WHAT IS A TALKING HEAD VIDEO?
“Talking Head” is the slang name in video for a person speaking on camera. The shot is usually framed as a medium close-up (MCU) and sometimes the person is speaking directly to the camera, other times, they are glancing slightly off camera in what’s called a 3/4 profile. They might be talking to another person, other times they are speaking only to the video viewer.
The video above is a typical talking head as is this image.
A Talking Head Video is probably the single most common shot in all of video production, so once you know how to do it, you’re halfway home.
Think about how often you see talking heads. Any talk show, news show, game show, sales show, variety show, situation comedy, commercials, just about any excuse there is to make a video is full of talking heads.
I figure I have done about 11,000 talking heads in my career. I came to think of them as video portraits. A talking portrait like they have in Harry Potter!
On a practical level, if you want to make a simple video that communicates a basic message plainly, do a talking head video.
I often get asked, what is the easiest way to do a marketing video?
Hands down, a talking head video is it. Read on for all you need to know.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN TALKING HEAD VIDEO
If you are trying to make a talking head video, you need to think about these things:
- Camera position
- Subject position
- Lights, how many and from what direction?
- Microphone, what kind and where to put it?
CAMERA AND SUBJECT POSITIONING
Any video camera can be used for a talking head, from the simplest flip camera to the most sophisticated.
Usually the camera is pretty close to the subject, either literally or via zoom lens. The camera will either be staring them directly in the face or, off to the side just a bit in what’s called a 3/4 profile.
There is a difference in how a viewer will react to someone staring right at them or one glancing off to the side. Staring directly is more personal and intimate. Looking off to the side makes the viewer feel more like an observer. Which one is appropriate for your video depends on what feel you are going for.
I LOVE 30 Rock and The Office, two examples where the characters “confide” in the viewer. The director conveys that visually by shooting a standard talking head.
When you frame up your talking head shot, be aware of what is called head room and nose room.
TV terms are awfully plain spoken. They mean:
- How much room is there above the head?
- If they are glancing off to the side, how much room is there from their nose to the screen edge?
Deep stuff. 🙂
The vast majority of talking heads are medium-close-ups, the exact same as you would see in a still picture portrait. The bottom of the shot cuts off in mid chest, maybe mid-stomach, and there is just a touch of head room. Sometimes you want to add other images in editing, perhaps graphics like a name, location, or logo.
If you will be adding to the talking head later in editing, you need to leave room somewhere on the shot to put whatever you will add. Typically, names and location graphics are placed on the bottom third of a talking head and called a lower third super. Of course you have the option of placing these elements anywhere you want in video editing.
Some head shots go in extremely close, with the eyebrows at the top of the video frame and the mouth at the bottom. The closer you get with your camera shot, the more intimate for the viewer and the more invasive for the subject. Where you draw the boundaries is known as creative license.
Trust me, most people do NOT like seeing themselves in an extreme close shot, their nostrils resembling moon craters. Come to think of it, most viewers would not go for that either. As in real life, good video making needs boundaries.
The best form of lighting to use for a talking head video would be similar to what’s best for still picture portrait lighting. Generally speaking, what flatters the face is soft, diffused lighting set up around the subject in a triangular pattern known as triangle lighting or 3-point lighting.
Not all talking head videos rise to triangle lighting, sometimes reality is you only have one light. Please don’t think you have to use fancy light fixtures, not at all. You can make whatever you have work.
In proper triangle lighting, there are three lights:
- Key Light
- Fill Light
- Back Light
If you only have one light, go with the key light as it is most important. Which light is of second importance is debatable and really depends on what look you prefer.
GETTING GOOD SOUND
Decent audio is critical for a talking head. If a viewer can not hear what is being said, they will shut you off no matter how good everything else is.
The best way to get great sound is to use a small lavalier microphone clipped close to the person’s mouth. 6 inches away or so. A lav mic will disappear in your shot and they are designed for just this purpose. Make sure no clothes are rubbing on the sensitive mic portion. I always hide the cord under the clothes if possible.
No matter what kind of mic you use, using a separate mic means you have to have a camera that allows you to plug one in. Small video cameras rarely have that option.
If you do have a place to plug a mic in, even if all you get is a cheap wired mic for $25 bucks from a store like Radio Shack, your audio will be much better. If you go that route, buy an audio extension cord for greater flexibility in positioning.
