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.

One Big Reason Why a Video Strategy Is Crucial

One of the biggest misconceptions I encounter in the video production business is the belief that you can hire a crew to shoot something at the last minute, figure out what to do with it on the back end, and then turn that into an edited video that meets your marketing needs.

Here’s an important point to keep in mind:  Capturing video, for the sake of capturing video, is not a video strategy.

I’ve seen it happen time and time again. It usually goes something like this:

  • An important person in the company, or a key supporter of the organization, is coming to town at the last minute for a brief visit.

  • People in the marketing department think it will be great if a video crew could capture b-roll and a quick interview with this individual (or group).

  • They hastily hire a video crew, and ask them to show up and “spray” the event, getting a few quick sound bites before the VIP is rushed out the door for the next engagement.

  • Days, or weeks later, people in marketing get together (maybe) to discuss how to leverage the video to meet current marketing needs.

Maybe you can already see the problem with this approach. The main issue is that it’s a waste of money. Why hire a video crew to shoot an event when you don’t exactly know how (or if) the footage will be used? 

In an earlier post I wrote about things you and your team should think about before you start the process of producing a video. It’s important to include video as a part of your marketing strategy from the start, rather than waiting until after footage has already been captured.

Here’s one big reason why:

Key messaging and Calls-to-Action

Let’s say you don’t yet know what you want your video to say, or what purpose it will serve. But you forge ahead and hastily schedule an interview with a few key people, thinking that you will just figure it out later. You run down a list of boilerplate interview questions and call it a day. Then, weeks later when you finally come up with a strategy for your video, you find that none of the interview questions actually addressed the key messages you now want to include. You can’t really go back and make someone say what they didn’t say in the initial interview. And so you’re left with a generic piece of video that doesn’t really hit the mark and the window of opportunity has now closed.

Video should always be included on the front end of your marketing strategy, not only for the reason listed above, but for a myriad of other reasons as well, including (but not limited to) distribution platform considerations (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) and the nuances of each.

Have any other suggestions to improve your video marketing efforts? Leave them in the Comments.

Cinematography With Gabe Mayhan

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I had an opportunity to attend this month’s Shoot & Splice, a monthly filmmaker forum presented by IndieMemphis and Crosstown Arts. The guest speaker was cinematographer Gabe Mayhan, whose reel includes shorts, features, documentaries, and broadcast projects. During a Q&A session, Gabe showed samples of his work while discussing his approach and thought process on each project. Here are some of the takeaways from his presentation that hopefully will help you on your next film project.

  • FILMMAKING IS COLLABORATIVE - There are many people on set who all contribute to the final product. Gabe was quick to point out how he couldn’t have done his job properly without a solid production designer who made sure that each set felt authentic.

  • HAVE CONVERSATIONS WITH THE DIRECTOR EARLY IN THE PROCESS - Go through the script with the director. Get an idea of his/her vision. Gabe pointed out that with the feature Antiquities, the director wanted the entire film to “feel like Grandma’s pillow.” That led to a very warm look overall. It also meant that Gabe couldn’t rely on the existing fluorescent lighting at the antique store location. He needed practicals to motivate his tungsten approach. And so he discussed his needs with the production designer (see #1 above) and they were able to secure low-hanging tungsten fixtures and add them to the set (see image below).

  • DIAGRAM EACH SET UP - Gabe admitted that this technique doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s something he does for each project. He will go through the shot list and plot a diagram for each camera set up, noting the placement of actors, the camera, and all G&E. That way, on the day of the shoot, there will be no questions as to what gear is coming off the truck. Gabe noted that for low-budget indie features, you will be working on a tight schedule (somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 days; sometimes 10-12) and diagramming each shot in pre-production will save the crew a lot of time on set.

  • EYE LINE SAYS A LOT ABOUT CHARACTER AND RELATIONSHIPS - For Antiquities, Gabe kept the main character’s eye line very close to camera, but always kept the eye lines of other characters further away from camera. Although it drove the Script Supervisor crazy, Gabe said this was a conscious choice on his part to subtly bring the viewer more into the main character’s head space. If you want to read more about eye line in the context of documentary filmmaking, read this post.

  • USE MORE WIDE ANGLE LENSES - Gabe said that he rarely shoots on a lens longer than 40mm. He touted the benefits of using wide angle lenses, like how they can help the cinematographer create great reveal shots (For an example, see the shot at 7:23 below). Wide angle lenses are also great for establishing spacial relationships between characters and communicating a sense of place. They put the viewer directly in the world that the characters inhabit.

  • CONSIDER SCREEN SIZE WHEN USING CLOSE-UPS - With today’s digital distribution models, people are watching more films on their personal devices, meaning that filmmakers can get away with super tight close-ups. However, if your film screens at a theater, bear in mind that a close-up that looked good on a TV or tablet might feel uncomfortable to an audience on a 50 ft. screen. Therefore, consider how your film will primarily be viewed when making your shot list and frame accordingly.

  • USE TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE - Apps like Helios are invaluable tools for predicting where the sun will be at any given time of the day. This will help not only your exterior setups, but also interiors where outdoor lighting is an important element in the scene.

Overall, it was an excellent Q&A session with a lot of valuable information for current and aspiring cinematographers.