Whether you’re just starting out, working toward documentaries, or just want to hone your freelancing skills, there’s a good chance you’ll shoot plenty of interviews throughout your filmmaking career. No matter the reason, it’s important to make these interviews stand out. Anyone can point a camera directly in someone’s face and have them answer a few questions.
But that’s awkward.
So, keep your interview shoot smooth and sophisticated, by keeping both the shooting tips and actual interviewing in mind the entire time. Let’s take a look at a few useful tips you can implement into your next shoot.
The Technical Breakdown
Setting up for an interview correctly is key. This includes the right lighting, the right mics, and of course, the right location. So start big, and work your way in. The first thing to consider is the location itself; it’s important to assess the physical space, the depth of which you’ll be shooting, and the background that will be in your shot.
Check out the natural lighting situation, and note that it’s not always the most reliable thing in the world. It can make for a cool shot, but throughout your shoot, that lighting can shift and change, making the interview seem inconsistent. There are a few ways around this, including supplementing the natural light with a setup of your own, or setting up a reflector outside the window, to bounce the light back in.
If you want to use your own lighting, a three-point lighting approach is a great place to start: The key light, the fill, and the backlight are the basics of what you’ll need, and you can play around with them as you see fit.
As far as your camera setup, always have more than one angle going at the same time. An interview might seem pretty straight forward, but how boring would it be to see nothing but a dead-on shot with no variation the entire time? Don’t be afraid to play around with angles to best capture a soft lighting, as well as the various expressive tones of your interview subject.
Mics are equally important. A standard lapel mic is one of the best and most discreet tools you can use for an interview, and it’ll clip right onto your subject. You can also use a dynamic mic, which picks up sound in the front, and helps to reduce background noise. These mics are commonly used by newscasters, “on the street” pieces, etc., but they’re great for interviews where the environment can’t be totally controlled. Finally, you can choose to use a boom mic. Like the dynamic mic, boom mics are very sensitive when it comes to picking up sound in the front (ie; picking up what your subject says clearly), but won’t pick up much ambient noise surrounding your scene.
Finally, save yourself some time and stress, and do a sound and picture test!
Once you have your setup the way you want it, it’s silly to think you can just ask someone to come into the scene and start talking. That’s uncomfortable for everyone, and will show up on camera. Yikes.
Instead, use a few of these tips before and during the interview to make everyone comfortable, and to make the most out of the time you have with your subject:
● Get to know them beforehand – Whether that’s through email correspondence, phone, etc., even a few quick conversations with your subject before the interview date can make a world of difference.
● Talk to them during setup – Chances are, you’ll have to adjust a few things during the shoot. Use that time to continue to talk with the interviewee. Make sure they’re comfortable and relaxed.
● Do your research! This goes hand-in-hand with getting to know your subject, but you also need to know what they do, and why it’s important. That way, you’ll have killer prompts and questions to give them, and they’ll be able to answer them in a more natural, flowing way.
● Avoid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. That might seem like an obvious tip, but if a subject is nervous, they’ll jump on the opportunity to answer a question with as few words as possible. Instead, try to get them to branch out on their answers – even by stating part of the question within their answer.
● Always be engaged. Don’t just go through a checklist of questions, but actually take the time to show interest in what your subject has to say.
Interviews can be an essential part of a filmmaking career, and they’re a great way to showcase your skills and play around with different setups. Follow this guide for the basics, but don’t be afraid to branch out with your own creative ideas once you’re comfortable.
Interviews are great and all, but you should also read these great articles as well!
Have a question about how to shoot an interview?
Leave a question in the comment section below. I check regularly and am happy to help!