Shooting interviews isn’t easy, especially if you’re working by yourself. It’s hard work just like every other aspect of producing video stories. First, you have to convince the source to appear on camera. You can’t rely on e-mail or phone interviews. You’ve both got to be in the same place having a conversation with the camera rolling. It’ll take lots of persuading to get some sources to agree to go on camera. Others will jump at the chance. After getting them to commit, you’ve got to manage the content of the interview — getting the source to give clear, compelling and candid answers to important questions. On top of all that, you’ve got to manage the production quality (lighting, sound, shot composition) so viewers can clearly see and hear those answers. We’ll focus on the production quality in this post, with a few tips about managing the content.
Before the interview
- Do your research! Learn a lot about the source and how they’re connected to whatever issue/event/story you’re covering. Anticipate the direction of the interview. You might get some nice surprises, but start with a plan and a direction. This will help guide your production choices and give you better content.
- Test equipment – check batteries, cables, lenses, etc.
- Arrive at the location early!
- select backdrop (avoid big distractions)
- select sitting/standing location
- set up tripod, connect mic, set up lights
- Follow SWEFF checklist
- When the source arrives, make small talk while you finish setting up. Just chat while you check the audio levels. This will help both of you relax.
During the interview: Strive for visual variety
Close-up shots are great for interviews. They’re really your “power shot.” They put the attention on the source’s face, especially the eyes (which are the window to the soul). BUT don’t shoot the entire interview in a close-up. You need visual variety, especially if the source is a major part of the story and is likely appear multiple times in the final video. Research shows that viewers lose interest if they keep seeing the same person pop up in a story in the same shot. So you’ll need to adjust the camera angle and framing several times throughout the interview. Here are some things I do to get more variety:
- Start by asking general questions in a wide shot or medium shot. You can continue pre-interview small talk and then smoothly transition into the interview. Or you could start by asking about the location if it’s relevant – “Tell me about this place…” This can help establish the location and help get the source talking. The key is to get them relaxed and comfortable.
- When you hear a good soundbite, pause for a moment before asking the next question and subtly lean over to the camera to change the framing, even if just a little bit. Like moving from a WS or MS to a CU shot. The idea is that you don’t need to stay on the WS or MS after you’ve gotten a good soundbite from that view. Continue with this pattern, making adjustments after hearing useful soundbites. You might even want to pause long enough to move the tripod to a new position to further tweak the framing.
- Look at the screenshots below. They’re from a story produced by a student journalist at Grady College. The source is the main character in a story about medicinal herbs. Each screenshot is from a soundbite in the story. Take special note of the next to last shot (with the jars in the foreground). It breaks the visual pattern and screen direction of the other three shots. It’s a nice way to add variety to a story.
Shoot Active Interviews
If possible, put a wireless mic on the source and shoot part (or all) of the interview while they work or go about their normal routine. This allows you to get soundbites that don’t look like standard interviews. They blend in much more naturally with your b-roll footage. Here’s an example from a story about the UGA Garden. The source is working and being interviewed at the same time. It’s a nice way to get a good soundbite and show the source in action.
More Interview Tips
- Keep the interview conversational. Ask open-ended questions.
- Listen closely and ask follow-ups. If something surprising comes up, follow that thread.
- Anticipate emotion and emphasis. When you feel the source getting into something deep, quietly frame a close-up or extreme close-up shot. Try not to adjust while they’re talking. Try to make these adjustments while asking questions or during short pauses in their answers.
- It’s okay to take breaks. Sometimes a source needs to collect their thoughts or calm their emotions. If it’s a feature story or profile of a private citizen, you can stop and re-start the interview. Investigative reporting is a bit different because the stakes are higher and you’re usually dealing people in power. You’ve got to hold them accountable, so once the interview starts, keep the camera rolling.
- As the interview winds down, ask the source if there’s anything else they’d like to say. This is crucial. They might be eager to talk about something you haven’t asked about. Give them a chance to say it.
- After the last question, leave the mic on the source and shoot an over-the-shoulder (OTS) shot and a reverse OTS shot. You might need these when editing the story. In an OTS shot, the camera is over your shoulder, looking at the source. In the reverse OTS, the camera is over the source’s shoulder, looking back at you.