By Michael Brueggemeyer
I direct anything I can, which includes shorts, commercials, corporate videos, web videos, recitals, wedding rehearsals, hidden camera porn, etc. Some of the things I work on have real, paid talent, and some have absolute amateurs. Some of those talent are there by design, and part of the formula. For example, one project I direct is for a California state agency called POST, which makes videos for Peace Officer training and education. The videos are written so wonderfully, and they really give me a lot of freedom in direction.
Although there are actors in the piece, the Police Officers are played by Police Officers. There are a lot of reasons they have officers in these roles, but the biggest is that if the Police Officers viewing the video see the officer in the video do something wrong, they’ll discount the credibility of the entire video. The Police in the video have to be correct first, then they have to be good actors.
There are many times when I have a project where executives will be on camera. I try really hard to steer the video away from this, by recommending a few options;
‘How about we sit down with the executive and just chat?’
‘Can I follow her through her day?’
‘How about we do a big ol’ spoof, where bad acting will be funny?’
My worst case scenario is a non-actor, looking into the camera and reading from a teleprompter. There is no winning. The best case scenario is that it seems like she is reading. The worst case is that we feel like the CEO doesn’t know how to read. But neither of these options is sincere or compelling, and they both make lame video. When I am presented with this scenario, I immediately recommend that we bring in an actor.
When the folks at the company reiterate that the CEO will be on camera, and not the actor, I reply by telling them that I recommend that the actor be the CEO for the few minutes while the CEO is on camera. After all, the actor doesn’t know the first thing about running a company, but seriously, how hard could it be? I mean, you’re trusting the CEO to step into another occupation for an hour, with no competence or advanced skill. What could go wrong?
The truth is, a good actor is so much more than a person who remembers their lines and says them on camera. Good actors are consummate technicians, able to repeat the exact same action over and over, in a way that’s completely believable and compelling. You can edit take 1 on the wide shot with take 6 of the closeup, and the action will match. A good actor knows where the good lighting is and how to land in the right spot, and hit precise marks which allow them to be in focus. A good actor brings the right spirit and communication to each line of dialogue, with forethought and consideration, to make every thought have the most impact. A good actor walks in knowing his role in the story, and how to support the other elements which are not there yet, but will be in the finished video. A good actor doesn’t need a horde of sycophants providing constant encouragement. (CEOs are notorious for having a scrum of assistants, and none will speak to you). A good actor is as good at acting as a CEO is at CEOing.
When I do have to shoot non-talent, I try to stack the deck in their favor – let them talk extemporaneously about their subject of expertise, provide a VERY relaxed setting, and listen with interest, both as the person tasked with editing the footage into something usable, and as the representative for the audience. My job is to make sure they get past saying things they have rehearsed, and get into talking about what they’re passionate about. And not look like they’re acting.