Recording Episode 01 of “The Lab”


OK… So I just spent an hour recording my lines for my first episode of “The Lab”. I’m an editor, not an actor. I had the incorrect notion that what I was about to do was more like talking than acting. It was really something I’ve never experienced before……

That was an amazing trip. I wanted to blog it now, while I’m still feeling it.

There’s a journey that you take when you try to record something quasi-theatrical. I’m even more sensitive to it since I’m an editor. I’m more aware of what I can and can’t use.

What I mean by record is when YOU’RE the on-air talent. There’s so much to think about, but then you can’t actually afford to think about it because you have to deliver the lines… that is… IF you scripted your lines ahead of time, and preferably studied them. I did neither, since I’m not an actor. I had no idea it was going to be so hard to pull at least three directions together and then do the right thing with what you receive to deliver the goods. I have no idea whether I have a show or not. If I don’t, that’s fine. I’ve slated my release of episode 1 of “The Lab” for Friday. I still have tonight and all of tomorrow to do it over if I don’t have what I need.

The first thing I noticed was that I had to stop myself from wanting to deliver the lines in a stoic fashion, just to get them out. Then, I realized things would have been way better if I had scripted the lines and practiced them instead of trying to make stuff up on the fly. I had a couple of cues that I had figured out, but the problem was that by the time I was on the spot, doing the do… I had seen the scenes so many times that I wasn’t naturally affected anymore by watching them, and there was no natural launch into what I wanted to say about the section. I had to fake the launch and then make sure I wasn’t stiff delivering the actual lines that I had just decided upon and hadn’t practiced, ever. :/

The obvious question is why not pause the process until I made something up? 😀 The problem with that is that I needed to shoot the whole thing in one session so there was no chance of the camera moving from where it was. I decided to run the video from the monitors live instead of greenscreening them or matting out the screens and shrinking and distorting the video. I knew I was in it for the long haul as soon as I pressed the button, so I went for it and now I have whatever I have… if anything! 😀

I can’t really feel the effects from the journey at this point, but I remember hearing the click that indicated that the camera had shut off and that there wasn’t anything more I could do about getting the show on tape. I remember this feeling of… ?relief? and a return to ?reality?… I’ll definitely be doing way more pre-production for my next episode, but this time, I was so glad to get the set done that I just had to try to make it happen. Actually, when I was completely ready, I wasn’t INTERESTED in filming the show right then. That was the first battle… actually getting myself to start in the first place. It was only after I was in the process that I realized how important a script is that you’ve practiced over and over.

There’s more to being on-air-talent than meets the eye… I mean if you’re going to do a decent job at it… and I’m not saying that *I* did a decent job! 😀 It’s that there are things you have to remember, and while you’re remembering them, you have to forget them so you can seem authentic or natural. You have to internalize them and then live with them and “act as if”. I guess this is why some actors *coughnicholascagecough* always seem to be portraying the exact same character. Their expression is the same in different movies, so you get the same effect when you watch the actor’s performance.

Another thing that’s tough is that you’re not talking to anybody! 😀 I mean, you know the audience is “inside” that little lens, but there’s really nobody there, so you have to pretend you’re talking to someone. Depending on the person or people that you imagine yourself talking to, you’re going to deliver differently. You’re going to sound different. You’re going to use different words. I’m sure my performance suffered from “identity crisis”, but I’ll just fix that in the edit. 😀

Just about the only thing that I learned along the way that helped me was in order to get over the fact that I was no longer highly amused by the scenes, having seen them multiple times while I was selecting them, what I DID find amusing was how ‘lost’ I was and unable to recreate my surprise and interest in the shot. Fortunately… I found that realization so funny, that I ended up laughing at how ridiculous it was and realize that that was my out. Whenever I needed a laugh, I got a laugh off of the fact that I couldn’t laugh because the scene wasn’t funny to me anymore. 😀 WHAT LUCK! 😀

So, yes… More scripting… More practicing (more like ANY practicing, since I didn’t practice at all, having no script, just some outline notes). I didn’t want to script it, but that’s because I didn’t know there were so many other things to worry about when you’re trying to make it happen from in front of the camera instead of behind it. About 1/3 of the way through, I decided to get over the fact that I was talking to a lens. 😀 It wasn’t so tough after that, but that was only one of several ‘issues’ that I was having.

I decided I was going to play some music to see if I wanted to use any of it to get me in or out of the piece. Unfortunately, the way the camera was set up, I had the choices of holding the guitar at a ridiculous angle to play it or play naturally, and the guitar wasn’t in the shot at all. Since I decided on using a single shot for the whole episode, I just had to miss out on the appearance of the guitar. I’ll have to see if anything can be done with that in post.

