Taking Your Talent to the Screen

Do you have what it takes to star in a technical video? If you're a highly skilled professional and are unflappable under pressure, you probably do.

Have you ever watched an instructional video and thought, “Hey, I could do that,” but weren’t quite sure how to get your work on the big screen? Well, instructional videos are popping up all over the place these days as nail technicians increasingly see videos as a viable means of continuing their education. Also, most of us belong to what sociologist call the “MTV Generation.” That means that we’re very comfortable picking out a video, popping it into the VCR, and learning through watching.


People who perform work or who appear on video are called “on-camera talent.” And, according to Arthur Portnoy, an independent producer and director in New York City and the producer of The Nail Care Video Series, not everyone who does nails well is necessary cut out to be on video. “When auditioning talent, especially someone who will perform very technical work, I look for a person who is calm, willing to do whatever it’s going to take, someone who is patient and cooperative,” says Portnoy.

When viewing a finished tape of 20-30 minutes, you might find it hard to imagine that the tape may have actually taken five to six hours of taping to create. There are so many things going on the set of a video that even if the nail technician does her part perfectly, a scene may need to be redone several times. Portnoy says that on camera talent must be thick skinned and unflappable and they must be able to focus on the work that they are doing at any given time there could be as many as 10 or 12 people on the set and behind the camera, and each of them is attending to their own job, yelling directions to one another, discussing a problem, or debating an issue. If the on-camera talent gets easily distracted, the shooting time will be longer and ultimately the production will cost more.

Portnoy looks for someone who is relaxed and composed, and who once her part is right, can keep doing it right until all of the other elements around her are perfect too.

A video nail technician needs to be both flexible and methodical in her work. In order to pick up all of the detail on such small surfaces as nails and hands, the director will tell the camera man to “shoot tight,” which means that there isn’t a lot of room within that frame to move around. So the technician performing this work needs to be able to perform the task without using big sweeping motions and without moving her hands in and out of the frame. Also, since the camera is shooting so tight, movements are magnified and can actually appear to be happening faster than they really are. As a result, a good on-camera technician will need to not only do her work in a limited amount of space, but also do it slower than normal.


This all sounds interesting, you may tell yourself, but is working on a video right for you? Well, the best way to find out is to get on a set and see firsthand if you would be able to hack the pace, which is usually slow, and the pressure, which is usually high. Getting on that set may not be as difficult as you think.

According to David Sparer, owner of the Upstate Casting Agency in upstate New York, there is plenty of work for nail technicians, makeup artist, and hair designers behind the scenes of a video or still shoot (for print). In the course of work as a casting agent, Sparer is often asked by his clients to not only provide the on-camera talent for videos and photographic shoots but to recommend the behind-the-scenes people who will make the on-camera talent look great.

“For nail technicians in particular, there is often good, steady work behind the camera. Many of my clients want to hire hand models or models whose hands will be seen in the video or photo, so a good manicure and fresh polish are absolutely critical to an excellent shoot,” comments Sparer.

Sparer and Portnoy agree that pitching – or approaching – casting agencies and agents, video production house, photographers, and producers to do the off-camera work, is the best way to get an understanding of the kind of work demanded of on-camera talent. Once you are hired, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of the sometimes chaotic making of a video, since you will probably always be required to go to the set to ready the talent. Portnoy suggest using this opportunity to network and to get familiar with the needs, demands, and responsibilities of going on-camera.

“Be sure to use business cards, resumes, pamphlets that talk about your services, and even bio pamphlets, director, or casting agent know who you are and what you can do,” advise Portnoy.


Now that you’ve decided that being on-camera is for you, you’ll need to put together a demo (demonstration) tape that you can circulate to prospective employers. A good demo tape can mean the difference between being passed up for video gig and getting the job.

Sparer suggest doing a lot of participating before you even think about taping yourself. “First, choose a few things (procedures, techniques) that you are good at and really practices them,” says Sparer.

Portnoy agrees that it is better to do two or three things really well than to demonstrate several things if your technique isn’t perfect in every area. Says Portnoy, “If you’re not sure you can do it well, don’t put it on your demon tape.”

Demonstration tapes should be short and should have three or four segments of one to two minutes maximum. For instance, you might want to show one segment of yourself applying glitter to a nail. Great, go ahead, but be sure that it doesn’t take more than two minutes, that it shows you doing exactly what is considered the best technique, and that the finished nail looks fantastic. If you don’t achieve even one of these criteria, do it again!

How do you know what to put on the demo tape? It’s going to depend on the kind of work you want to be considered for. For instance, are you interested in performing work on-camera only? That means without you speaking or explaining what are you doing? If that’s what you are comfortable with then that’s what you ought to demonstrate on your tape.

If you have teaching or platform experience, you may want to have one or two segments of the demo that include you speaking while doing the actual technique. Or, you may opt to show yourself speaking into the camera, like a commentator or host might do.

