Video calling overseas: getting in touch abroad

Speaking to friends and family abroad isn't cheap. Just a phone call to the United States from the UK can cost as much as 19p a minute on a BT landline. Skype does away with those costs altogether and adds in video for good measure. 

Skype Week on Pocket-lint is here to help you get more out of the service. We have some case studies of clever ways Skype users abroad have kept in touch and even run businesses. 

Skype a family around the world

Carina Pettersson has three daughters. One lives in London, one in Stockholm and the third in New York. For Carina, keeping in touch with all of them is important. The closest to her is her daughter in Stockholm, but even that is a three-hour train ride away. 

Using Skype Premium, Carina is able to video chat with all three of her daughters at once, as well as to ring them over the Skype app. She even bought an iPhone especially so she could use Skype to call her daughters.

"Skype has helped me a lot, since two of my three daughters live abroad. It would have been too expensive to talk as much and as long over the phone."

Because it's free, Carina is able to chat to her daughters for as long as she wants, without having to worry about the costs of an hour on the phone to New York. This way she never feels left out from the goings on of each of their lives, no matter how far away they are.

"It does make the world a lot smaller, and the fact that I can see makes it so much better than just a phone call."

The video element of Skype calling is what is really important to Carina, enough for her to go out and buy a webcam and mic for her computer.  Her daughters mainly use Mac computers with Facetime HD cameras, bringing the best possible video clarity back to Mum over the web. 

Skype is an easy enough app for anybody to get to grips with. The service is set up precisely for this kind of use, where you want to chat for long periods to people overseas. It isn't limited to the computer though, as Carina points out.

"One of my favourite things is that the Skype app lets me send messages to my daughters. They can reply when they want."

Having access to the app means that Carina doesn't come across as too much of an eager parent. She can use Skype to send an IM that her daughters will respond to when they have time. One of the daughters even has notifications set up on her iPhone so Skype pops up whenever Carina sends a message - just as a text message would, except this time its free.

Before Skype Carina didn't really have a way to chat to her family other than conventional phone calls and post. She doesn't consider herself massively tech savvy yet the app is simple enough to understand. 

Skype auditions for actors

With video calling an increasingly important professional tool, one industry that’s been taking to it of late is show business. With often vast distances for actors to travel from one coast to another in the States in order to attend a casting, agents and producers have begun auditioning then remotely using Skype.

There are some obvious drawbacks that go with the convenience, however, most notably for the actors. You don’t get quite that same, in-the-room connection with someone over an internet video call as you do in person and, as such, you need to be aware to keep up the energy as if you were in the flesh.

Keep the audition with the feeling that you’re just sitting at home and you’re less likely to get the part. Lighting is also a key variable that might do you a disservice if you don’t pay attention to it. You can take a look at our five pro lighting tips for video calls article for a better idea of how to overcome that one.

Auditions over Skype are also taking off in the UK too. While casting directors in London might expect you to make the effort to show up at their offices, one drama school in Finchley known as The Bridge Theatre Training Company is just starting out at inviting potential foreign students to do speeches and monologues over Skype.

“Obviously, we can’t necessarily have our agents in every country in the world holding live auditions for us,” explains Mark Akrill, artistic director at The Bridge.

“We haven’t started yet but we’re hoping to get a decent wide shot of the candidates so that we can see how they use their movement and their bodies on stage, rather than just relying on close-up performance.”

It certainly sounds like a wide-angle, HD webcam wouldn’t be such a bad investment for any actors looking to use Skype.

“Obviously, there’s a danger that there might be a problem with the internet connection and call quality. Also, it’s important for me to see if someone’s trainable and directing them over Skype might be tricky, but if I’m sure I can give a few limited notes and a simple exercise or two to see if they’ve got the essentials.”

Akrill admits that it won’t always be possible to offer someone a place at The Bridge over a video call audition but it seems like a good guide on whether it’s worth the candidate travel to London to take the audition further.

If you think that this process is only for artists cutting their teeth in the industry, then think again. Reportedly, Mila Kunis landed her role in Black Swan after auditioning for Darron Aronofsky over the internet.

Perhaps most telling of all though is this account of actress, make-up artist and blogger Tiffany Browne after she had her first casting over Skype. As she admits later in the piece, this is definitely an example of how not to do it:

“This morning I had an audition via Skype for a web series. This was not only my first time auditioning this way but it was also my first time using Skype period. So, even though I was in my own home wearing my pajama bottoms, (I did look nice from the waist up!!) I was nervous. I have done several video auditions with my webcam, but to have the casting director on my computer live, seeing into my home, my personal space, at that very moment, made me feel a little uncomfortable; maybe vulnerable is the word I'm looking for.

"The nerves definitely took over this time. To start, the casting director mentioned that my microphone sounded muffled but I couldn't figure out why. I turned up the volume and I guess that fixed the problem. Then, I had no idea if I was supposed to look at the camera or the person on the screen, and the whole thing just felt awkward."

Clearly a bit of practice is needed before you get going with Skype auditions proper then. And it's a great way for actors to save themselves a lot of travelling time. As Akrill says, its perfect to "see if they've got the essentials".

Skype for overseas professionals

One of the most obvious uses for voice calling abroad is for business. Some jobs require being part of a company in that requires you to be based abroad. For something like that, Skype can be invaluable.

Working as a foreign correspondent for a news publication, for example, revolves entirely around your contact with publications in different countries. Julian Ryall is a journalist based in Japan, who works in print, online and for TV and radio. For Ryall, video calling is a vital asset to his job.

"For Global Radio News, which has TV and radio clients around the world and needs freelance contributors at the drop of a hat when something happens, it's easy and convenient, even when you're on the road. I used video calling quite a lot in north-east Japan after the earthquake and tsunami," he says.

Travelling across Japan, Ryall needs to be able to contact people to send information as quickly as possible, should a story break. The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan saw Skype proving invaluable, not only to journalists but to people across the country.

Kathryn and Bob Dilenschneider, teachers based in Tokyo, used Skype to hook up with a US-based news provider called 10TV and described the earthquake in detail. In fact, Skype became so invaluable during the crisis that Skype itself issued an 80 yen calling voucher to every Japan-based customer so they could phone loved ones.

"Anywhere there's a connection, I can file a story," says Ryall.

The same applies to business, where a deal might need to be done on a train or while away from the office. Provided the time difference isn't too great, Skype can make the connection.

Modern journalists have to adapt to a world where video calling and sending stories over Skype is the norm.

"It's less so for a  journalist, like myself, who is primarily print with the radio/tv as a sidebar. I'm old-fashioned, I suppose, but the new generation of journalists will simply have to be up to speed on this sort of technology or they'll be left in the dust by the competition," explains Ryall.

So chances are, if you work abroad, video calling is already going to be an important part of your day-to-day work. If it isn't, as Ryall says, it is definitely worth getting up to speed on it.

Pic: Webwizzard



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