Video Competence

Directing Strategy

Advice received from tech conferences, magazines, websites, discussion boards and even from fellow technical-artist friends can be wonderful; but have you ever wished you could get your hands on scientific research regarding competencies using video communication technology?

I have.

Recently a DeGroote School of Business research study regarding the effectiveness of conducting job interviews via video-conferencing was published. While admittedly not identical to producing a multi-camera broadcast or I-mag presentation at your church, I am impressed by how similar the advice the researchers gave to business leaders and to job candidates is to the advice I often offer to churches. Might the challenges be similar?

A McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) study conducted by researchers Greg Sears and Haiyan Zhang concluded that job candidates who were interviewed by video-conferencing (as opposed to in-person) were graded lower by interviewers and were less likely to be recommended for hiring than the same candidate would have scored in-person.

Conversely the researchers found that job candidates rated their video-conference interviewers (their prospective employers) as less attractive, less personable, less trustworthy and less competent when compared to in-person traditional interviews.

The research revealed that use of video held disadvantages for both employers and candidates.  Sears and Zhang concluded the real shortcoming was not the capability of video technology per se, but how skillfully both employers and candidates used the available technology! The DeGroote study sumized that participants often had the right tools, but their techniques and skill were lacking.

Here are some of the tips Sears and Zhang offer to prospective employers and candidates when using video. It’s fascinating how relevant these suggestions are to productions inside churches.

Both interviewers and applicants should use the best equipment and internet connections they can afford to lessen delays or technical limitations …

The whole point of utilizing video technology is to enhance the efficacy of our communication efforts and to make the delivery of our message easily accessible for viewers. If our tools are holding us back from these goals or worse, detracting from effective communication our utilization of technology and our chosen techniques need to be reevaluated.

Note here that “best equipment” is not limited to the camera or encoding computer but also includes the camera support systems (tripod), monitoring, lens controls, lighting, audio, switching/terminal gear, etc.

While this point should not be misunderstood as implying “it’s all about the gear,” the quality and capability of the tools used must be appropriate for a organization’s stated goals.  No less, training and skill using the equipment must also be commensurate with the stated goals as well.

Body language is important, but facial expressions are most important. Ensure that cameras are positioned close enough to catch facial expressions of both the interviewer and the candidate.

How many churches have you seen begin a video ministry by purchasing (or borrowing a parishioner’s) camera which has a lens focal length woefully lacking in telephoto reach resulting in a insufficient wide field of view?

What is included in a camera’s frame is important. However what you intentionally decide to crop out of a shot is equally important!  If you have an insufficient focal length lens and then position the camera too far from the subject, you will be allowing into the audience’s view distractions detracting from your presentation.

For the viewer who is an attendee in the auditorium during the taping (Imag), the only shots that truly matter on a venue’s projection screen are tight (close-up) shots.  The in-venue audience member can already see the environment of the room without the aid of cameras. They likely can also see the presenter’s body language without cameras as well. What the in-venue attendee is often missing out on (without the aid of cameras and projectors) are the presenter’s facial expressions.

For the viewer at home however there is great value to shots which establish the room, include the congregants’ reactions, and which capture a presenter’s body language. An an emotional connection, including feelings of trustworthiness and sincerity is often best accomplished through tight (close-up) shots. The goal should be that the viewer at home or in the auditorium can clearly see the presenters’ eyes. If they can’t, move the cameras closer and/or get a more telephoto lens.

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” – Matthew 6:22-23

Which brings us to Sears and Zhang next tip …

Because people are looking at the image of the other individual on the screen and not the webcam mounted at the top of their screens, participants report a lack of eye contact in VC interviews. Place the camera as close to eye level as possible.

Another common mistake many churches starting out in video production make is regarding the vertical angle of their camera. Some churches will put their camera in a balcony shooting down onto the pastor/teacher. It is important to realize that the angular positioning of the camera communicates its own subliminal psychological message to the viewer. Shots where the camera is substantially above the pastor/teacher’s eye line may communicate to the audience the teacher lacks credibility or authority.  Shots where the camera is substantially below the pastor/teacher’s eye line may communicate the presenter is unapproachable or detached. Camera shots at an equal height to the pastor/teacher’s eye line communicates that the teacher is an equal, approachable and credible without being over-bearing.

The lack of physical proximity, signal compression, and participants’ nervousness in communicating via technology tend to make for stilted, flat communication. Just as screen actors need to be particularly expressive with their faces and voices in order to convey feelings or emotions on camera, interviewers and applicants should be more expressive than usual. Practice nodding more noticeably, smiling more broadly, making greater use of hand gestures, varying vocal pitch, tonality and emphasis.

Think back to the turn of the 20th century when stage actors started appearing in the first motion pictures. The facial expressions and gestures seemed unnatural and out-of-place when seen on film. Why? Because the actor had been trained for a medium, the theater, where most of the audience seated in the auditorium may not be able to see facial expressions well. This often resulted in the actor needing to “over-act” compared to the same performance seen when blown up on a big projection screen. The point here is that the amount of expressiveness is  inversely proportional to the tightness of the camera frame and the relative size of screen the audience is viewing on. Appropriate expressiveness is important.

Given the added novelty and nervousness that may occur from a VC interview, preparation is key. Practice with readily available technology, such as Skype or FaceTime. Conduct “mock interviews” with friends and family.

This one tip capsulizes the greatest difference I see between “secular” productions and many church productions. Ever wonder why the Tony Awards looks like they rehearsed it ten times? It’s because they rehearsed it ten times! As it pertains to your communicators, your tech team and your video director, there is no substitute for rehearsals.

Photo attribution – MaRS Discovery District

Tom D'Angelo

Tom D'Angelo has worked in television production and AVL corporate theater for nearly four decades. He is Emmy Award nominated (Best Director category, Mid-Atlantic) and has been part of various teams nominated or winning national Emmys.  As the Media Director at a megachurch in the 1980’s he developed a love for the Church and church performing and technical artists.