VIDEO TAPE INTERVIEWS
Few people are comfortable with a boom microphone dangling over their head,
lights in their eyes, a camera stealing their wisdom and an interviewer asking
embarrassing or dumb questions. The trick is to turn an informal chat into a
Have camera, sound and lighting, all ready before the interviewee arrives. Keep
the situation appearing casual but as much under control as possible. Direct
the attention of the interviewee AWAY FROM the camera, the operator, the microphone,
the lighting, the location, the crew, other events etc.
Time spent scouting the interview location will save time during the shoot and
improves the end product. Don't let first impressions cloud your evaluation
of a good recording situation. Look at the shot as the camera might see it,
not for the great or terrible furnishings, paint job, view. (See Backgrounds)
Be pessimistic and address problems before they occur.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
1. Quietness while scouting AND at the time of taping. Questions to ask: "When
does the gardener come?" "Is there construction in the neighborhood?" "Are there
any events on the day we plan to shoot that would effect our taping?" "Is there
a barking dog near by, can he be penned up elsewhere?" Our ears/ brain ignores
sounds that microphones hear. Consider what happens if the shoot time or day
2. Things to look for. Enough room to work in with good natural or existing
light on the interviewee, a good back ground behind the interviewee. If there
is air conditioning, is it quiet? Are there mixed light sources; fluorescent,
day, incandescent. What if it is overcast or it rains? What if it gets dark?
Sit in different positions relative to the lighting and background. A light
45 degrees over the front or from the side of people can look very good. Moving
a few feet can make a big difference.
Before the shoot make signs that say "QUIET PLEASE, SOUND RECORDING", Signs
on doors to not open, toilets to not flush, unplug the refrigerator (put a large
sign on it to turn it back on and don't open often while it is off). Bring tape
and sign posts if necessary.
Reverberation can be a problem. Clapping hands will check for bad echoes. Consider
bringing a camcorder, mic. and head phones to test listen. If the location is
good for everything but echoes, consider adding things that reduce the echo.
Getting the mic. close helps the most. Moving blankets help but look out of
Some air conditioning controls are not convenient or can be locked up. Video
lights make a room much hotter. A wet napkin over a locked and covered air conditioning
control will fool it.
LIGHTING: Some meeting rooms already have adequate lighting, but have mixed
light sources. Hotel rooms are sometimes usable, but natural light coming from
end of a rooms may not be very usable unless the room is wide enough for camera,
interviewee and background. Don't assume that a hotel's "news interview room"
is adequate. Check it out personally. Make sure it has power outlets and the
air-conditioning is quiet or will turn off.
THE INTERVIEWEE'S CHAIR: Consider the posture desired. A deep comfortable chair
may relax the interviewee too much and limit their body language. An armless
chair may tire people for a long interview. A swivel office chair allows them
to swing around and has a greater chance of creaking and changing your lighting.
The chair should "belong" in the situation it is in. Your audience shouldn't
notice the chair. The best chair is one that is quiet, comfortable, dark colored,
and appropriate to the location. What seat would be appropriate in the woods?
A log, a stump or a rock? If you never see the seat, it makes no difference.
The interviewer and operator also need quiet chairs. Couches often block much
of the background and are usually too comfortable.
When people stand, they tend to preach. Sitting they are more friendly.
WARDROBE: Light clothing on dark complexions should be avoided. Someone coordinating
before the interviewee arrives at camera should make this decision. A white
shirt under a darker jacket is no problem. Be careful to not make a big issue
about wardrobe and make-up because it can make people self-conscious. Video
cameras have problems with saturated reds and thin stripes, but we often have
to live with such problems to avoid making a big issue of it.
BACKGROUNDS: Here is where a lot of looking will pay
off. When considering backgrounds, consider where the camera will go and if
the interviewee will have decent lighting AND good sound. If all else fails
bring in a background, such as darker patterned sheets hung like drapes. Have
some dark cloth to tack up or throw over bright or reflective objects. Dark
to medium gray is a good choice. Don't forget things when you leave.
