Effective Techniques for Video Recording Interviews

Interviewing interesting people can be an awesome experience that when done right, will provide impactful insight to your next video project. When done wrong however, you may find yourself asking the client for a do-over or spending hours in the editing room cleaning up mistakes.

I had the pleasure of filming a local BBQ restaurant here in Austin, Texas over the past few weeks as part of a promotional video my company, Simple Cinema, was hired for. The overall goal was to interview the founder/owner about the restaurant which would then be cut to B-roll showcasing the culture and delicious food they make. As always, things never go as planned so I decided to jot down a few tips from my real-world example that may help you during your next interview.

Create a List of Questions

I’d say this is common sense but nowadays you never know. Take the time to write down a series of questions before your interview. I suggest starting with a brainstorm where you write down whatever comes to mind. Once you have a fairly lengthy list, come back and narrow it down to those which have substance. For example, if you are interviewing the owner of a restaurant, you may want to start by asking him how he came up with the idea for the restaurant or what his background was that led him to do so.

The questions should be broad enough that the answer won’t simply be one sentence long. On the flip side, they should be specific enough that your interviewee won’t go on and on for several minutes trying to explain an answer. Asking them what their favorite food is will provide a completely different response than what sort of food has influenced their menu.

If possible, send the questions to your interviewee beforehand for a review. In an ideal world, they will consider their answers which helps avoid undesirable pauses and awkward filler in real time.

Have The Interviewee Repeat Questions and Answers

After asking each question, have your interviewee repeat the question. This repetition not only helps when you get to the editing phase but will also provide a fluid and more graceful transition into their answer. Sometimes it is even desirable to include the question in your edit so it is best to ask for this anyway. If not, cut it out but at least you will have it recorded.

More importantly, pay attention to their answers. Nine out of ten times you will find their response to be riddled with pauses, gaps, and awkward fillers such as “uh” or “umm” which can sometimes be cut from the final edit but not without a painstaking process. Furthermore, it seems that by the second time (or third if necessary) around they will have had a chance to think about what they just said, revise, and repeat with far more clarity.

Introductions and Ending Statements

Always ask your interviewee to state their name and title in a confident and fluid manner. Do this at least three times to ensure you have options to choose from later. The opening statement by an interviewee is important so you’ll want to be sure they sound good saying it.

Possibly more important is finding an outro from your interviewee. This is something we partially missed in our BBQ promo and it sent us scrambling to find closure. This can take many forms but may include a statement of their values, their slogan, or calls to action such as “eat more BBQ.” Having an outro statement will go a long way in helping you end your video in a manner which gives closure to the audience.

Use Multiple Cameras and Audio

If possible, set up at least two cameras for your interview. This could consist of a wide shot which provides context for the location as well as a tight shot which focuses more on the subject and provides a sense of gravity in situations where the

Here is a frame grab from our BBQ shoot. We had one camera with a wider lens, 35mm I believe, to capture some of the background details and give context to our subject.

Here is a screengrab of our tight shot. This camera was just left of our A-camera and had an 85mm lens which really defined our subject.

In addition to providing a variety of angles to cut with, multiple cameras provides safety such that if one camera goes dead or is out of focus, you can hopefully fall back on the other. Having to re-interview a subject is not something you want to find yourself doing as a professional hoping to get repeat business.

The same should be said for audio which is just as important. Lavalier mics are usually your best bet in an interview situation but you should also consider setting up a shotgun mic as well. Have these recording to separate channels, which in post you can mix for optimal quality or use the recording that sounds best. While you’re at it, monitor the sound of the audio with dedicated headphones and be sure the levels never exceed -6 DB for optimal quality.

BTS shot of me getting the boom mic ready for our interview. We also captured audio using a wireless lavalier mic.

Smile and Engage

Most interviewees, even executives who seem to flourish in social situations, will find themselves feeling cornered in an interview. This can lead to a tense look, muddled words or thoughts, and an overall bad appearance on camera.

No one method is a cure all. In my experience, telling them to take a few seconds to compose themselves after each question is asked can help. It is also useful to let them know that they will not conquer each question in one take. There will be several so if they falter, pause and start again either from the top or where they left off.

It also seems to help if you smile periodically throughout the answering phase. Not to the extent of laughing but a slight smile and a nod of the head will re-assure them that they are doing well and you are most likely pleased with their performance. Take a genuine interest in what they are saying and be thoughtful in your responses. If they are important enough to interview, chances are they are passionate about what they do and by showing interest in their topic, oftentimes they will loosen up and act naturally.

Finally, do not gaze continually into their eyes. Remain behind the primary camera at a height which ensures they are focused on the lens and not you. Periodically look up, smile or nod, and continue monitoring the camera. This shows you are paying attention but not so much that it makes them feel cornered.

