Conduct an Interview

Filming an interview is more than just filming someone answering questions. It requires a good interviewer, who understands the social aspects of interviewing and can make the interviewee feel at ease.

Select Interviewee

First, find a suitable Interviewee. The best interviewees are passionate and articulate when they speak. If you get bored listening to someone, chances are the audience for your film will be bored too!

If it’s possible to do so, have the Interviewee sign an Appearance Release before you begin filming. If it’s not possible, do it after the interview. An Appearance Release gives you permission to use the footage you shoot.

Decide on your Questions

Generate a list of questions to ask. What information do you want viewers to learn from the person you have chosen? Try to think of open-ended questions rather than ones that produce yes or no answers.

Determine the Location

Think about where you will conduct the interview. How can the background communicate additional information about the person you are interviewing? Also, take into account the proper lighting and sound that the place will allow.

Arrange to film your subject in the place you have chosen to conduct the interview.

Framing your Camera Angle

Position the person to achieve a shot that looks good to you. Make sure you can see the person’s face.

  • The conventional framing for an interview is a medium close-up (MCU, from the center of the chest to the head). Sometimes we also see them framed in close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots. Demonstrate each shot by drawing it.
  • Many people feel it is awkward or amateurish to leave too much headroom at the top of the frame. In a medium close-up, the eyes are positioned 1/3 of the way down the frame, which leaves little to no headroom. Demonstrate by drawing.
  • The background you choose for an interview can make a shot more informative and is therefore very important. Try to pick a background that reinforces the content of the interview or tells us something about the subject. Try not to position the interviewee in front of a window.

Other compositions include:

  • Medium Shot (MS): From the waist to the head.
  • Close-Up (CU): Only the head and face
  • A Note on Wide Shots (WS): A wide shot emphasizes the space instead of the subject. In many cases, the subject’s whole body is included in the frame. Wide shots are generally not appropriate for interviews because we cannot easily see the Interviewee’s expression. There are, however, times where a wide shot is appropriate for an interview. When there is something of special importance in the background, and it cannot be framed in a closer shot, then it is appropriate to use a wide shot for the interview.

If you are shooting more than one interview in the same place, try to alternate where you place Interviewee in the frame, from left to right.

In addition to the interview itself, it can be useful to get other shots:

  • B-Roll: Are images that the editor will cut together over the Interviewee’s voice. Usually, they relate to the subject being discussed by the Interviewee. For example, if the Interviewee is discussing the architecture of the Potala, then you would want t get some shots of the entire building, as well as close-ups that illustrate the finer details.
  • Cutaways: These are usually Close-Up shots recorded with a second camera (if one is available). Cutaways isolate details about the Interviewee, such as hand movements or facial expressions. The purpose of taking cutaways is to give the editor more choices.

Setting up for Shooting

  • Find a suitable background to place the interviewee in front of. The background is your chance to make the shot more informative. It should either reinforce the content of the interview or echo the character of the interviewee.
  • Set up your camera and position the Interviewee against the background. This is perhaps the most difficult part of filming interviews. Here are some tips:
    • Always make sure that the Interviewee is brighter than the background. If the background is too bright, then the Interviewee’s face will be too dark. Here are some additional tips for avoiding too bright a background:
      • Never position the Interviewee with a window (or other light source) behind him/her. If you can, try to have the Interviewee facing toward the window (or light source)
      • If you are outside, film with the sun at the Interviewee’s back. Use the PhotoFlex to bounce light into their face. This will eliminate “Raccoon Eyes”.
    • Position the Interviewee. Place the Interviewee slightly off center.
    • Position the Interviewer. If the Interviewee is on the RIGHT side of the image, position the Interviewer on the LEFT side of the camera. If the Interviewee is on the LEFT side of the image, position the Interviewer on the RIGHT side of the camera. In either case, the Interviewer should sit or stand as close to the camera as possible.
    • Tell the Interviewee to always look at the Interviewer, and never directly into the camera.
    • The camera should be positioned at or just below eye level of the Interviewee.
    • Once you are satisfied with the image, you can begin the interview.

