The Biggest Mistakes In Scheduling On-Camera Interviews

There are things in life that are certain - death, taxes, and the fact that your video shoot will fall behind schedule. Despite that inevitability, however, there are things you as a video producer can do to help your production stay on track.

One of the problems I see from less experienced producers is that they consistently underestimate just how long it takes to conduct a sit-down interview. The balancing act between budgeting and scheduling a video production can be tricky. I certainly understand the need to keep costs down (and therefore the temptation to cram as many interviews into a single day as possible), but there is always a point of diminishing returns. If you pack more and more interviews into your day, that only means that you have less and less time to conduct each one. And if you only have 10 minutes with each interview subject, you will only capture superficial, generic sound bites. You just don’t have the time for in-depth, quality thoughts and reflections. I always prefer fewer interviews if it means better quality for my finished video.

So, that’s the first thing you need to think about when scheduling your interviews: more isn’t always better. Your 2-4 minute promotional video doesn’t need 10-20 different interviews subjects to get the point across. Sound bites will end up sounding redundant. Start off by trimming the list of interview subjects. Go for quality rather than quantity.

Second, remember that the interview will always take longer to conduct than you think. Sure, you may think that the actual interview will only take 15 minutes, but what happens when…

  • you find the interview subject is camera shy and isn’t as eloquent as you thought?

  • the subject wants to repeat or rephrase everything he/she says?

  • the subject brings a list of bullet points he/she wants to hit, but keeps forgetting what’s been prepared?

That 15-minute interview has now ballooned to 45 minutes, or perhaps an hour. Now you have three other interview subjects on location waiting around. If you think you only need 15 minutes to actually conduct the interview, give yourself a cushion of at least 30 minutes.

To help tighten the schedule, minimize company moves. Find one location in which you can shoot all of your interviews. That way your crew doesn’t have to break down, move, and set up for every single interview. Sure, it’s ideal to have a variety of locations for each interview, but sometimes it’s not practical. If I have to shoot interviews in one location, I like to try and find a spot where I can turn the camera in different directions and find an entirely different look. That way, I can still obtain the variety I’d like, without the time-consuming set-ups.

Speaking of set-ups, that’s the other variable that usually isn’t given enough time on the schedule. I’ve been on shoots where the client and the producer have lined up an interview at one location at 9am, only to have the second interview starting at 9:30 at the other side of the building. They’ve completely forgotten about the time it takes to wrap the gear, move the entire crew to a new location, and then set it all up again.

I know what you’re thinking, “This sounds great, but I don’t have the budget to spread all of this out over three days. I need to get everything done in one day.” Well, I think you can still capture what you need to capture in a day and adhere to a realistic interview schedule. Now, assuming that you are producing a simple, straightforward promotional video for your business, here’s what I would do:

  • Pick one location for all of your interviews

  • Schedule no more than four interviews.

  • Block off one hour per interview.

  • Now you still have five hours left in the day to capture doc-style b-roll of your business, assuming that all of the action needed to capture happens in one office space.

If your project is slightly more complicated, like your business is spread out over multiple locations, or if it’s important to the video to have more than four interview subjects, then you will probably have to adjust your budget and your expectations. You might need to hire two camera crews to capture everything you need, or you may need to expand the amount of shooting days, or both.

If you work with an experienced video producer, you can avoid a massive scheduling headache, but if you have to do it yourself (for whatever reason), take the above advice and it will really help alleviate problems on the day of your shoot.

Have any other thoughts? Leave them in the Comments.

Here's How to Make Dialogue Scenes More Dynamic

At some point in your film, two people will be talking on camera. It’s inevitable. So, the question is, how do you shoot your dialogue scenes in a way that’s visually interesting and pleasing to the viewer?

INTERESTING LOCATIONS MAKE FOR INTERESTING SHOTS

If your actors need to stand still for a dialogue scene, find an interesting location in which they can have their conversation. If the location itself has a lot of character, or is unique in some way, you can create a lot of visual interest for your scene, even if the actors are relatively still.

