Aim for Imperfection

As a part of my job, I have had the pleasure of recording a lot of "talking head" videos.

A talking head video is one that features a single subject on camera, often talking directly at the camera, or perhaps if you're a bit more fancy than I am, the subject is just looking off to the side or something.

In this post I'd like to share something that I thought about after my most recent experience filming a talking head video.

It's something that I think will greatly benefit the next talking head video I film and I think there's a broader lesson here too.

First, an observation

Before I share what I thought about, I'd like to share something I've observed while filming these videos.

You should know that I'm not working with professional actors.

My usual process for filming is to discuss the content with the subject before hitting record.

The videos I make often don't follow a script, but they do have some key messages that need to be communicated.

One of the reasons why I discuss the content with the subject is to make the subject feel comfortable with the content.

I want to put them at ease.

I do this because I know something strange is going to happen very soon.

I've observed that as soon as I hit record, everything changes.

Often, subjects become very tight and aim for perfection in their delivery.

I probably don't help because it's not like I'm a professional producer or anything.

I don't know what to do with myself once I've hit record. Unfortunately I haven't mastered an invisibility charm so I can't quite disappear, so I just stare meaningfully into the camera. It probably feels very judgy and doesn't help the situation at all.

In short, what I've observed is this:

Before hitting record: Things are light and breezy.

After hitting record: Things are ... just awkward.

The thought that occurred to me recently

We're aiming for the wrong thing.

I think when I hit record, both the subject and I were aiming for perfection. Meaning, do this video in just one take.

That can happen, but it's rare, and it shouldn't be what we aim for.

So, what can we do? This is the very practical thought I had:

First, start by having the usual content conversation with the subject before filming. This part doesn't change.

Then, tell the subject that we're going to record a bad take. One where we intentionally make mistakes.

Hit record and do that mistake-ridden take.

After that, tell the subject that we're going to do three back-to-back takes and it doesn't matter if the first take is perfect, we're still going to do three takes.

After hitting record, my role is to hold up a finger at the end of each take, to remind the subject of the number of takes we have left.

It's very important to keep the camera rolling through each take.

That's it. That's the thought I had.

I haven't tried it yet, but I have some good feelings about it.

I'll leave you with a quote that I absolutely love from one of my favourite novels of all time.

The quote somewhat inspired the thought.

You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect then just paint naturally.

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


Dark blue background with the white outline of a camera in the middle