Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Documentary Video Interview: How to Respond to the Answers

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So far I’ve covered 2 more guidelines in getting a good documentary interview: preparing and directing the person you are interviewing and asking the right questions. The 3rd and last guideline in my series on shooting documentary style interviews involves how you respond to what the interviewee is saying. Responding to the questions and getting a powerful interview requires you to listen and be engaged in what the person is saying.

You may be nervous too but it is important to put that aside and be focused and engaged in the interview and not just be the person who is reading the questions aloud and waiting for the answer to end to ask the next one. Keep in mind that it’s easy to “tune out” while you wait for him or her to finish so you can move on to your next question without you really listening to what is being said. When that happens, important followup questions may not be asked. Make sure you are having a 2 way conversation.

If the interviewer is not on camera, it is important that person keeps quiet when the other person is talking. You don’t want there to be other sound in the background. (Watch out for the “hmmmm”, “Oh right..”) It’s good for the interviewer to nod, and make gentle facial expressions, just have him or her stay silent. NOTE: If you or the interviewer are part of the story and the camera has both of you in the shot, then responding as you would in a normal conversation is okay and makes sense.

But whatever you do, don’t interrupt and talk over the person. I feel one of the worst things you can do as an interviewer is take over the interview yourself. I really hate those “news” shows where they do that. I really want to hear what the person has to say. The more they talk – the better interview you’ll get. While it’s important to converse, being rude and interrupting isn’t valuable to your audience.

Make sure you refer to those follow up questions you came up with when you were preparing your questions. You should have come up with 2 or 3 possible followup questions to ask, depending on the answer. This really helps if the conversation is dragging and/or you’re not really getting what you want from the interviewee.

Before you ask your questions, think how you can phrase them in a way that will allow the interviewee to expand. For example, asking the person, “Why are you so passionate about this [subject]?” is good but rephrasing it like this, “What are the three top reasons we need to learn about this [subject]?” will probably result in a more powerful and well thought out answer. This may take more time and require retakes, but it will be so worth it in the end.

Seek to understand what your interviewee is saying. While you want to understand the topic or what’s happening, like what did this person do and why is it important to share, it is much more interesting, both for you as the interviewer and your audience to know why does this person do what they do, and how. Study some professional interviewers like Oprah or Barbara Walters. You’ll notice that they ask questions to learn not just the what but also the how and why of the person or process. They know that to fully understand everything, their audience will be more engaged and interested.

You want emotion to come through. The best way to do this is to wait until the person finishes his or her response to ask another question. Also don’t stop filming when the interview is “over” – some of the best stuff happens if you continue with the conversation. This is especially important when you have someone who is nervous and never got quite comfortable with the interview. Here’s a trick: When you’re done with your official questions, say “OK, that’s the end of the interview” but make sure the camera continues to roll. Psychologically, the person no longer feels the “pressure” of the interview and may loosen up. This may be when you’ll get the best stuff.

Most of all, don’t forget who you are conducting this interview for. Your audience. Enlightening your audience should be your number one priority. You want to get answers that are meaningful from the person you’re interviewing that will serve those who will consume that content.

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