Consider how Steven Spielberg shot this dialogue scene from Jaws. The scene itself is pretty straightforward: The Mayor and the Chief of Police are discussing whether or not to close the beaches. Spielberg could have shot this scene anywhere, but he chose to shoot it on a moving ferry. The uniqueness of the location provided a nice composition because although the actors are relatively static, the background is in constant motion.

CREATE DEPTH TO YOUR COMPOSITION

Sometimes a dialogue scene will have to take place in someone’s living room, or in a diner booth, or at a card table, or some other place where the actors are seated and locked into one position. Now, if you decide to shoot those scenes up against a blank wall, the composition won’t be very interesting. Give your shot depth by placing the table and the actors in the center of the room and staging the background accordingly. Angle the camera and the table so that the background falls off into the distance.

My latest short film Hangry is predominately a single conversation between two characters seated at a table. The crew strategically placed the table in the center of the room and arranged other tables in the background to create depth. We also made sure that the camera wasn’t directly facing a wall or any other flat surface. We used colorful wall art to break up the background, used the movement of the extras to add life, and removed a few practical overhead fluorescent lights to create variety between light and shadow, which added texture.

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MOVE THE ACTORS

There might come a moment in one of your films when one character answers the door, revealing another character standing on the porch. Now, what happens next? In a lot of the short films I’ve seen, the two characters simply stand there, one on the threshold looking out, and another on the threshold looking in. Then the scene simply cross cuts between over-the-shoulder angles.

To make this setup more interesting, try moving the actors in a way that makes sense to the story:

  • Does one character suggest taking a walk while they have their conversation? Now the two actors can move off the porch, on to the sidewalk, and you have a walk-and-talk scene.

  • Does one character invite the other one in to the house? If so, be careful not to place your actors in two chairs. You’ve just traded one uninteresting static shot for another one. Try moving the actors from room to room. Does it make sense for the homeowner to busy him/herself in the kitchen while the other person talks?

MOVE THE CAMERA

Whether you choose to use a slider, dolly, or stabilizer rig, adding camera movement to a scene in which two people primarily stand/sit still and talk, always adds visual interest. But what’s even better is when you can both move the actors and the camera. If you take the time to think through the scene, the purpose of it, the dynamics between the two characters, etc. you can create authentic blocking for your actors coupled with camera movement to create a very dynamic dialogue scene. Watch how Alfred Hitchcock staged this scene in the film Vertigo for inspiration on how to combine actor and camera movement.

Have any other thoughts on how to create a dynamic dialogue scene? Leave them in the Comments.

Why On-Camera Interviews Are Harder Than You Think

Conducting an on-camera interview isn’t as easy as it sounds. It requires an experienced producer; one who understands the nature of editing and the elements of a good story.

I just finished logging some interview footage recently and it was obvious that the person asking the questions had little experience conducting an interview for video.

So, if you need to capture on-camera interviews for your next video, don’t just type up a list of questions and pick someone at random to sit across from your subject and go down the list one-by-one.

Why?

  • Because an interview is a conversation between the subject and the interviewer, with its own ebb and flow. The questions are meant to start conversation, and often that conversation can lead down a path of discovery that will take your story into a new, unexpected direction. But if someone inexperienced is just reading off a list of questions, he/she might not know to ask a follow-up question to a potentially revelatory statement. Follow-up questions can help your story to take shape by providing much needed context and background information. An experienced interviewer will know how to tease out those details.

  • Because the person conducting the interview might not understand that answers need to be in complete sentences. A video editor will often remove the interviewer’s questions from the cut, leaving only the subject’s response. If the interviewer doesn’t remind the subject to answer in a complete thought, all an editor is left to work with are answers like, “That’s right,” “Uh-huh,” “I think so,” etc. etc.

