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
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.
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.
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]