Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Can You Fail a Screen Test?

I set my alarm clock an hour early for this morning in order to get fully prepared for my screen test. Despite my better efforts, I woke up two hours late.

Ever since I've been in Toronto, my cell phone has shown Texas time, despite the fact that Toronto is an hour later. I'm sure if I reset my phone, the time would adjust to the new time zone, but I appreciate having a little bit of Texas with me at all times. This time difference, however, is sometimes hard to compute when you wake up in the morning. Today, faced with a digital image of 6:55, I couldn't grasp what time it was. For a moment I was bummed I had missed my 6:00 alarm. And then it hit me that it was actually 7:55 and the panic set in.

I don't think I've ever gotten fully ready - shower, hair done, make-up, etc. - in 40 minutes. It takes forever to get "work" ready in the morning if you're a girl. Despite this, I tried desperately to make the new time constraint work - an effort that actually paid off.

I made it to S+L a few minutes past 9:00. A cup of tea and a blueberry muffin in hand, I started to browse the Catholic news sites for possible stories for Zoom. I had planned to used whatever stories I helped to contribute to the actual Zoom show as my script for my screen test. I was able to write two - one on a former professor from the Univ. of Steubenville, Ohio who made an online version of the current healthcare reform bill the senate is trying to pass, and the second on the 5th missionary to be murdered in a short span of time.

As the hosts of Zoom put the finishing touches on their scripts, I sat at my computer quietly reading my script under my breath. I've done public speaking before - I was a lecturer at my home parish for instance - but I've never done anything with television speaking. I definitely don't have that "Tonight on the evening news..." voice and the last thing I wanted to do was sound differently than I normally do.

A few friends I've made at the office took turns coming up to me asking if I was nervous. In all honesty, I was. I assumed if they were asking me to even do a screen test, they were open to me actually hosting the show. But I was still nervous of "failing" the test. What if I did the screen test, and instead of giving me feedback and scheduling a show, they sent me back to my desk to stuff envelopes the rest of my internship? Talk about awkward. Despite my hesitations, everyone else was very encouraging and told me not to worry.

I watched the filming of the English and French Zoom before they filmed me. I was hooked to every word each of the hosts said during filming. I watched their movements, head tilts, and timing of smiles - I was desperate for any useful tips. Once their shows were done, it was my turn. Hopeful and anxious, I made my way onto the set and faced the camera.

The first read was beyond awkward. This was just testing out the teleprompter and my speaking speed. I stopped after my first story, gathered my nerves, and announced I was going to restart. My second time was decent. I started to adjust to the lights and hearing only myself speak in the quiet room. I felt my nerves start to ease - this was going to be do-able.

And then the door to the studio opened.

In walked my audience - friends from the office and a few of the producers. I couldn't do anything but laugh. To be honest, I didn't really mind their presence. By then, I think there was a total of 4 or 5 other people there just to watch how I'd do. It was then that I found out that my supervisor, and also a producer, wanted to join the crowd to watch me live. My nerves picked up again.

She fussed the crowd when she made it into the room, but I quickly reassured her that they were my support system. She allowed them to stay. Things went quick after that. All I heard was "Ok, Stanby.....roll camera....and action!" I had to use every fiber in my being not to laugh - it was just such a different intensity that newspaper journalism. I channeled my laughter into what I had hoped looked like a nice smile.

"Hello, and welcome to Zoom!"

Everything was quiet and still. I couldn't tell how loud I was. I focused on the yellow text of the teleprompter and tried to speak slow. I found myself thinking way too much - I felt like I was having a whole conversation in my head as I spoke aloud. I found myself getting dizzy by the teleprompter. I tried to look down at my notes. I tried to sound natural. I heard myself say "That's it for Zoom. If you're joining us on our digital cable network, please stay tuned for an episode of Catholic Focus." I told myself to smile. And then to breathe. And it was over.

Or so I thought. My supervisor interjected a question. "Tell us who you are and why you're here."

Surprisingly, I didn't miss a beat.

"Hello, my name is Michelle Gautreau and I'm a senior history major at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Tx. I'm interning at Salt and Light in order to gain a better understanding of Catholic television broadcasting."

Someone shouted "Tres bien!" - the screen test was over.

I got a lot of feedback from those who had come to watch. For one, I needed more colorful clothing - I was wearing a black cami under a black blazer. Secondly, I needed jewelry - preferably a necklace. I was also told to slow down - I knew I'd struggle with this one. And also I apparently "sing" when I speak - I hit a lot of different notes, high to low. I'd have to bring the notes closer together - not necessarily monotone, but I think it strikes the right starting point.

The video was taken from the camera and placed onto a computer - I was called in to watch myself. Seeing myself speak on screen was really weird. It wasn't even an appearance issue, it was more so little things. I was blinking weird - I'm thinking due to the teleprompter. I could tell that I was nervous just from watching - something I'd have to overcome before the next filming. And boy did I talk fast. At the time, I thought I was talking annoyingly slow, but seeing it now made me laugh.

I was immediately booked to host Zoom tomorrow - the fastest turn around they've done. I'm flattered and appreciative that everyone thought I did well and I'm excited to do it for real now. I'll make sure to post the link so that everyone can watch the edited video on the S+L website.

The rest of my day was pretty quiet in contrast to this, so I am afraid I will have to leave it at this. Make sure to check back for a link to see my Catholic Canadian Television debut!

Available for autographs,


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