Darker backgrounds are better in almost all situations. When lighting, it is
difficult to remove light but easier to add it.
Trying to balance indoor lighting to a great scene out a window is very difficult
without a lot of light on the interviewee or gelling the window with 85 and
ND filters. HMI lights do run cooler, but cost more.
FRAMING: A one size shot of even the most interesting person soon gets boring.
If a person is using their hands to communicate, include them, they help tell
the story. During more intense or intimate times zoom in. If you zoom wide during
a question it allows zooming in if the person gets intense. A very slow zoom
in or out will not be noticed during cuts. Snap zooms, usually to include hands,
can be covered by cut-a-ways in editorial.
Some good frames. 1. The interviewee should look into the frame. (More room
on the side he is looking toward.) Make sure there is more background behind
the interviewee on the side that he is facing. It's always safer to have more
background than needed. It will prevent unwanted things creeping into frame
that are not noticed until the tape is viewed later.
For close-ups, putting the nose in the center works. When zooming wider, keep
the correct headroom and the person "looking into frame". I like about 1/8 to
1/10 of the frame for "head room".
It is quite tiring to look through a viewfinder for a long time. A monitor to
watch is very helpful. 1. It will make it easier on the camera operator. 2.
It will give SOME assurance that color balance is correct. A. If blue-gun adjusted.
B. Still white balance often. C. Check for zebra in the viewfinder 3. It gives
something for the camera operator to hide behind and not distract the interviewee.
4. A high-resolution monitor is best for focusing.
Before the interviewee arrives, or as soon as possible after, adjust camera
height for the right background to interviewee relationship. The operator can
ask the interviewer to ask the interviewee to move their chair side to side
to adjust background. This is to distract interest from camera. By moving camera
or interviewee, you can include or exclude things in the background.
Tape over or turn off the "record" light on the camera.
GETTING ACQUAINTED: This is the most important aspect of the interview. If done
well, the interview should be a success. Perfect lighting, a great background,
good sound and camera work is nothing if the interviewee is not at ease. An
ideal situation is if a coordinator can bring the interviewee into the "ready
to shoot" situation. Repair make-up and wardrobe adjustments are already done.
Name tag off. Noisy jewelry near lavaliere mic. removed.
While waiting, someone should small talk with them about the INTERVIEWEE's family,
home, travels etc.
As the interviewee sits, the interviewer keeps the chatter going with non-interview,
"getting to know them" questions, the cameraperson or coordinator attaches the
lavaliere mic.. It's best if the cameraperson does not get acquainted. It keeps
the interviewee's attention on the interviewer. It's OK for the coordinator
became acquainted because he leaves the situation.
Before the interview. 1. Research. 2. Questions on paper. 3. The location scout.
4. What they wear. 5. Repair makeup. 6. Practice session if possible.
Single camera situations seem to make the interviewee more comfortable, because
no one is behind them. With the camera operator hidden behind his monitor and
no other crew in the room, people seem to become comfortable very quickly. A
zoom control on the panhandle is handy. The other hand can focus.
Another important factor is the relationship of the interview team to the person
arranging the interview. The more credibility the arranger has, the more cooperative
the interviewee will be. Being "with us" and "they want to help us get our message
out" is a very good introduction. Be ready to explain how the tape will be used.
Being part of "the event" is much better than seeming to be making a documentary
for some unknown and possibly negative purpose. If editorial control by the
event sponsors is implied it can help. Avoid making commitments about editorial
control by the interviewee.
Get a signed release before they leave. The coordinator can do this if one is
available. Granting an interview is an implied consent, but one on paper is
We have found the interviewer-ee distance of about 7 feet ideal. Intimate, but
not threatening. The interviewer should just be out of camera vision. This allows
later pick-ups of on camera interviewer questions and reactions in a different
location and with different wardrobe. The camera should be as far back as possible
to allow an ECU at the more telephoto end of the lens. Long camera distance
helps soften the background some and most of all helps relax the interviewee.
