Just because an interview will only take up a fraction of the filming time that a full length feature film does, it doesn’t mean that you can relax a bit more. Their is a lot of pressure on everyone to do their jobs. Their are many different jobs that are required of people and everyone needs to be on the ball, whether that is filming, lighting, asking questions, research, editing, sound, music, etc. It is easy to understate the importance of interviews and the power they hold, thus understating the effort and amount of time that needs to go into research, planning and understanding what you want and who you want to help you capture your visual and non visual aesthetic.
As we know, their are many different roles that are required to successfully record an interview. But let’s start off with one that doesn’t take place on the interview set. What might that be you ask…research, the very thing that is going to shape your whole interview process. It’s not a question of what to research for your interviews, but what not to research for your interviews. Leave no stone unturned. As a film-maker you have to know exactly what it is that you are wanting out of your suspect and how you are going to obtain it. So before you can ask yourself, ‘what questions shall I ask him/her’, you need to know what it is that you want them to talk along the lines of. If they specialise in cars then you might want them to talk about a certain car, you might want them to talk about the dangers of cars, or how they came to be a car fanatic. Because an interview is a form of film, you want the audience to be interested in what the subject has to say, you need to make it interesting by asking interesting questions to an ‘interesting’ subject. What is the point of asking someone fascinating about really boring stuff. So make sure that you know what you want out of the subject for instance, I want David Beckham to talk about the red card incident during the 1998 word cup. But also make sure that the questions that you are asking make sense to the subject so that he/she is able to speak about the subject matter of your choice, and not for them to misunderstand it and speak about something else. But make sure that the subject has a chance to read over the questions either before the date of the interview, this could be done by sending them via email for example. Or this could be done on the day of the interview, if you leave yourself enough time for this beforehand. What is often good for interviews is to structure the questions. For instance if you had any potentially hard hitting questions that the subject may not be able to answer as easily or are related to something very serious, then it would probably be a good idea to leave them to the end. This means that all of the questions beforehand can build up a relationship between interviewer and interviewee and make it seem like a comfortable situation for them both. Leaving the hardest questions till the end, seeing as the subject may not want to answer if the harder questions were structured at the start of the interview.
Often forgotten is the fact that the subject is a human being…not (forgotten) in the literal sense, but that they posses emotions just as much as anyone else. You don’t want them to feel uncomfortable, bored, unable to answer the questions or impatient. The best way to make sure that the subject has something to take away from the interview is by choosing a friendly, on the ball professional interviewer who can build a relationship with the subject and make them feel comfortable. The interviewer needs to posses several specific skills and qualities; They need to make sure that they
- Are friendly
- Are polite
- Are welcoming
- Understand and questions and know what it is that the director wants out of the subject and the interview
- Keep a smile on
- Keep a good posture
- Nod, make sure that the subject can tell that you are interested in what they have to say
- Keep it short, don’t waffle
- Be able to break down a question if the subject doesn’t understand it
- Offer a joke here or their to make the subject feel welcome and happy
- Are a good listener
- Don’t say ‘yeh’ or ‘uh hum’ during the answering of questions
- Don’t be awkward
- Show respect
- And several other contributing factors
The interviewer can harmonise the relationship between him/herself and the subject by chatting with them before hand and getting to know each other. This is a good way to break down any tension that may later brew up between the interviewer and interviewee simply because they didn’t know each other well enough.
Let’s take a look at a few interviews that didn’t work out so well
In this interview, the interviewee repeatedly asks questions that are off track and doesn’t really take into consideration that the subject doesn’t really seem like they want to answer the questions here.
In this interview, someone didn’t have the decency to turn off their phone while in the interview, which angered the subjected.
Despite being a prank, it is a good example of a poor relationship between interviewer and subject based on choice of questions and the breakdown of questions.
In this interview, someone didn’t have the decency to turn off their phone while in the interview and angered the subjected
On the none technical side of things, their are several other things to consider when preparing for an interview; the equipment used.
