We aren’t making your typical travel documentaries, the focus isn’t just on beautiful landscapes, it is about you and your adventure, so it is important to regularly record interviews. You should make these a daily habit. Group interviews can be good to show the team dynamic but individual interviews are much more helpful for the editors in order to tell the story.
Setting up the camera
It’s best to avoid interviewing with the camera handheld unless you are filming someone as they are doing something. Most of you probably won’t be carrying a tripod around so rest your camera on something steady.
When you set up your interview try to follow the rule of thirds, imagine the screen is split into three both horizontally and vertically and place your subject on the crossing point of the two lines either at the top left or at the top right. They should be facing into the empty space, this is called ‘talking space’. Vary your interviews, don’t put everyone on the same side of the screen.
Interviews can be framed as either a mid shot or close up. Too far away and you lose the facial expressions of your subject, too close and it just looks scary. A mid shot should be framed from around their ribcage or waist to a bit above their head, a close up should be framed from just below their shoulders to around the top of their head. Close ups can be effective to show emotion but it is good to get a bit of variety in your framing.
Make sure the camera is set up level with your subject’s eyeline and position yourself at the same level. You don’t want them looking up or down.
Being the interviewer
A good habit to get into is making sure the person you are interviewing says where you are, when it is and what you have been doing. This provides a good reference point otherwise your story may seem all jumbled.
When you are interviewing someone you are aiming to get some good dialogue from them that could be used in a film. Try to ask open-ended questions that don’t just require a yes/no answer, for example, instead of saying “Did you enjoy today?” ask “How did you feel about today?”
Encourage the person you are interviewing to repeat the question in the answer, let this Texas cowboy show you how it’s done:
It can be tempting to speak up or exclaim when you are interviewing, but the interview will be used as narration in the film so while they are speaking remain quiet and wait until they have finished speaking before you begin.
When to do your interviews
If something exciting or emotional has just happened now might be a perfect time to catch one of your teammates to do an interview, the events will be fresh and they will be able to speak more freely about what has happened.
Setting up an interview may not always be possible so there are other ways of telling stories on camera that may be more effective.
Sometimes, video diaries can be more effective at portraying emotion and telling the story than interviews are. They are also useful if you don’t have time to set up an interview or there is something you really want to say but no one is there to interview you. It is also really good if you want to slag off your teammates.
Because video diary type recordings are often spontaneous there is less need for the composition and lighting to be good as long as the audio captures properly.
Unlike interviews, you do not to be framed to either side of the screen and it is best if you look straight down the lens- instead of talking to the interviewer, you are directly talking to the audience. Try not to look at yourself in the screen while you are talking as this looks odd.
Make sure you mention where you are, when it is and what you have been doing in these video diaries as it is really important to tell your story.
Filming a conversation between members of the team not only reveals characters, it also helps to tell the story and can be more interesting for the audience. Although some parts of your story will need to be explained through interview or video diary, these conversations can show the relationships and conflicts within the group which is much more juicy.
Audiences will never forgive bad audio so make sure you are aware of this when recording dialogue. Your interviews/ video diaries audio will be used over the top of B-roll so the audio quality is really important.
Make sure you are in a quiet place when you record these pieces. If there is unavoidable background noise, make sure the source of the noise is in shot, maybe behind your interviewee. If you do this, it’s much more possible the interview will be useable.
The wind is your enemy, make sure you shelter your mic from it. If you are using a lapel mic, get your subject to turn with their back to the wind.
It may sound obvious but make sure the mic is close to the subject when recording an interview. Try to get it 30 cm away from their face, if you are in a loud or windy environment you can get very close with the microphone and crop your shot to a close up.
When interviewing you need to think about the Who, Where, When, Why, How questions and also you need to find a way to make the audience care. A good way of doing this is making the audience relate to the subject. This can be something simple like having the subject say what was happening when whatever it is happened; "I was walking my dog when a meteor landed in the street" is relatable because most folks have walked a dog. Another way of making the audience relate to the subject is going into detail WHY they do what they do; "I was speeding and ran 4 red lights because I was desperate for a piss".
When you're interviewing you need to lead the conversation. You should have an idea about what questions you are asking, and what direction you want the interview to go, but also you need to listen to what the subject is saying and where necessary dig deeper when you get something juicy. There's a temptation when interviewing to just nod and concentrate on the technical stuff, but if you do, you might miss that billion dollar revelation.
Your subject should be lit well so that their facial features are as clear as possible. Make sure the light source is not behind your subject as it makes it much more difficult to see them.
If you are filming an interview in strong sunlight, make sure the sun is behind you, this helps with the vibrancy and clarity of your image. Be careful if you are shooting when the sun is low to avoid having your shadow in shot.
You can be inventive with how you light interviews at night, if it is dark you can use your headlights or streetlights. Although if you do this, avoid lighting your subject from above, move them a little bit away so they are not directly under the light source. If you are finding a light source, try and go for a larger light as this provides a softer light than a small one, softer light is more flattering.
When you are recording dialogue you should always keep in mind that it will be used along with B-roll to make sequences. If your team member mentions something interesting in an interview, make a note and try and get footage of it, likewise, if you know you captured an interesting or exciting moment on camera get your teammate to talk about it or make a video diary about it.
What to do now
If you have read all of that you should now be an expert. Get your camera and a mic out and interview everyone you know, practice your technique. You could also get into the habit of doing daily video diaries so you get really good at these too.