Under the Lights, In front of the Camera

The Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce came up with the brilliant idea of getting all the candidates in front of the video camera to answer a series of questions. The results would be graded and published in the Connect newspaper, and available online via YouTube. Executive Director Diane Slater shared the vision with me months ago. Taping day was yesterday.

Heather and I drove home from Edmonton early in the morning on Sunday. For the first half of the trip she lobbed questions at me testing my ability to answer articulately and off the cuff. It was a great warm-up for what was ahead later in the afternoon. While her questions were issue specific, the shape of the video questions would be a little more general.

The rules were simple. I was to do my best to look directly into the camera, not at the panel of seven people at the back of the room. It was to have the feel of a living room chat. Each question would be displayed to the interviewee's right, adjacent to the timekeeper. I would have three minutes to answer a series of 10 questions, with 2 minute, 1 minute and 30 second warnings delivered via flash cards. There would be no preview of the questions and the answers would be available completely unedited, no matters what happens.

"Sounds great," I said. "Let's do it."

Brandon and Bob put on the microphone and got me settled in a plush easy chair and the moderator began asking the questions.

Focused on looking directly into the camera, I didn't refer back to the question on the flip board and didn't see the flash cards warning me about the time as they were out of the light off in the distance.

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

"Did I go over?" I asked. Several heads nodded. "Oops."

"I can't see the time flash cards," I said. "Can you come a little closer? And don't bother with the flip chart, I won't be looking over there." I had been warned that many of the previous interviewees ended up going back and forth from the questions on the flip chart to the panel, not spending enough time speaking to the viewer in the camera.

Questions two through ten went better, the answers delivered within the three minute window now that the time cards were successfully in my peripheral vision.

Brandon, the camera operator, had asked me to sit still ten seconds at the end of the interview, while the camera kept rolling.

"Russell, we want to thank you for taking this time and sharing your views and ideas for the voters of Wood Buffalo," said the moderator.

"Whew! That was hard," I said, thinking the camera was off, the interview over. It was not.

"Don't worry about it," said Bob Nyen. "People will appreciate the honesty!"

So, there it is. My answers, complete with brain farts, pregnant pauses, foibles, circuitous answers and a couple of good anecdotes will be available on the My Community My Voice website within the week. The report card will be published in the Connect newspaper on the Friday before Election Day.

Thanks to the panel for embracing the gargantuan task of grading the candidates. While it was tough being in front of the camera, I think their job is tougher-no question.

At the end of the day, voters will be able to watch the responses over and over again, getting unparalleled access into the character of the entire slate of candidates. What a terrific idea.

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