Michael Caine made it look easy. In his famous 1966 role of Alfie, Caine repeatedly broke the fourth wall and addressed the movie’s audience directly, by looking straight down the camera’s lens. This is hard to do well – to see that, you only have to watch the 2004 remake of the film, starring Jude Law. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be the Oscar-winning Michael Caine to succeed. In fact, I can teach you the key techniques (although I can’t promise you a role in a major feature film).
Many filmed interviews you will see feature the speaker looking slightly off-camera, towards an interviewer or other individual; this is because it can actually be quite off-putting for speaker and viewer alike to stare at each other through a camera lens. The first thing to think about when considering talking straight to camera, then, is whether it’s suitable to the medium: perhaps staring into the lens is perfect for a short elevator pitch video, but not in an interview setting; maybe it’s exactly right for a webinar, but less so for a lecture webcast.
Once the appropriateness of the method has been considered, you can get down to techniques. The most important factor to consider when talking direct to camera is the intimacy of eye contact: try not to think that you’re addressing many people when looking down the lens, instead imagine you’re talking to one person, even someone you know well. In this way, you’ll establish a more individual rapport with the viewer which won’t render the eye contact off-putting or distracting.
Consider, too, what you’re going to be saying: will you memorise the script (always stressful), or use an autocue? The latter option can be a good one, but not without its own demands. You may need to practice with the autocue a few times to get it right: although the technology allows you to read the words you’re saying and yet still look straight down that lens, it can take a bit of work to make it look and sound natural … and if it doesn’t seem natural, you risk losing that one-to-one connection that’s so important.
Here’s one final thought. There’s one more master of direct-to-camera delivery we should mention in the same breath as Michael Caine: Kevin Spacey in House of Cards. Spacey has said in interviews that, when he looks down the lens, he imagines he’s speaking not to millions of Netflix viewers the world over, but to his character’s best friend. Kevin knows the secret, just like I mentioned before, imagine you are talking to 1 person that you know well. It’s the best tip I can give you for helping you look and sound natural, and when you do that, your audience will believe what you say.