behind the scenes

director's chair in spotlight

I did something Thursday that I’d never done before (a practice of which I’m a huge advocate and practitioner). I was a guest on a live YouTube interview. I’ve spoken live a thousand times, and I’ve been interviewed by phone and on the radio.  I’ve also been the interviewer in live settings. But I’d never been interviewed live before now.

In order to fully appreciate this post, I’d encourage you (if you haven’t already) to watch even just five minutes of that interview before continuing to read. Why? Because I want you to have a feel for how things appeared, before I let you in on what actually went down behind the scenes. My hope is that you’ll find it as crazy, amusing, fascinating, heart-stopping and ludicrous as I did. And that you just might think some new thoughts about life in the process, as well.

So, about two months ago, Chad told me he had been interviewed on YouTube and that he had given me and The Best Advice So Far a nice shout-out. He also email-introduced me to Meg from Facilitating XYZ, and talks of interviewing me began.

Now, I watched the entirety of Chad’s interview with them. I took mental notes – of what people were wearing, the backgrounds, the types of questions that came up, the use of props or “product placement,” etc. I wanted to do as good a job as possible when it came time for my own interview.

One thing I noticed was that everyone in Chad’s interview had really cool “locations.” Sam’s “set,” if you will, included a bookshelf that not only contained books but cool and curiosity-inducing objects: a ukulele, some sort of loopy-bendy art piece, a posable wood-and-wire frame of a human, what appeared to be a small African mask.

Likewise, Meg was in a high-ceilinged room with an asymmetrical roof. I could just see on the right some sort of high, sturdy shelf; and on the left, there was a peak of a fireplace mantle, above which was a some sort of fine-artsy-looking piece bearing a representation of a solitary flower.  It all looked very clean and spacious and important – much like a museum.

And, of course, Chad was in a super-cool space, surrounded by interesting and vibrant-colored materials, thought-provoking questions on the wall, a white board with stuff scribbled all over it – even a giant, lime green clothespin.

They seemed like real interviewers, like they knew what they were doing.

Though I love my new place, and it’s certainly got plenty of character, it wasn’t immediately apparent to me where I might set up my computer for the interview. I certainly didn’t have any “way cool” spaces like Sam, Meg and Chad were in. But I began to walk around my house.

The office, if you can call it that, is really just a small corner desk with monitors on it, set up in what is otherwise functioning as my walk-in closet. There’s nothing on the walls yet.

There’s a little “nook,” for lack of a better word, that connects that room with the bedroom. Good light, but stark. I supposed I could bring a little chair in there, tack some picture to the wall and make it work. But it still seemed a bit spare and uninteresting.

Kitchen? Nope.

The bathroom seemed an equally bad idea.

I’m fortunate to have two little living rooms: one where the piano and games are, as well as a narrow bookshelf filled with language resources; and one that has a comfy white couch, a large square wooden table, a wider bookshelf and a low table with some Paris-themed boxes on it.

My eye saw a “frame” of about four feet that might work, with the bookshelf in the background and the (now-outdated) Paris calendar on the wall beside. If I looked at it a certain way, I could kind of envision it as being part of an interesting “den.”  So that much was decided.

I rolled my IKEA office chair out in front of the bookshelf. Now to solve the problem of how to get the computer to an appropriate height to be face-on during the interview. I don’t really have a lot of furniture. I began to walk around and around my apartment.  I grabbed a folding TV tray and set it up. Too low.  I grabbed games – and more games – from the game wall and stacked those up on the tray. Yes, four games high was about the right height!

I turned on the video camera of my laptop to see what it looked like.

Yuck.

Bad lighting. This interview was to happen at 3:30, just as the sun was going down here these days. And the overhead light in that room is a one-bulb fixture from the 1940s.  And in the interview with Chad, they all had really good lighting.

Off I went through the house, dragging in the standing multi-bulb lamp from the “dressing closet.” I placed it on one side of the chair, about a foot away, and turned on the two bulb fixtures that worked. But now my face was half-lit, with half in shadow, making me look sinister – like Two Face from the Batman comics.

