Before getting into it, you might be wondering: What exactly is a remote video shoot? It’s the process by which talent can generate content using their own devices to record themselves inside their home or office — while being directed by a remote producer, director or team of collaborators.
It’s no secret: The world of remote video conferencing is having its big moment.
From the COVID-19 pandemic that’s forced people to do a collective crash course in Zoom to the massive uptick in content creation/consumption that’s swept across our culture over the past few years, one thing has become abundantly clear:
It’s easier than ever for everyday individuals to create video content using our smartphones, laptop cameras and webcam technology.
With this development, the need for a new skill has also arisen — especially given social distancing and safe production guidelines. Namely, how to best direct talent remotely for video shoots using remote video capture technology.
From tips on how to make yourself look and sound as good as possible to composing the best frame, there are all sorts of professional tips you can — and should — share with your talent to get the most optimal results for your remote video.
Here are 10 ways to prep on-camera talent in the golden age of remote video:
1. It’s all about lighting.
So much of what needs to happen to make a remote video shoot look good happens with lighting. This element alone is what separates the amateurs from the more polished professionals. To this point, tell your talent to position themself in a spot where they can see the light. Where a nice soft blanket of front-facing natural light can shower over them to accentuate their features.
Do that and you’re already winning half the battle.
If a window and natural sunlight is not an option for you, then use overhead (or recessed) lighting to your advantage. Preferably with a dimmer so there’s no oppressive laser beams blasting off the screen that compete with your subject’s likeness.
Sit with an uncovered window behind you and well, you’re liable to have shade thrown at you by more than just the window.
Here’s a good lighting example I shot in my home office — with front-facing, natural light:
…and a bad lighting example that turns me into a talking silhouette:
2. Give sound advice.
There’s nothing worse than a person on a video call who can’t be heard or is creating an echo effect that sounds like they’re talking into a canyon. How can this be avoided? In a few ways…
- Give sound direction: Provide some basic direction as to how to speak into the microphone they have. For instance, tell them to speak five to six inches away from the mic. This is a good distance — especially if using a fancier sound kit setup.
- Conduct sound tests with your talent: Adjust audio levels, conduct audio tests and ensure the Wi-Fi is strong before the actual video shoot begins to make sure all is optimized.
- Use noise-canceling headphones: If it won’t affect the nature of what you’re seeing on screen, tell your talent to use wireless noise-canceling headphones. These will make it easy for your subject to hear… and be heard.
3. Know the technical tools at your disposal.
Depending on the program you’re using to record video remotely, it helps to know the tools that are available… and well!
From filters you can apply to make your talent look less sleepy to remote controls that give the “filmmaker” more power over the final result, there are several ways to amp up the final product from afar, given the nontraditional setup.
Here are a few of the popular remote video-capture platforms:
- Zoom: Zoom is the most well-known name right now as daily users have grown to “more than 200 million in March from a previous maximum total of 10 million.” Designed mostly for meetings or work-related purposes, there is a lack of director-friendly controls on Zoom, but you can shoot HD. Lack of secure encryption technology has also been an issue. Plus, you’re at the mercy of a stable internet connection for seamless recording.
- Skype: Owned by Microsoft, Skype was the first titan in this video conferencing space, and is still mostly used for capturing video calls — not for filmmaking or more elaborate artistic use per se.
- OpenReel: Unlike Zoom or Skype, OpenReel has high-quality 4K video that lets you record HD video remotely via an app with a series of controls that are director-friendly. About 80 percent of videos created via OpenReel involve interviews with on-camera subjects or on-camera direct-address statements — so they know how to put talent on a pedestal. Also, an internet connection does not affect the output quality of the video because it’s recorded on the customer’s device, not via a connection.
Whatever platform you use, make sure your remote-video platform uses secure encryption technology. Whether you’re capturing influencer content for a company town hall or recording a client testimonial, you want to make sure you’re using an airtight platform that isn’t going to invite disruption such as the new(ish) phenomenon known as Zoombombing.
4. Understand the context of what you’re doing.
If you’re going to shoot video remotely, you’re going to be limited in terms of what you can do — that’s just a fact. That’s why it’s important to understand the general expectation for this medium and to try not to overdo it along the way.
Commercial director Aaron Stoller works with Biscuit Filmworks and has helmed successful commercial campaigns for global brands including Google, the NFL and Tide’s most recent Super Bowl campaign featuring Emily Hampshire and Charlie Day. To this point, Stoller says, “Don’t try to force it… just embrace the charm and humanity of a low-fi aesthetic. I shot something with my family recently for a commercial and from a film-craft POV, it looks absolutely hack and heinous… but that’s the charm.”
If your client’s goal is to go fancier, Stoller and Biscuit also do that — devising a new way to work with clients during COVID-19.
Our filmmakers can remotely equip the talent with the necessary tools and guide them through the process, allowing our teams and partners to create amazing content from the safety of our homes. Our directors can interact with talent to get great performances; the DPs can instruct the talent on how to film themselves and get the best shot possible; the Production Designers can instruct our talent on placement of props and set dressing within their home, while agency and clients view every aspect live from their home offices. All of this being possible via the robust video conferencing options available to us. — Biscuit Filmworks
Regardless of which avenue you take, know how far you and the talent want to go with it… and be smart about how you execute!
5. Camera position is everything.
Here’s one that may require a little maneuvering. Because most talent will likely choose a desk or table to record from a laptop (or their phone), the chances that the surface will be lower or higher than the person’s face is good.
That’s where an adjustment can help.
Tell your talent that the most optimal place for a camera is at their eye-line (or close to it) and to avoid creepy low-angle shots that show off the talent’s plentiful nose hair. To achieve this, the talent may have to get creative in how they adjust their chair height to meet the table or desk. To counter this, an adjustable laptop stand or pile of books can also remedy this situation.
