How to shoot an interview
Updated: Jan 31
At SmartCuts, shooting interviews is part of the core competence needed on the team. We do lots of these in lots of different situations: run-and-gun, corporate sit-down, in the field, on green screen and so on. There’s the technical aspect of the job: getting the light right, the audio, light camera motion; but there’s also the content aspect: how to ask questions to get the sorts of answers you want on tape. We often have to handle both, and we’ve found the Parker Walbeck approach to be an inspiration. He’s a professional filmmaker with experience in Hollywood. Here are Parker’s 7 steps to shooting an interview.
Step 1. FIND THE RIGHT LOCATION
Basically, the process goes like this. First look for good lighting, good leading lines and good composition. Look around looking through your camera and find a spot where you think you have a dynamic shot that can show some depth, show some leading lines and that has some good lighting.
If you are inside a large room some pillars and windows behind your subject can give you a lot of depth. This will add a lot of value to your video interview.
After you have chosen your best location set up all the gear. Mount your cameras on tripods.
Step 2. COMPOSITION
As far as the height of your camera is concerned, you want it to be somewhat close to the eye line of your subject. It doesn't have to be right on. You can go a little higher.
Check to see there’s no garbage in the background.
This is about not only what's in your frame, but it's also what's not in your frame. Check for things that distract, that take away from the subject. Go ahead and remove anything that's in the frame that you don't want in there.
Look through your camera to get your framing the way you like it. Both, left and right and up and down. Look at what's in your shot. What's not in your shot? Decide how much of the person’s body you want for the camera angle. You may have one camera going from the waist up, that’s a medium shot, and a second camera just a tight on the face.
Then decide how much you want your frame on either end. If you have the person looking to off-camera left, then you’re going to want to make sure that you’re framing where he's on the right of the frame. So that there's more headroom in front of his face rather than behind his face. Sometimes you may do center framing but if you do center framing make sure your subject is looking directly at the camera.
If you are interviewing people who are super awkward on camera, which is most everybody, then it's usually not the best idea to have them looking directly at the camera. It's usually more natural to have them off camera and actually talking to a human being. That's much easier for people to do. You can also have them look straight at the camera if you have them positioned on one of the thirds of the grid lines displayed in the view finder.
Another important point is the headroom.
When you’re framing this interview shot, you want the person’s eyes not only on a third of the grid lines vertically but also a third horizontally. So set the person up on one of these two thirds.
If you have the cameras tilted up and his head is in the center of the frame that's poorly framed. There would be too much head room above. If you bring the camera too low then the head would be touching the top of the frame. You would be showing a little bit too much of his body and not giving the person enough headroom. You don't want your audience to feel constrained like claustrophobic inside your framing.
Once you have your first camera setup where you like then you get to your second camera setup.
Decide if you want to have your second camera on the left or on the right. Use the camera to see what it looks like. If you do a tight shot of his face check what it looks like on his right side and left side. Notice where the main source of light, the key light, is coming from. Ideally, you'd be shooting on the shadow side of the person’s face for the second camera.
Some students ask why he chooses the shadow side to roll the second camera. It is mostly for creative taste. Parker has studied with Hollywood directors and that's generally what they do in Hollywood.
When you're shooting on the light side. Everything's lit up so you don't see as many shadows. You don't see as much depth. It is more of the depth that shooting on the shadow side creates. You can do both. Neither of them is wrong. Go ahead and watch a horror movie. You'll see they usually do the shadow side. But some scenes are on the bright side. There's no right or wrong way.
At this point you have the cameras positioned and ready to go.
Step 3. THE LIGHTING
A favorite light is the Aputure 120D with the light Dome. This is a favorite go to light when it comes to shooting video interviews because it is such a soft light with this Dome that it makes it super flattering on the face. At SmartCuts we use the 300D for the extra power it provides when needed on a large set.
Try and get this light as close as you can to your subject without being in the shot.
If you already have a lot of natural soft light pouring in you may not need a whole lot of artificial light. Try to make the person’s face brighter than the background
One of the biggest things to look for in relation to lights are the shadows on the face. By moving the light to a side and above you create shadows on the face. You can put the light above the person and slightly to one side. Your aim is to create depth. You can bring the exposure down to make the background darker than the subject.
You may use a second light for a backlight. For example, the Light Storm 1 by Aputure. This model is the bicolor version. Parker likes to put it on the opposite side of the key lights and get it nice and high coming down on the subject.
Something about color temperature. You have the option if you want to go 3200 Kelvin or 5500 Kelvin. Outside daylight is going to be around 5600 Kelvin.
