A Complete Guide To Talking Head Video Production

As we already know, videos are the content with the most engagement currently available to marketers, and utilising them as part of a successful strategy is a necessity. Today we take a look at one of the most popular and cost effective ways to get your message out, talking head videos, and what you can do to ensure maximum viewer attention.

Talking head videos are a simple, straightforward and effective way to share your message with your target audience. Whether using them to explain the benefits of your new product, assist in gaining new funders, or to train your staff in a cost effective manner, the possibilities are limitless, and a well made talking head can be both engaging and compelling, whilst showing off your professionalism, approachability, or quirky nature.

Making A Good Talking Head Video

Although on the surface it appears to be one of the easiest forms of video content to create, getting all the fundamentals right can be harder than it seems, and overlooking any part of the production process can prove costly and leave you with either an unprofessional look or sound, or a slow and unengaging video that people will skip past. A professional video production company will take away these worries for you, but if you plan on creating your own talking head content then this check list and a bit of practice will set you on the road to success.

Subject and Location

Choosing the right person for your talking head video is important, they need to be comfortable in front of camera, to represent your values, and to appeal to your demographic. Whether you choose someone internally or bring in an actor will depend a lot on the feel you are trying to achieve, you may want a natural in front of camera who seems friendly and approachable, or someone with years of experience in your industry that appears capable and knowledgeable. What you choose will depend on the aim of the video, and on your ethos as a company.

Either way, once this decision has been made they will need to prepare. If you want them to deliver a script then it is important they are comfortable with it, understand what they are saying, and ideally have some freedom to make it sound natural to them. A teleprompter can be invaluable here if you are looking for a simple single camera setup and quick edit, but we will cover this in more detail later. If you have someone knowledgeable in their area then an interview can work well to coax the answers out in their own words, and if this is your plan make sure they are comfortable and reassure them that you are not there to catch them out with anything tricky, work with them to formulate a question structure if there are technical areas to cover that you do not understand.

talking head video

Using colour palette to create mood, click for more examples

Some other important considerations here are what your subject is wearing, and the location of the video. Naturally you want the look of your subject to reflect your company ethos, and a casual look may be more suited depending on your industry. Again, what you have in the background can offer both interest to the shot and information to the viewer, you may even want to include something in the foreground. You can use the composition and colour palette to help tell the story, and to add depth to the shot, giving it a more professional look and directing the viewers attention to the speaker. Also consider things that may interfere with the filming, especially noise. Extractors, fans, air conditioning, computers, and even fridges can cause a distracting buzzing, office noise can seem unprofessional or confusing if coming from out of shot, outside noise is more difficult to control so try to choose places that will be quieter, for example away from busy roads.

Equipment and Basics

Naturally you are going to need a camera, and for a professional looking and sounding talking head video you’ll likely need more than the one on your phone (although you can do a lot with a phone these days), and some audio gear too. There is a lot to consider when choosing a camera, far too much for the scope of this article and with the speed at which digital technology advances some in depth research is always recommended. That being said, most DSLR cameras offer a perfectly good quality full HD recording now, and start from around £350 (if you have a bigger budget it is worth looking into what else is available and may be better for your needs).

You’ll need at least one lens to get you started too, and it’s a good idea to get a zoom if you are only going to have one as it will give you more options in terms of composition. Prime lenses will generally be better quality and faster, offering both a better picture sharpness and a desirable shallow look to your shot. It is useful to have a camera capable of 4k shooting too, as even though we won’t be releasing these videos in 4k resolution it allows us to capture a wide shot that can be punched in digitally to a close up without losing picture quality. In an ideal scenario you will have a two camera setup giving a slight variation in shots (either punched in on the second camera or at around a 30-40 degree angle, or both) adding both visual interest to the viewer along with helping to hide edits when you are working solely with the interview footage.

