Don’t look at the camera

“When I wave my hand you both can start walking. You will walk towards this table, and sit down there – okay ?” Tina asks.

“Okay” my wife replies, while I nod my head.

With lunch trays in our hands we wait for Tina’s signal. She waves and we start walking, looking at each other and pretending to talk. After a few steps we reach the table. We place the trays on the table and sit down.

Tina walks up to us. “That was nice, but we’ll have to do it just one more time – I’m sorry.” She has a half a smile on her face, and the expression seems to convey regret at the same time.

“That’s fine.” I pick up my tray, full of dishes yet to be tasted. As we walk back to our starting position, I notice some faces in the tables around looking at us. Some are mildly curious; others are amused.

Tina waves again, and we repeat our actions right up to the table. This time the crew seems happy.

Guten Appetit! ” says Helmut, the cameraman, with raised eyebrows.

We dig into the dishes.

The shooting is for a documentary about German Green-Card holders working for my company. Apart from us, a couple from Russia and an Australian are the other subjects. The crew has finished with the couple in the morning, and are now attempting to catch a glimpse of us at different times of a typical day at work. It is something unique for us, and we do not mind the takes and retakes.

“Its just the beginning, so you are still quite excited! ” says Petruta, who nominated our names for the documentary.

During lunch I am reminded of a couple of ‘rules’ Helmut had given us earlier in the day. “Don’t look into the camera! ” he had said with a low pitched voice that was almost a whisper. Then after the first shot he had followed it up with “I do not want to shoot your back – never show your back to the camera.”

Helmut takes his job very seriously. While others pick up their trays, he waits for all the lunch related episodes to complete. Tina is more the PR type : her pleasant, courteous mien puts us at ease and makes us relax. Together, they complement each other well.

After lunch, it is time for the interviews. My wife and I sit under a tree while the others set up the shot.

“It feels a bit like movie stars waiting in the shade while the crew sets up the shot.” I say.

“Maybe they should be giving you some drinks also.” says Petruta. We laugh.

Soon the set is ready. Tina comes up and asks “So, who is first ?”

I volunteer, and soon find myself facing Tina with the camera by her side. Markus holds the microphone near my knee, out of the camera’s frame. Tina explains that her questions are not going to be a part of the documentary – only parts of my answers will be taken. She then begins.

“Why did you decide to relocate to Germany ?” she asks, with a smile.

I answer, and she moves on to the next question. That surprises me; I had expected retakes during the interview as well. But the fifteen minute session moves in an impromptu fashion from one question to the next. That suits me very well; shooting retakes of spoken sentences can make it sound artificial.

After me it is my wife’s turn. She takes my seat while I move over under the tree and watch. It turns out to be a revealing ten minutes for me : I cannot remember another occasion where I stood watching, from a distance, my wife talking to another person. The distance makes her seem somehow…..different.

The interviews are followed by a few more shooting sessions – with many retakes – and at the end of it all we think we know a little about what it takes to face the camera. The key element is Helmut’s advice : Don’t look at the camera. Unless you intend to read news on the BBC, of course.

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