Without fail, every time I ask a new student to send me videos of their work I receive some chaotic, exasperated and unedited version of what they think is their best shot. I don’t say this in criticism of them. When I look back at the videos I submitted to my interpreting program, I immediately go to Monster.com and double check the salary averages for any other job. I say this in criticism of their programs, that are still using GoReact and refusing to modernize their approach, readying their students.
In light of this fact and in a self serving act, I’m writing the guide to making and producing videos that will work for what you need. As interpreters at any level, you need to know how to put your best foot forward so that you’re not falling on your face. To preface this entire article: all of these suggestions are thanks to the common mistakes I learned from myself.
First, never use GoReact.
You’ve outgrown it in so many ways. When I was in my program it was hardly adequate and with the turn of technology, it’s incredibly outdated. With your smart phone you can record a much better video with stronger audio. While I recommend using an iPhone and checking in with colleagues for Android devices, most of the time you will only need your phone.
This is available on any smart phone and with the free version having almost limitless editing, it’s a no-brainer. I myself use this app almost daily.
As a new interpreter you might be willing to use the voice memo app on your phone to overlay audio but as a practicing interpreter with a heavy work load in voice over, I prefer to do it in-app. This isn’t to suggest that you should edit your audio to submit voicing samples to anyone you are looking to partner with. Misleading clients that you did something live when submitting an edited sample is bad business.
Truthfully, your clients won’t know you’ve used the voice memo app when you’ve done it correctly. It’s entirely up to you but if VideoLeap is affordable, it’s nicer to be able to work smarter not harder with clients.
However, when working with clients in the field who need voiceovers, this is a great function as you can record your audio then ‘mask’ it, with their room audio (often referred to as “room tone”) so that it sounds like the voice is coming from the same room. I use a couple different pieces of software for this that I’ll outline in another article.
I also use this trick for pausing and restarting recording. Nobody wants to record a full hour of voice over in one take and you shouldn’t have to. By utilizing the voice over function you can start and stop your video allowing you to take breaks, prep and regroup.
For the purposes of creating a voicing sample, you do not need to include your video. Anyone asking for this is wanting proof that the sample was live or creating unnecessary work for you. Personally, I don’t like to be watched when voicing and I find some of the best work I do is in an incredibly relaxed position, knowing that it’s just me and the content at hand. With features like VoiceOver, you don’t need to include video. You can also use the voice memo app to record all of the audio that you’ll overlay when you are finished working the piece in the same fashion.
The VideoLeap app allows you to mask audio, meaning you can overlay your VoiceOver recorded in a quiet room while preserving the service user’s original room audio (commonly referred to as ‘room tone’). With both intact, you’ll arrive with an incredibly natural sounding sample.
If you’re producing the sample, when the recording is done take a 30 second long recording of just the room while it’s silent. You can use this to overlay any coughs, sneezes or flubs you’ll be correcting in a professional setting. Agencies love to hear a sneeze because they know the piece was done live.
Getting the Material
Since the beginning of my consulting career I’ve heard the same thing consistently. “I can’t get material” and I cannot tell you how wrong this is. Of course much of our work is confidential and unable to be recorded. Even when it’s not, the idea of asking a client if they mind you recording yourself while you work is insanely cringeworthy sometimes. With the rise of TikTok interpreters and the lack of quality in our field, I can’t imagine asking a client I didn’t have a relationship with for permission.
However, the goal for all practitioners should be to nurture a symbiotic relationship with clients. If there are options for recording a sample with a current client you feel comfortable with, seize the opportunity. Not only are they incredibly helpful for the creation of a portfolio but it’s great to be able to return to your work years later to pull from. Sure, most of it is cringe but I did some pretty creative stuff when I was first starting out. I love going back and seeing how I can better round out my interpreting.
Public events offer a fantastic way to get samples, especially if platform is the look you’re going for. If something is advertised as open to the public, interpreted and of course any time you know press will be around taking photos, get a colleague or friend to snag a seat capture your work. If you’re working in a team you can often get a better angle. Pro-tip: keep the filming subtle. Try not to make a scene of it and if you’re getting cinematography vibes from your team consider the gig a wash and try again at a later date. The last thing you want to do is embarrass a client while you’re trying to grow your reputation.
