Lookin' Good for the Video Shoot
Image Is Everything
Video uses images and sound to deliver a message or tell a story. An effective video requires pre-planning ("pre-production") with attention to every aspect including the appearance of talent. Whatever your budget, everyone who will be on camera (actors, interviewees, extras or other speakers) needs to convey the desired image. What is their purpose in the video? What style is necessary to deliver your message and to be consistent with the content?
Advance attention to clothing selection and makeup techniques is crucial to allow talent to look their best. (This article assumes that special effects make-up and stylized or period costumes are not required for the project.)
Ideally there is someone with a vision directing traffic, i.e. a director. On lower-budget projects, the director’s role is often combined with that of the producer. For very simple shoots, this role is often eliminated entirely. However, if these responsibilities are not considered, the message of video will suffer.
Before the shoot, someone must have developed a plan for the story or message the video will tell. Based on this plan, an overall look or style should be defined that supports this message. This look should be reflected in the set/environment/location where the video will be shot, the clothing and makeup worn by the talent, and the lighting and shooting style of the videographer. The director (or whoever is filling this role) should think this through and communicate it to the crew and talent in advance to allow them to prepare.
Clothing should support the content through style, be flattering to the wearer, look good on camera, and not create problems. Clearly communicate to your talent the role they will be playing in the project and what you expect from them, providing as much information as possible. Do not assume anything. If you want them to wear a specific item on camera (suit, dress, jeans, flat shoes, etc.), let them know well ahead of the shoot date, so they have plenty of time and can ask questions or raise issues.
Here are a few important things to consider when planning the wardrobe.
- Style: The talent’s clothing should allow the viewer to focus on the message and not compete for attention. Video often tends to add pounds, so a proper fit is important. Baggy clothing and clothing with horizontal lines tend to broaden and shorten a person’s frame even further. Make sure the individual is comfortable in the selected wardrobe, since it will show on their face if not at ease. It’s best to avoid very trendy, conspicuous or flashy clothing as these can quickly date the video.
- Options: Consider bringing one or more outfit changes to provide choice and flexibility. This will allow for seamless scene changes, as well as replacements in case of spills or stains, audio issues with fabrics, etc. A handy selection of accessories (i.e. jewelry pieces, barrettes, pocket squares, eye glasses, scarves) is also a good idea to have on set, along with standard wardrobe tools like an iron, lint brush, and safety pins.
- Pastels and earth tones typically work best and are flattering on most people.
- Stick to colors near the middle of the brightness spectrum without a lot of contrast.
- Stay away from very dark colors combined with very light ones, since the camera will boost contrast. This can cause the details of the fabric to fade into uniform black and the skin tones to appear washed out.
- All white is a bad choice because it can be too visually overwhelming, cause bounce light issues and "blind" the viewer.
- Avoid deeply saturated colors, especially red, as these may bleed into other areas and overpower the rest of the scene.
- Set: Clothes should reflect the environment and mood of the scene, but not blend into or clash with the background and furnishings. For example:
- If the set is casual, don’t dress in a business suit or glamour gown.
- If the scene is shot against a white background, don’t wear white.
- If the shoot is chroma key, e.g., blue or green screen, don’t wear the color of the background.
- Potential problems:
- Tight patterns like checks, stripes, herringbone and hounds tooth tend to create moiré patterns (a large-scale interference pattern on the screen).
- Fabrics that wrinkle easily and show sweat stains quickly.
- Clothing and jewelry that will rustle, jangle or cause other noise problems.
- Shiny jewelry and eyeglasses can reflect light and cause lens flares. If the eyewear is absolutely necessary, either because the person can’t see clearly and will squint without them or won’t be recognized, try tilting the eyeglasses to bounce the light out of the camera lens.
- Hats can cast unwanted shadows.
- Pieces that show brand names, logos, and images may be copyrighted and require permission before use.
Talent makeup should look natural and improve appearance without detection. Although non-professional talent may initially feel uncomfortable with the idea, everyone benefits from even a modest application of cosmetics. Additional definition will boost the overall look and offer more polish than a simple “street makeup” approach. Makeup can also hide facial imperfections, such as circles under the eyes, sagging chins, scars and misshapen features. If your talent has these kinds of special needs or the content of your video requires a specific visual style, a professional makeup artist should be hired.
If you are not employing a professional stylist, don't assume your talent will come to the set ready to shoot. Discuss this subject with them preemptively and be clear about your expectations. For most purposes, daily makeup is all that is needed, and cosmetic wearers are usually comfortable applying their own. However, it is always a good idea to have basic tools available that they may not bring to the set, such as tissues, swabs, a comb, hairspray and a mirror. Here are some simple tips to basic makeup application for video.
- Foundation covers minor skin blemishes, evens out skin color, and makes the skin appear smoother.
- Powder and foundation help hide undesirable shine on the forehead, nose and receding hairlines.
- Eyeliner makes eyes appear larger.
- Lipstick should be used sparingly in lighter tones to avoid a cheapened look.
- A light blush emphasizes the cheekbones, and the added color can prevent bright video lights from washing out skin tone.
- Eye shadow can highlight the eye color and compliment an outfit. It can also change the mood or the style depending on how heavily it is applied.
Before the shooting starts, do a final visual check using an external monitor if possible. Everyone on the set can help – the more eyes, the better. Make sure everyone understands that tiny details can sometimes make or break a video and are worthy of time and attention.
- Look for smudged mascara, crooked collars, shiny skin, flyaway hair, eyeglass reflections, wrinkled shirts, poor posture, etc. - any thing that will detract from the finished video.
- Check the lighting for final adjustments, such as lens flares, backlighting to keep the talent from blending into the background, changing the key light to flatter certain facial features, adding a gel to bring out warm skin tones, or accenting interesting elements in the background.
- Do a final test to make sure the microphone is not rubbing against clothing and levels are in the correct range.
- If this is a more involved shoot with breaks and scene changes, someone needs to pay special attention to continuity. Hairstyle should not be behind the ears in one sentence and wind-blown or flowing freely in the next. A collar should not be outside the lapel in one shot and inside in the next.
To many, wardrobe and makeup may seem like minor details. Professionals know that careful preparation will help avoid jarring inconsistencies and save time, money and headaches in the long run. If the talent is playing a married person, make sure they have a ring. If a woman playing a shopper needs a handbag, don’t assume she is bringing one.
Many problems are avoidable with proper planning. As one producer/director explained, “I once hired an actor to play a salesperson from his professional (but dated) headshot, and he showed up to the studio with a bleached blonde Mohawk style hair cut! This was my mistake, since I assumed his hair color hadn’t changed and I hadn’t asked the casting agent how old the photo was. I was so relieved when our very resourceful stylist was able to save the day! Unfortunately, everyone had to wait an extra hour for the actor to become camera ready.”
Even a simple detail like a glistening forehead or a distracting stray hair can waste time on the shoot or in the edit. “The devil is in the details” and a bit of extra attention to wardrobe and makeup can make the difference between a sloppy final product and a smooth, polished production.