Starting Recording

Make sure your sound is clean.

You are now ready to begin filming. Ask your subject if he or she is ready. Press record on the camera. It should roll for a few seconds before you begin to speak.

Recording

  • The camera operator should always start recording button before the Interviewer begins asking questions. To guarantee this, Interview should NEVER start asking questions until the camera operator gives the signal.
  • The camera operator should not move the camera or use the zoom while the Interviewee is speaking unless there is a reason to do so. If you want to change the image size, do your adjusting while the Interviewer is asking his or her next question. Some appropriate times to move the camera or zoom during an interview are:
    • If the Interviewee starts becoming emotional: It is appropriate to zoom in here so we can see the Interviewee’s face in more detail.
    • If the Interviewee moves while he/she is speaking: It is appropriate to move the camera to keep a good composition
    • If the Interviewee points to something off screen: Sometimes it is appropriate to zoom out to keep the hand movements in the frame. Use your own judgment.
  • Always pay close attention to the sound in the headphones. Watch out for distracting background noises. Change locations if you have to. If there is an unexpected background noise that overpowers the Interviewee’s response, have the Interviewer ask the question again.
  • Never stop recording until at least 10 seconds after the Interviewee has stopped talking. You never know – they might add something important. You also need to give the editor a little bit of extra time so they have enough footage to make the cut in the right place.

Additional Footage

  • During the interview, try to get cutaways of the intervieweeʼs hand or other details. A good time to do this is between questions, or by asking some less important questions at the beginning or end.
  • Try to communicate a sense of the space that the Interviewee is in. Show its mood, nature, and characters with wide-shots and detail shots.
  • Get some footage of the character in action. For example, if you are interviewing a shopkeeper, you might want to get some observational footage of a transaction with a customer. It is helpful to think in terms of beats. You may want to capture him/her greeting a customer, helping with their items, money changing hands, and the customerʼs response. Get a variety of shot types (wide, medium, close).
  • If the subject talks about anything specific, try to capture it in a natural way.

Interviewer Guidance

Begin the interview. Feel free to use your list as a guide for the questions. Here are some pointers:

  • Are you comfortable and sitting at the same level as your subject?
  • Can you hear the subject?
  • Are you showing respect?
  • Are you asking clear, short questions?
  • Are you asking leading questions – does your question suggest an answer that is more than “yes, no, or I don’t know”? Never ask questions that produce “yes or no” answers. Instead ask open-ended questions. Yes and No answers are almost never useful in final film.
  • Remind the Interviewee to speak in full sentences. Ask the Interviewee to repeat him/herself if necessary.
  • Do not speak over the end of the Interviewee’s answer. Similarly, tell the Interviewee not to begin talking until you are done asking your question.
  • Are you listening to what your subject is saying, and asking good follow-up questions based on the answers they have just given?
  • Are you allowing enough time for the person to answer?
  • Try to be silent in your acknowledgement while your subject is responding, by nodding or smiling, so that your voice doesn’t get recorded over the answer (don’t say “yes” or “uh-huh”). Whatever sounds you make will be picked-up by the microphone. But if it is necessary, feel free to respond verbally.
  • Is the interview flowing well, or does it jump from one subject to another without purpose?
  • How does it sound? It may be worth doing a sound check before recording too much. Play back the tape and listen with headphones. Is there wind or too much background noise?
  • Does it look as if your subject is enjoying the interview?
  • Are you relaxed and maintaining eye contact? Maintain eye contact with the Interviewee at all times. This will prevent them from looking into the camera and keep them looking in the proper direction.
  • Is your body language appropriate?
  • Help the Interviewee to feel at ease. If he or she is nervous, it will show on camera.

Concluding the Interview

  • Continue to roll at least 10 seconds after the interviewee answers the last question.
  • When you are finished with interview, thank your subject and replay the tape for him or her.
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