And this light Dome is 6000 Kelvin, which is a little bit bluer than the outdoor light. Try and match this with all the other lights and put this up 5500 Kelvin
The purpose of the backlight is to outline your subject to kind of make them separate from the background.
There's our lighting setup.
Step 4. AUDIO
Parker’s team recommends to work with the RODE NTG3 microphone
The number one mistake most people make is that they always record way too far away.
What we're going to do is we want to get the mic really close to the person's face which leads to the second common mistake.
When people mic people up and that is people think they need to be as physically close as possible. Which is not true. Microphones are like human ears. When you're placing a microphone think about it critically and say well if you are having a conversation with someone, where would you be.
What we want to do is think kind of a natural position. The 6 / 8 inch up to like 12 / 14-inch area is the most natural distance. That's one reason to use a boom over lav simply because lav being on your chest is in an unnatural spot.
Make sure the mic is out of the frame.
Then make the person talk. Ask him some question to listen how he sounds. Then adjust the distance between the mic and person to get an idea of how this is going to sound in an interview situation. We want them to talk how they're normally going to talk. So, get them to talk about something that they can keep rambling that way, you know, like if I didn't cut him off to explain I would kind of adjust my levels. I'd maybe move my mic around a little bit
Audio level settings
when you are checking levels where he trying to get their loudest and their lowest volumes to sits decibel level wise?
-6DB is the peak which is basically like if they're mumbling and then laughing, that's a peak. The low mumbling is like the lowest end. The average which is referred to as RMS. Set it anywhere between -18 and -12,
You can get the NTG3 all set up on the boom pole. All on a C-stand.
You can use a lav mic. This is for redundancy ideally and probably won't use the lav mic but we want to have it just in case.
It's secondary and if you only have one that's fine, but if you can get redundancy get a second lav mic on the person.
Look for the middle of the cleavage. When a person has a really flat chest, it's a lot harder to hide the mic.
Step 5: CAMERA SETTINGS
We work on the camera settings now.
Set aperture F/1.4 on both cameras. ISO to 100.
Adjust shutter speed to 1/500 to compensate for the fact that you’re bringing the aperture down to 1.4.
Shoot at 24 frames per second on both cameras. Ideally, the shutter speed would be 1/50. So just double of one 24 frames per second, but if there is not a lot of motion you can bump up the shutter speed to 1/500. This is because in an interview situation there's not a lot of motion to begin with.
The most movement the person is going to be doing is maybe raising his arm or focusing on his face
Anyway, Parker is ok bumping that shutter speed up higher than what is normal and right for filmmakers.
Set white balance to 5500K.
Step 6: RHINO SLIDER SETTINGS
All right. Let's talk about the Rhino slider now. Probably the biggest benefit to having a rhino slider in this kind of interview case is to have awesome cinematic movement going back and forth automatically on a loop. It's continuous going the whole time while you’re just sitting there talking to the interviewee
You get to focus all your attention on the person you’re interviewing while getting amazingly cinematic camera movements from the sliders. And what does this do? This allows you to focus your attention on the person you’re talking to. Ideally, you'd have multiple people on set that could listen in an audio but if it was just you, you would let these cameras run and you would have headphones on so you can hear the audio and make sure it's clean and then just chat with the person.
You can just save a bunch of money by not having to hire two people to run both of these cameras.
And by the way, you can get auto focus on this and you can just select his face for interviews. It's kind of nice to have an autofocus going during these sliding moves
It's automated. These sliders can shoot cinematic shots for hours. Go ahead and roll both of these cameras.
Step 7: INTERVIEWING PROCESS
TIPS FOR INTERVIEWING
Have the interviewee look at real people if you can it's going to be much more natural for people
If they are looking into the camera make sure they know how to do it well and they practice.
People ask what kind of questions should you ask to provoke good answers. it really just depends on the type of content you're shooting. One tip, prepare some questions. Yes, but don't stick to just those questions. In other words, most people the mistake they make when they're interviewing somebody, they have a list of questions in front of them. They'll ask one. So, what do you think about this? They'll look at them. The person will start talking. The interviewer will give his attention for about two seconds and then they'll start looking at their sheet their notes looking for the next question. The person they're talking to doesn't feel like they're having a conversation anymore.
You can look at your notes but focus on the person you're interviewing and listen, that's one of the biggest things people don't do. They’re thinking about their next question instead of listening to what the person is actually telling you. The most inspired questions will come from you listening to the person giving the answers.
And so, as you listen, you will come up with better questions off of the things they're saying that will help you create more organic conversation.
To book producer and crew for an interview, please call us at 022 555 3495 for the Geneva area or 021 211 7071 for the Lausanne area. We also encourage you to visit our video interviews landing page.
To learn more about Parker you can visit his website at: https://www.parkerwalbeck.com/