One of these days someone will design a lounge chair or a couch that doesn’t undermine interviewers and their subjects on television. Sadly, anything comfortable in the way of seating will probably make you look dreadful on camera. You need only go to this week’s Q+A (go to Chapter 2 on video link) to see a classic example of how badly a seat can treat someone. Judith Collins’ smart black and white suit looks fine in the corridors of Parliament. But see what that chair does to her. The armrests are pushing her shoulders up. Combine that with the highish neck on her dress and she ends up looking like an American footballer – all shoulders and no neck. Then check out the wide shot, where the camera does extremely unkind things to her knees. They look huge and the only thing that saves them from being truly horrendous is the mercy of dark tights. Now, I’m not acquainted with the honourable minister or her knees, but I’m prepared to bet good money they’re not that scary in real life or she’d never allow them to see the light of day.
Women have a problem with their nether regions on telly. The camera is closer to your legs than to your face, and the rules of perspective apply. So unless you’re built like a supermodel or you’re being interviewed behind a desk – cover up those knees. Short skirts and low camera angles can reveal more than your opinions. The only absolutely safe rule is longer skirts or trousers, and when you can’t hide your pins swing them to the side and cross your ankles, never your legs. Trust me – it looks better. Check out Ali Mau, who is very tall with correspondingly long legs. She knows how to beat these wretched couches into submission and still look great on them. Couches and lounge chairs encourage you to lean back, a position that makes you look bored and heavy-lidded. You should sit slightly forward on television. The camera will respond by making you look engaged and interested. The “key light” will reflect in your eyes, adding those little white dots that bring life to your face.
The only way to look alive and attentive on a couch is to sit upright, almost perching on the edge. Watch the presenters. That’s how they sit. OK, Oliver Driver is an exception – but he’s got an “I have no idea what I’m doing here” image to protect (and even Oliver leans forward when he’s interviewing). For the rest of us, sitting forward is the only way to avoid looking either bored or corpselike. But isn’t this utterly trivial? Shouldn’t we be focusing on what people say, not critiquing how they look? Of course we should. Paradoxically, that’s why it’s important. On television, your appearance should never distract viewers from what you’re saying. If you’re fixated on necks and knees and suchlike, you can’t concentrate on what Judith Collins has to say on the vexed question of Corrections. Which is a pity, because it was worth listening to, and that’s the reason she was sitting in that chair in the first place.