A second option is to use a boom mic, (AKA: telephoto mic, shotgun mic) that would be held about 3-8 feet away, out of the camera range.
A third option is a hand held microphone, but be aware that lots of people think holding a big mic looks a bit tacky. Handheld mic good points are rugged durability and good quality pick up.
If all you have is a small video camera with a built-in microphone, then it will work best if you have the camera and mic about 2-3 feet from you. Speak fairly loudly.
No matter what kind of microphone you use, make sure all background noise is turned off. Record in as quiet an environment as possible.
Speak clearly and articulate well. Pay attention to your pacing.
There you have it, my friend! Combine all these concepts and you have a professionally done talking head shot, the most common shot in all of video production.
WRITING A TALKING HEAD VIDEO SCRIPT
Writing a script for a talking head video is easy. I have included three examples here you are welcome to adapt to your own situation. By following the examples below, writing a script is largely a fill-in-the-blank exercise.
A script for a simple talking head marketing video should be a brief introduction of you and your service to the potential customers. Just say hello and tell them the essential key elements. The script should be brief and focused. Final length should be no more than two minutes. One minute, or even 30-45 seconds, might be best in most circumstances.
In your script, make sure you give some kind of reason why your service is the one they should select. This could be based on experience, superior skills, or because you are giving a great bargain.
Then, add a distinct call to action. Whether the call to action is “email me” through the interactive button or “buy my book,” (again through an interactive button), be specific and ask potential customers to take the next step in doing business with you.
After reading the examples below, think about your own business then write out your own script. Practice reading it aloud. Listen for flow and how easily the words come out of your mouth. A good video script needs to use words that are easy to pronounce. Even professional narrators do poorly with tongue twisters. Modify your script as you hear it aloud to make to flow better. Then, setup your camera and lights and you are ready to record. Use some sort of teleprompter. Even just scotch taping a copy of the script to the bottom of your camera lens can function as a low-budget teleprompter. You could also use a laptop as a substitute teleprompter.
SCRIPT EXAMPLE #1
Hello everyone. I’m Mark Campbell, an attorney in Worchester County. If you’re looking for legal help in the areas of family law, estate planning, wills and trusts, personal injury or bankruptcy, then why don’t you call me for a free consultation? My law firm has worked with the residents of Worchester County for over fifteen years now, and at least one of them has been you, a friend, or a neighbor. For personal, confidential service at a time in your life when you’re feeling vulnerable, let my law firm’s experienced team guide the way. Click the interactive button to send me an email and let’s get your problem taken care of as soon as possible. Talk to you soon.
SCRIPT EXAMPLE #2
Hi. I’m Charles Mitchell, with Bug B Gone Exterminators. Are you troubled by household pests like mice, squirrels or cockroaches? I can help. My experienced team of professionally trained exterminators uses safe, reliable, effective methods of getting rid of unwanted pests. You won’t have to worry about a thing. We’ll come out to your house, assess the situation for free, then draw up a plan to safely treat your home with the most effective methods available. When we’re done, your home will be pest free or we’ll come back until it is. Don’t let filthy insects and rodents spoil your home environment. Call me, Charles Mitchell at Bug B Gone. Click the interactive button for a free 10% off coupon for your first treatment. That’s my gift to you for watching this video. Talk to you soon.
SCRIPT EXAMPLE #3
Are you trying to navigate the housing market, either buying or selling? That’s always a tough thing to do by yourself. Hi. I’m Gretchen Carlson, Murray County Realtor. I’ve been helping people like you buy and sell their homes for over ten years now. My experience can help you get the best deal possible in the shortest amount of time. Not only do I know this area like the back of my hand, but I market using the most up-to-date practices, like online video. If you’d like a complementary copy of recent listings for your neighborhood, click on the interactive button to download a PDF file. Your home is your biggest investment, so it’s vital to get the best deal possible. I can help. The contact me button will get you my email address and phone numbers. Have a great day.
At its very most basic structure, the three example videos are all very similar. They follow this skeleton structure.
Hello, I’m _______________.
My product or service is ____________________.
If you have _______________ problem, my service can benefit you in these ways _______________________.
I am better than my competition for this reason ________________________.
So take this action __________________________ in order to reach me so I can make your life easier. You will be rewarded with this _______________. Thanks, goodbye.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
Once the script is done, you are ready to shoot. Follow the lighting and audio advice above for best results. Now you know how make your own talking head video. Thanks for reading! Let me know how it goes for you.
Internet Video Gal