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Making video with real people: the Public and Cameras! Part 2

20JanMaking video with real people: the Public and Cameras! Part 2


Some of the team at Enterprise Screen are just back from a mulit-day shoot where the general public were a key feature. Our digital film-maker, Ailsa McCaffery, outlines a quick guide to working with video and members of the public.

Public Frenemy

Everything described in Part 1 is just a simple way to make sure the filming goes as smoothly as possible. It’s interacting with your public that can be the hard part. 

Be Friendly! - This is massively important. Flash your smile at everyone you talk to. As with all interviews, the more relaxed you can make it, the more like an ordinary friendly conversation, the more relaxed your contributor will be and the better the material. And remember to remain friendly. If your contributor does something wrong, can’t answer a question properly or is generally not very good, don’t tell your face. Maintain those smiles, thank them handsomely, and move on.  Keep in mind that people will always be intrigued by a camera.  If you are doing this on something smaller and more “consumer”- like an i-Phone, don’t worry, this can still work.   

Mind Games: The difference between a good interview and a bad one is often the confidence of the interviewee.  The more you can get them to relax and be natural, the stronger your result will be.    

Explain- Most people won’t have a clue what you mean by ‘vox pop’ and even something like ‘sound check’ could intimidate them. You need to explain what you’re doing/why you’re doing it and reassure them. Even things like saying “When you’re ready [to start]” instead of “action” will put nervous people more at ease.  Make sure you and your camera operator know the system- start rolling as soon as you can and have little nods or taps to keep each other informed.  You will eventually get a short, little speech you will tell everyone to concisely get them on board. 

Don’t push it - You might get someone to agree to being on camera who changes their mind during the interview. Don’t force anyone - lots of people will never feel comfortable speaking on camera.  There’s always another person coming along the road.

Be careful- It is easy to start confusing people - it’s often helpful to explain how to include the question in an answer and to include this in your short speech, but if you’re not getting anywhere then it might be time to move on.  Alternatively, if it is light hearted and fun piece, you can always include your questions to make sure you get that “character” into your piece. 

Speed - If you find yourself with a lot of willing contributors, try not to make them wait around.  You will lose spontaneity and your contributor is likely to become increasingly nervous as they wait for you to be ready. Have your camera and lights placed with a mic setup ready to go before you ask around for contributors. 

A Helping Hand- Not everything you do with the public will be for vox pops. Sometimes you just need a (literal) hand to complete a simple action, for example, to cut a ribbon for a grand opening, adjust an item for sale on a shelf, etc. These acts give a little bit of action to your shots and make them more interesting. But you often have to get the assistance of an employee or member of the public.

Most of the advice above applies here too. Be friendly, be nice, be human - although sometimes the public have a tendency to forget this last one… The main problem is usually that you want it to look natural, but being on camera can make your helper overthink their actions and it can appear forced or stilted. If this happens you should talk to the contributor and gently remind them to act as they usually would. They’re probably going slower than normal so a quick reminder should sort it out. If it doesn’t, you might just need to move on and quietly find someone else.

We hope these tips will help you if you find yourself filming members of the public for the first time, or the last time. Hopefully it’s not both of those things at once. The responses you can get from strangers are sometimes amazing, insightful, and very helpful for your film, so stick with it and you’ll develop your own tips and techniques.  Happy shooting.


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