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Get Comfortable on Camera, Even if You Want to Be Behind It

Last week, I produced photo and video shoots for our new Tortuga products. Standard stuff that I've been doing for years.

But the last thing we shot were explainer ads (the kind you see in the Instagram feed) starring... me.

I had been worried about it for the week leading up to the shoot, and, frankly, it was a nightmare.

My performance was neither off-the-cuff nor well-rehearsed. I couldn't remember what I needed to say verbatim and wasn't clever in the moment. My energy and delivery were uneven, and it took three-quarters of our scheduled time for me to get loose. I couldn't hit the words I needed to emphasize. I never managed to get all the gravel out of my mouth to talk clearly.

Unlike most people, I don't mind giving speeches. As long as I have the general structure of what I want to say worked out, I'm fine to stand up in front of a group of people and talk. At most shoots (Tortuga and otherwise), I'm the person who gives a short safety and pep talk before the day starts. I love giving a toast. So, the bad part about taping the ad wasn't the getting up and talking in front of people aspect.

What tripped me up was being in front of the camera.

Tying my shoes would have been an issue, as long as we were rolling on it.

Everyone likes to talk about all the ways the younger generations are messed up because of phones. It's probably mostly true.

However, young people are comfortable on camera. Many of them have been performing for the camera since birth, and they're used to communicating with their friends via video.

If you were born in the pre-iPhone era, you probably would have been a bumbling mess taping that ad, too.

My wife and lots of my friends are actors. They've all taped hundreds of failed auditions. Like young people, they don't blink when the camera goes on.

It's a huge advantage.

These days, applications ask for a video submission in addition to essays. I've had friends include video pitches when their scripts go out. In most jobs, you have to appear on camera, even if just on Looms or recorded Zooms. I get lots of video sales pitches for software and the like. If you own your own business, you'll probably have to be on camera more frequently, doing God-awful things like making explainer ads.

The better you are on camera the more successful you'll be at all these everyday things. Even if you never thought you'd have to appear on camera and strongly prefer not to (like me!), it's become close to a necessity.

What does "good on camera" mean in this context?

Don't worry about being James Dean.

Instead, you should be able to be identical to your normal, in-real-life you as soon as the cameras roll. It's hard. I can't do it (yet).

You don't need to take "capital A" acting class. Because the skill you need is not to be a good actor, I promise. Ultimately, I'm suggesting you don't even need to perform. You just need to overcome nerves and self-awareness to be your usual self.

I don't have a detailed regiment of how to get better yet. But—obviously—the answer is to practice. (If I succeed at improving, I'll update this post or write a new one.)

For the time being, my advice is to embrace being on camera in low-stakes contexts before you need to perform well for something important.

Record Looms of yourself teaching something instead of writing directions. Put your phone on a cheap tripod or lean it against something and explain something that a friend asked you about. Send that instead of a long text. Video yourself practicing a speech that will only be delivered in person.

If you're a young filmmaker—especially still at film school or just practicing—put yourself in your short films. You'll get practice being on camera and learn how to better relate to actors. (I wish I had done this and advise everyone to do so. Eventually, I'll write a post about things I wish I had done differently when starting out. This is high on the list).

The world has changed because everyone now needs to appear on camera. Success will accrue to those who are good at it. This is reality, and it's not changing. Don't be held back because (like me until now) you're unwilling to embrace a new necessary skill.

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