Back in November, the contributors to Evil Girlfriend Media’s Stamps, Vamps & Tramps anthology were asked if we’d each be willing to record a short excerpt from our stories… on film. Not safe and easy voice podcasts, but video recordings. YouTube.
Here’s what I learned from the process of filming it:
1) Get expert help if you can — Fortunately, my awesome friend Jordan Ellinger, who knows a fair bit about recording stuff (he does the Hide and Create writing workshop podcast, and he’s worked on a number of short film projects), agreed to help me. Having all the toys to do it right is awesome… sound equipment, a really good camera, that sort of thing… but working with someone who knows about framing and lighting and camera angles and film editing is even better. If you don’t have a filmmaker friend or two, you might even want to consider hiring someone who can bring that level of polish to your mini-film. Because yes, that’s what it is.
2) You will feel awkward at first, and it might take a few tries — I didn’t expect to be nervous in front of the camera, but once it was pointing at me and the little red light was on, I felt mightily weird. My first attempt was way too stiff, and it wasn’t easy to loosen up and be natural. I’ve led workshops and done public speaking, but there’s something about being filmed that just threw me. Expect multiple takes; it does get better as you go through the experience a second and third time. It definitely helps to set aside a good chunk of time (and lots of camera batteries, memory cards, etc.) so you can do as many takes as you need, and eventually you’ll start to have fun.
3) Background and lighting matter — I did a little trolling around for readings on YouTube beforehand, to see what worked and what didn’t. Background and lighting make a huge difference! Check out this gorgeous example with stark stage lighting and a completely black background to see what I mean. Reading into your webcam at your desk, most likely in a dark-ish corner, with a random wall or doorway in the background, just… doesn’t have the same effect. We chose the bookcase background and natural light for me because it suits my style, but everyone is different. It’s worth investing some time and effort to set the scene in a way that’s right for you.
4) You need someone to coach you — The thing is, you can’t see yourself, so you don’t know what you’re doing, or not doing, that might need adjustment. Without Jordan’s coaching, I wouldn’t have realized that: a) I’m inclined to raise my chin when I’m self-conscious, and need to make an effort to keep it down while on camera or in front of people; b) I need to not roll my eyes and grimace when I think I’ve flubbed my reading; and c) I tend to read with a very serious expression and/or give nervous/doubtful grimace-smiles that start with my lips curving downward, so I need to remember to smile nice big relaxed smiles instead.
It’s a good thing that I mostly enjoyed the experience of starring in my own little reading mini-film, because it probably won’t be the last time I’ll need to do that. Video as a literary promotion tool is likely to get more popular going forward, and the bar for professionalism and reader appeal is bound to be raised higher and higher.
Please tell me I’m not alone in this, though. Do you feel awkward on camera? Do you have habits that you need to be coached out of? What sort of background and lighting would you choose for yourself?