So far in this series of how to shoot good video interviews we’ve covered making the interviewee comfortable, getting acquainted with him or her and what questions you should ask to get a powerful interview.
One other thing you need to think about is how you want your interviewee to come across. This will determine where you want to put her.
Should she be comfortable and relaxed, authoritative, or in the “hot seat?” Consider the interviewee’s posture and what you want it to be. This will determine whether to shoot her sitting down and the type of seat you will put her in. When people stand, they tend to preach. When they sit, they are more friendly.
A comfortable chair may be what you want but make sure it isn’t too deep. If so, that could relax the interviewee too much and limit her body language. Also couches often block much of the background and are usually too comfortable. People can sink in to overly soft couches and chairs.
A swivel office chair allows them to swing around and has a greater chance of creaking and changing your lighting.
If you are going for the “hot seat”, a stool will work better. An armless chair may tire people for a long interview.
The chair should also “belong” in the situation it is in. Your audience shouldn’t notice the chair unless it is an important prop.
The best chair is one that is quiet, comfortable, dark colored, and appropriate to the location. What seat would be appropriate in the woods – a log, a stump or a rock? If you never see the seat, it makes no difference.
The interviewer, camera operator and other crew present also need quiet chairs.
Our favorite chair to use is an inexpensive, lightweight, padded backless stool that folds flat. It makes people sit up and they don’t spin around on it. We always take it with us on interviews. We’ve had a lot of famous behinds on that stool.
Of course, you need to make the decision of how this interview’s look will fit into your final program. Remember, you are the director!
- Determine the interview’s look – do you want the person to come across as an authority or be comfortable and relaxed?
- If the interviewee will be sitting, have them sit in an appropriate chair for the situation and look.
- Make sure you provide quiet chairs for you and your crew.
Next up in our series…what should your interviewee wear?
This is where it is really important to be prepared. You need to write down the questions you want to ask in advance. The better the question, the better the interview. This is an area where you want to be in control and be professional. If you are winging it, it will show in the quality of the interview.
My advice is that while you might want to give the interviewee an idea of what you’ll be asking, don’t give them the exact questions. Some inexperienced interviewees will try to memorize their answers, which will then sound canned. Let them be spontaneous.
During the interview you’ll want to keep this list of interview questions handy so that you can make sure you cover everything you need to cover. If they or you are nervous, it’s easy to lose focus. They may be thinking ahead to what they want to say and miss a key point. The same can happen to you, you may miss asking them something important.
If you find they are stumbling, it’s okay to have them start over unless this is a live interview. It’s in their best interests to deliver their “lines” well and they’ll thank you for it when they see how good you made them look on camera, even if they seem a bit impatient at the time.
The ideal question is one that requires the interviewee to repeat the question or at least give a complete answer not requiring the question to be included. Sometimes “how about XXX” is enough. The interviewee then will have to explain in his own words what you are talking about. “What do you think about global climate change?” would elicit a better answer than “Do you think global climate change is a conspiracy?” You want to avoid questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
Asking questions that start with what, how, who, when, where and why are good conversation starters. These types of questions elicit detailed answers.
Next we’ll cover what and where you want them to sit…yes, that IS important.
- Think about what you want to get out of the interview and come up with several good questions.
- If you want to give the interviewee a heads up on what you’ll be asking, don’t give them the exact questions you’ve prepared.
- Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a “Yes” or “No.”
- Write these questions down, print them out and have them with you.
- If they stumble and you can do so, have them start over with a new take.
As I shared in my last post on how to make your interviewee comfortable, perfect lighting, a great background, good sound and camera work is nothing if the interviewee is not at ease. One of the best ways to do this is to get to know him or her before you start filming.
If you can, do a little research in advance about the person and their involvement in the topic you’re interviewing them about. This is more easily done if you are scheduling interviews in advance. If you aren’t able to do that, for example you are at an event and are interviewing participants, see if there is any bio or written introduction available so you can familiarize yourself with them in advance. At the very least, make sure you know their name when you introduce yourself! Get the correct spelling of their name and their title and role as well.
It is also good to make sure the interviewee comes into the interview room with make-up and wardrobe already done. I like to have a mirror handy so they can take a look at themselves and make any adjustments to their appearance. You will also have had time to set your equipment up.
Next explain how the video will be used. Being part of “the event” is much better than seeming to be making a documentary for some unknown and possibly negative purpose. Avoid making commitments about editorial control by the interviewee.
As the interviewee sits, keep the chatter going with non-interview “getting to know you” questions while you, the camera operator or coordinator attaches the lavalier mic to the person or adjusts the boom mic.
NOTE: If you are the interviewer and have someone else running the camera, it’s best if that person does not get acquainted with the interviewee. It keeps the interviewee’s attention on the interviewer. You want the camera operator to “disappear” behind the camera. We have found the interviewer-interviewee distance of about seven feet ideal. It’s intimate but not threatening.
Next up…preparing your interview questions.
- Before the interview, conduct research on the interviewee and his or her involvement with the topic.
- Write down their name, title and role so you will have it for the video.
- Have makeup and wardrobe adjustments already done before seating the interviewee.
- Keep a mirror handy so the interviewee can see what they will look like on camera.
- Explain how the video will be used.
- As the interviewee is getting mic’ed, ask non-interview getting to know you questions.