Using Local Talent vs. Actors in Corporate Videos

I was doing a little maintenance on the Video Whisperer website and found an article I had written that somehow didn’t make it into the Run and Gun Videography book. The basic idea was written into the book in other ways, but in seeing this I felt it was quite well written and informative and worth sharing on the blog. Here it is:

Using Local Talent vs. Actors in Corporate Videos

Most of the business/corporate videos on this site were done with local talent–specifically, the actual people who work at the business, including owners, directors and regular staff.

Heavyweight Air Express was a medium-sized, but global company venturing into the video realm. They immediately thought to hire a professional actor to do their video. I advised against it, and whilst my opinion, when I told them why, they decided to go with their own talent.

In the case of Heavyweight Air Express, it wasn’t that they couldn’t afford to hire a pro for the job. In the case of smaller businesses, the additional cost may indeed be an important factor, and could even be the reason for not even considering having a video done due to perceived high cost.

The good news is that a high quality impactful business video is quite affordable, notwithstanding the fact that it should rapidly pay for itself.

As to pro actor versus local talent, here is my opinion and essentially what I told Heavyweight.

Firstly, think about those big companies who use professional talent on TV commercials. We know they’re actors and we know they’re paid and we know they’re reading script. The only reason that doesn’t bother us is that we ALREADY KNOW the company, its products and services, precisely because they’re already big.

Now let’s consider we were watching a commercial for a company we never heard of and that a professional actor was presenting. Well, we can tell at once that he or she is a professional actor, and we know that they’re being paid and reading script.  Suddenly those factors that didn’t bother us with the company we already know come into play in a different way with the company we never heard of. To a certain degree we suspect that is it just “hype”. Afterall, it’s a professional actor reading a script with perfect hair and all the right hand gestures.

Now let’s take that same company and use it’s actual president, CEO or owner.  First off, we can tell it’s not a polished pro. We can tell this is the real guy and that he’s putting his reputation on the line. So what he has to say–if it’s a subject we’re interested in–has a little more credibility. And we tend to give him a chance. We listen. We don’t just toss him off as a bit of marketing hype.

Secondly, people who work for the company and believe in it and its products and services are emotionally attached. They know what they’re talking about. They’ve dealt with the products, services and the customers who use them. And we can tell that too.

So the question becomes, how does one get a “regular guy” to come off well in front of the camera.

That’s pretty simple and is something a director is trained to do. But in terms of content (how we get them to say what we want them to say), here is where the Video Whisperer differs from most other video production companies. We don’t try to script it. “Remembering script” or “remembering what to say” is the downfall of any attempt to produce a marketing piece for a business, because people who are not trained actors have trouble with that sort of thing–and you can tell.

Instead we do it on an interview basis. We have an informal chat–interview if you like– with the camera rolling. Sure there are plenty of bobbles and mis-starts and all else that is part of normal human conversation. But as soon as we start talking about a subject that they KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT or have a particular EMOTIONAL CONTACT with, they suddenly start sounding quite natural and start coming off quite professionally–having completely forgotten about the camera.

Such interviews may last 20-40 minutes or more. And from that, the job of the editor is to distill from all the footage the essence of what we want to impart to the potential customer or client. That means there are a lot of “cuts” and that means often things are put together in a sequence differing from how it actually came off in the interview. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that, in the end, they provided the material necessary to being able to put together a marketing piece for the company just as if it had been scripted to begin with. And the best part is: Some of the things that come up in an interview one would never have thought to script!

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