In terms of audio capture we recommend a lavalier microphone with a wireless transmitter. These packs can be discreetly concealed, and if you don’t want to have any trace of the mic either you can get stickers that will go on either clothes or skin, and offer protection from any rubbing or interference that the mic might otherwise pick up. There are a number of different mic styles out there and they offer a variety of pickup patterns, for our needs though an omni-directional mic will likely give us the best results, and it is worth getting one from a reputable manufacturer to get the cleanest results, the Sennheiser ME 2 is a great option. Balanced cables are important too to get the best quality audio with the lowest gain, and a decent receiver should come equipped with an XLR cable (although the gain picked up will be much more noticeable on longer cables, so may not be much of a concern for wireless transmission). If you want to know the ins and outs of why balanced audio is much better than the unbalanced (jack connections) then check this out, if you are happy to take our word for it then we’ll move on to the audio recorder.

If you are using a DSLR camera then you will likely need a separate device to capture the audio as they are notoriously poor for this due to the inferior performance of the pre-amps (and generally won’t offer anything other than the unbalanced mini jack connection for your mic either). You can pick up a Zoom H4n or the Tascam equivalent DR40 or 60D for around £150 and they will offer excellent results, with one possible caveat, they may keep a slightly different timecode to your camera. This can cause syncing issues that can become quite noticeable on longer takes, but will be fine for takes of around 5 to 10 minutes generally. Getting a recorder with an HDMI input allows us to sync the video and audio timecodes while recording so as to eliminate this slipping, for this the Tascam 701D or Zoom F8 will do the job at around £500-800, and have the added bonus of slightly improved pre-amps giving even better audio quality.

talking head video

Now we have the basics it’s time to get the professional look for your talking head, so we’ll need some lights. A basic setup for interviews is 3 point lighting, with a key light at around 45 degrees to the speaker, a fill light to soften their features on the other side at 45 degrees and a backlight behind the subject to help pick them out of the background. LED panels are a good option, and the more expensive ones allow for temperature adjustments so that you can get a consistency with any practical lighting you have in your shot already (or to offer a difference for emphasis of a particular object or feeling). This is a starting point naturally, and once you are comfortable with this basic setup it is worth playing around with it as you can achieve a great deal with a lighting change, completely changing the mood and feel of a talking head video, and the way the speaker is perceived. We can of course use natural light too, and we need to consider the position of windows if we are shooting indoors, or the sun if we are shooting outside. Some of the issues with shooting in front of windows is that it can be hard to get enough light on the subject to get the exposure right for the entire shot, and that you will often get reflections that are noticeable of either your lights or equipment. Outside you will need to position your subject so that they get enough light on their face but are not left squinting into the sun, bounce boards will help you to achieve this.

You’re going to need some tripods too, at least one for each camera. If you want to add movement then it is worth investing in one with a fluid head as these tend to be smoother, although the cheap ones can be frustratingly sticky so go with a decent brand like manfrotto if you want to be safe. Additionally, if you are shooting outside you will likely need an ND filter to allow the aputure to be open wide without being overexposed, by windows you may need ND gels, and glare from water or glass reflections can be reduced with UV filters. If you want a script delivered word for word then you might also want an auto-cue/teleprompter which can be positioned in front of the camera to allow the speaker to read it seamlessly whilst still looking directly to the audience.

You can see the dramatically different effects of light placement in this video

Production

We’ve already discussed some of the basic technique in order to produce a good looking piece with clean audio within the equipment portion, so let’s think about some ways we can improve our production to give a more entertaining, informative, and therefore engaging product. Firstly, be prepared to do multiple takes. Even if your speaker is comfortable and gets it all first time (pretty unlikely in our experience), it is worth running over it again as you may get something different or better from them. You can then cut together the different takes, giving you more options later on.

