Going in front of the camera

TVPhil3Phil: Once upon a time, authors could hide away behind their typewriters and word processors. We turned in our great words to someone who took them away and did the rest.

Times have changed. Even if you have a conventional publishing deal where someone handles book production and distribution, authors are expected to be front and centre in the publicity drive to sell copy. Even those of us in the magazine world find ourselves with a more varied career than just hammering a keyboard. Social media and blogging are one thing. Worse, you can be expected to appear on camera.

Now we expect that this is going to happen. In many ways we are looking forward to it. Writing is fun but selling the story is a task we really look forward to tackling.

If you look at the heading on this page, it’s pretty obvious that half of team NolanParker are TV friendly with years of extras work as well as a background in marketing and PR. The other half now finds himself having to take a crash course in not looking stupid on camera.

The magazine I work for has decided to produce DVDs where the team will illustrate some of the content on the page. Since I’m the “How to” article man, I’m going to have to feed on years watching Blue Peter presenters wrestle with sticky back plastic and double-sided tape to understand how to perform properly.

Step 1: Clean clothes and a haircut. Check.

Step 2: Turn up at the studio. Work out your “narrative” and get on with it.

The narrative is essentially the story you are trying to tell. In the film world, they will storyboard everything so you can see a visual thread running through the production. I just worked out what I wanted to do and the order I wanted to do it in my head.

Step 3: Try not to talk rubbish.

I’m not very good at learning lines and if I did, I suspect it would sound like I am reading from a page. When presenting to an audience, I use the slides as cue cards along with a few notes and make the rest up as I go along. Ten years of hospital radio presenting honed my skills but when a camera is involved, it steps up a level.

The closest I can describe my efforts is the radio panel game, Just a Minute. Contestants have to speak for 1 minute without any repetition or pauses. When I write, I’m very careful to avoid close repetition of words and phrases. This is fine on the page because I can edit away any problems. On screen, it’s even more important to avoid this but there’s not much you can do when you screw up except go for another take. Since I want the cameraman to like me, he’s also the editor and has ultimate power over how stupid you look in the final cut, it’s important to do this as few times as possible.

Anyway, I have now seen the final version of the film we made. 9 minutes of Phil for just over an hours filming. That sounds poor but I’m told is pretty good going. Candice tells tales of incredible amounts of time spent perfecting each scene in TV drama land. I’ll admit that I watched the TV through my fingers but I don’t think it’s too bad.

All this is useful because hopefully I’ll be fully practised when it’s time to tour the worlds TV studios to promote The Book!

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