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The Talent Guide

by Jim Powell
     When hiring an on-camera talent, do you consider the talent as being one of your production tools? Is he or she as an important of a tool as your camera, lights, or other members of your team for achieving your programís goal?
     Consider this. If your talent does not perform credibly and believably, the effectiveness of your program may be significantly reduced, therefore your decision concerning the character the talent will perform and how you help the talent do his or her best for the goal of your program is extremely important.

     This article is designed to help guide you in the process of making these decisions whether for a simple talking head or an on-location full program. There are 4 categories involved in working with talent: (1) Making the Choice; (2) The Callback; (3) Preparation; and (4) At the Shoot.

Making the Choice

Making a decision about which type of talent you need to select for a production depends on another person? Who is the person viewing the program? How does the viewer relate to your particular subject? What type of person would he or she deem credible. Remember the axiom, "We like people like ourselves?" People of common interests and common backgrounds tend to relate better to each other.

Male or Female: The selection between male and female must be directed toward the subject matter and which gender would be most credible to the viewer (i.e. womenís makeup might be better understood from a womanís viewpoint or woman narrator). Then again, the "style" of the production might be more enhanced explained by a male. This also works in male oriented products. This is a subjective decision which only you and your customer should decide.

Age Range: Remember your viewer. Stay close to the viewerís age or a little above. In training programs, a person with an appearance of age older than the viewer brings authority to the subject. In marketing or sales, a person of equal age might be your best selection.

Character Type: Does the image of the narrator fit the subject? Is the subject matter pertaining to heavy machinery or heavy duty manufacturing process? Is the subject "information" based? What would the person working with this item look like? Does your narratorís or actorís image match a person that actually works in that job? Can you visualize the narrator doing this job? Their movements must also be considered. Some individuals trained in the military may carry themselves differently than individuals in the civilian world.

Range: During your audition, have the narrator or actor read at different tempos, pitches and actions. Can they change? On the set, you may need to modify the actions of the actors from what you originally thought. The set or the production requirements may have changed causing the actors actions to have changed. Can they conform to the situation?

Principle/Extra: Make sure during your first contact that your actor knows what job he or she is performing. A principle is usually a person that has a speaking role. Extras are those simply appearing in the picture without words. This sounds like a simple item, but it needs to be on your check list.

Union: Know the law of your state. Some states are "Right to work" states, where a person does not have to be in a union to work with you. Other states require you to hire a union person only. Check with local laws in your state as well as other actors. You also might like to check with the local union if available.

Dialect: Only if you are using a voice for effect, and it is sporadically being combined with a non-dialect narration, should you use a dialect. If the talent is not from the local area where the dialect is used, he or she may appear foolish trying to mimic the dialect. This will reduce the credibility of your piece. However, if you were going to produce a documentary on French cooking, you may want to use inserts with a person from a French speaking country or area to speak in English accented by the French dialect to enhance your production.

Look-a-like: Avoid this. People who look similar to a celebrity will distract the viewers attention from the subject matter. The person becomes the subject. Of course, in a parody, the opposite is true.

NOTE: Parodies also should be reviewed by your legal department. Copyright infringement can be possible very easily.

Phone/Address: Donít forget to mark the phone and address of the narrator or actor on your audition sheet.


The Callback

Fee: If the fee has not been mentioned at the prior to or at the audition, make sure you do at the callback. Offering a good fee in the beginning will also help bring a good choice of actors to your audition and will save time with actors in negotiation.

Travel and Accommodations: If you are hiring someone from out of town, do not forget this important financial consideration. The actor is going to assume that you are going to pay travel, accommodations and meals in addition to the base fee.



Script in Advance: Professional talent (principles) like to have the script well in advance, so they may mark, study and rehearse the script before they are on the set. Some want the script a few days, a week or more in advance. Do not worry that changes may be made to the script. The narrator wants to have a basic understanding of what the script is about and the movements required. Changes can be easily made on the set with a prepared talent. It is a good idea to let them know that changes to the script may be made on the set.

VOC and VO: On a combined on-camera and voice-over script, always note for each scene whether the narration is voice-on-camera or voice-over

Character Type: Prior to the shoot, the actor should be informed of your thoughts about the type of person that you envision the character to be. Do not leave the interpretation up to the actor. He wants your thoughts to develop the character.

Blocking: If you have "serious" movements on the set, it is a good idea to provide a block diagram of the movement. In most cases, when simple movements are all that are required, this is not necessary.

NOTE: If you have a moderately dangerous environment or movements, be sure to inform your actor at the audition or callback. This will reduce your down time on the set, and in rare instances, keep you from having to cancel a shoot, because the actor would not perform in a dangerous situation. Do not assume anything. Most actors once informed of these situations will have no problem.

In addition, always pay attention to the laws of your local area and the OSHA regulations in industrial and other business climates.

Dates of Shoot: Give this to your actor at least two weeks in advance.


Call time: If possible, give this to the actor at the same time as the date is given. If the time is not yet available, give them the earliest time, then change it later.

Location: This should also be given at the same time as notification of the date of the shoot. Be sure to send the actor a map of the location with printed address and directions. This can save you shoot time eliminating the possibility of the actor becoming lost.

Wardrobe: This information must be given when you hire the talent. If the talent does not have the clothes that you wish, he may ask that you pay for specific wardrobe desired.

The Day Before the Shoot: Always call the talent to "check-in" the day before the shoot. This will reduce your anxiety about the talent being at the location on time, have the correct wardrobe, and be familiar with the script. Your tension and anxiety on the set can be damaging to the morale of all.


At the Shoot:

Talent On Set 30 Minutes Prior to the First Take: I believe in fail-safes for everything. The talent should be on the set at least 30 minutes before the first take. In other words, if you expect to start shooting at 9:30, give them a call time of 9 a.m. Most professional talent will show 15 minutes before the call time just to give extra time for traffic or other problems. Knowing that your total team is on location, helps reduce some of your anxiety.

Dressing Area: If at all possible, reserve an area for the talent to dress and have a place away from the set to quietly study or escape. This is a place for the performer to recoup their thoughts in case mental blocks or similar problems occur on the set.

Refreshment Area: Whether with a fountain, refrigerator in the studio or a cooler on location, always remember the favorite beverage of EVERYONE on your team including the talent. Also take plenty of fresh water. For the talent, the water will not cause the popping vocal sounds that soda or coffee drinks can produce. And, you definitely do not want the DRY mouth sound.

Introductions: It is important to the performance of everyone that each person is introduced to the others including the talent. Even though the relationship may be short lived, a friendly meeting between each member helps bring the group together to achieve your common goals in the production. The synergy formed can also increase the efficiency and reduce the time on the set.

Talent Release: This is sometimes required by your customer. Of course, the talent agents will tell the talent, "Donít sign anything!" If you are going to ask for the talent to sign a release, make sure the talent agent, if there is one, is notified prior to the shoot. Your release should only include rights for the performance for which you hired the talent. If you hired them for an industrial production, you can not use their performance on a television commercial or anything used for broadcast or cable. The same goes for print.


These suggestions will help guide you through the tough decisions of talent choices and working with talent.

This article was originally placed on JimPowell.com.

Revised 2005.

Copyright Jim Powell 1997- 2005 All rights reserved.



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