I found another sort of mini-spotlight, but that would only make shadows worse if aimed up from the floor. I dragged the coffee table over, put the piano bench on top of that, and stacked up some more games, placing this little spotlight on top of all of that.

Checked the video camera. Yikes! Now I looked like Dr. Manhattan. I’d have to tone that down.

Hmmm.  Walk, walk, walk.  Look, look, look.  I grabbed the banana tree, stabbed a piece of paper towel onto it, and set it down in front of the mini-spotlight, being sure it was far enough away not to catch fire. That might diffuse the harsh direct beam of light.

Checked the video. Pretty decent! But it still seemed to lack interest. I mean, when Chad was interviewed, he was standing up and gesticulating and such. I’d be sitting (no room in my house really has enough space for a long shot). So I set a candle on one of the bookshelves behind the chair to one side and lit it. At least it was some ambiance!

Now I played some YouTube stuff, to check the audio. It’s a laptop, so the volume doesn’t go super high. What if they ask me questions during the interview and I couldn’t hear them, and then I spent half the interview saying, “Wah? Huh? Could you repeat that?”

Off I went into a side closet and dragged out the portable monitors I had in storage. However, there was no room left on the folding tray for them. So I dragged out another wooden chair and set the monitor on that, beside the tray and about six inches from where my knees would be. But what if the monitor causes feedback or echo on their end?  I grabbed a little couch pillow with a rooster on it and jammed that an inch or two in front of the monitor, between the seat and arm of the chair, to muffle any echo or feedback.

Man. I was sweating! And this was the day before the interview, mind you. I’d never have been able to do all this on the day of.

It seemed I’d created a reasonable (albeit mighty crowded) little “set” for the interview. It wouldn’t look as cool as everyone else’s had, but it was pretty decent given what I had to work with.

I had contacted Meg, one of the interviewers, a few days before, asking if we could do a test run even a day or two earlier than the event, just to be sure sound and video were working all around.  I never heard back from her.

But then Meg contacted me … wondering why I’d never gotten back to her about the test run, and double-checking the time, because she’d recalled that we’d set up the interview for 3:00 Thursday, while the social media graphic announcements I’d sent out said 3:30.

Egad.

It seems her reply to my reply had gotten lost in an email thread when I Forwarded one of her emails to Chad along the way, to ask him if he’d help spread the word. Furthermore, I’d used the announcement card they’d made for Chad’s interview in making my own. And Chad’s had happened at 2:30 on the day of his interview; so, somehow, I’d inadvertently carried over the “:30” to my announcement – which was already out on every social media channel I and others had.

Meg was super gracious and cool about it. They’d change the time to 3:30. “No worries.”  And we worked out that we’d do the test run at 11:00 AM the day of the interview, which we did. All was well. This thing was a go!

What to wear! Chad had worn a collared-shirt and Sam had worn a cool scarf. I hate dressing up. I like the idea of dressing up, but I hate the constriction of it. Still, I had a couple of shirts I could work with. I tried them all on. Green sort of went with the book colors, but it seemed too Christmas-like. Light blue made me look as pale as a vampire. I decided on dark blue (my only remaining option for solid dress shirts).

The shirt was gaping open up around the chest. A bit snug. So I used a little trick and put double-stick tape between each of the buttons. Another problem solved!

I supposed that pants, belt and shoes wouldn’t matter, since they’d be out-of-frame.

One last check in the video camera. OK, not too bad.

I spent a good part of the day contacting people through all media I had available, reminding them once more about the interview. Then I dropped Chad a text: “Hey, any last thoughts for me before this interview goes down.”  Of course, he told me what I already knew (yet needed to hear): “Just be yourself and have a conversation with two people. You’re good at that.”

My mom piped in: “Don’t be monotone. And use your hands like people do in interviews.” Note to self: Don’t be boring. CHECK.

The time was approaching. It occurred to me that I should probably know what time it is during the interview, so I could have an idea how to pace myself.  I grabbed my iPad, downloaded a large digital clock app, and set that to balance on the arm of the wooden chair holding the monitor.

