Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Documentary Video Interview: Are You Asking The RIGHT Questions?

October 27, 2015 by  
Filed under All Posts, Interviews


To get what you need from your interviewee, you need to ask the right questions. This is the 2nd guideline in my series on shooting documentary style interviews.

In order to do this, you need to think about what you want to get from the person you are interviewing. First off, prepare a list of 5 to 10 flexible and open-ended questions. This will be your “script” for the shoot and take the interview from start to finish. For each question you should come up with 2 or 3 possible followup questions that might be suitable to ask, depending on the answer. You probably won’t ask them all, but they will be a good reminder just in case the perfect opportunity comes up to dig deeper.

To devise your questions, think in terms of how, why, when, where or what. “How did you get started in this business?” “Why is [topic] so important?” You get the idea. Develop 3 or more themes for your subject to touch on.

While it is important to prepare, you also need to plan on being spontaneous. For a better interview, allow yourself to veer off from questions if the interviewee says something interesting or unexpected that you’d like to explore further. These unplanned “spontaneous” questions and answers can be more powerful than what you had prepared.

When you start recording, ask your questions in a way to ease the person being interviewd into what you want him/her to discuss. Ask him what he had for breakfast, where she is from, how many kids in his family.. anything to get the person talking and comfortable. You’ll gradually lead to more complex questions.

As far as the questions themselves, here are a few basic rules:

Don’t ask YES or NO questions.

Don’t ask more than one question at a time and wait until the person fully answers that question before you jump in with another one.

Phrase the questions in a way that will allow the interviewee to expand on his/her answer. Feel free to delve deeper. Now is the time to use those follow up questions you prepared.

Have the person repeat your question, especially if you will have no narration for your video. This will help you with the video editing and storytelling later during the editing process. For example, you ask, “When did you start to realize that something was wrong?” The interviewee says, “When did I start to realize that something was wrong? It was about a week after I talked to the doctor that I noticed a weird sensation in my fingers.”

Allow for an awkward pause or dull moment. Also, if the person messed up, let him/her start again with the answer.

Do not be disrespectful the person you’re interviewing. You want a person to open up and talk to you, not shut down and possibly not giving you permission to include him/her in your video.

Be aware of breathing or making noises into your microphone while the other person is talking.

Ask the interviewee if he/she has something more to say or didn’t cover as well as he/she would have liked

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