I recently interviewed a number of families for a video we produced to highlight the value of a nonprofit organization that provides home and community health services across Connecticut. As with any on-camera interview, I approached these meetings with some basic questions such as “tell us what brought you to where you are now,” or “how did you get connected with this organization.” But I also probed more deeply to give the interviewees an opportunity to talk about things like their personal and professional challenges; some of the family dynamics at play as they worked through extremely trying issues.
The on-camera interview is my favorite component of video production. It’s something I’ve honed over time. Earlier in my experience, I would compile a number of questions for the subject and dutifully run down each to gather as much as I could for their story. But I eventually learned that while it was important to prepare for an interview, it was equally as important to “be in the moment” with the person I was interviewing. Over time, I realized that I would get to a person’s real story through conversation as opposed to a more structured interview.
This perspective alone changed my approach from that of a detached interviewer to someone who really wanted to know what was happening in a person’s life. And this, in turn, triggered something more personal. I developed a need to protect the people I interviewed. On-camera interviews, particularly with people using the services of a nonprofit organization, can get very personal. Intense moments can present themselves. That’s part of what makes me protective of the people I interview. By offering very personal insight into their experience, they’re allowing themselves to be in a vulnerable position. I’m honored when someone feels comfortable enough to trust me with their story. So my overall goal, every time I highlight a person in a video, is to portray them in a way that communicates not only their story, but their courage and conviction as well.
Based on this approach, I’ve developed eight guideposts for interviews and usage. They’re not in any particular order, because I think they all contribute equally to a successful on-camera interview.
- Approach each story and situation with respect. The interview can be a cathartic experience for the person you’re filming. It could be the first time they’re saying something out loud about their challenges. It takes a lot of courage and strength for someone to sit in front of a camera and tell their story.
- Set up your equipment ahead of time so you can start the interview as soon as the subject arrives. If you schedule an interview for an hour at 10 am, start the interview at 10 am. It can take up to a half hour to set things up, and another 10 minutes to frame the subject and get proper audio levels. So arrive early and get things set so you have the full hour.
- Take some time to chat (time allowing) before getting into the questions. Let the interviewee get acclimated to what is usually a very unfamiliar setting – sitting in front of a camera or two, surrounded by a light or three.
- Honor wishes for usage, even if someone has signed a release that may state otherwise. People can change their minds. Sometimes people decide after the fact that they don’t want to share their story. There is also a trust factor that once broken, is very hard to repair.
- Don’t rush. And in fact, allow more time than formally allotted for the interview in case someone has difficulties starting, or really gets settled in. I’ve had people sit down, obviously very nervous, saying, “I only have a short time,” and an hour and a half later we’re wrapping up with a lot of insightful and profound statements.
- Actively listen. In a commonly used technique, you would ask the question and have the subject answer back as a statement. So you never hear the interviewer in the final video. Because you need to remain silent while the subject is speaking, go out of your way to communicate that you’re interested through body language: nod your head, lean in.
- Don’t fill the silence. If someone is talking about a difficult subject, they may pause to gather their thoughts. Let them get to it on their own. I tend to pause after someone addresses something that’s particularly challenging for them. I want to make sure they’re really finished with that thought. Sometimes, they’re not. They might add something more because they’re in the moment.
- Approach each interview as an assignment. Do some research. Find bios if they’re available. Learn about the person and what they’re talking about. It will allow you to form better questions ahead of time, and will help with follow up during the interview. In addition, the person you’re interviewing will be impressed and respond accordingly.
When someone agrees to be interviewed on-camera, they are always taking a leap of faith that their contribution will be portrayed in a way that is true and fair. After a successful interview, the test in editing will be to produce a story that is compelling but not intrusive; something that gives equal time to challenges and successes. The guideposts above will help you get to that story while maintaining trust and integrity going forward.
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