And … what if the Internet goes down during the interview!  I got my iPhone, plugged it in near the “set” and prepared it as a hot spot, just in case.

It really was hysterical, as I sat one last time in the “interview chair,” just how much paraphernalia and wiring was cramped in around that little space, not more than a few inches from me on any side!

makeshift set

Oops! I realized that I hadn’t taken down my Christmas tree yet, and that might seem odd to viewers (I have a tradition of leaving it up until the last of my Christmas gifts have been delivered; and I’d had some issues with by-mail purchases).  I moved the computer slightly, so the intruding tree branch was off-camera.

The plan was for me to connect with Sam and Meg via the Google Hangout link OFF-AIR at 3:15.  But at 3:11, I noticed that my computer seemed a little sluggish. Just to be extra-extra-sure, I figured I’d restart it one last time before connecting with them.

For the first time in the life of this computer (years), it came up with the pre-bluescreen-of-death: Windows cannot boot your computer. Attempting recovery.

Just thinking now about that moment has my eyes stinging, my head filling with blood and my throat unable to swallow.

3:14

I quickly texted Meg to tell her what was up and not to worry, that I was going to sign on quickly with my iPad. Meg was (or “seemed,” in keeping with the theme here) as cool as a cucumber. She suggested that she’d done whole interviews through iPhone, but that I’d need to download the Google Hangouts app first, in order for that to work.

3:17

I glanced at my laptop. Still hung up. Whir-whir-whir.

We needed to be LIVE: ON AIR in less than 15 minutes!

As fast as I could, I downloaded the app on my iPad and prepared to do the same on my iPhone. But, of course, you have to sign up, click this, agree to that, sign in.

3:23

Finally, my computer shut down, rebooted and restarted normally! HUZZAH!

3:25

It seemed to take a lifetime to reboot, but it eventually did. I connected to the internet, signed in and …

3:28

I was signed in, talking to Meg and Sam! Huge rush of air expelled.

Cheshire grins broke out across all of our faces. In fact, I believe a legitimate cheer went up from all. We laughed at the irony and the nick-of-timeness of it all.

(By the way, they were dressed comfy-casual and just hanging out in pretty regular spaces, leaving me pretty overdressed by comparison, with my pseudo-den and ambient candle backdrop.)

Sound check. Good.

Sam said, “OK, ready? And we’re live … in …”

“… wait. Meg, there’s no button to go live here. Do you see one?”

Meg: “Um … nope.”

3:35

Try this. Try that. Go over there and see if …

Nope. No luck. Ugh!

Sam finally realized that the time for the event showed as 9:58 AM that morning! But Meg’s showed it at the right time. Meg signed off. Fiddle, fiddle. Change start time. Restart something-er-other.

Now she showed up with TWO of herself in the view pane!

Sam tried again. No luck. Restart. Restart.

3:37

Sam: “Holy cow! It’s showing! Ready?  Live in … three … two … one …”

Seeing that “ON-AIR” light go yellow was like coming up for air after your brother holds your head under the water until the moment you start sucking in your first gulp. (Not saying I know this first-hand or anything, but …)

And from there … well, you watched the interview. How’d it seem to you?

For all the foibles and such leading up to things, in the end, it really was just three people having a cool, down-to-earth conversation and enjoying one another’s company.

The fact is, it all worked out fine. Other than being seven minutes late, no one was the wiser. We were all in good moods. We had fun. I trust some good was done in the world.

But all of this has scores of thoughts sparking in my mind, as far as what it all means – not just for an interview one day, but for life.  I won’t be able to rein in all my connections, but I’ll share a few.

Actually, while I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been interacting with my wise and timely blogger-friend Diana, through the comments section of the post that announced the interview. And, as fate would have it, she said something that I absolutely have to share:

There’s a certain freedom in recognizing – and admitting – that we are all winging it in one way or another. It relieves us of the pressure of being superhuman, a facade that only occurs in fiction and that can generate tons of stress. The best part is that by being a flawed human doing his or her best, others are relieved and empowered to do the same.

Um … right said, Diana!

