Do you remember the good old days? The days where you would travel to a meeting or to a filmmaking class? The world has changed. Meetings are now on a host of different online apps like Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and many others. I spend hours each week on Zoom so I thought it might be worthwhile creating a Filmmakers Zoom Guide for independent filmmakers and creatives.
Sure, there are times when filmmakers can correspond with text, but in the creative industries you often need face-to-face meetings. And in the current COVID crises, that means face-to-screen.
As normal meetings have protocols, so do online meetings. And you really want to look and sound your best, right? Here are my suggestions on how to maximise your next Zoom call compiled from Zoom’s own website as well as other sources. These tips should help you stay productive, feel connected and looking and sounding your best. Using these tips will help you maximise production meetings, creative sessions and casting calls.
1. Turn your camera on
Humans love to see the person they are talking to. If you are the person initiating, or in Zoom-speak, if you are hosting the call, you really need to have your camera on.
I do a lot of Raindance classes on Zoom. It is always great to be able to see the faces of the attendees. Blank rectangles are difficult for presenters in particular. Presenters always find it better to be able to see the participants. It allows them to gauge their impact.
It lets people see you and confirm you’re not some super-sophisticated AI voice. This is particularly important if you’re the one hosting the meeting or a speaker, but slightly less so if you’re an attendee.
When I attend an online event it is great to be able to see the others too. I’d only turn off my camera if I was in a messy and untidy location, or, if I was terribly un-groomed.
2. Prepare for the spotlight
Any meeting is an event. And you, as filmmaker, will be judged by how you look online as well. When you have your next zoom meeting reminder to tidy up! Don’t wear your housecoat. Make an effort to glam up your appearance: your physical appearance, your wardrobe is a barometer on which people will judge your personal branding.
3. All the world’s a stage
The people joining you at your meeting won’t just be seeing you – they will be seeing the background of where you are speaking from. Is your camera in the laundry room or kitchen? I’d advise to point the camera away from the dirty dishes and unfolded laundry.
If you like, you can opt for a virtual background. Although sometimes they don’t key properly. You can then join your next production meeting from anywhere. Take your pick! Join from a Turkish Palace or, what the hell, the moon!
Shutterstock has a collection of royalty free images you can download and add to your online software. Katherine Boyarsky has written a terrific blog post on how to create your own virtual background. She has a collection of 31 ready-made Zoom backgrounds to choose from.
4. Lights, Camera, Action!
Bring out the filmmaker in you. Make sure you are well lit, and not back lit. With a window or light behind you, your face will look dark. I try and put a light slightly to the left of my face.
Light tech need not be expensive. Here’s a vloggers light stand I found on Amazon for £20.00. It’s a great light. It has a clip you can attach your phone to. And yes, Raindance makes about £0.60 if you buy by clicking on the image!
5. Don’t forget the sound
As in movies, your Zoom presence will ‘look’ rubbish if your sound is bad. Make sure you get a good mic. Although you can use the onboard mic on your computer, you’ll get far better sound results using an external mic.
I use the Neti Nano which has served me well. It costs £100.00. You can check it out on Amazon HERE
Zoom will work well with attachments like mics, lights and cameras.
I was given a really good camera: The Razor Kiyo. At £125.00 it’s not cheap, but it also comes with a built in ring light. You can get it on Amazon it HERE, and Raindance gets about £2!
When you are presenting, try to look directly at the camera. It will appear to the viewer that you are making direct eye contact. Try not to think how badly you need a haircut.
8. Max Headroom
One of the biggest faux pas people make is when they don’t adjust their camera and have just the top or bottom of their face in the camera. Try to make sure your face is fully seen. For better results, push your camera back so we have a mid-shot.
9. Self Tech Support
Before you start your meeting or presentation, do a tech support run. Make sure you know how to set the audio, lighting and camera settings so they show you off at your very best.
Zoom, for instance, has a feature that lets you test your settings before your meetings begin: just go to zoom.us/test.
10. The power of the mute button
The beauty of online meeting services like Zoom is the mute button. No one needs to hear your background noises, or asides. Use it!
11. Zoom etiquette
This part of the Filmmakers Zoom Guide deals with some basic do’s and don’t’s based on my 100’s of Zoom calls. I’ve witnessed some zoom horror shows!
- Please don’t eat on camera. Seeing people chewing on camera is kind of gross. If you have to eat, turn off the camera (and audio)
- Please don’t do private things while in a video conference. I’ve had people pick their nose, go to the bathroom and get dressed thinking their camera and audio were switched off. WOW!
Don’t become a statistic and part of zoom folklore. Be aware that your online persona can be edited with the mute and camera button.
12. Is this a meeting or a webinar?
Most video conference tools allow you to set up some members as audience-only, meaning that only certain people can participate with video and audio. If you’re doing a presentation rather than a discussion, a webinar that might be the better format than allowing everyone to chime in.
If you’re open to discussion and Q&A I use a meeting format. You can adjust the preferences so you just see the speakers. This is what Collab Writers did with an intense talk with Media Lawyer, Tony Morris which I attended:
13. Manage your participants
There are a lot of useful features you should familiarise yourself with. Such as screen sharing, locking the meeting to current participants, removing participants or placing them on hold, transferring files and managing chat options. Don’t be like me and try to figure these things out in a live meeting – do some research before the meeting starts.
14. The host is the last to leave
When you are the host and close the meeting, the meeting is over. But there is still cleanup to do. You need to save and archive the meeting if recorded. Sometimes you need to write and share a a followup email.
As host it’s a really good idea to do an outro. Make sure everyone knows how to save the chat, answer any last-minute questions and make sure everyone knows what will happen next. As you announce the ending, stick around a few minutes until everyone else has closed. It’s just good manners.