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.

Two Ways to Build a Solid Reputation in Your Local Film Community

042917_BandT-006.jpg

There's one thing ALL low/no-budget short films have in common: most everyone is working for free. It never ceases to amaze me how many talented people are willing to donate their time and their talents to work on a film project, just because they believe in the material and genuinely enjoy the craft. And it's remarkable what you can achieve if you simply ask.

But "nice" will only get you so far. In addition to being nice, you have to be respectful. Your cast and crew have given up their nights and weekends because they a) love the process of filmmaking, b) believe in you, c) love the material, or d) all of the above.

If you want to maintain a good reputation in the local film community, always do the following:

  • Come to set prepared. Be respectful of everyone's time. Show up to set with a solid schedule, a clear vision, and a thorough shot list. A short film set is not a social club. You aren't there to hang out. You're there to work. Believe me, your cast and crew will have a fun time on set if you provide clear direction throughout the day. Having fun is the result of being prepared. If your set is chaotic and disorganized, people will be less inclined to help you in the future.
  • Finish the film and get it out there. Nothing is worse than when talented actors and crew members donate their time for a short film project only to find out months later that the director a) didn't even finish the film, or b) finished it but doesn't want anyone to see it because he/she is too displeased with it. Let the cast and crew see the fruits of their labor. You don't have to submit it to film festivals. You don't have to post it online. But at least coordinate a private viewing party so everyone can see the final product.

Have any other tips for building a solid reputation as a low/no-budget filmmaker? Leave them in the Comments.

What Happens When the Video Crew Forgets the Light Kit

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 2.48.38 PM.png

You and your video crew are on the road, traveling to the interview location when you suddenly remember... The light kit is still in the studio! You're too far down the road now to turn back (plus you have a schedule to keep) and the interview location is in a small town where there are no rental facilities or other production companies.

What do you do?

First of all, don't panic. And DEFINITELY don't roll up to the location and announce to your client, 'Well, I left all of the lights back at the studio!" There are still plenty of ways to shoot an interview using only natural light. Here are a few things to try:

  1. Place the subject right next to a window. The natural daylight is usually soft and even. If you find that the light is too harsh, hang a sheet or a silk in front of the window to soften it. You might also try lowering the shade if the window is equipped with one.
  2. Take the subject outside. Make sure the background isn't in direct sunlight. Otherwise it will blow out. Use reflectors and bounce cards to add fill light to your subject. The image at the top of this post is from an interview I shot several years ago using only natural light and bounce cards. Notice how the background is dark, maintaining proper contrast and exposure. The light on the subject is soft, even, and has a nice fall-off.
  3. Use mirrors to direct light exactly where you need it. If you happen to be shooting in a tricky location where it isn't possible to take your subject to the daylight, then try bringing the daylight to your subject. You can achieve this by using a combination of mirrors (or any other highly reflective surface), bounce cards, and reflectors. In the video below, the production crew came up with a creative way to bounce the daylight around a corner and on to the talent.

Take some time to search YouTube and you will find hundreds of tutorials on how to light with natural light. Have any other suggestions? Leave them in the Comments below.

Best Practices For Working With Non-Professional Actors

IMG_3205.JPG

In my video production career I have predominantly worked with non-actors and the challenge is always the same: how can you capture natural, believable footage from people who aren't trained to perform in front of a camera?

If you've been hired to shoot a commercial for a local restaurant or a sales video for a niche product manufacturer, you will at some point be directing the people who actually work at these businesses. So, here are some things that have helped me get the most out of my non-professional on-camera talent.

  1.  Spend a few minutes with them before bringing them to set.  Introduce yourself. Find out something about them. Talk about things unrelated to the shoot. Get them talking about themselves. Smile. Laugh. Be personable. Build trust. The more comfortable they are with you, the more willing they'll be to take direction when the cameras roll. 
  2. Be very clear about what you are trying to accomplish.  Believe it or not, sometimes the business rep who shows up for the shoot has been "volun-told" by a superior to be involved in the production and he/she may not even know what the video is really about. Don't assume he/she knows what's going on. Spell out explicitly what the scene is about and what you will be asking him/her to do. Answer any questions that may come up. Remember, the more comfortable the talent is, the better the footage. 
  3. You are setting up scenarios, not staging scripted scenes.  If you come to set and start giving a long list of specific, scripted directions to your talent ("Now, at THIS point you will cross to THIS side of the room and stand HERE, turning 3/4 to camera BEFORE delivering your line...") they will immediately tense up and deliver a performance that feels too rigid and unnatural. Why? Because they aren't accustomed to taking direction, hitting marks and nailing the timing that comes from years of actor training. Instead of specific, scripted direction, focus on setting up a scenario; something they do every day while doing their job. Keep the direction loose, start rolling, and capture the scene much like you would if it were a documentary. Remember, your job is to capture an authentic moment.
  4. Be willing to pivot.  Sometimes your talent might tell you, "I wouldn't necessarily do it this way." Okay. Great. Tell them to perform the action the way they normally would in their day-to-day jobs. They'll be more confident and comfortable and your footage will look more natural.  
  5. Remind them not to look at the camera.  Don't scold them. Don't yell "Cut!" as soon as you see them look over to the lens. Let the scene play out, then walk over to make adjustments, using that moment as a gentle reminder. It is so hard for people not to look at the camera.  
  6. Tell them what you're doing on set as you're doing it.  Non-professional actors don't know what coverage is. They might not understand why you keep moving the camera around and why they have to repeat the same action over and over. Remember, your job is to make them comfortable. Constantly explain what you're doing ("Okay, now I'm going to zoom in for a tighter shot so I can get that same action in close-up.") so they feel reassured that they aren't doing anything wrong.

These are the techniques that have worked for me over the years and the more you practice them, the easier it will be to draw out the best from your on-camera talent.

What methods have worked for you? Leave your suggestions in the Comments.