I’ve been creating videos for quite a number of years now and I truly believe one of the most valuable skills you can have is the ability to conduct and shoot a professional interview.
During my last trip to DC for a shoot a few weeks ago, one of my interns mentioned that he picked up some helpful tips during our interviews. On the drive home, we discussed the topic of interview principles and I figured I’d share a few of the things that came up.
Talk to Me About…
Back in college I did some news packages with my friend Samantha and one night we were supposed to go interview some players of our school’s hockey team. I ran camera and she conducted the interview. The one thing I remember that she kept including in every question she asked was, “talk to me about…” as an intro to anything and everything.
Those four simple words completely rocked they way I conduct interviews to this day. It’s the easiest way I’ve found to ask a truly open ended question. Instead of asking, “How is the event going today?” or even leading the interviewee with a “What are you hoping to see accomplished with this event?”, you can simply say, “So..Talk to me about this event today…” This allows them to tell you what they find worth “talking” about. Of course if you’re looking for something specific, you can then follow up with a “What do hope to accomplish?”
Say Your Name and Spell It
Have your interviewee say their name and title and also spell it for you before you start the interview. This is a nice way to break the ice a little as they may be nervous. Having a question they obviously know the answer to could help them start talking. This is also gives you a chance to check audio levels without forcing them to make useless small talk. Most importantly, this saves you a step in post from having to double check and email to confirm how “Jacklyn Snicklefritz” spells her name.
I do have to share the one time this principle backfired. My friend was interviewing Jane Seymour and was a little nervous so he started by saying, “Can you say your name and spell it, please?” … pause… Jane said, “You don’t know how to spell my name?” … “Um, yeah, sorry.., that’s fine, we can just get started.” He came back to the studio and told us the story and we still tease him about it. :)
Cut Them Off With a Compliment
Having a long-winded interview is one of the hardest things to deal with. At one time or another, we’ll all have to deal with a situation where your subject just doesn’t stop! Finding a tactful way to cut a person off can be extremely difficult. When waiting for a natural pause where you could possibly interject a subject change, there is often this concern that you’ll be offending or upsetting the person speaking.
This is how I’ve started dealing with it. I’ll put my pointer finger in the air and I’ll confidently say, “Can I just pause you for one second?” (notice I’ll ask if I could pause them which is much softer than telling them to stop). I’ll then compliment them saying something like, “I love what you said about… (fill in the blank), could you maybe explain that further?” or “Could you maybe tell me more about (fill in the blank)?”
It doesn’t really matter what you ask after that point of compliment. You’ve only stopped them to let them know that they’re doing a good job and you’re not trying to cut them off, you’re just enjoying it so much that you want more, but different!… or at least that’s the vibe you should give. Does that make sense? As for jumping in, make sure to physically give them an indication that you want them to pause rather than blurting out “Stop” mid-sentence… something like a raised finger… pointer finger I should say, the other one will offend them, trust me. :)
Shoot Cutaways of Their Hands
Especially when I know I’ll be using a lot of content from an interview, I’ll take a little time at the end to snag a few close up shots of the person’s hands as they talk. If you only have a one camera set up, this is all the more important. By doing this, you give yourself options on the back end when editing. There might be a section where you really have to do surgery on what they say and chop up a sentence to make it flow. This little cutaway b-roll will be a nice visual band-aid to cover up the cuts.
Manage Your Team
If an interviewee is hearing a lot of random instruction from different voices behind the glass, they could easily get distracted…
This last one is a little different, but something I really do feel is worth mentioning. If you have a team working on an interview, there needs to be a main point of contact who greets the interviewee, gets them settled in, and directs them. Everybody else who is setting up cameras or tweaking lights needs to stay focused on their job. This might just be a pet-peeve of mine, but in my opinion if you hire me to run camera for an interview, I’m going to run camera for an interview and try my hardest to be as invisible and non distracting as possible.
Many times you’ll be interviewing someone who isn’t a professional and having a room with four other people that they don’t know staring at them can be intimidating. If I have two guys running cameras for me and somebody else running audio, I’ll be clear before the talent even arrives that they should come to me if the subject needs to speak up or sit still.
If an interviewee is hearing a lot of random instruction from different voices behind the glass, they could easily get distracted, lose their momentum, or simply feel uncomfortable. Personally, my rule is that nobody on the crew should even make eye contact with the talent other than the interviewer. Look at the screen or look at the floor, but don’t look at the subject. It’s much harder to open up and share a personal story with a group of people than it would be talking to one person.
Along the same lines, I’ll wrap up with this… Nothing looks more unprofessional to an interview subject then an arguing or frustrated team. Setting up, conducting, and tearing down an interview can be extremely stressful, especially with the time limits that are often involved. A positive attitude, the ability to problem solve on the fly, and a quickness to find some way to help others when you’ve finished your job; these attributes are invaluable on an interview set!
Now, “Talk to me about some things you like to do when interviewing.” … see what I did there? :)