The Reel Thing

Recently I was contacted by an experienced TV presenter, wondering why his showreel was neither helping him to gain momentum nor open doors. Beautifully shot and edited, the reel included a range of professionally presented items in too many genres. A triumph of style over content, the pieces to camera lacked originality as the generic scripts, written by the showreel production team, failed to convince.

It isn’t necessary to spend a fortune on a glossy product to make a reel that stands out. Your talent will leap out of the screen even if shot on a phone. Content is the key. Write scripts yourself, based on your passions, interests and expertise; self shoot and edit, or skill swap to create some video footage. Presenting is about being yourself, so engage with the viewer by making a reel with your fingerprint.

Agents and broadcasters frequently state that mobile phone showreels are acceptable because they are looking for potential. So, worry less about the finished product and spend more time thinking about the ideas. I have viewed dozens of ‘sausage factory’ reels that were so superficial or derivative they didn’t leave an impression; I can count on one hand the reels that were exciting – even if the sound wasn’t perfect – they were the reel thing.

 

5 top tips for your TV presenting career

It’s been a while – I’ve been busy writing my second book – and I’m thrilled to say it’s just been published! The TV Presenter’s Career Handbook by Focal Press is out now. It’s packed full with advice and interviews with TV presenters, agents and TV producers on how to carve a TV presenting career. Here are my 5 top tips.

Be yourself

You are unique so don’t try to copy other presenters. Create your own showreel material with content that shows your own personality and style. Producers want to find new talent, not poor versions of existing personalities.

Use your expertise

Do you have specialised knowledge or qualifications? Whether it’s finance or cookery, music or sport, interior decoration or wine tasting your expertise can open doors. Be the guest expert, the interviewee or presenter who has credibility in a subject and you’ll more employable.

Take control

No need to wait for job adverts, start presenting. Upload to YouTube, be the face of the company you work for, or add videos to your website. As camera equipment and editing software becomes less expensive and more accessible it’s easier than ever before to start presenting from home.

Create a digital footprint

Use social media but have something to say. Join sites that promote your skills, be visible and contactable. Seek opportunities to raise your profile, you can be the interviewee not necessarily the presenter and still make a splash. Producers are increasingly searching online to find new faces.

Get some professional training

There are plenty of short courses out there, and a few Universities teach TV Presenting. Find out what the industry expectations are by training with experts. Go for the courses that really teach you the skills.

Leap Tweets

As promised, although a bit late, here is a list of my 29 top tips for February 2012:

Tip 1 Rewrite CV include broadcasting, TV, radio, print, live hosting, scripting, think presenter not actor, no need for shoe or hat size!

Tip 2 Refresh your training: in many professions continuing professional development is routine. Should you check your presenter skills?

Tip 3 Personal grooming – think HD, widescreen, LED, home cinema – avoid embarrassing close ups, check hair, make up and nails

Tip 4 Invest in a video camera & tripod – practise talking to camera, record/edit showtape items, take control of your reel

Tip 5 Research presenting agents listed in Contacts, check their websites, who they represent and if they may suit you. Then, contact them!

Tip 6 Presenter photos should be professional, colour, with personality and warmth, not b/w or holiday snaps. See Spotlight Presenters

Tip 7 Free training – Apply for free tickets online to be in a studio audience and watch TV presenters at work

Tip 8 List your areas of expertise, what makes you different, what can you offer the presenting industry what’s your usp, presenting is you!

Tip 9 Research local TV stations, community TV, volunteer to present items, so much is happening locally, get involved, start broadcasting!

Tip 10 Read ‘So You Want to be a TV Presenter?’ packed with expert advice, tips, self-training, sample CVs, job seeking and showreel advice

Tip 11 Spotlight Presenters http://www.spotlight.com for membership, job info & advice. Emerging Talent section is really useful for newcomers.

Tip 12 Create a channel of your work – one of my former students Helen Hokin has done this brilliantly – see www.foodtripper.com/tv

Tip 13 Promote yourself as an interviewee, it’s a short hop from successful guest to presenter. Are you an expert? See
www.findatvexpert.com

Tip 14 Practise tongue twisters to improve diction and warm up facial muscles, free sites online – red leather, yellow leather ….

