Interviewing people is my favorite part of creating a video, but it’s not always easy.
It takes patience, empathy and creativity, and it is certainly not always easy. I wanted to share a few tips on how to craft and shoot a good on-camera interview.
I split this post into two sections: Sit-down interviews and spontaneous, man-on-the-street interviews. You have the most time to prepare for sit-down interviews, but man-on-the-street can be the most challenging.
Take Your Time. It’s A Sit-Down Interview
a. Research and Preparation: Before the interview, research your interviewee to understand their background, expertise and talking points as related to the video. I watch and read previous interviews a particular person has done to get a sense of their personality. This helps me create thoughtful questions and potentially know how I can relate.
b. Scripting: Create a list with questions talking topics you’d like to cover. As always, try to keep it as conversational as possible, and go with the flow of what the interviewee is saying. If they go off on a tangent, you can kindly redirect the conversation.
c. Location Scouting: Choose a location that complements the interviewee’s profession or aligns with the video’s theme or mood. If you run a sports organization, it might make sense to day the interview in area with a sports background. Office spaces may be best for business executives, and classrooms for teachers.
Consider lighting, acoustics and any potential distractions in the background. Rooms with echos, such as gyms, are not always the best.
a. Camera Placement: Position the camera at eye level with the interviewee, slightly off-center to create visual interest. We generally do medium shots — waste up — for interviews, and we may even try tighter shots — shoulders up. Here’s an example.
Use a tripod or a stabilizer — even a table, if all else fails — to ensure your shot is steady. Shaky shots can be annoying.
c. Lighting: Try to use a three-point lighting setup. That means you place a light on one side of the interviewee, a fill light on the opposite side, and a backlight to add depth and separation. If don’t have any lights, no problem. Work lamps and natural light as best as you can.
We used lamps, windows and only one light for our skiing video.
d. Audio: Lav microphones help get clear and crisp audio. Place it close to the interviewee’s chest, hiding the wire discreetly. If you don’t have any external mic, you can use the internal mic in your camera or phone. Just be careful of any background noise.
a. Build A Relationship: Begin the interview by engaging in light conversation to help the interviewee relax. Don’t jump into hard questions. Start easy, and transition to questions that may yield emotion. You definitely want to give off a warm vibe that encourages open and honest responses.
b. Active Listening: Pay close attention to the interviewee’s responses and body language. Nod or provide verbal cues to show that you are engaged. It would not be wise to check your social media during their answers. Your interviewee should be your sole focus.
c. Pacing and Timing: Allow brief pauses between questions to give the interviewee time to gather their thoughts. It is usually recommended to pause for 3 seconds after an interviewee is done talking. That may feel awkward, but sometimes people are inclined to fill those moments of silence with great anecdotes.
Man On The Street
A spontaneous interview, commonly referred to as man-on-the-street interviews, are fun and challenging at the same time. It’s when you pick a person and ask them for an unplanned interview.
a. Define Your Objective: First, determine the purpose of the interviews. Are you looking for opinions, testimonials, reactions, etc.? Our interviews for Catalyst Sports were all done with this man-on-the-street style.
We looked for people who appeared to be having a great, and we asked if we could discuss the fun of adaptive mountain biking on camera. If a person was uncomfortable talking on camera, we respected their preferences and found another person.
Camera: For these interviews, use whatever gear you have. iPhone, RED, whatever, it will work. You can frame them similar to sit-down interviews, with medium and tight shots.
You want to keep the camera as steady as possible for the interviews. That could be with a stabilizer, tripod or, well, a wheelchair, like I’ve done. You don’t want to interview people for too long (i.e. 20 minutes or longer), or they will get tired of you. You can go handheld as long as your careful.
Audio Recording: If you have a shotgun microphone mounted on your camera, great. A lav mic will do, as well. If you using your phone, stay alert for background noise — cars passing and honking, people talking. I would recommend going to an area that is a little quieter.
Check out our interview from Hawaii. We distanced ourselves from the crowds as best as we could, and we had our interviewees redo answers if unwelcome background noises came up.
Lighting: Work natural or available light sources to your advantage. There’s always the sun during the daytime. You could position the interviewee near a window, for example. Don’t shoot directly into the sunlight, or it may be hard to see the person on camera.
Open-Ended Questions: Ask open-ended questions that yield strong answers. You may have to jump to more emotional questions quicker, but that’s OK. People may have limited time and attention. Respect their schedules.
You’re always welcome to reach out to me to discuss a video project.
You don’t need to do everything on your own. Sometimes a fresh perspective, and an extra set of eyes help.