The most obvious way is to give the viewer something more visually appealing to look at than a person talking to camera, shots of something pertinent layered over the top of the speaker is known as B-roll, and is an ideal option. Shooting the B-roll obviously takes a bit of time, and often involves staging some activity with the speaker, generally repetitively in order to capture footage from different angles that can then be cut together to compliment the story they are telling. It is worth organising this shooting to take place after the interview portion in order to maximise the use of your allotted time with the subject, and because you will now already have a decent idea of which bits of the interview you will want to use. If, of course, you have scripted and storyboarded the production previously, then you can do this in any order as you are already clear on what will be the finished product and know what you need to capture.

Along a similar line is adding animation. It isn’t always possible to capture live action footage of what the speaker is discussing, and it may be necessary to create something in order to help explain, or simply to give a more dynamic look to the video. Simple animations done with text, known as kinetic text, can really help emphasise important points and will really help increase your engagement especially on social media where the audio is not going to be on by default, and can make the difference between someone scrolling past or clicking to view. In a similar vein, using simple animated titles for your speaker, known as lower thirds, can add a really polished and professional finish to your talking head video. Keep them clean and modern unless you have a reason to do something different, without experience in editing attempting overly complicated titles can end up looking fairly tacky.

For more complicated animations, such as those used in explainer videos, or even beautiful hand drawn ones that really add an edge and personality to your production, it is worth speaking to an expert as it takes some time and practice to be comfortable creating these.

Another way to add value to your production is to have some camera movement. If you are shooting with two cameras, why not make the first one a static wide in front of the subject and then use the second more creatively. Panning and tilting is simple, or add shots of something they are holding if it is relevant, or go the extra mile and get a slider to add a really dynamic edge to your video. You could also try experimenting with your lighting setup, try taking out the fill light to create harsher shadows giving the face more contrast adding a dramatic feel to your shot, perhaps even move it behind your subject to backlight both shoulders and really pick them out of the background.

talking head video
Post Production

So you have completed your production phase and you now have loads of great footage, including multiple takes of the interview with camera options, and some relevant B-roll, now it’s time to put it all together in an engaging talking head video. You’re going to need some editing software, and a system that is capable of processing the raw footage that you shot (higher quality footage naturally requires a more powerful processor, so if you are using 4k footage here you may need to invest a little more), we use the Adobe Suite as a preference because of it’s dynamic linking allowing use of multiple programs to get the best results depending on the action you want to perform. We also use DaVinci Resolve when it comes to colour grading as it is one of the most powerful and specific programmes available for that function. However, if you are working on a budget then there is plenty of cheaper or free editing software available, and DaVinci also offer a lite version for free which has nearly full functionality.

So how do we keep a talking head video engaging? Naturally, it will depend on your audience as to what you can do here, but for most occasions when you are trying to reach a non captive audience, for example, to reach potential new customers, then there are some pretty standard things that you can consider. Firstly, peoples attention span is short and getting shorter, so we need to keep the video length to a minimum. It’s going to depend a lot on what your message is to how short you can make it, but ideally you want to break it down in under 2 minutes, perhaps consider a talking head video series if you have way too much to say in that time. Keep the core message really clear and cut anything superfluous, this is where your B-roll can have multiple uses, you can use it to hide your ruthless cutting of the interview, and also to advance or reinforce the message.

Fast cuts can also help here, and give the video a dynamic fast paced feel, using long clips can be useful to get a message across or to keep shooting time down but it is less visually appealing and risks losing the viewers attention. Something to consider again when thinking about your objectives and demographic, but for a short talking head video fast editing is generally going to give you better results. Music can also help, and a song in a style which suits can be really beneficial to not only give the video some atmosphere and mood, but an added interest. Composers can craft the perfect song for you, or there are many libraries online (such as Audio Jungle) where you can find a suitable track and then simply buy the licence for its use.

talking head video production
Practice makes perfect

As with most skills, these are ones that can be learned and improved, and with care and practice you will be able to produce some incredible talking head videos that will deliver great results. If you have an interest in improving your talking head videos then check back as we’ll be adding more specific skill blogs in the future which will go into more depth in individual areas of production. Of course, if you believe like we do that a specialist is worth their weight in gold then you could always get in touch about your next project and see what we can do for you.