You can easily create material on your own. Far too many interpreters consider the production value of the sample to be a determining factor in their ability to find work. While higher production value is certainly of value when you consider how we assign value to beauty, what’s important is the material. With COVID sending so much of our work online, you have the rare opportunity to use a black background and an iPhone to create material that will be weighted like the platform videos we used to use. Leveraging the pandemic’s restrictions, you can borrow a couple of friends to give you content that will make a lasting impression on potential clients.
When I create material, I try to find two people who have never met and get them in a Zoom room together. The last time I did this, I used my mom and a new account. She had plenty of answers and their conversation was awkward at times as it naturally would be between two strangers. It made for a great sample. I treated the camera like a third party on the call and it looked as though I was interpreting for a third person in the meeting who just didn’t have anything to add at that specific moment.
Of course, it’s always best to use someone who is an active user of this language for that natural look and feel. When working with a live service user you can physically see the clarifications and edits made to an interpretation as backchannel feedback is processed. If you have a friend who can help you out, use that help to create a stronger sample but make sure to buy them a nice bottle of wine or a coffee.
In the past I’ve used libraries, hotel conference rooms and empty rooms at my college to create samples that would give me an interesting background. Later on, you’ll see how I provide context to my samples. I am always cautions with samples I’ve created to only include the topic and no additional information. While most of the time an entity doesn’t care who’s in the room or imaginary, it’s pointless to tell them you didn’t have live material with service users.
One final note worth mentioning is that any agency worth working with is going to know that samples are incredibly hard to get if you don’t have a strong list of private clients. Of course we always want them to believe that we do…. until we do, it’s still important you know that they’re not expecting you to have incredible material day one. However, in my opinion in 2022 you have no excuse to not have some sort of material from Zoom as limiting as it can be.
You can also leverage Instagram videos, Facebook lives and other things you might have done on social media. Agencies should be getting with the times but if for some reason they’re not receptive to it, you’ll gain more insight into the type of relationship you can come to expect.
This is the most common mistake new interpreters make and it’s an easily avoidable one. Even without professional editing software, you can make a professional and polished mix of samples for viewing… often at no cost to you. I use a few different options depending on the context of the video and they aren’t limited to creating samples. You can apply these processes to virtually any asynchronous work you might be up for.
To get this side by side view you could use Zoom or iMovie
With Zoom you’ll need two devices. I often use my phone to screen share a specific video especially if it’s from Youtube.
You’ll want to follow these steps to get set up:
- Open Zoom on the device you’ll use to screen share with and start a screen share. Be sure to set the meeting to record in gallery view, then press record.
- Join that meeting same meeting as a guest and interpret. Ensure your microphone and camera on Device #2 are on and that device #1 has the external sound muted.
This works great for shorter samples you can do in one take but can be frustrating to cue up again and again. One thing you can use to make the process easier is iPhone’s screen record function. With this you can screen record on a loop a few times so that playback gives you multiple options. iMovie can accomplish the same thing but will also give you the ability to edit. It’s important to note that if editing is evident in your portfolio, most agencies will write it off as a waste of time and insist on a live assessment. This isn’t to say hide your editing. You should always be submitting live and unrehearsed clips of your work.
In iMovie you’ll take two separate video files and layer them side by side. While this takes more time, one of the perks is being able to fix the lighting and contrast if needed. Often sample videos provide excellent material but the final product can look cheap if the tones in both pieces are entirely mismatched.
For a picture in a picture, especially for ENG<>ASL work, you can use a service like VideoLeap which won’t skimp on quality of your final edits. With the ability to export in 4k, your clients will thank you for never sacrificing on their final product. I often use VideoLeap for overlaying my videos even when I need to edit the ASL>ENG work for a more polished VoiceOver later.
This works especially well if you want to use multiple edited clips of an interpretation for a client. You can easily swap and edit clips out to the millisecond but will need to ensure that while interpreting, you’re taking micro-breaks to reduce the interference of cuts. When you simply can’t however, you have the mask function which allows you to mimic the previous pose or sign you had up on video to ease the transition in a bit more.
I personally love using this app as the functionality gives me the ability to create clean videos with crisp audio using more than one take. Sometimes it can be impossible to get through a piece on one take. VideoLeap reduces the pressure and gives us even more tools as practitioners to make interpreted work look and sound seamless.
