I don't pretend to have mastered the prank call video, but I've been learning a lot in the past week or so. The above video frames are from 2 prank calls from last night. First, I need to pay tribute to Crank Yankers and a crazy guy that dresses as a girl and does video prank calls (he goes by the name FireX 51485). I wasn't sure how the puppet thing would work for Crank Yankers, but it's a nice combination. However it's also fun to see the actual caller… FireX dresses up with makeup and wigs, and occasionally cracks her (whoops) himself up. Which makes you feel like you're part of the joke.
Revver Prank Call is now one of my hottest videos "earning" video with 1500 views (I get many more views at YouTube but make no income). As a result, I have decided to experiment with prank calls some more. I'll be archiving the series on CubeBreak's new prank section. So here are my tips (some of which I violate, but I'm learning):
1) Find a good location and recording method. My car is working well because the acoustics are okay. Last night I bought a $20 speaker phone from Radio Shack (Fone Free) that has a mike which suctions to the ear speaker of any phone and broadcasts the audio to an FM Radio. At home, I stay low-tech with the speaker phone because it's easier and gives it a more forgivable amateur feel (vs. piping audio of phone separately). Put the phone on camera so people can have an image of the caller.
2) Sketch out some primary bits. I usually have an outline with some "stand-by" lines depending on which direction it goes. This is especially important because the challenge is to keep them on the phone. This has never been more true than with the YouTube lady. Don't get caught looking at the outline during the call (I violate this one regularly because I can't commit them to memory). Rehearsal is best, but sometimes it takes a dozen calls to get the person live, and by then I've forgotten the script again.
3) Decide how you involve the viewer. I've been playing it "straight" with occasional glances to the camera and a few screen titles ala Stephen Colbert. The cross dresser above actually cracks himself up and it's very contagious… like those old Carol Burnett shows or when SNL folks start to break down in laughter because of Will Ferrell. Try different voices to keep variety.
4) Keep it short. I edit mine as tight as possible and they're still too long. Although the best viral videos are 20-40 seconds, I feel like a good prank call can go 1-2 minutes. After that, though, we're lost.
5) Have a big finish. This is hard because it relies on the caller. Sometimes I end my videos before the call actually ends… just because it's no fun to watch the call slowly widdle down.
6) Find a good prankee. The CEO of Revver was a good sport, but he was ready for me. Someone high profile is best (who cares about someone from your work or school?), and if you can get them on their cell it's even a better way to catch them off guard.
7) Don't be mean. There's nothing that bothers me more about a prank call than when I feel guilty for watching it because the prankee was tortured. It's more funny to make fun of yourself and let the other person be confused.
8) Roll with it. If the prankee takes you in a different direction, don't fight it. It's far more interesting to see how the pranker reacts to unanticipated comments from the prankee. Someone who did improv comedy once told me that you never contradict the other… every one of your lines must be a fluid reaction to theirs.
9) The dramatic pause is very tough but effective. I'm usually afraid to do this because the caller may hang up or try to bring the call to closure. But sometimes a well-timed pause will give you your best sound byte.
10) Don't forget to get permission. I sometimes send the person the video so they can evaluate it before giving me permission. But my goal is to remove the video if asked. Technically you're not supposed to record someone without their permission but as long as they grant retroactive permission if seems okay.
Let me know if you try one… I'll post it on CubeBreak.