Take the time to get to know your subjects, particularly in their environments. By showing interest, their true colors will shine through.

Conclusion

While many of these suggestions are what has worked for me, the only way to find your rhythm is to get out and shoot your own interviews. The first one will probably not go so well but I guarantee that your mistakes will not soon be forgotten. Then get back out and try again. People love to tell their stories and you will find no shortage of willing participants. Good luck!

All images used with permission.

[via Christoph Lindemann]

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15 Comments

Patrick Hall's picture

Here is a technical audio question I have for anyone able to answer it. Usually with single interviews we double mic our talent and run those two mics into two different cameras for redundancy. Recently we have been doing a lot of two person conversation interviews and instead using two mics each (4 mics total), we just mic each person once, run each mic into a different camera, monitor the audio on both cameras, and then if something interrupts our audio we have them restart their conversation.

Well the issue I've come across deals with 1) cross talk between mics and 2) sync drift in post production. If the two people are near each other, both mics pick up the audio which causes a natural reverb effect. It's not the end of the world if you can sync the audio perfectly but that brings up problem 2.

I'm noticing when we do long interviews over even 5 mins in length, when I sync the audio tracks up perfectly (using Premiere's "show audio time units" trick), the audio between the two tracks drifts considerably over time. It starts to add a phase/delay/reverb sound to the mix. I've tried stretching the audio but it never lines up perfectly. It's almost as if the bit rate on the audio drifts in and out to match the 23.9 frames per second frame rate of the video....and it doesn't drift in a constant manner.

The same problem happens if I record the audio externally and try to sync in post (which is why we started baking the audio directly into the camera's video files).

The solution I have found is to run both mics into a recorder or mixer and pan one left and the other right and then feed that signal into the stereo mic input of the camera. This guarantees that the two audio sources are 1) separated so we can edit them individually in post and 2) if there is any sync drifting, it happens exactly the same on both mics because the camera sees it as one source.

Has anyone else had this problem and know how to solve it? The latest project I'm working on required me to unlock the audio from the video, use Show Audio Time Units to zoom 1000% into the wav file to sync it, and then every 5 mins make a hard cut and resync one of the drifting audio tracks by the tiniest amount. Sometimes when I move the entire project in premiere after syncing the sync becomes off again. I believe it has to do with the sample rate of the audio being much more precise than the 24 frames per second the video is being split into. It is driving me CRAZY!

Jonathan Krier's picture

It's really weird, I have experienced the same issue, but it seems camera dependent. When I use my DSLR's my audio is always perfectly synced, when I have to use camcorders or such, I get the issue, even single mic'ed. Same audio equipment, same methods, just different cameras. It's like the audio and the frame rate get out of sync. I've yet to figure out why, so I ditch the camcorders every chance I get!

Might be an issue with the sampling rate. Audio that goes along with video should be recorded at 48kHz, otherwise you may get that audio drift issue. If that doesn't help, then I'm out of ideas.

Patrick Hall's picture

Yep, it's on 48kHz at 16bit.

Patrick Hall's picture

I noticed this audio drift issue on one of Peter's latest videos. Sometimes it is synced up and but it drifts and gives you that reverb effect or even a phase effect: https://fstoppers.com/bts/afternoon-backdrop-artist-sarah-oliphant-192349

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

Great article, having shot quite a few video interviews myself, these are some solid guidelines. The video turned out great man. I really enjoyed the cinematic high frame rate shots and the low angle perspectives on the food. I'd love to try some if this guys BBQ!

Mark Bowers's picture

Brian-I really appreciate you taking the time to say so! I remember approaching this business several years ago about making a short for them and being told no. So to finally get the opportunity and have it turn out like I'd imagined was great. Persistence. If you're ever in Austin, give me a shout-we can eat for free now!

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

That's what it takes man. Resilience and persistence. Never been to Austin, but I'll keep that in mind :)

That is one badass video man. I'm starting a job where I will be doing similar stuff, and this post is bookmarked for reference. Thanks!

Mark Bowers's picture

Hey Fredrik! That is really great of you to say man I sincerely appreciate it! If you ever need a second opinion I'm happy to help. Send it my way and good luck!

Thank you Mark, I will keep that in mind when I start making videos 😀

-Fredrik

A Redrock One Man Crew would have really put a nice sheen on that with some subtle camera moves. well done!

Jiksaw Lalmuanpuia's picture

suddenly I feel hungry...

Who don’t love to capture their life’s best moments in camera and build a career in video shooting? Thanks for sharing here effective techniques for video recording interviews.

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