Welcome back, casters and castees! In the last edition of On The Desk, we broke down what sorts of casters exist and what their roles are relative to each other, along with how to best crew a casting desk based on the types of casters available. This time, let’s take a deeper dive into the world of personality casting (don’t worry analysts, you’re up next!).
If you remember your casting quadrants, casters who primarily focus on presenting a likable persona and creating a fun atmosphere for the viewers are called The Best Friend. Their primary function is to make sure that in addition to informative, the cast is entertaining – after all, we’re here to have a good time, not attend a lecture. But how does that happen? What techniques can be employed to make sure the Analyst doesn’t go too far down the rabbit hole, to keep the event running smoothly, and to keep the audience from clicking away? I’m glad you asked, anonymous person behind the screen. The answer lies in the subgenres of personality casting.
Play-by-play casting is the technique of describing actions as they occur. As a baseball pitch is thrown, you say where it landed relative to the strike box. When the point guard takes a shot, you say if it was inside or outside the 3 point line in baseketball. In TESL, you mention which cards are played, what they do, and what the immediate board impact is or could soon be.
Play-by-play is an often underrated technique in card games. These games are by nature often quite slow paced, which leads many to think that is isn’t needed at all. This couldn’t be further from the truth. First, this is how you build excitement and drama over the course of a game. Variations in pitch, volume, and intensity of voice over time can have a drastic impact on how a play is received. Consider two alternative choices in how to cast a clutch Miraak top deck stealing a key creature from the opponent:
“Oh, or they could topdeck Miraak. That works I guess.”
“Oh my God they pull a Miraak off the top! There is no other card that could have saved them here!”
While perhaps overblown examples, the comparison is stark. The first example’s sarcasm is funny and personable, creating a relaxed atmosphere. By contrast, the second example represents a high point of excitement in the game. Both of these are perfectly suitable choices for how to commentate the play, and I’ve used both approaches myself as they were suited to the situation. And therein lies the key – what fits the situation? Play-by-play commentating can create a situation in which either of these examples are appropriate. By controlling tone and pacing, play-by-play casting creates moments of drama and excitement, or moments of comfort and familiarity.
Air Traffic Control
The unsung hero of The Best Friend is their duty as the leader of the flow of the event. The Analyst is the best person to take a topic and go into it in depth, but The Best Friend is setting her up with topics to discuss. Similarly, The Best Friend decides when enough analysis has come and gone and moves the cast along to a new topic, setting the pace of the cast and priming the audience for the next topic worthy of a deep dive. This is why The Best Friend shouldn’t ignore developing game knowledge: it’s difficult to set your partner up without being able to pick out interesting points!
In fact, this can be so important that in professional broadcasts of any sort, this is often not even a caster’s duty. Usually another, off screen team member will be devoted entirely to prompting switches between set pieces (in our case, screens), active on screen team members, or directing when assets are loaded. A news crew’s anchor isn’t in charge or determining when the weather person comes on! But, that is often not available, and the casters will need to self monitor and direct. So how can The Best Friend help with this?
One technique is to keep track of how long a certain segment has been running. Have you been discussing the card choices of one deck for five straight minutes? Perhaps it’s time to move on. The Analyst is doing their job by describing interesting tech choices, and by watching the time that has passed, The Best Friend has opened up space for The Analyst to do what they do best without needing to worry about anything else.
Next, when a transition between topics is appropriate, have a plan for how to initiate it. Without an adequate plan, the broadcast will feel clunky and awkward, like it needs to be smoothed out more. Consider these examples:
“Awesome, next we have deck number two, go ahead Co-Caster!”
“Definitely true, that should be interesting to see. Next, that brings us to deck number two, which features cards A B and C. Co-Caster, how does card D fit in there?”
In the first example, The Best Friend does initiate a change, but it’s quick and choppy, not leaving their co-caster any time to gather thoughts. The latter example has a plan: find something that The Analyst can start with, and guide them down that path. After, The Analyst can take care of what they do best, and The Best Friend has set them up for success. That is the true takeaway for pace control – get the broadcast to where it needs to be in the most successful way possible.
Sometimes, The Best Friend doesn’t need to be commentating the game at all! In fact, they can instead host the event, being the rock between major portions of the broadcast that brings everything home. In a newsroom, this person would be called the anchor.
Hosting can have several benefits. First, anyone who happens to join the audience part way through the show has a natural reset point when the host is the focal point. When a game ends and they haven’t seen the first 12 turns, they can rest assured that they will be given full context again once the host comes on screen. Additionally, it allows the commentators to focus strictly on the games while the host can handle any announcements, viewer interaction, or other tangential (but still important!) duties. Similar to the way The Best Friend allows The Analyst to analyze, hosting allows the commentators to commentate. Sound familiar? The host is effectively the one in charge of Air Traffic Control! Offloading that duty from a Best Friend commentator to a host creates a clean separation of duties, so viewers and casters alike know who is in charge of what.
Note that of the entire broadcast team, the host should be the most publicly recognizable. Having someone that everyone knows and recognizes fosters comfort and familiarity for the viewers, which makes for a more fun viewing experience. Think about it – would you rather have strangers or friends talking to you? As the host is the one in charge of interacting, directly or indirectly, with the viewers, it’s important that he or she be the closest friend the viewers have available.
This approach works particularly well if the team has more personable casters than analysts. Instead of rotating through Best Friends between games, have one host this week! This creates a consistent experience throughout the cast, letting the viewers know what to expect. The more consistent the experience, the more professional it feels, and the more likely the event is to grow.
Personable casting is deceptively complex. It has a large swath of potential duties that analytical casters should never need to handle, and a multitude of approaches for each of these that can be tailored to the caster’s style. The constant, however, is that expectations between the personable caster and the rest of the production team should be made clear as soon as possible so that they can start planning approaches and practicing some of the ideas we’ve talked about today.
Tune in for the next edition of On The Desk, where we’ll be going over some of the techniques that our more analytically minded friends can consider!
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