As a videographer, you will undoubtedly at some point in your career, be required to film an interview. Talking-heads, vox pops, testimonials et al. are bread and butter to any corporate and commercial filmmaker. More often than not, however, the subject will be a person unfamiliar with being on camera.
Below are my top five tips on how to film an interview and working with such individuals, that will help you obtain a better performance that does your production justice.
How to Film an Interview.. it’s all about the Questions!
The most prominent fear people new to speaking on camera have is not knowing what to say. When approaching someone to give a testimonial at a live event, for instance, reassure them that you’re only going to ask questions to which they know the answers. You’re not there to catch them out or grill them about topics outside their sphere of knowledge. Mostly, these will be related to themselves and the event taking place. These are simple things like asking them to introduce themselves, what they do for a living, what brought them to the event and how they felt it went. If you find yourself asking a ‘yes/no’ question, always include ‘and why?’ for a more rounded answer. If you’re working alongside a client representative who’ll be leading the interview, brief them on your chosen techniques before the first subject arrives. Establishing a good rapport with those you’re working alongside makes your job more natural, and might allow you to focus more on technical aspects, rather than content considerations.
Make Use of the Soundcheck
Whether you’re using a clip-on lapel or shotgun microphone to film an interview, you’ll need to get a level test from your subject. This is the perfect opportunity to offer some direction, especially if the recording is taking a Q&A format. In most pieces with an unseen interviewer, the questions themselves won’t feature in the final cut, so they have to be included within the subject’s answers. My favourite thing to do when checking mic levels, is to tell the subject the most important thing they can do, is repeat the question within the answer, with the example “What did you have for breakfast this morning?”
Ideally, their reply begins “For breakfast this morning I had…” which is a simple way of establishing the format of answers you need, and they’ve also spoken long enough to get a good audio level reading. If not, ask further questions related to their answer, until you have your technical needs satisfied.
Listen To The Answers Given
While this might sound like a given, sometimes after a long day of shooting, it’s hard to concentrate on what people are saying, particularly in loud environments. Without a client or dedicated interviewer, however, it’s down to you to make sure you’re getting the answers required. If possible, obtain a list of questions from your client, and ensure you get through them as appropriate to each person. But it’s also essential to listen, as they may comment on a broader aspect than previously anticipated, or allow exploration into a personal moment unique to them. This method can be especially fruitful when recording customer testimonials when human experiences are key to your film’s story.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Repeat Takes
In live event scenarios, all sorts of background interference can occur. Even if you film an interview in a relatively quiet office, loud noises can interrupt filming. In fact, it’s difficult to think of any situation that can be entirely free from ambient, human or technical problems. If you didn’t get a clean run of an answer, it’s OK to ask them to repeat the answer, but stress it doesn’t have to be verbatim. Because you’ve been listening, you can remind them of the key phrases they used, which will hopefully jog their memory. Try not to get hung-up on getting the same lines as before – save that for working with professional actors and presenters!
If the individual is struggling to get their words out or becomes frustrated, it’s OK to move to the next question and suggest coming back to it at the end. If you need a re-do because of a technical hitch, sometimes it’s best, to be honest. Apologise, reassure them their performance was perfect, but either you made a mistake, or you don’t want to risk losing that answer due to a gremlin in the works. Correct the fault and always stay positive about how well they’re doing.
It’s a cliche of course, but crucial to how the subject appears on camera, and it starts with you being welcoming when first introduced. Forgot about the technical hitches, troublesome clients and uncomfortable conditions of filming so far on the day, and be happy to meet your latest on-camera guest. Under almost all circumstances, the speaker should appear to be pleased with what they’re saying to visually convey the positivity of their message. If you’re smiling and nodding encouragement from behind the camera, they will, in turn, feel more comfortable and engaged.
If you’ve established a relaxed atmosphere from the start of the interview, it’s okay for you to say with a smile “That was great, the message was perfect, but let’s try being happy about it.” An opportunity to share a laugh can break the tension, but naturally, don’t get too personal.
Overall, the key skills needed to film an interview and working with inexperienced camera subjects is not to transfer any stress of the filmmaking process over to them. If you have to pretend that issues with a tricky subject that require retakes are instead technical faults, then so be it. Reassure them and respectfully suggest alternate ways of achieving the message goals. If that means getting a few quality lines over quantity, use your experience and creativity towards how best to format their responses in the final videos. In the age of social media, having 30 seconds of a great soundbite is just as valuable as a three-minute monologue.