Also, how far back they should position the phone or laptop is going to come up. A medium shot (chest up) or slightly tighter is the most flattering. A shot that’s too close-up and/or looking up at you from below your waistline? Not so much.
A good angle:
…and bad (plus a beam of overexposed recessed light thrown in for good measure!):
One thing you definitely want to avoid according to Stoller? Ruining every shot with one of the most common faux-pas. “For the actors [or talent, in this case], I’d have them turn their own monitor [view] off so they don’t become that annoying person who is looking at themselves while Zooming.”
Guide your talent on how to do this and your subject will stay focused and on point!
6. Play the frame game.
You’ve seen it before. Someone holds up their two hands and conjoins their thumbs and pointer fingers together to construct a film frame. Now imagine doing that for the much smaller screen and camera lens available on your phone or laptop.
After your camera position is set, you will need to envision the best possible frame for remote video capture. Have a conversation about what belongs in the frame beforehand — a la essential items that won’t compete with the eye — and keep it simple. Unless someone plans on picking up their laptop and walking their camera around to reconstruct some spectacular Sam Mendes shot from ‘1917’ (not advisable), your screen composition will be all people will see… so better make it look good.
7. Background matters plenty.
Throughout the global pandemic when most news anchors and talk show hosts have been broadcasting from home, there’s been no scarcity of peeping through revealing windows into people’s clean or cluttered homes. The more seasoned pros have more neutral backgrounds to use. The least have a slew of backgrounds that have mentioned to call attention to themselves.
Unless your talent is using a virtual background that essentially puts a picturesque backdrop right behind them, you’ll want to remind them of a couple of things when they’re deciding where to prop themselves for your video shoot:
- Select a neutral backdrop: As cool as all those shiny bowling trophies are (and they are cool), talent probably shouldn’t put them on display in the background on their messy bookshelf filled with all their prized first-edition novels. A neutral-colored background with depth of field and minimal clutter will look best and won’t compete with your subject.
- Consider a virtual location scout: Depending on your project, consider doing a walkthrough of your talent’s home beforehand — virtually — as if it’s a real location scout. “Walk” through it with them and uncover the best possible setting. They might not know it themselves, but as the video’s director, you have more knowledge to bestow — so bestow it.
8. Minimize distractions beforehand.
On a closed set, you have a PA locking off traffic, an assistant director yelling “Quiet please!” and a director to call “Action!” When you’re directing from a remote set up, as a director, you lose control of the environment that you’re recording just a smidge.
That’s why you must instruct the talent beforehand to manage a few factors to minimize potential distractions from ruining your shot.
- Set up in the quietest place possible in their home or remote location. Much like in real life, computer mics are sensitive and susceptible to being compromised by a screaming child, a passing car or a hovering jet plane. Try to record in the most soundproof room possible to avoid losing a great bite to a spouse whose yelling, “Dinner’s ready!”
- Alert everyone else in the house that something is being recorded so a family member doesn’t slam a door or rage quit on a video game in a surrounding room. The more people who are in on it, the smoother it will all go.
- Silence all smartphones in the house before shooting. Sounds obvious, but there’s nothing worse than having a ‘Rocky’-themed ring tone ruin a shot simply because someone forgot to switch it to ‘silent.’
9. Makeup makes a difference.
When it comes to getting someone “camera-ready” from a remote location, having someone look their best (given the resources) is as important in a remote video shoot as it is for a live one. But when you’re working remote, the onus is on the talent to take care of their own makeup — unless you have a budget to send someone their way to pat them down.
Since that’s highly unlikely, here are a few tips in the form of life hacks that will make someone glow in a good way.
- Tell them to pat themselves down beforehand with a soft cloth or tissue to minimize the shininess that an oily complexion can bring.
- Experts suggest using a tinted moisturizer to minimize blemishes and to even out skin tones so that nothing on your face draws unnecessary attention. If you have that at home, great, use it. If you don’t, try using the “Touch up my appearance” filter in “Video Settings” on Zoom or other platforms. Same difference. Less slathering.
- A simple thing like lip balm can breathe life into a subject and help them get words out smoothly so they don’t dry up. Everyone has Chapstick or Vaseline lying around so tell ’em to slide it on. Any little dab will do.
10. Wardrobe is everything.
Much like background, it pays to address wardrobe before the first screen shot ever gets recorded.
Because similar to how you don’t want to fill the background with your bookshelf containing your trophy for “Best College Keg Stand,” there are some patterns that work — and others that don’t.
In that regard, unless the scene calls for you to don the ugliest Christmas sweater you can find, recommend solid colors to your talent. This is the safest way to go and will not trick the camera into seeing shapes and colors it doesn’t know what to do with. That creates… fuzziness. This will also provide a nice contrast assuming your subject is set against a neutral backdrop.
Also, tell them not to wear a strapless top to their scene. Since most quality shots involve shooting from the shoulders up, they might look like they’re wearing nothing. And unless your scene calls for nudity (probably not), that can be sort of distracting.
Finally, remember, the camera sees all…
It may sound obvious, but it pays to always remind your subject (especially the less camera savvy) that the camera is recording and that they can be seen at all times. This gets forgotten when people are alone. There’s no scarcity of footage out there of people doing all sorts of ungodly things on video-conference calls — from nose picking to obnoxious eating to using the toilet.
Don’t be that guy. Or woman. Remind your talent to assume they’re being watched at all times. They’ll appreciate it when they get the sudden urge to scroll through all their socials — just as the person in box #2 is giving the sound bite of a lifetime.
Tell them to pretend they’re on a live set… that will up the quality of footage you get!
Looking for other best practices to create the best possible production? Have a peek at our Live Video Playbook for Marketers.