In general, your demo tape should be three to five minutes long and should show three or four techniques that are range in difficult to show versatile you are. Ask a friend, or if you can afford it, get a professional videographer to shoot your three to five segments. The more professional your demo tape is, the more impressed potential employers will be.


To find out where the market exists for the kind of work you can do, ask yourself these questions:

Who is likely to have use for my services? You’ll find that the companies most likely to e shooting nail technology videos are product manufacturers, distributors, publishers, and sometimes, even salons.

What are they likely to shoot? Again, they are likely to be showing how to perform certain techniques ranging from the basic manicures and pedicure to how to do nail art, how to disinfect the salon, or how to sell additional nail services.

When are they likely to shoot? This is the most tricky question to get a handle on. And this is where your personal contacts and network come in. speak to as many people as possible to spread the word about your desire to be on-camera talent in a video. Timing is everything and some small tips as to when to approach a company planning to shoot a video would be a tremendous thing!

Getting your demo tape to the right people will be the next order of business. Start with a letter (no longer than one page) explaining who are, what you do, and why the company should consider you for on-camera talent. Mention any competitions you’ve been in or won, list your credentials, company or salons you’ve worked for, and any other unusual or interesting facts about yourself. Along with the letter, send your demo tape. Put a label on it with your name and the telephone where you can most easily be reached.

In your letter, state that you will call to follow up with the person to whom you addressed the letter three to five days after to make sure that the package has arrived. Portnoy advises that you be persistent.

“If you can get to the person in charge, then you can really find out the truth about what’s going on and your chances of participating in the project,” says Portnoy.

Who should you send the demo tape to? At a product manufacturer, you might want to call and start with the director of education. If that isn’t the right person, move on to the director of marketing. Ask them each the same questions; do they produce videos? Are they willing to look at a new talent? Can you send them your demo tape?

When dealing with a casting company or casting agent, you should send the tape directly with your cover letter. Casting agents will be easier to talk with and easier to get to than manufacturers or producers. Casting agents also have more opportunities available to them to do videos or other shoots and therefore may be able to offer you more opportunities for work.

“Be persistent with casting agents too, says Sparer.


Once you are called for an audition, you will have a real chance to let these casting people know what you are made of. Here are a few unbreakable rules if you want to work more than once:

  • Be well groomed. You don’t necessarily have to wear a business suit, but you must look neat, clean, and tidy.
  • Be on time. Video production cost mega-bucks, and every time someone is late it cost money. Show that you are a professional and be on time.
  • Bring extra resumes and business cards with you to the audition. Chances are that you will meet more people at an audition who will be able to help your career along. Remember, sue every opportunity to network.
  • Be sure your hands are clean and your own nails are groomed. Sounds like common sense, right? You’d be surprised at how many people show up who never thought about it!
  • Be prepared. Bring to the audition all the regular tools and products that would need to perform any of the services that you showed them you could do on your demo tape.
  • Ask about a model. Most time you will be provided with a model, but always ask the casting agent or person who calls you if you need to bring a model.

According to Portnoy, payment for on-camera work depends on the market that you are in, the size of the city, and whether or not they are required to pay union scale (wages) for the work. Union scale is approximately $350 a day for on-camera work and a day can be anywhere from 8-12 hours.

One thing to note is that instructional or educational video producers will usually buy out all rights to the network. That means that you are paid once for the services you perform and then the producer and ultimately the owner of the videos will have the right to use that footage in any way and anywhere they see fit. This is pretty common practice. Portnoy advises consulting an attorney when it comes to contracts.


These three little words are used to signify the end of a shooting session. So if you’re lucky and talented enough to hear “it’s a wrap,” then you made it through a video shoot. Hopefully, those three words that mean it’s the end will lead you to many more on-camera opportunities!


Just as professional nail technology has its own jargon, so too does video production. Here are a few terms that you’re likely to encounter on a video shoot:

On-camera: In front of the camera, usually while the camera is taping the action is taking place; it can include both on and off-camera.

Take it from the top: Go back to the beginning.

Action: Begin the action

Rolling: the camera has been turned on and is ready to tape.

Speed: the camera has begun to tape the action.

Camera is moving: The camera is filming from different vantage points, usually trying to get the action from several angles.

In tight: A very close shot that magnifies whatever is on-camera.

Pan left: Direction to the cameraperson to begin at the center and to move slowly to the left.

Pan right: Direction to the cameraperson to begin at the center and to move slowly to the right.

Takes: Unit of measurement referring to a section of video; many of these are strung together to make the video.

Alternate takes: The same action, but with a slight change of lighting or camera angle.

Frame: A single unit of video, which, once compiled. Will form a take.

In the front: Anything that when the video is being shot can be seen on the television monitor.

Time code: A coding system that appears on unedited film to identify one frame from another.

Still: A photograph that is shot by the video camera, usually used as a background for tape or graphics.

Gig: An opportunity to work.

Cut: Stop the action.

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