  Finishing with a “Is there anything else you’d like to say” question can get good results too.
A friendly face: It can be easier having the extra person there, the interviewer, who’s goal is to get the best out of the subject. Someone to make sure all points are covered, and to provide that human interaction.
Representing the viewer:  The interviewer can represent the viewer, anticipating and asking the questions viewers wants answered.  Not just the easy ones. This improves credibility compared to talking straight to camera.
Overcomes looking too polished: The viewer is a witness to another conversation, plus the subject is looking off camera, both of which make it less ‘preachy’.   Because there’s no script, it  will be more real.
Easier for the subject: With all the above in mind, and because less preparation and rehearsal is required by the subject, it can be easier and quicker for them, leaving them with a better memory of the experience.

This clip is a good example of the interview style, without the interviewer being seen.

Cons

What no script!  Not having a script is more risky.  The outcome is less predictable.   It is unlikely to be as tight or concise in getting to the key points.  Ums and ahhs can be cut out in editing to a point, but the Aussie accent tends to run one sentence into the next and it can be hard to find a place to make a clean cut.
Time it takes to say things:  40 seconds can disappear making one point.  It can be inefficient compared to reading a script.  And if you want a max 2 minute video and you’ve got 5 points to make, we have an issue.
Can Still Look stiff: Similar to the above point, if interviewer and subject haven’t built any rapport beforehand, and if either are nervous, or on guard in anyway, it’s unlikely to flow well.

The interviewer: If the interviewer hasn’t researched the subject, or thought hard about the questions, it can result in an uncomfortable experience.
Less work for the Subject, but more for the Editor.  The interviewer will need to research the subject and topic and come up with good questions.  The video editor will need to get a transcript of a long interview, and spend much more time cutting it into something concise.  Most cuts will require ‘b’roll footage to cover the jump in the vision.  So overall, an interview can be much more work in editing than presenting direct to camera.

So which is best – Straight to Camera or Interview?

Of course it depends on the project and the people.  For a longer amount of dialogue, I think and interview, with relevant cutaway footage should be more interesting.  For a tight 10 second introduction to a subject, a talking head can be better.

By Keith Rhodes

Video Production for Melbourne Businesses

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