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Interview Techniques

Interview Techniques

This page contains information to assist film makers improve their techniques for filming interviews. The suggestions are outlined in the lists below:-

Why include interviews in a film?

  • The Interviewee is the subject of the film
  • To add variety to the content
  • To add a human element to a film
  • Explanation
  • Information
  • Character
  • Opinion/Passion
  • Surrogate narrator

Technical considerations

  1. Don't forget to take lots of cutaways of the area in which the interview was shot and some extreme close ups of the interviewees (hand shots are always useful, and if you can get them to hold something, so much the better).
  2. Monitor the sound through headphones. If you think a "glitch" might have caused something to be missed - go back and check it and re-record if necessary. Once you've left the location, it's too late.
  3. Don't use wireless unless necessary - it's adding a level of complexity and lots of scope for interference.
  4. You can record into a digital recorder, but ensure you monitor it.
  5. Always record sound onto the camera, even if you're not going to use that sound as you will need something to synchronise to.
  6. If possible, record to a second or even third device for backup.

Interview Techniques

  1. Brief the interviewee about.
    • who you are
    • the purpose of the film
    • why you want to interview them
    You will generally get a better interview if they understand this.
  2. Involve the interviewee in the setting up of the interview (explain what you’re showing in the background or why you're moving them slightly to the right).
  3. Tell them where you want them to look (normally you want them to direct their answers to the interviewer, rather than the camera - they are not presenters).
  4. Check the interviewee is comfortable.
  5. Prepare a list of questions - tick them off as each is answered during the interview and check that every question has been answered before leaving.
  6. Make sure the questions are "open". Remember Kipling:
    		I keep six honest serving-men
    		(They taught me all I knew);
    		Their names are What and Why and When
    		And How and Where and Who.
  7. Where possible give the interviewee this list of questions in advance. They may well suggest further questions/topics as a result.
  8. Ask the interviewee several innocuous questions first, in order to check the levels etc, but also to help settle them.
  9. Ask them to answer questions by repeating the question back to you in their answer - eg "When did you start planning the show?" should ideally be answered with "We started planning the show back in …." (this makes life much easier when editing as you have the option of leaving out the question).
  10. Ask the interviewer to use names wherever possible. If you have a series of answers of the form:
    • "John started it all off"
    • "He wanted to do it that way because"
    • "He hadn’t told any of us about the camels"
    • "Mike had a bit of an argument with him about …"
    but decide not to use the first answer, you cannot use any of the others without somehow telling the viewer that the subject of these questions is John.
  11. If something is not clear or you suspect a technical glitch, ask them to repeat their answer – even re-word it for them if necessary. Remember: they will be keen not to look stupid, so they will be very happy to repeat answers using different phrases or without so many hesitations.
  12. If pressed for time, steer the interviewee back towards the planned questions. Explain why - they'll understand.
  13. If not pressed for time, be happy to let the interview go off at a tangent - you never know what interesting points may emerge (but check you’ve answers to the planned questions before you pack up).
  14. Challenge their answers where necessary, but do so as a means to understand their answers/opinions, not to argue with them/express your own. If they are expressing one side of a controversy by all means express the opposing argument but carefully (eg "Your opponents would argue ... What is your response to that?"
  15. If you really want to get involved in the argument yourself, best leave this until the end of the interview after you’ve got everything else you need!
  16. Avoid verbally responding to or verbally acknowledging the interviewee's answers you are absolutely sure he/she has finished – and even then leave a pause. Instead, show your interest and understanding by looking at the interviewee, and nodding or other expressions. This will avoid your answers being peppered with "ah-ha's" "mmm?s" "I see" and other such utterances. This is particularly important if the interviewer is not visible - even more so if the question is not to be heard.
  17. Get 'nodding shots' of the interviewer. These can be cut in in post and save the boredom of looking at the speaker all the while.
  18. Record several minutes of ambient background, unless you're in a studio, which should be 'dead'. You can always delete it if you don't need it. It makes excellent band-aid and allows you to re-record questions on top of the background. In the event that the interviewee says something interesting but doesn't actually answer the question, be prepared to record a question that fits the answer!

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