Wide open video lenses get "slower" with longer focal lengths and effect manual
Even though the interviewer is not on camera, make sure to record good sound.
Get his lavaliere as close his mouth as possible and free of clothing/jewelry
In a two person side-by-side interview, attach the mics. as far apart from each
other, but close to the mouth. This reduces echo if the two mics. are mixed
together. (often done for window dubs) Later the audio tracks can be mixed separately.
In an emergency, if you have only one lavaliere, attach the mic. high on the
shoulder of the person with the least volume. (A compromise to be avoided.)
If the VCR allows, put every mic. on a separate audio track.
Put the lighter complexion person farther from the light source. (Do this as
they sit down.) If one is taller and might block light on a shorter one, place
the taller one farther from the light.
Use 90 min tapes and get 2 interviews per tape. It really breaks up the flow
to change tape. 30 min is usually a good length of interview, but some go longer.
90 minute VCR rentals are more expensive, but two 30 min tapes cost the same
as one 90 min.
If doing a one camera interview and interview questions are needed right after
the interview, have the interviewer, camera person or someone record his questions
during the interview with a micro recorder or on paper. It will save trying
to remember the questions or going back to the tape.
REMEMBER TO RECORD THE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS ON A SEPARATE VIDEOTAPE. It will
help in editing. Remember to shoot more than enough cut-a-way reactions of the
interviewer between each question.
MICROPHONE FOR THE INTERVIEWEE
Use lavalieres because they are soon forgotten. The interviewer should already
be mic.ed and should always attach the mic. in the same place. (As close to
the mouth as possible.) A hand held mic. for the interviewer should be avoided.
The interviewer should start his "getting to know" while the video operator
or coordinator silently attaches the mic. Get the lavaliere as close to the
mouth as possible. Let it show on camera. Clip the cable inside under the jacket
or shirt. Try having the person sit on the cable to avoid fishing it through
more than their top. Leave some slack, avoid jewelry next to the mic. Carpet
tape patches stored on wax paper is useful for attaching the mic. cable to fabric.
Once the mic. is positioned, the operator can scramble back to the camera and
set audio levels, focus etc. as the interviewer continues getting acquainted.
Some small cue from the operator should let the interviewer know he is ready
and that he can ease into the interview, such as "OK" or "rolling".
If during an interview the sound or lighting goes bad for some reason and the
operator thinks it will continue, he can tell the interviewer that HE (not the
interviewee) has a problem and stop to correct it. If it is a passing problem,
he shouldn't interrupt and pray that the problem doesn't ruin the interview.
If the interview is interrupted, the operator should remember when the problem
occurred so the interviewer can repeat the question. Writing down the words
will help. We never get as good a response the second time. Try not to interrupt
Asking a person their name makes them self-conscious. Do it at the end for positive
identification of the tape.
THE INTERVIEW COORDINATOR
It is very helpful if each interview team has a coordinator to bring interviewees
to the location, entertain them while waiting, check if repair make-up is needed,
check wardrobe and major hair problems, explain the purpose of the interview,
and if trained, attach the lavaliere mic. If they attach the mic. they should
then leave before the interview starts.
Have signs for the interview room door that says, "Recording in progress, Please
do not enter". As soon as the interview is over, open the door for the new interviewee
and coordinator, this also lets the last interviewee know politely it is over.
Although most interviews take their own course, the more known about the person
the better. If an interview is not going well, prepared questions are back up.
Knowing about less well-known accomplishments and projects gives you more credibility.
Inaccurate information is a no-no. Knowing about rivalries and touchy subjects
to avoid is wise.
The ideal question is one that requires the interviewee to repeat the question
or at least give a complete answer not requiring the question to be included.
Sometimes "how about XXX" is enough. The interviewee then will have to explain
in his words what you are talking about. "What did you think about current national
elections?" Would elicit a better answer than "Did you think the recent election
was a fraud?" The answer to the first question would tend to specify which election,
and the answer would probably include "election", not requiring including the
© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.