It’s so funny, our world and our business is so small. I came across Chris online as we have mutual connections on Instagram. I checked out his profile and watched his reel online and was really impressed with his style and personality. After reaching out to Chris to see if he’d like to chat with SMG, he was 100% on board right away. Little did I know, he was from Pickering, Ontario! For those that don’t know, I am also a Pickering resident and loyal supporter of our town. Anyways, back to Chris, he is living his dream job down in Miami, FL interviewing some of the biggest stars from Hollywood. His story goes to show that if you’re passionate and hard working, this business can take you anywhere. Here is his story.
Taylor Shold: Tell us a little about yourself, who are you and what do you do?
Chris Van Vliet: I have been working as the Entertainment Reporter for Deco Drive on WSVN-TV in Miami, FL for the last 3 years. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to live my dream of working in TV and radio for the past 13 years, working and living in 5 markets and in 2 countries.
Ever since I was a kid I have always been fascinated by radio and television. When I was 4 years old, I used to pretend I was a radio DJ and record “radio shows” on my Fisher Price tape recorder. I grew up in Pickering, Ontario and went to Wilfrid Laurier University for Communication Studies and during my final year, I had this epiphany that after I graduated, the real world was going to hit like a ton of bricks. The days of sleeping in until 10 or 11am and deciding whether or not I felt like going to class would quickly become a thing of the past. I spent that year getting as much “real world” experience as I could to help me land a job after graduation. During that year, I wrote for my campus newspaper, volunteered at a radio station, volunteered at a television station and then landed a job making $8/hour as a board operator for an AM talk radio station. That passion and go-getter attitude helped me land an internship the day after I graduated and two weeks later, on my 22nd birthday, they put me on the air and I started working as one man band style reporter.
Taylor: Shold Media Group is all about networking, how has it helped your career?
Chris: My whole career has been a series of opportunities I have created for myself, including my current job at WSVN-TV. If you sit back and wait for things to come to you, it’ll never happen. WSVN wasn’t willing to pay to fly in candidates for auditions, so I happened to have a trip booked to Disney World and asked if they could fit me into their schedule if I was willing to make the 3.5 hour drive from Orlando to Miami. I wanted to at least have them meet me in person rather than just say no after watching my demo reel. They agreed, so I extended my trip, changed my flight to fly out of Fort Lauderdale instead of Orlando, and paid a huge fee for my rental car just for the chance to meet with them. And hey, it worked!
That idea can be applied to literally anything in life, and anything in the broadcasting industry. Going that extra mile will always speak volumes. You also never know how a connection you make today might affect your future. That woman who just followed you on Instagram or that guy you were introduced to at a party might end up being your future co-worker or boss. You never know who might be keeping tabs on you and your career from afar.
Taylor: You have a very strong social media presence, how important is it for people looking to establish themselves in the industry to be active online?
Chris: We are living in a completely new age of communication. Social media has been a complete game changer, not only in the way that we get consume information but also in the way we share and react to it. It’s funny because we have become so accustomed to this technology, but it’s really just getting started. Just 11 years ago, we didn’t even know what an iPhone was… now we do everything on it.
With that in mind, it’s important to be aware of how powerful of a tool social media can be. With it, you have access to an unlimited worldwide audience but the biggest mistake that people make is not treating it as a two-way conversation. Too many people just post photos or statuses and wait for the likes and comments to come in. That’s the equivalent of talking but never listening.
People like people who are like them or are like who they want to be. Building your personal brand is important, but it will only work if it is authentic. If you are coming across as fake or trying to act like someone you are not, people will see right through it.
Taylor: In your opinion, what makes someone great on-camera and how can people get better?
Chris: I think the more relaxed and conversational you are, the better. Long gone are the old school days of having a “news voice” especially in this day and age where anyone can go live on Facebook or YouTube at the push of a button. With anything, the best way to get better is by repetition. Keep doing it and keep watching yourself and make mental notes of things you like and don’t like. But believe me, I know it’s painful to watch yourself on camera for the first year or so. You’ll be saying things like “Do I really do that with my eyebrows? What am I doing with my hands? Why does my voice sound like that”.
Also, feel free to reach out directly to people you look up to in the broadcasting industry and ask them for constructive criticism. You’ll find most are willing to help!
Taylor: You have a great, fun interview style…How do you loosen up your interview subjects so they are more likely to be receptive to your questions?
Chris: I’ve never liked interviews that felt like interviews. We’ve all seen them, it’s just question/answer, question/answer, question/answer and then it ends. Whether you have someone for 1-minute on a red carpet, or you are able to sit down with them for 20-minutes, you need to remember it’s just two humans having a conversation and you should treat it that way. I try to ask questions that I genuinely want to know the answers to and also try to think outside the box and create a moment with that celebrity.
When I interviewed Gerard Butler for the action movie LONDON HAS FALLEN, I asked him about how he perfected the art of a movie punch. Instead of having him tell me about it, I sat forward in my chair and asked if he could show me and demonstrate on me! The worst he could say is no, right? But in an instant, he sat forward and delivered a knockout movie punch right to my face! After adding a sound effect in the edit suite, it made for some great television!
Taylor: When applying for on-air jobs, how can people stand out from the crowd?
Chris: You can make yourself stand out, by actually standing out. Prove to them why you are the perfect fit for that job. If you’re applying to host a home makeover show, tell them in your cover letter about how you remodeled the bathroom with your dad when you were 18. Or better yet, tailor your demo reel or the videos you send them to show your strengths for that job. If you are applying for a sports reporter position, show them your best sports reporting stuff, even if it never actually aired.
When making a demo reel, keep in mind that the person doing the hiring will likely only watch the first 10-15 seconds of it. That means lead with your absolute best clip. The one where you look the best on air and sound confident. Even if it’s not your biggest or most important story, that’s ok.
Taylor: Finally, what’s your best piece of practical advice for those looking for a career on-air?
Chris: One word: Passion. Whatever you do in broadcasting and in life in general, do it with passion. If you are passionate about broadcasting, go for it. Do it. Create opportunities for yourself. Learn and grow every single day.
MUST READ: So You Want To Be On TV?
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