Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

Cinematic Excellence at 24 Frames a Second

How To Get Better Delivery From Non-Actors For Under $200

Sorry, no assistant today- enjoy my ugly mug! ;-)

If you're like me, you've done a lot of interviews with non-actors who need to look straight into the camera, and you know how intimidating that can be for the "talent." As soon as the camera turns on, they clam up and turn into robots- their great personality quickly disappears. The solution to getting the performance you need, while still having them look straight into camera, is to have them look at someone's face instead.

By looking at another person's face that is responding to their answers you get a more natural response, and a more engaged interview. It is much more comforting for someone who has never been on camera to look at another face, instead of having to stare down that intimidating camera lens...

If you've done much research on gear that allows this to happen, then you've probably stumbled upon the Eye-Direct System. I've used this exact system on a number of shoots across the country. However, at $1,400, it is relegated to the classification of speciality gear that most will rent. But what if you could use tools you already have, and spend less than $200 to create something similar? Well, you are in luck, as I'll show you how I did just that.

First, a bit of clarification. I have worked with the Eye-Direct system a lot. It is sturdy, well built, it does what it advertises, and it does it well. If you are looking for pro level gear that works- just buy the real thing, and skip the rest of this post.

The drawbacks to the Eye-Direct, as I have experienced them, are that it does take some setup time, and it is not the quickest, or easiest, to set up by yourself. The other thing I have found frustrating with it is that it does take up extra room on set. So, if you are like me, and you like to get your key light as close as possible to the talent, or you sometimes find yourself in cramped setups, then working with the Eye-Direct system can mean having to figure out creative solutions to get everything to fit.

If, on the other hand, you need something smaller, lighter, cheaper, and you're willing to put up with a minor flaw or two, then this $200 solution will work for you.

Here are links to the gear you'll need in addition to the iPad, and iPhone that you should already own:

The Supplies:

This is a no frills "teleprompter." It holds your camera, iPad, and has reflective glass. It doesn't offer much else than that. One of the frustrations I have found with this teleprompter is that the screws stick out the top, which interferes with wider based cameras, like the C300 / C100. The way to deal with this is by using some washers to raise it up a bit. Not ideal, but for $155, can you really expect anything more?

Nothing fancy here- just something to hold your iPhone. It doesn't need to be the best- it just needs to work.

Again, nothing fancy-just needs to work, and needs to be able to tie in to 1/4-20 threads.

The Build:
Pretty simple setup/build process here. iPad goes in the tray, camera on the mount, pull the cloth over the lens, and then use a rubber band, or some clips to tighten up the cloth around the end of the lens. You do not want any light entering from behind the camera- as it prevents the teleprompter from being effective.

As you place the iPad into the teleprompter, make sure that you've set the side switch to lock the screen's orientation. Otherwise, as you place the iPad in the tray, it will rotate around and be upside down. And there is nothing worse than really throwing your "talent" off by giving them an upside down image to look at...

Now use the articulating arm, and the iPhone mount to position the iPhone into a comfortable position. You'll want to make sure that the iPhone is in a horizontal position, as it will then give a full screen image on the iPad- and due to the small nature of the iPad Screen, you want to give it the biggest image possible, so that your face is as big as possible and the talent will be able to see it.

As you can see in the picture above, I have the iPhone set up to show the camera operator. This would be the setup for a one-person band. But it doesn't have to be limited to that. Since this is wireless technology, the person on the iPhone could be anywhere- on the other side of the camera, in a conference room, at the beach... ;)

Oh, and don't forget to PLUG IN your iPhone & iPad. This setup is going to drain the battery very quickly...

The Connection Trick:
Now, using FaceTime on your iPhone, call your iPad. If you are using a third party's iPhone, then calling your iPad will be straightforward. If you own both the iPad and iPhone, then what you need to do is to make sure your iPad is setup with an iCloud/Mac email address. Then, call that address from your iPhone using FaceTime.

Once you are connected, be sure to MUTE both the iPhone and the iPad. Otherwise you'll get a very "enjoyable" ringing noise that will hurt your ears, and make the audio unusable.

Now you are all set up and ready to go- an "Eye-Direct" system for under $200. Of course, that is if you already have an iPhone and iPad, like I do. If you don't then this system becomes a lot less affordable.

What is your solution for getting great performances from non-actors and having them look into camera? Do you have any other tips, or strategies that you can share?

Until Next Time - Get Out There And Shoot!
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