I was very glad when I heard the click indicating it was all over. It was a weight off, for sure. I learned A LOT about the process, and I’ll be ready for it next time. I’ll also be habituated to certain elements, so those won’t be issues for me. Depending on how it works, I might have to rethink my shooting style as well, or maybe shoot it twice.. once as a practice so I can see how everything works together and then a second time as the real deal. Another issue was that I was sitting in approximately the same place the whole time, so I said approximately the same thing again, closer to the camera…. that is, from what I could remember that I said, since I had no script! :/

Anyway… anyone preparing to do this for the first time, beware! hahahaha 😀 This is one of those situations where you have to learn by on-the-job training, because you’re not going to feel like this in any normal situation. Even having a normal conversation and having someone tape you isn’t the same as trying to deliver lines that you HOPE are going to connect scene A to scene B, while relating to the audience in an effective and preferably consistent manner. It doesn’t prepare you for talking to a lens and convincing yourself you’re talking to a person or people. It’s not as easy as it looks! 😀

Actually, I started doing better (IMO) when I stopped caring if it was good or not. 🙂

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  1. Hey Bill,

    You’ve encapsulated the experience perfectly. 🙂 Being an editor, director, and performer at the same time can get a little crazy. My whole dilemma has always been making sure I don’t sound like a “host” but still being lively… that’s a balance.

    And being able to make sure it all looks spontaneous is a huge part of it. A lot of the time I outline the points I want to make rather that write out an entire script. That works for me only because I don’t have to worry about memorizing lines. Sometimes it’s great to have the lines to fallback on though…. depends on how you work best. 🙂

    Can’t wait to see the first episode. Exciting! 🙂

  2. Thanks Zadi. 🙂

    I really felt like getting the concept and the websites and the representative stills and ESPECIALLY the set together was where it would all start going downhill, but then being on-air talent has its own NEW set of issues!

    I’m going to work with what I have, but MAN! I wasn’t expecting to feel so EXHAUSTED right now! At least I have an AUTOMATIC *bloopers* episode, having recorded nearly an hour’s worth of footage for what needs to amount to two minutes or less of my own dialogue! 😀

  3. Great post, Bill. Looking forward to seeing this show…

    The whole hosting thing is just weird. It’s hard to think of it as a conversation when it’s just you and that beady little camera eye. But it does get easier. Wait til you start editing everything — you’ll notice every little thing that bothers you, but don’t let it cripple you the next time out.

    The tendency is to try and make everything perfect from the first show. Screw that. A videoblog is a living, breathing thing, and it’s best quality is the ease of adjustments that the freedom of working by yourself (or with a partner) gives the process.

    Rock on…

  4. Thanks for the note, Steve. That’s great advice regarding perfection, and something I’ve been kicking it around with Rick Rey about. There are a few issues with my footage:

    1) The camera interprets color coming off the screen of the MacBook Pro and the iMac COMPLETELY DIFFERENTLY than it interprets IRL colors. You can see it if I use a… actually, I’ll post a still to illustrate the difference. Freaky. At first, I thought the camera misinterpreted everything, but when I corrected the dialogue shots, I realized that the IRL DVD cover looked the way it was supposed to, and the screen didn’t.

    2) Apparently, I shot while the sun was moving, because the light to the right of the rack is brighter during the takes I did in the beginning and not as bright later on when I do my closer takes. I’m going to have to take steps to deal with that in the future, but for this one, it’s just going to have to BE LIKE THAT! 😀

    3) When I shot the music section, I didn’t have a monitor, so I wasn’t aware that the guitar was COMPLETELY under the frame! 😀 That part I might do over… maybe… since it looks like I’m going “trust me! 😉 I’m actually playing.” :/

    Anyway, your advice is on-point. I could spend more time and energy trying to make it “perfect”, or I could use what I have, learn what I’ve learned and do it a hell of a lot better and faster next time! 😀

  5. “Don’t get invested in the results of what you do.” Sounds like heresy some days but you got it figured out on the first shoot Bill! I too look forward to seeing the first epi, and LMK if you want a guest director while I am in NYC. 🙂

    When I shoot myself with the monopod I too sometimes get out of frame. But I would rather make eye contact with the lens (red: the viewers) than be double-checking myself too much. And a wide angle lens comes in handy too. Gives me more wiggle room – literally and figuratively!

    The “who you are addressing” question is one I hadn’t thought of much. I cast a wide net on my show (knowing there are people from 2-90 who watch) so I try to keep it universal. I do sometimes think it would be FUN to have a show that is very targeted, so I could narrow myself down as well and go deeper into one aspect of my multiple personalities.

    Maybe you could try a few shows as different aspects of you, and see which one you like being the most, in this format??

  6. Rox,

    The format is set up so that I can do ANYTHING at all. It’s basically like an anchor desk. Ep01 is a film review, but the way “The Lab” is configured, I can do myriad other things, and I plan on it… including receiving pieces from remote correspondents and conducting interviews. Shows from “different aspects” are definitely possible, and highly likely hahaha. 😀

    We’ll definitely do some shooting while you’re in town for BlogHer.

    The “who I’m addressing” issue makes a difference because I explain different parts of the same event to different people based on their own understanding or lack of understanding about the topic. For instance, Ep01 is about the movie “Swingers”, which is about dating, or at least chasing chicks. Depending on who the person is that I’m discussing the movie with, I’m going to express myself differently. It wouldn’t make too much difference who I was speaking to if I were reporting something generic, like a guy crashing a plane into a building.

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