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Working with volunteers for an eLearning video

Next week I will be directing an eLearning video that I have developed for one of our larger clients. The “shoot”, which will involve several volunteers who are not used to being in front of the camera, must be completed in one day. Considering both circumstances, there is the potential for roadblocks which could in turn mean the difference between success and failure. As such, in meeting with the production team this week, we discussed our overall strategy to help ensure a successful project. Here is a summary of that conversation which I would consider a checklist of sorts for working with volunteers (employee “actors) for a video shoot.

Arrange for more help than you need. It is not uncommon for people that have agreed to volunteer, given you their solemn oath and vow they will be there…to all of the sudden remember their guinea pig needs to go to the vet the same morning you need them. People will change their mind and the reality is there is precious little that can be done to combat that particular phenomena, so the best recourse is to expect a 20 to 30 percent no-show ratio and book your volunteer numbers accordingly.

If you have the resources, assign a person to manage your volunteers when using a larger group during filming, especially when on location. Trying to keep track of 10 or more volunteers who are not used to being part of a video production is about as easy as herding cats, and a significant distraction when you are already busy filming, directing, etc... Having someone there whose job is solely to manage your volunteers and keep them out of harms way until you need them will go a long way in ensuring a successful day.

Eat, drink and be merry! Regardless of the length of your video shoot ensure arrangements have been made for food and drink for your volunteers. A well fed volunteer is much more likely to be a willing participant and take direction, and thus more likely to nail a scene in one or two takes as opposed to 7 or 8.

Explain everything. A video shoot is a new experience to most people so if you have not provided specific instructions, do not be surprised if someone shows up wearing a “Frankie Says Relax” T-shirt or their best evening gown. How to walk on camera, use inflection when speaking, avoid looking directly at the camera or playing with their hair, do not handle the mic if they are wearing one…these are just a few of the many details that should be discussed with your volunteers. Again, this is a whole new world to some so things that seem common sense to an experienced videographer may not necessarily have occurred to your new volunteer. By providing as much detail and instruction that is appropriate will help to avoid delays and frustrations.

Don’t worry, be happy. Remember, when working with volunteers do your best to maintain a positive attitude. I know from experience how frustrating a video shoot can be at times, especially when your well thought out plans have been laid to waste by technical problems, weather conditions and other elements outside your control. Despite this however I do my best to keep in mind that I am working with people who have volunteered to help, and that I should do everything I can to make their experience a positive one.

To learn more about eLearning training solutions offered by Pathways please visit our website at

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