Etiquette still applies
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - May 25, 2020 - 12:00am

The entire broadcasting industry has migrated online. Even print and online sports journalists have taken to posting videos, hosting chats and coordinating online panel discussions in a grand irony. Now that there are no sports to talk about, there’s a lot more ranking, revisioning and reminiscing. Kudos to the imaginative ones who stimulate thought and discussion. Let’s just not overdo the unrealistic “what if” scenarios, please.

What is missing from all these Zoom chats and conference calls, particularly for experienced broadcasters? Naturally, the technical support crew behind the scenes: directors, cameramen, make-up artists, audio and lighting personnel. They’re the ones that add polish to how you look and sound. But there are ways around their absence. You can still appear at your best while cloistered.

This writer feels a little more effort could be put into all the online chats being produced by quarantined and off-duty colleagues. Again, this is my personal belief, but it appears that being at home and broadcasting from home are mistakenly perceived to mean that you dress and groom yourself like you’re on vacation. If a foreign celebrity chooses to do so, that’s because they aren’t really working, but keeping their social media numbers up. A few even produce exercise or cooking videos, but they dress accordingly. And they often shoot outdoors or somewhere that the natural light is abundant and balanced. I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re broadcasting, then act like it. I understand that lighting and audio are not the expertise of most on-camera talents, though. I appeared on the launching episode of an online talk show three weeks ago, and I felt that the least I could do was shave, fix my hair and wear something with a collar.

I’ve seen far too many collarless and even sleeveless shirts, and unkempt beards (grown men can still shave during quarantine, you know). Also commonplace is uncombed hair, often covered with a baseball cap, which in turn casts a shadow over one’s face. If you made yourself presentable in a studio before quarantine, well, now the studio is your home or wherever you are presenting from. It is incumbent upon professional broadcasters to set the example. The basic principles still apply.

So what are the basics for those who want to do it better given the quarantine? Wash your face and wipe it down with tissue. This removes any oil that makes your face shiny. Comb your hair and trim or shave any facial hair. Unless you are well-lit, don’t wear a hat. Stay far enough from your camera so that your shoulders can almost be seen, so your head doesn’t look disembodied. Make your gestures small, and make them directly in front of you. Remember, you only have one camera. And a neutral background like curtains, windows or a wall is better than a busy or cluttered background that may distract viewers. You want the attention on you.

The most common flaw for everyone is being against the light. The availability of a quiet place usually determines where and when in your house you can record or broadcast. Usually, the light at the dining table (where people set up) is directly above (which casts shadows under your eyes and nose), or from an adjoining space like the living room. Tables are lit for reading, meaning the light comes over your shoulder. This is the opposite of what you need.  The light is thrown over you towards the camera, causing it to compensate by limiting the entry of light into the lens, making the subject – your face – darker. An easy remedy is a lamp, a cell phone light or even anything reflective (substitutes are styrofoam or illustration board), pointed either slightly upward or slightly downward toward your face, at least a foot away. If you’re in a quiet space, face the window for diffused natural light. Another simple remedy is to place your laptop or phone on top of something. The elevated position would make you look up slightly, allowing more of the overhead light onto your face.

As for sound, the microphone of the digital device you are using will likely be omnidirectional, meaning it’s designed to catch everything. Imagine a beachball around that tiny microphone. That’s where all the sound will come from. This is opposed to unidirectional microphones for individual speakers that only pick up sound from one direction, your mouth.

If you are chatting among yourselves, eating, smoking and drinking is fine, since the conference call is a substitute for meeting in a social setting. A television program in the 1990’s called “Sportswriters on TV” had a casual atmosphere of four print sports journalists playing poker and talking sports without the frills of a full-blown broadcast. But they were an experiment in not being mainstream.

Local (and some international) broadcast laws do not allow smoking and drinking on broadcasts. And if you need to eat, munch on something off-camera if you take a break or you’re playing music. If you are performing, particularly for free like a DJ or comic or singer or lecturer, you can get away with a sip.

You are still governed by etiquette, you know. And if someone records you at less than your best, it will be on the Web for eternity.

Access to editing, special effects is also unavailable for home broadcasting. There are some apps that provide simple montages, usually jump cuts and dissolves, which will be adequate for illustration and exposition purposes. Don’t shove something at the camera. It will be hard to read, anyway. Prepare any visuals in advance to make your program seamless.

If you’re going to broadcast from home, might as well do it well. And enjoy.

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