These are two main reasons why it’s important to hire video production professionals to conduct your on-camera interviews. Not only will the composition and lighting look their best, but the subject’s answers will be well-rounded, well thought-out, and well-structured.

Have any other video production tips, comments, or questions? Leave them in the Comments field below.

On-Camera Interviews and Why Eye Line Is Important

When setting up to shoot an interview for your video project, how do you decide where your subject’s eye line should be? I’m sure a majority of interviews you’ve seen feature subjects looking slightly off camera. Still, there are others that feature subjects looking directly into the lens.

So which is it?

When should a subject look off camera and when should a subject look directly into the lens? And even if you decide a subject should look off camera, how far off should they look?

The answer depends on three main things:

  • The topic(s) that the interview will cover

  • The subject’s relationship to those topics

  • The immediacy of the topic itself

Remember, every shot selection you make in your video will communicate something to the viewer. So, even when setting up for an interview, the lighting, the camera angle, and even where the subject is looking will tell the viewer something about the person and the nature of the story.

When to look directly into the lens

When I’m shooting interviews, I only ask my subjects to look into the lens when they are telling a very personal story that centers on their own experiences and the experiences of their immediate family members and/or close friends.

Why?

When you see someone looking directly into the lens, what does that shot communicate?

  • It’s intimate. The subject is treating you, the viewer, like a close, personal friend or confidant.

  • It’s vulnerable. The subject is opening herself up to you, laying her emotions out there on the table for your consumption and consideration. The subject wants you to listen, and listen carefully, and really understand her point of view.

  • It’s immediate. Even if the events covered in the video happened decades earlier, looking directly into the lens conveys a sense of immediacy to the subjects being discussed. It may have happened years before, but it’s still very important to the person speaking.

Consider this video essay about looking into the lens and what it communicates to your viewer:

When to look off camera

As I stated earlier, most on-camera interviews are conducted with the subject looking at someone off camera. But have you ever thought about why it’s usually done this way?

For me, seeing someone look off camera tells me that the person speaking has some authority about the subject, but not necessarily first-hand experience with the topic.

Now, obviously this isn’t always the case, as demonstrated by the above video. An interview subject may look off camera and still have had a first-hand experience with the topic. But looking off camera does communicate some level of emotional detachment, whether intentional or unintentional.

So, if you decide that you want your subjects to look off camera, be mindful of how their shoulders are positioned in the shot. To maintain a more three-dimensional look to your composition, make sure that the subjects square their shoulders with the person doing the interview. This will give the shot more depth and make it more interesting and pleasing to look at.

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This is a nice set up from Dream Engine. Notice how the subject is looking slightly off camera and his shoulders are also facing slightly away from the lens and toward the person conducting the interview. If this subject’s shoulders remained flat to the camera, with only his head slightly turned, the composition would have less depth.

As stated earlier, this kind of shot is a very standard interview set up, but when might you want to have your subject turn even further away from the lens? What would a shot like that communicate to your audience and when might you want to use it?

Consider this interview set up from the mini series Band of Brothers:

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It’s a very striking frame, and yet it isn’t very often that we see an interview subject looking so far off camera. He’s almost in profile.

When might you frame up your interview like this? I can think of two instances:

  1. When the environment is just as important as the subject. Maybe you’re interviewing an artist in his studio, or a craftsman in his workshop. If the environment tells the viewer something about the subject’s character, you might have him or her look far off camera and shoot wider so you can show off the space more.

  2. When the subject is discussing topics that, for him, are: a) distant memories, b) tragic and/or painful, c) still unresolved in some way. This set up is almost like an aside; a soliloquy from the theater. The subject is not so much telling his story for our benefit, but for his own, because he’s trying to reconcile something within himself. For me, the composition tells me that the subject is almost talking to himself; thinking through things that still need closure.

I hope this post encourages you to think through the interview set ups on your next video project. Remember, every shot tells a story and communicates something to your viewer, even your talking heads. There should be a purpose and a reason behind every shot selection.

Have something to add? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.