Talking Heads

Tina Weymouth, bass player for the seminal 80’s band, said this about their unusual moniker.   "A friend had found the name in the TV Guide, which explained the term used by TV studios to describe a head-and-shoulder shot of a person talking as 'all content, no action.' It fit."  There's this definition of the phrase from Collins English Dictionary citing the origin between 1965 and 1970.  Noun - (on television) a person, such as a newscaster, who is shown only from the shoulders up, and speaks without the use of any illustrative material.


Among television insiders the phrase “talking head” is disparaging.  The camera is static, and all the shot shows is somebody blabbing.  That’s not TV.  TV has to move.  So get off the talking head and show us something more… interesting. 


To that end, a technique has evolved which establishes the speaker in the typical framing of a portrait, followed quickly by images of something -- anything else -- that might support what’s being said, without having to hang on that gawd-awful talking head shot.  These cutaway images are called B-roll, a throwback to the film printing method of flipping a mirror from the A-roll of film showing the speaker, to the B-roll showing the supporting shots in synchronization with what’s being said.


But as much as we strive to avoid the talking head, we’ve also got to recognize that the dreaded shot is really the foundation of almost everything we do in documentary making -- a mode we exploit regularly in business video.


Business video is reality TV.  Our subjects are our people, our products and services, our goals.  We need to hear from our leadership, our customers, our staff.  And so, we often call upon these “real people” to become our talking heads.  Very few of these folks are likely to have enough experience as on-camera performers to be comfortable in the role.  What they need is an experienced producer who will insure that the situation for recording their comments puts them at ease and maximizes their ability to communicate.


This means all the technology must be in place at the appointed time and be minimally intrusive to the process.  The producer must be well informed of the subject and have the knack for guiding a very specialized kind of conversation in front of the camera, one that will provide editable sound bites that are relevant, impactful, candid, and genuine.  Whether a CEO, a physician, or a forklift operator, no one can be an effective talking head without the support and guidance of an experienced producer.


Check out some examples of our documentary approach to business video here.