Interviewing 101 | Tips and Tricks

Video Tutorials on Interviewing using Videography | Interviewing 101

Tips for Low-Budget and No-Budget filmmaking

These videos were created for a class I am co-teaching at IIT for an IPRO class 497-364. That doesn’t really matter as the tips here apply to any interviewing video project. There is a lot to learn when it comes to videography and interviewing subjects, but the following represent some of the easiest and most helpful. In these tutorials I will primarily discuss lighting and general interviewing strategies. Keep in mind, these videos assume you do not have access to professional gear such as expensive continuous lighting, professional audio gear such as field recorders and lapel microphones, or high end video cameras.

Camera Distance to Subject

“Keep your camera less than 6 feet from your subject for on-board audio.”

When you do not have professional gear at your disposal, one of the most important tips I can offer is to keep the camera close to your subject. People often forget that audio is half of video. People will tolerate bad video quality, but they will not watch a video they cannot hear. Think about a boot-leg movie you’ve watched – maybe the picture wasn’t great, but you continued watching. However, if you couldn’t hear what the actors were saying, you’d stop it right away – there’d be no reason to watch.

Wide - Medium - Close

“Using a close-up is engaging and provides the best audio fidelity.”

Cinematographers know all about these three types of shots: Wide, Medium, and Close (Close-up) and how to use them as story-telling devices. For the purposes of low budget interviewing however, we must remember to get good audio; so we are really limited to medium and close-up shots unless we have multiple cameras.

Using Natural Light

“Place the camera near the window and have your subject face the light.”

There’s a good chance many of your interviews will take place indoors. Hopefully you can conduct those interviews when it is light outside. Darkness is the enemy of video. This tip is all about utilizing windows. Leveraging natural light is all about knowing where to place your subject. Intuition might say to put your subject near the window; but that’s only half correct. The key is to have your camera very near the window and have your subject face the light. If you are outdoors, I suggest shooting in the shade.

Overhead Lights Don't Look Good

“Overhead lights cast unwanted shadows on your subjects face.”

Not all lights are created equal. Given that we don’t have large professional lighting kits to illuminate our subjects, it’s important we understand what light we do have available. While intuition might tell you to turn on all the lights in the room, this is not a great idea; unless of course it’s dark outside or there are no windows available.

Don't Interrupt Me While I'm Talking

“Resist the urge to comment while your subject is speaking.”

When you are interviewing a person you often want to make them feel comfortable and engage in ‘normal conversation’, but conducting an interview is not exactly normal. If your voice interrupts your subject you might ruin a great audio bite for your project. It’s important to keep your mouth closed while they are speaking. Maintain eye contact and use body language to let them know that what they are saying is helpful to you and you are engaged.

Could You Repeat the Question?

“Have your subject state the question in their answer.”

This tip is a little more advanced and only after you’ve spent some time editing interviews will it make complete sense. The idea is that if you ask the subject to repeat the question in their answer, the answer will make sense as a stand-alone video clip. Without the subject stating the question, and without audio of the interviewer asking the question – those viewing the video may not understand the answer being given.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

“Ask Open-Ended Questions.”

As the video instructs, if you ask someone what their favorite color is, you are begging for a one-word answer. A simple way to get a more elaborate answer is to add ‘and-why’ to the question: “What is your favorite color, and why?” This elicits a more detailed, and often more useful, answer.

The Rule of Thirds

“Utilizing the rule-of-thirds makes your shots more interesting.”

We are all used to taking pictures on our phones these days – and usually we just center our subjects and shoot. However, professional photographers and videographers often use the rule-of-thirds to create more interesting compositions. The rule-of-thirds simple states that if you divide your scene into 9 equal boxes using two vertical lines and two horizontal lines; you should place your subject at the intersection of a pair of lines.

Additional Things to Consider

  • Focus: Keeping your subject in focus is important and can be challenging if you have a shallow depth of field or your subject is fidgety. If your camera supports manual focus, we suggest using it so that the autofocus feature does not ‘hunt’ incorrectly if/when your subject shifts.
  • Extraneous noise: Are there any fans or blowers in the room? If you can turn them off the (heat/air conditioning ) and reduce the white noise your audio will be better for it. Are you near a busy road? Can you shoot further away from the noises?
  • Use a Tripod: If you can, use a tripod. Hand-holding a camera should be left only to most professional Hollywood camera operators.
  • Resist the urge to Zoom: Watch high end productions, you’ll be hard pressed to find a scene that uses zoom.
  • Look at the Background: Is it distracting? Could you shoot in a different direction so that the background is more pleasing?
  • Interview B-Roll or Cutaway: Take a minute of video from behind your subject or a closeup of their hands so that we can’t see what they are saying. This may be extremely helpful when it comes time to editing.

Some of the ways I use Interviewing for Storytelling

The way we communicate is very unique. It’s very human. It separates us from other living things. Everyone has something to say and bringing their story to others is wonderful. The art of interviewing can be leveraged in just about any video project.

If you’d like to see how I use interviewing; in wedding videos like Rachel and Ian or Melanie and Dan and commercial videography work like the East Loop Project.

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