This all also reminded me that in real life, despite our best efforts, things rarely go according to plan. Expecting this doesn’t have to dull our shine and turn us into Eeyore. For me, the reminder is actually freeing.

Another thing that stood out to me during this particular series of events is that I looked around at the little set I’d created and I wondered what it all meant. Did it mean I was neurotic? Too concerned with details? Too wrapped up in appearances?

All of those things may be true about me in other circumstances and at other times. But they didn’t seem to fit the bill for this occasion. Instead, I thought, This isn’t me trying to be something other than me. No, it was actually a reflection of me being fully me.  You see, I’m a problem-solver. I’m creative. I can look at what others see as “nothing” and make it into something. I mean, I’d made a pretty cool little film set with games, piano benches, spare lighting, paper towels and a banana hanger!

And that made me feel good.

And it made me want to encourage everyone out there, once again, that you always have a choice! You can do big things with very little. It all starts with the right mindset and belief that you can make it work.

The Best Advice So Far: You can do big things with very little. It all starts with the right mindset and belief that you can make it work.

Wow, this is really long. So I think I’ll leave things there for now.

I hope you enjoyed this “behind-the-scenes” look as much as I enjoyed writing and reliving it. And I hope it challenged you, if only in some small way, to look around you, see what you do have instead of what you don’t, and to do big things in your world.

Thanks to Sam, Meg and Facilitating XYZ for being awesome, cool, chill, fun – and, above all, real.

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About Erik

Erik is an author, speaker, blogger, facilitator, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, noticer and lover of life. He lives in the Boston area. "It's more about writing lives than writing pages." View all posts by Erik

6 responses to “behind the scenes

  • Jed Jurchenko

    Erik,

    It’s fun to read about all of the happenings, that went on behind the scenes. I thought it was an awesome interview, with an amazing setup. It sounds like a lot of work and scrambling to get things just right, but in the end, everything looked incredible.

    Kirby recently did a post asking for work-space pictures. I’ll be posting mine later today. My primary work-space is our living-room coffee table. It’s where I set out my laptop each morning. I find it fascinating that so many of us writers make the magic happen in very modest settings. It really is possible to accomplish a lot, with just a few resources.

    I’ve said it before, and am going to say it again. Whenever you start your podcast or YouTube channel, I’m ready to be your first subscriber. I loved the interview and can’t wait to see you do it again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Hey, Jed. No need to wait for me to do it again. Just click play on the little YouTube button as many times as you want. Ha ha. No, but seriously, thanks for the vote of confidence. It really is something I’d like to do more often (or even regularly).

      There’s that old saying: “Home is where you hang your hat.” I guess for writers, it’s “Work is where you sit your butt.”

      Like

  • Kirby

    Interesting and fun to read. I’ve seen a lot of behind the scenes for creating webinars, videos, and other similar media, but no one ever goes through the reality of what it takes to prepare for the first time or leading up to it. Most of the behind the scenes have been well established or have a few people on a team that help them prepare. Great insight Erik.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Thanks, Kirby. I suppose the phrase and concept of “smoke and mirrors” stems from reality. Being “professional” is having a certain mindset and something of value to share, not so much having top-of-the-line gadgetry.

      Like

  • D. Wallace Peach

    Your stage-managing cracked me up, Erik. Who knew there was so much to prepare! I have to say again that the interview was great and I can see how all the prep pulled everything off well. You didn’t look sinister or dead. Ha ha 🙂

    THANKS, of course, for the lovely shout-out in the interview for my blog. It was so sweet and got me all sniffly. I wish I could say that I had a plan and am intentional about the blog, but I’m not. Just being kind – it’s so simple and goes such a long way.

    Thanks also for the quote above 🙂 I’m feeling special today (my birthday!) I got a couple wonderful presents from Erik.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Happy Birthday, Diana! I’ve added one more present (which I had intended to add originally and only just realized I hadn’t): a link in this post to your wonderful blog! You’ve hit the nail on the head again: simple kindness and just being real with people, regardless of fancy plans (which rarely work as hoped anyway) is what it’s all about.

      Liked by 1 person

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