Tip 15 Update your technical skills for website, video clips and marketing, have a look at www.moonfruit.com

Tip 16 Can you ad lib for 2 mins or speak to time finishing just before zero? Set your stopwatch to find out & start talking to yourself ….

Tip 17 Listen to this excellent advice on TV Presenting from BBC College of Production CoP Show: TV presenting www.bbc.in/xqsUga

Tip 18 To practise reading from a prompt see http://www.cueprompter.com type in your script, set the speed and read from your screen

Tip 19 How multi-skilled are you? If you watch TV/work on laptop/when on a mobile you can talk to camera while listening to in-ear talkback…

Tip 19 cont’d …To practise talking to time, record a countdown and listen through your headphones whilst talking to camera.

Tip 20 Spotlight’s Emerging Talent section at the back of the Presenters book showcases new, up-and-coming presenters. Contact @SpotlightUK

Tip 21 Writing the perfect CV http://bbc.in/mZLptI – was going to tweet about HD make up as it’s pancake day, but here’s a CV tip instead

Tip 22 Continuing the CV theme www.prospects.ac.uk/example_cvs.htm

Tip 23 Can you memorise a 40 second script? Not every shoot will have a prompting device eg autocue, especially on location. Aim for 1 take!

Tip 24 Your showreel should be unique to you, shoot items you are enthusiastic about, show your expertise, write your own material, be you!

Tip 25 Max showreel duration 3-4 mins or a bit less, think BGT, impress in the first 30 secs or the rest of it may not be viewed

Tip 26 Three tips for an interviewer – listen, listen and listen.

Tip 27 To train as a weather forecaster see www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/recruitment/options/forecasting

Tip 28 If TV presenting is your career invest in your own professional moulded ear piece nickway.co.uk/earpieces/moulded

Tip 29 And finally … found an extra day in your calendar today? Read ‘So You Want to be a TV Presenter?’ publ by Nick Hern Books

Reading from a prompt

A couple of lucky presenters I’m training at the moment are working in TV production and able to practise reading from a prompt as part of their work experience. However, most presenters are expected to know how to read from a prompt before the audition or job. The screen test is not the place to reveal that you have never done this before, and time is too precious on a shoot to receive on the spot training.

What is a prompt? It is a device that scrolls the script in front of the camera lens enabling the presenter to read rather than having to memorise the words. When the camera is placed behind the prompt and the presenter’s eyeline is direct to the lens it should not look any different to presenting without a prompt. The words are visible on a screen that the presenter can see but the viewer cannot. Mrs Smith watching at home shouldn’t realise you are using a prompt, so allow your delivery to be as natural as possible. Whether the screen is a few feet or 30 feet away from you, if you have small head movements and are relating to the viewer they won’t be aware of your eyes scanning the words.

Prompting screens can also be mounted above the camera, usually during location shoots, or on a moving camera; this does not give such a direct eyeline from the presenter to the viewer, but with the right shot the viewer may not notice the difference.

Although prompts are often referred to as Autocue there are other companies that provide prompting equipment, such as Autoscript, Portaprompt and First-Take. Prompts can fit almost any size of camera from small semi-professional to large TV studio cameras. Screen sizes range from mini 3.5”, 5.6”, 8” or 9” screens for location use to typical studio screen sizes of 12”, 15”, 17”, 19” to huge, such as on ITV’s ‘Dancing on Ice’ where the studio is the size of a small aircraft hangar!  Recent updates include bright LED screens, PC and Mac versions, and even a spell-check variety.

Presenters unfamiliar with using a prompt often worry that it will go too fast for them to read comfortably. That shouldn’t happen – the prompt operator has to follow your reading.  So if you find the prompt is going too quickly what should you do – speed up to match the pace or slow down? Think about it!

Alternatively you may find that you are the controller – using a handheld wireless remote or a foot pedal under the presenting desk. The latest technology is voice activated, no foot or hand controls, with the prompt following the spoken word of the presenter.

How can you practise at home without access to a prompting screen? A basic exercise is to read aloud. We normally read in our heads but by reading aloud you can develop your sight-reading, voice and breathing techniques. When you see a comma, pause, when you see a full stop – stop! Don’t forget to breathe! Have a good reservoir of breath by using your abdomen. Find a balance between a pace that the viewer can follow, while keeping up a good energy.

