How to Capture Great, Natural-Sounding Interviews for Your Next Video

The location is set. The crew is in place. The lights are on and the cameras start to roll. The subject is on his mark, ready for the producer to ask the first question. Then it happens. The subject freezes and has a mental block. He knows what he would like to say in answering each question, but can't quite seem to put it into words.

This scenario can be frustrating for the producer, especially if the subject is incredibly charming and well-spoken off-camera. However, if you work in video production long enough, you will inevitably meet this type of individual. When the cameras aren't rolling, he/she is relaxed, comfortable, articulate, and engaging. When the lights are on and he/she is staring down the barrel of the camera lens, he/she freezes.

Some people simply feel more pressure when they're in front of a camera. They are afraid that they will seem unintelligent or uninformed. That's why they will insist on seeing every question ahead of time, so that they can prepare their answers ahead of time. However, this approach usually results in an interview that feels scripted, rehearsed, and inauthentic. The ideal interview is when your subject can simply speak extemporaneously. Even if there are a few "um's" and "ah's" throughout, the resulting interview will feel in-the-moment, natural, real.

So what do you do if you're faced with someone who insists on seeing all interview questions ahead of time so he/she can prepare answers and memorize them before the shoot? Here are a few things to try:

  • Reassure your subject. Remind the person whom you plan to interview that you aren't looking for a prepared speech, or word-for-word sound bites. Let him/her know that you want the interview to feel immediate, off-the-cuff, and natural. If your subject still wants you to send something ahead of time, try this...
  • Send topics rather than word-for-word questions. Give your subject a general overview of the topics that will be covered in the interview without sending specific questions. This will help the subject prepare talking points, without memorizing answers word-for-word. This also gives you, the producer, the flexibility to ask different questions pertaining to the same topic. If the subject insists on the actual questions, rather than topics, try this:
  • Send the questions, but remind your subject not to memorize answers. This goes back to suggestion #1. Help your subject to feel more relaxed by reminding him/her that he/she doesn't need to memorize anything. The interview should have a conversational feel.

Okay, you've now tried these three suggestions and the day of the interview arrives and you discover that your subject has, in fact, memorized answers to each question. this becomes immediately apparent after the first question when your subject launches into a pre-determined answer, only to get tripped up and is forced to go back to the beginning to try again. Here are some suggestions to help in this scenario.

  • Prepare your subject. Don't throw him/her in the hot seat as soon as he/she walks in. Engage him/her in casual conversation first. Make him/her feel comfortable. Help to take the stress away. Remember, one of the reasons why your subject is trying to memorize answers is because he/she feels pressure by being on camera.
  • Rehearse. If your subject wants to stick with his/her pre-determined answers, just roll with it. Take some time to rehearse. Let him/her recite the answers before the cameras roll. This will help him/her to be more comfortable. The more comfortable he/she is, the more natural the interview will be.
  • Push him/her out of the nest. If the subject needs to reference notes, pause a moment and him/her do so. Then, take the notes away. It's important that you don't let your subject continue to use notes as a crutch. This will make for a very long and frustrating interview, ultimately leading to footage that won't be very useable.

Again, the ideal scenario for any interview is one where your subject only has a general idea of what will happen during the course of the shoot. But when that doesn't happen, remembering these tips could greatly alleviate your subject's stress and provide you with a few golden sound bites for your interview.