- Camera(s) – You have to know what type of camera’s you are filming on and how many camera’s you are filming on as well. The room itself is a key factor in distinguishing the amount of camera’s used. You will probably want several different types of shots of the subject from varying angles. You might want to film them predominantly from a mostly straight forward point of view, or equally you might find that recording them predominantly from the side is a better perspective. The context and the emotional feel of the interview will heavily influence the way the interview is filmed. If the subject is talking about a serious matter, then it is probably better to use close ups because it helps connect the audience with the subject and it seems more emotional. The location will also help the DP and director agree on the composition and look of the interview setup and it’s subject. You may wish to have certain things on display in the background or perhaps not. But your background will definitely affect the angle at which the camera(s) film from because it affects their composition. The camera’s will be looking to film with a strong rule of thirds setup. The composition is important in maintaining the attention of the audience and keeping their eyes fixed on the subject. With the camera you will also want to make sure that you are recording on the correct FPS and shutter speed. The director should know whether he/she wants the interview to be still or whether he/she wants it to be mobile. Not mobile in having the camera’s moved about manually, but whether he/she wants the camera’s to zoom in/out on the subject while the subject talks. When filming, it is very common to capture footage that isn’t of the subjects’s face. For instance their hands or their feet. These make for good cutaways when needed. As well as that, some directors may decide to film the interviewee as well, whereas others may not. Or in some cases, the interviewee will get filmed but they will then get cut out.
- Lighting – The lighting is very important to the interview. Again the location and time of day will have a say in how you want to set up the lights. You might be recording somewhere with lots of natural light, or equally, you might be recording somewhere quite dark and reliant on a professional lighting set-up. The lighting helps to portray the subject in a certain way. It can help alter the audiences perspective of the subject.
- Sound – Making sure that the sound id correct is crucial to a strong interview. The location will have a strong influence on the settings used on the audio equipment. The location may be able to isolate or cut off sound or equally it may be poor from an audio point of view and echo heavily, with sound travelling slowly. One way to fix a problem like this is to make sure that you are using strong equipment and record from very specific locations. Make sure you have an audio practice run before hand with the subject, so you can distinguish which are the best positions to record from, not just in terms of which position let’s me hear his/her voice best, but which position reduced background noise best and which position is the best for filming in a practical sense. Is having someone recording from that position going to make filming from that angle difficult. While on the practice run, make sure that you test the sound levels and adjust them to the levels at which the subject speaks. Make sure you ask them interesting and engaging questions so that you can hear their voice at it’s normal level. Otherwise they may answer quietly during the practice run and you will set your audio levels incorrectly because when they answer the questions in the actual interview, it will be too loud. Another way to fix this problem is to make sure that their isn’t one in the first place. Make sure that you are recording at a location that isn’t going to cause any problems.
- Music – As well as sound, music is important because it has the ability to alter the way the audience views a film and how they feel towards it. You can use music to support what the subject is saying. Music alters the vibe and feel of an interview, so if the subject is talking from the heart and is being very serious, then it wouldn’t really work to use upbeat music depending on the questions.
Perhaps where the most power lies is in post production because who can be sure just what is going to make it’s way into the final edit. An editor is a magician with a magic wand. They have to power to erase whatever they want, over elaborate certain features, and put a twist on specific moments. What can’t they do? When editing, the editor will have a whole host things that they can do to to mould the footage to what the director is after. They can cut out parts of the interview that they want want including. In the case of a documentary, this could make it unbalanced. They could also use all of the shots which make the subject look a certain way, for instance, they cut out all of the shots where he/she is smiling and cut away to a different shot. Obviously film’s have to be a certain duration and they are never going to be the full length of the filmed interview. So a lot of the interview will have to be cut. While a lot of the cutting is simple and necessary, consisting of many cuts of ‘erms’, stutters and halts. These cuts alone are not going to reduce the length of the interview to a decent duration. Their are many different aspects to the editing process. And sound is just one of them. Sound can be used in many different ways. One of the reason’s why sounds is very important in the editing process is because you can synch up the recorded audio to the recorded footage. As well as that, the sound levels can be adjusted any way to ensure that none of the sounds are peaking too high nor are way too quite to hear them. Music can have a strong influence in film, but they are less common with interviews, unless the interviews are part of a larger project, wherein the the subject can back up what the video is trying to tell you.