There is a great resource www.cueprompter.com – a free online teleprompter. You can type in or copy and paste some written material into the window, set the scroll speed and start to read from a moving script! It has a maximum of 2000 characters and it’s fun to experiment with the different speed settings. You could record yourself using a webcam, which although not directly in your eyeline, will give you an idea of how you look and sound when reading.

One common pitfall is that the expression can become ‘frozen’ and the eyes can look ‘glazed’. Do your best to relax the face and eyes, maintaining a conversational delivery. Read with interest, using good modulation and intonation.

Prompting software has a range of font sizes, inverse, underline, bold, italic, different foreground/background colours, so if you are short-sighted and your co-presenter is long-sighted or even dyslexic, the script appearance can be tailored to your preferences. Some presenters write words phonetically to aid pronunciation, or use capitals for emphasis. When writing scripts for a prompt keep them simple, especially as the entire sentence may not be visible at once on the prompting screen.

You can customise your script to assist your performance. As a Director I added helpful instructions to the prompt, such as ‘Turn to camera 3’ – you could include a note to self, for example, ‘Breathe’, ‘Pause’, ‘Smile!’

If you want to take it further you could explore various prompting websites to familiarise yourself with the equipment. Perhaps you could get together with like-minded friends/presenters and hire the kit for half a day, which would cost in the region of £225 including all prompting equipment and an operator. Prices vary, and check whether travel and VAT are included.

Putting all technology aside for a moment, the main aim is to be a winning presenter, so look through the words to the lens behind the prompt. Remember Mrs. Smith? She wants to feel that you are talking to her, not reading to her, and that is the key to reading from a prompt successfully.

You read it here first!

In ear talk back

Advice from Kathryn Wolfe, Course Leader TV Production, Senior Lecturer Media Performance University of Bedfordshire, Pukka Presenting trainer and author ‘So You Want to be a TV Presenter?’

One of the many enquiries I received recently was on the topic of in-ear talkback. Using in-ear talkback initially can seem like you are hearing voices in your head and if you are recording a screen test using it for the first time your performance can suffer – that was the experience of this particular presenter who was not familiar with in-ear talkback and didn’t know what to expect.

In-ear talkback is a device that enables Producers/Directors/Production Assistants to talk directly to the presenter, to inform them about editorial issues, camera directions and timings. It can be used in the studio or on location. Although some information can go via a Floor Manager, not all recorded situations use a Floor Manager nowadays; whereas some commands such as timings can be delivered visually, other more complex instructions such as ‘When did the private papers go missing?’ or ‘How long is the battery life of this product?’ are better conveyed straight to the presenter.

Talkback consists of a silicon or foam bud that sits just inside the left or right ear, attached to a curly or straight acoustic tube that goes around and behind the ear, then down the back of the neck. There is an optional collar clip to hold the cable in place, and hair/clothing can be used to hide the kit as much as possible. You can adjust the volume of the speech coming through the earpiece, so it’s a good idea to check this before you are on air!

Working with talkback is a case of getting used to talking while listening to instructions, without revealing to the viewer that you are hearing information from someone else who is out of vision. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Think of all the occasions when you are multi-tasking without problem. Do you work on the laptop while watching TV, conducting a conversation and eating a snack? Have you had a chat on the phone while listening to a speech radio programme?

It is unlikely that you will be able to practise using talkback equipment unless in a professional TV environment, but you can prepare for the situation. Perform a script to a camera and ask a friend with a stopwatch to give you verbal timings, such as “30 seconds left on show”, and they should count down the time, saying “20 seconds, 15 seconds, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0”. When they say “zero” you should have stopped talking! Check your recording back to see if your facial expressions revealed that you were receiving instructions. Did you falter or fluff, aquire a furrowed brow, look distracted, or did you carry on performing without making it known to the viewer?

You could purchase some inexpensive ear buds of your own to take to jobs, see http://www.enhancedlistening.co.uk or http://www.canford.co.uk

If you want to go that step further, it is possible to obtain moulded earpieces custom made to fit your own ears – less likely to be visible or, worse still, to fall out at a crucial moment! See http://presenterpromotions.com/services/earpieces/earpieces.html or http://nickway.co.uk

Remember, you heard it here first.