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Whether it’s a documentary, corporate film or for TV, the interview is often the anchor for the narrative. Here are our tips for maximising creative control and ensuring the best footage possible.

There are four key components that should be thought about: 

1. Camera
2. Sound
3. Style
4. Questioning

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CAMERA

When its done, its done!

FRAMING: Let’s start with the need for a really good camera operator. YOU MUST be happy that the person behind the camera is getting what you want. Is the interviewee looking down the lens? Are they looking off camera? What’s in the background? All of these things need to be considered by you as well as the camera man. Remember until you have pressed record, you can change anything.

END USE: Before the record button is pressed you need to be clear about where the film is going to be used. TV? Your website? Social media? Are you throwing it up on the big screen in Piccadilly? All of these have specific requirements when it comes to output, be sure to communicate this to your production company/cameraman.

EXTERNAL INFLUENCES: Usually an interview will be conducted in a controlled situation. If we are talking about a corporate interview you’ll most likely have an office or boardroom, or be in a studio; so there’s reasonable control over what might be happening around the interviewee. If you’re shooting Vox Pops on the street or at a venue it’s more important to be aware of your surroundings and people who could affect these surroundings.

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SOUND

Arguably the most important element of any interview is making sure the sound is ok. You can film an interview which looks bad but the sound is good and you can do something with it. If the sound is bad though, you’ll be fighting a losing battle in the edit suite from the start. .

ENSURING GOOD SOUND: We are always going to say use a good sound person. You and your cameraman have a lot to think about, so having someone else worrying about the sound can’t be underestimated. If the budget is restrictive, and you’ve found a good self-shooting camera man, they’ll monitor the sound during the interview.

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MICROPHONES: How you mic up your interviewee can be an important stylistic choice. Do you show the mic or hide it? This depends heavily on the style of the overall piece. Most reportage show the microphone, conversely it doesn’t really work in corporate films. Whether you show it or not the important thing to remember is consistency.If you show it on one, show it on all.

BACKGROUND NOISE: There is a rule here, and its an important one… if you can hear it, you need to justify it! If there is a pneumatic drill hammering away in the background then you need to justify that noise, so either frame it or wait till its stopped, or contextualise the interview background to justify the noise. The nemesis of the interview is air conditioning. Were possible try and avoid it, but when you cant make sure that it is constant, that way if you capture 30 seconds of room noise you can potentially eliminate it in post production or at the very least minimise it.

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STYLE OF INTERVIEW

Ask yourself one question…How do you want to tell the story?

• To camera – Interviewee looking directly at down the lens
• Scripted – usually uses an autocue, or a professional actor to recite a script.
• Reportage – typically used by the press and for VOX pops.
• Candid – more conversational; this is more used for documentary or corporate work.

Different styles have different benefits and this will impact the content. It’s important to establish the interview style and communicate it to the production company/cameraman long before you’re on set.

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QUESTIONS: Content is king

Scripted? Or unscripted? If you’re making a scripted interview you’re in control of the content; you manage the conversation and your main concern is how it’s being delivered to camera. Auto cues are no guarantee of a good interview, unless the interviewee is experienced in reading from one.

Often the content revolves around the questions being asked. There are a couple of ways to do this.

For example; you might ask someone what they had for breakfast. There are two ways of asking this question both of which inspire a different response.

1. “What did you have for breakfast this morning?”

2. “When you had breakfast this morning did you have eggs? Cereal? Or toast?

Both questions are asking the same thing and yet will get a different response. The type of interview you’re doing will inform the way you ask the question.

LEADING QUESTIONS: The aim of the game is to get people to say what you need to tell your story. So devise the question to illicit the response you need. It’s important never to ask closed questions. Do this and you’re edging into the territory of one word answers and then all is lost.

ANSWER WITH AN ANSWER: Dependent on what sort of interview you’re doing, you may require context to your question. This is often the case when shooting a corporate interview where the question is not heard. In these cases, it’s essential to get your interviewee to frame their answer to the question. For example:

Question: “What did you have for breakfast?”

Answer: “ For breakfast I had…..”

And there you have it…with these questions you’ve inspired the basics of the narrative and achieved what appears to the viewer as a natural conversational response. It will also make your life 100x easier in the edit suite.

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THE ANSWER ISN’T ALWAYS THE ANSWER: You’ve done your interview, you’re happy with the questions, and then you get back to the Edit suite and you feel one of the questions isn’t right or was answered better in a pervious take but the start of that was muffled… Ah well don’t panic; if this happens I want you to think of one phrase; ‘fix it in post’. You can completely change the meaning of a quote by moving elements of it around. You might be able to take the opening of one answer and add it to the closing of another take, and if you cover it with cutaways, or a cut to a tight shot, you have the perfect answer, and the perfect crime!

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