In PRODUCTION

I was approached by the Toronto International Film Festival to host a daily morning Facebook Live show in which we would recap the highlights of the Festival and give viewers a glimpse into different venues and sponsor activations over the course of 11 days.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKEQi9mBHdV

This would be my first solo hosting gig so I was a bit hesitant to commit. Being a film editor at heart, the prospect of live broadcast has always been slightly terrifying to me. I’ve spent a lot of time time learning how to tell a story using cuts, music, and on-screen effects. I’ve always felt that my strengths and my style were reliant upon what I did with the footage after the fact – and where my travel stories are concerned, it’s certainly always an exciting challenge to make something out of nothing (aka a hard drive full of WTF-is-this). But to relinquish that control? Yikes.

Of course, there have been plenty of opportunities for me to practice my live skills over the course of my career: BlogTV and YouNow are just a few of the services that influencers have used for years to connect with their audiences in (more or less) real time. Google Hangouts… exists, but until they fix problems with lag (among other issues), it’s not ideal for public, interactive applications.

In recent years, we’ve seen live streaming go mobile with apps like Periscope and Meerkat (is that still a thing?), and with the introduction of Facebook Live this year, live video is more accessible – and inescapable – than ever.

I have a pretty extensive history with TIFF, having originated the digital video department, and then working with their exhibition and public programming teams on special projects (like a multi-channel video installation for David Cronenberg: Evolution or a 12-hour variety show called Like/Comment/Subscribe). I guess it’s tradition to try out new roles within the organization, and given that 2016 is my Year of Doing Cool Things, I decided to take on the challenge of hosting a live show for 11 days. Here’s what I learned.

Audio is still 90% of a good video

I’ll save the technical details for another post, but for our broadcasts we invested in an audio solution that would allow us to use a wireless microphone. This presented several benefits:

  1. better sound isolation in public spaces
  2. maintaining control of speakers in an interview
  3. mobility for the host
  4. it looks more professional and keeps me from hand-talking
  5. dat TIFF branding doe

Viewers will forgive lower resolution video (a factor to be mindful of when you’re dependent on wireless connections – avoid elevators!), but high quality audio is a must, especially if your broadcast relies on a lot of taking.

A second of silence feels like a lifetime (but it isn’t)

If there is one skill that I mastered during our broadcasts, it’s how to talk non-stop for 20+ minutes. There were times that I would get lost in what I was saying and have to pause, but watching the videos back now, those pauses were nowhere near as long as they felt in the moment. This feeling was certainly exacerbated coming from a YouTube background, where silence is rare. Just breathe, stay focused, and don’t worry about the gaps – they’re never as long as they feel.

Get engaged

If you’ve ever watched a telethon or infomercial, you’ve probably noticed that the hosts like to repeat information. It’s the same principle with Facebook Live: viewers may tune in at different points during the broadcast, so it’s a good idea to periodically remind them what they are watching, and give them a reason to stay.

We live in an age where algorithms help to prioritize videos in the feeds, so audience engagement (in the form of comments, likes, and shares) is important, not to mention one of the defining features of social media. We asked questions, played guessing games, offered giveaways, addressed viewers by name in real time, and on one broadcast, I even encouraged viewers to hit the ‘like’ button if I mentioned a specific term. It may seem like pandering for engagement, but many viewers appreciate the interactivity, and it is one of the best ways to maximize the potential of the platform.

Eyes up here!

Although we had a pretty impressive rig, we actually shot all of our broadcasts with a mobile phone. Facebook Live is opening up to third-party cameras and devices but a phone was adequate for getting the job done. In fact, a phone might be better at putting our interview subjects (aka people I pulled from the street) at ease.

Of course, since a phone is more inconspicuous, it’s easy to forget where the camera is and break eye contact. If you’re self-shooting and you’ve got the front-facing camera on, try to avoid looking at your image (as many selfie-takers do) and keep your eyes on that lens! It looks much better from the viewer’s perspective.

Preparation vs perspiration

When you’re doing a live broadcast, there will inevitably be some things you can’t control, but a lot of things that you can, so preparation is key! Plan out your intro and outro, know your run of show, memorize your key messaging and calls to action, and in my case, familiarize yourself with the programming, and how to pronounce everyone’s names!

Some things may happen serendipitously – for example, while speaking about the film Barakah Meets Barakah, we happened to run into the filmmakers who had just arrived that day. Thankfully, I was knowledgeable enough about the film to be able to interview them on the fly. It also helps that we had the programmer right there!

Teamwork makes the dream work

I may have been the one on camera 90% of the time, but the broadcasts simply wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of Malcolm (our producer, who handled the logistics, run of show, and put together my cue cards every morning), Sal and Amanada (who pulled social highlights, occasionally co-hosted, and were with me working the camera and holding props on every shoot), and the rest of the TIFF Digital Studio (who would follow the show and comment in real-time).

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKgYawKhC7_/

It takes an entire department to raise a Facebook Live host and I couldn’t have worked with a better team. All eyes were on TIFF for those 11 days in September, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work on this project. Who knew that it was possible to look forward to going to work in the morning? Going live isn’t so scary after all, and like so many things in life, it only gets better the more times you do it.

I’m looking forward to my next Facebook Live gig – and until then, I’ll be sourcing some new novelty t-shirts 😉

Watch some of my favourite episodes and read Facebook’s tips & best practices. Or maybe you’d like to check out some of my TIFF trailers?

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