From the audience perspective, this is a really nice way to watch a portfolio play through. It’s great to see how new interpreters interact with visuals that may not necessarily be in the same room at the time of recording.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to consider your audience. So many of the videos I receive are accompanied by a very well meaning but long winded email. Typically it includes some information about the piece, why they hate what they’ve recorded, a description of everything they think is awful about it and an apology. Aside from all of the self deprecating nonsense, when I have multiple videos to download and watch, I don’t need that much context. Any context I do need can be included as a title slide to the piece.
As a practitioner sending videos myself, I use title slides that provide my name, language direction, topic and date. When an evaluator is reviewing my materials they’ll have just enough information to get a full picture without having to return to the email and reread. In my portfolio, I include multiple samples all broken up by titles slides. You can read more about how I create a killer portfolio reel here.
Breaking down the individual segments in an email should only be used for additional context that a title slide would be exhausting to use in order to provide. For example, if I were working with a low vision client and wanted to break down the sign space or other constraints of the job, I would add it in the email. Otherwise, I would keep my title slides concise and to the point.
Consider Your Audience
You need to always consider who you’re sending the portfolio to. For agencies that know nothing about interpreting, your might consider focusing more on videos that highlight your ability to appear professional and manage communication. In contrast, an agency like Flamingo Interpreting might want to see more of how you repair in the moment. Organizations that service acting companies would be more interested in your ability to move through an interpretation of theatre terms while blending into the atmosphere while an agency specializing in medical work might expect experience with heavy terminology and the ability to conceptualize it.
In consideration of these factors specific to agencies you can inquire with, it’s great practice to have multiple samples and reels on hand to send out. At any given time I prefer to keep three reels ready to go. I have once focusing on community work. The samples included are very typical of an average community agency assessment. Another focuses on business meetings. I use it when I need the content to reflect my ability to present as a professional and also handle complex topics in the moment. The last one is a reel I feel really rounds out who I am as a practitioner. I save it for when direct clients might want to see a sample of my work. It’s very focused on work into English and includes some of my best affect work. I wouldn’t typically share it with an agency as it’s technically great work but doesn’t show much breadth.
For each entity receiving your materials, you should consider their goals. Even more, you should consider their time. Having to revisit an email multiple times to sort out multiple attachments is what agencies are used to. It’s exhausting and a very unpleasant process but often accepted as the norm, especially when working with newer interpreters. If you can chance their experience for the better you’ll make a better impression.
You can also leverage your knowledge of the potential client and make a new reel quite easily. I often will cut and spice samples together to make a new reel that falls more in line with the work I know they’ll be working to fill.
Adding a Slate
A slate is essentially a short clip of you speaking directly to camera explaining who you are, why you’re here and a bit about what the viewer is about to see. While I don’t say that these are required, I do think that for some practitioners and new interpreters this can be incredibly valuable. I’ll admit, I’m not a good test taker and when I am asked to assess I am never producing my best work. Yet, most agencies would tell you that the assessment is more about getting to know you and how you’ll interact with a client than it is about skill level. Easy to say, not easy to believe.
As someone who has hired hundreds of interpreters over the years I can tell you that one of the main concerns is an interpreter being awkward and producing a poor reflection of the brand. If you include a short <30 second clip in the beginning to the effect of
“Hi, I’m Grey. I’ve been interpreting for 8 years now professionally, love to play around in the world of entertainment and would love to spend more time teaming this year. I’ve put together three samples for you, each in medical, business and performance respectively. If you have any questions about the context or the choices, I’d love to talk about it! I’m a bit of a nerd for the work. Thanks”
You’ll be bound to make a stronger impression than I would fumbling in the chair forgetting my name.
When I partner with colleagues, I care about personality as well as skill. Providing a short slate can put any concerns an agency or clients has at ease. Within that, it’s important that you know you’re not performing. Be yourself and keep it concise. You are a practicing interpreter finding work not an actor searching for their big break. Allow yourself to be genuine and authentic in any piece of material you present. It’s wildly evident when it’s overly rehearsed or staged.
One last note on assessing: I’ve had an incredible career that has led me to interpret everywhere from shelters to the United Nations. I am still not comfortable with assessments. I am not someone who performs well in any sort of exam style environment. I’ve worked for years to support new interpreters and practicing colleagues in the creation of portfolios that will reduce an agency’s reliance on assessments in meeting with them. There is nothing wrong with preferring a portfolio over a staged assessment and if you’ve created work you are proud of, the partners you bring it to should be equally receptive to it.
If Foundations in Freelance has helped support your practice in any way, consider donating to keep it up and running! Make your donation or pledge here.