Tuesday, March 15, 2016
The Art of the Interview
As I write this article on a snowy Tuesday morning, a high school student is working on his History Day project in the PLAEA video suite. One element of his project will be an interview with a patent attorney, so he and I have been discussing how to conduct a successful interview.
When shooting an interview to be part of a video project, you have to visualize how it fits in the entire project. Rarely is the entire interview shown in one continuous segment. Rather, the interview is cut into smaller segments, often called “sound bites”.
Before the Interview
Select a quiet location for the interview. Turn off the radio, close the door to block out external noise, do what it takes to eliminate unwanted sounds.
Write open-ended questions. Avoid asking “yes or no” questions; try to ask questions that will draw out the person being interviewed.
If possible, share the interview questions with your intended subject beforehand. That gives them an opportunity to formulate their replies.
Explain to your subject how you plan to interview them. Ask that they give you a second or two of silence after you ask a question and before they reply. That gives the editor a quiet spot to begin the video clip.
Ask the subject to restate the question or include it in their answer. In most instances, the question asked is not used in the final version of a video project, so the subject’s answer needs to stand alone. If you asked the subject what it was like the first time she went skydiving, she might answer, “It was fantastic!” But that sound bite would work better if the answer was, “The first time I went skydiving was fantastic!”
During the Interview
You should sit near the camera, just off to one side. Ask your subject to ignore the camera and look at you as the interview proceeds.
Make your subject feel comfortable. Having that one-eyed camera lens pointing at you can be unnerving, to say the least. Explain to your interview subject that you two are just going to chat for a few minutes. If anyone makes a mistake, you will just go back and answer that question again. “So relax and let’s have a good time while we talk.”
With the camera recording, have your subject say and spell their name and job title (if needed for the project). This video clip won’t be used in your project but it is an excellent way to immediately identify the person in the clip as you work on your editing.
Ask a question and then be quiet while your subject answers. Give encouragement in the form of non-verbal feedback. Smiles and nods of encouragement from you are fine, but the audience doesn’t need to year you saying, “Uh-huh” in the background.
If your subject’s answer is too long, ask them to re-phrase it and answer it again. Your goal here is to keep the sound bites short.
Listen to the answers and be prepared to ask follow-up questions. Years ago, I was the camera operator for an educator who was interviewing a stunt woman. The stunt woman answered a question about a movie she worked on and finished her answer with, “And that was the time I broke my back during filming.” The interviewer nodded and then asked the next pre-written question. It would have been better for the interviewer to ask a follow-up question like, “You broke your back? Tell me more about that.”
Ask what you didn’t ask. Most times, the person being interviewed has a story or anecdote they are just dying to share. All they need is for you to ask the right question. So at the end of your interview, ask them what you didn’t ask. Your question could be, “What else would you like to share?” Or perhaps, “What is the one thing you are dying to tell me about today?” Or even, “What did I forget to ask you?”
As is the case in all video production, the secret to success is in planning before you shoot. So plan ahead, write open-ended questions and make the actual interview a fun and positive experience for everyone.