Friday, August 22, 2008

Adventures in Television Land: Dry Lips and Echoes

Last Monday I appeared on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. The six-minute interview was taped the week before, but based on my prior experience (see Adventures in Television Land: Osama bin Laden and Me ), I told almost no one that the appearance was in the works. I thought the taping had gone pretty well, but once your interview has been recorded, you never know for certain that a radio or television show will use the material until they do. Fortunately, this time they did, and the reviews from family and friends have been quite good.

Being a pure talking head—a face in a box on the screen—is a daunting experience. In this case, I was in a small studio in New Haven, CT with bright lights shining in my face, staring at the black eye of a TV camera, and Jeffrey Brown, the correspondent for The NewsHour was in a studio in Arlington, VA. The video and audio of me were going to VA via satellite to be recorded on that end, and Brown’s questions to me were coming north over a phone line. There was no video signal coming back to me from the Arlington studio, so I could not see Brown. I just had his voice in my ear.

To be a successful talking head, you have to learn to make eye contact with the camera eye, or else you look like you are not really paying attention. This turns out to be a somewhat challenging skill, and the technicians at the Yale University studio reported that some inexperienced interviewees have spent the whole time looking at their shoes.

So under the best of circumstances, being recorded for television in this manner is a challenge, but I had two additional problems. First, I got dry lips. This is a problem I had once before while being interviewed for a video, and I learned how deadly it is to get caught licking your lips on screen. But my worst problem did not become evident until it was too late. The interview started very suddenly, and as I listened to Jeffrey Brown’s questions and tried to construct intelligent responses, I discovered that I could hear myself in the earpiece. However, because what I was hearing was my own voice playing in the Arlington studio and coming back to me over the phone line, the sound was delayed. So my powers of concentration, already strained by the demands of the situation (“...stare at the camera; don’t lick your lips....”), were further challenged by having to ignore my own voice echoing in my ear.

Somehow I managed to get through it without looking like a complete fool. After hearing the report of my ordeal, my brother gave me a great piece of advice for the future: lip balm.

1 comment:

TOGARA said...

Stuart, I just watched the New Hour bit. Sounds good. Blue shirt and yellow tie add to the effect. I think you cover most of the salient points. Seems as this is as good a time to get in front of more Americans.....who lining up the next media gig? atb,Michael
PS "Go Palin"