Your Content Will Continue to Fall Flat Unless You Become a Better Interviewer

Your Content Will Continue to Fall Flat Unless You Become a Better Interviewer

If you’re a videographer that runs your own business, you know that you have to be a jack of all trades. You know that your skills can’t be limited to just creating great images. You need to be good with business, networking, and a whole lot more. What you might not realize is that for the vast majority of self-made videographers, you’ll need to be good at conducting interviews.

I can already sense the cringes coming from long-time video pros. The gut-reaction for many professionals is to shy away from conducting interviews yourself. You want to stick to your lane and usually, bring the client along to ask the questions, and retrieve the right content. That in mind, I have this piece of advice: you’re only as valuable as your skill set.

Don’t allow tradition or what you think to be “how things should go” to cloud your vision from what will make you a more complete package for an agency or client. And on top of that, clients oftentimes have no real context for how to obtain the content that they’re aiming for. When someone comes to you with a project, you should be able to provide a clear vision of how to create the best possible product, and that has never ended (and will never end) with just the visuals. Eliciting great human responses on camera is integral to creating next-level content.

On top of that, this pushes your craft to a place where you can be hired for different types of projects — this means more money. If greater content and more money doesn’t whet your appetite then I would suspect that you might not be owning your business for too long.

One caveat: This is not to say that you should interject your ideas for an interview when it’s not needed. You’re going to be on plenty of sets where you are hired solely for your ability to light and compose, but having these skills makes you valuable and a more attractive option when you’re not in those environments.

What Does a Good Interview Look Like?

The way that I quantify the success of an interview hinges on the way your subjects feel. Great responses don’t happen unless your subject is open to speaking in that manner. And that usually is reliant on a few factors that are (usually) easily controllable. The first is pretty obvious.

Make Sure Your Subject Is Comfortable

I don’t want to linger on this, but it’s worth mentioning because again, this is the first step and key to getting great responses. What may not be so obvious are the decisions that this encompasses. For instance, if you’re in a small room, LEDs might be better than Tungsten as the heat in the room might be a distraction. You’d be surprised, but often, wireless lav mics might be better than a boom/shotgun mic. The visual distraction is a visual reminder that this is an interview and could make someone uncomfortable. These aren’t hard rules, but if you’re interviewing subjects that aren’t used to being on camera, these are important details. Don’t underestimate them.

Validate Your Subject’s Authority to Discuss a Topic

Modesty isn’t great on camera. When you’re interviewing someone, you want them to recognize the power of their expertise and use it to communicate something. Whether it’s a construction worker or a famous artist, you want to give them the license to speak their mind and to use their experience to inform you and the audience. Often, this is as simple as some subtle flattery. Ask them about what gets them excited in what they do and ask questions. Be interested. People that don’t feel they’re interesting, won’t tell you what might be interesting about what they do.

Don’t Be Afraid of Pauses

One of the traps that I fall into a great deal when interviewing subjects is a fear of silence. As with everything, there’s a level of silence that qualifies as “too much,” but if you ask a question and your subject finishes responding, waiting just a moment gives them a second to add more or change direction. You would be surprised what you can get, or the productive tangents you can take, if you just wait a breath before continuing.

Be as Conversational as Your Format Allows

Listen, most people aren’t used to talking in a question and answer format. When you ask questions, they think of it like a test instead of just a conversation. The best way of creating this is to sit your subject down and talk to them, get them loose, and then casually start rolling. When interviews are usually set before your subject arrives, there’s no reason to not consider the way you start interviews.

Before you’re rolling, one of the greatest ways to loosen up a subject is just to pretend like you don’t know much about them (unless it’s obvious you shouldn’t act that way). Ask them questions about things that they absolutely have an opinion about, and possibly things that are not totally on subject. If you can establish a relationship as a friend, instead of an interviewer, you’ll get more in-depth responses that are probably more emotionally immediate. Then just mention that you should start rolling, or if you're shooting alone, roll cam. 

But the conversation doesn’t need to stop once the interview starts. When your subject says something interesting, let them know, in a non-disruptive way. Not all of your questions need to be questions. Asking someone a specific question about a topic is sometimes less effective than just pointing out an interesting element of what they mentioned.

Above all, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when you’re interviewing someone is that all of your responses are based on not just who your subject is, but how they feel about you. It’s your job to create an environment conducive to their comfort, and then conduct yourself in a way that (whether real or not) creates a closeness with your subject.

This may get difficult sometimes if you need to maintain objective distance from your subject. In a lot of documentary work, you’re going to be opposite subjects that you may not want to be “friends” with. However, these tenants all still apply.

Conducting a great interview isn’t about asking the right questions. It’s about setting yourself up for good answers.

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1 Comment

Awesome tips, never thought about this before. I did some interviews last summer about really sensitive subjects and definitely struggle a bit.