Sunday, December 4, 2016

How To Direct a Great Documentary Video Interview

Director_chairEarlier I shared 13 guidelines to follow in order to shoot a professional looking interview even if you aren’t a skilled videographer or have the budget to hire one. A few of those guidelines focused on getting to know the interviewee, making her comfortable, and the type of questions you want to ask.

Here are 3 more guidelines I’ll be covering over the next few posts for when you are shooting documentary style interviews:

1) Preparing the Interviewee

2) Questioning the Interviewee

3) Responding to the Interviewee

Prepare Your Interviewee

To get a good documentary interview, you want the person comfortable to share not only her knowledge of the subject at hand, but her thoughts and emotions as well. It’s the unknown of what you, and your viewer, will discover that makes a powerful documentary. One of the best things you can do to get your interviewee comfortable is spend some time before the camera starts recording to brief your interviewee for what will follow.

The interviewee may ask you for your list of questions beforehand. Don’t give them the specific questions you have prepared. You want to have to person come across with authenticity, believability and  spontaneity, not like a well-rehearsed paid actor or worse, delivering a flat performance as if she is reading from a script or teleprompter. This isn’t an interview that you want scripted if you want it to be interesting.

However, it is smart to make sure the interviewee knows the topic of your interview and general themes you’ll be discussing. You don’t want someone who isn’t prepared fumbling through her answers either. A response peppered with thinking words, like the “ums” many people say when forming their answers is distracting. It also may make the interviewee more nervous and present herself in a less attractive light than she wishes. When an interviewee has had a chance to consider the subject beforehand, she has been able to give some thought to her responses and will rely less on mid-sentence thinking words when on camera.

Also let her know that you are going to treat the interview like a conversation and reassure her that mistakes can be changed in editing or you’ll repeat it again if you find the error too egregious. Tell her she can ask you if she could come back to certain questions if she felt she needed to clarify her answer.

Make sure she is speaking to you and not the camera. You will do this initially with the way you position the seating. I have also found that if you have an assistant or other people present, ask them to not engage in eye contact with the person and have the camera operator stand directly behind the camera to be less conspicuous. If you can, turn off the red recording light on your camera. If you can’t, then put a small piece of gaffer’s tape over the light. Some people get distracted by this flashing light.

Next post I’ll be talking more about the questioning aspect of directing video interviews.

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