Have you ever noticed that when you enter the room with your camcorder people become keenly aware of its presence? More likely than not, you’ll see people watching you out of the corners of their eyes and ducking off into the shadows to get out of your way. Camcorders can intimidate; especially when you want to tape a one-on-one interview.
The following ideas will help you eliminate these problems by creating a comfortable and non-threatening environment. This will allow your subject to speak and act naturally and will help you to get the solid, worthwhile footage you’re looking for.
TIP ONE: ESTABLISH RAPPORT BEFORE POINTING YOUR CAMCORDER
People tend to raise their defenses when you abruptly confront them with questions and a camcorder. Though the people will usually stay, they more often feel like they’ve been taken hostage. Unfortunately their discomfort often drips off their faces and onto your footage.
To eliminate this threat, you need to make your subject feel comfortable by breaking the ice with pleasant conversation. This will make the transition to the interview easier and more successful.
By establishing rapport with your subject, you’ll develop trust so their focus remains on you instead of on your camcorder. Their inhibitions will melt away, leaving you with natural conversation which makes for good clips.
TIP TWO: DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Preparation for any kind of video shoot is the key for producing quality footage. If you’re conducting interviews, however, another series of preparations needs to take place.
After you make sure that all of your equipment is working properly, you also need to figure out what you’re going to ask, where it might lead and how the responses are going to contribute to your story.
All too often there’s a tendency to think you can "wing it." You figure the perfect questions will arise spontaneously and spawn ideal answers. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to stumbling, unclear questions and uncomfortable, poor responses. You also risk missing what might’ve been a great quote or magic moment.
The best way to avoid this is to write questions and key points down beforehand. By doing so, even if you do end up winging it, at least you’ll have your notes to fall back on should the interview begin to falter.
At the same time don’t let scripted questions solely dictate where the interview will go. If the person you’re interviewing gets enthusiastic about a topic, go with it. This is where winging it works. You can always go back to your list of questions. By preparing yourself with such a list, you have the flexibility to roam while knowing that you can find your way back.
Still, whether you’re interviewing a grandma at a wedding or a firefighter at a fire, it’s good to have an idea of where you’re trying to go before you tape.
TIP THREE:ASK GOOD QUESTIONS
Keep your questions simple and focused. Long-winded questions with multiple points can confuse your subjects, leaving them feeling uneasy and speechless.
Focused questions will give you more focused answers, which in turn will provide you with better material.
At the same time, you’ll want to avoid simple yes or no answers. Your audience should be able to fully understand the answer without hearing your question. In order to achieve this, construct questions that provoke a full explanation rather than a yes or no response. For example, you might say: "Tell me about your relationship with your father." instead of, "Do you have a good relationship with your father?"
Well constructed, simple questions will spur the revealing answers you want.
TIP FOUR:AVOID OVER-DIRECTING
The way you relate to those you interview will directly affect how they respond and it’ll set the tone of the final footage. It’s a thin line between maintaining control and allowing people the freedom to express themselves.
Though you might, at times, feel the need to clarify or interpret what your subjects say, it’s important to let them express themselves in their own natural ways. If you don’t, you run the risk of capturing your own vision instead of theirs. The best interviews are the ones where the subjects are most open. If they’re not using their own words, the result comes off forced and stilted.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid to give someone direction if they seem to have lost their train of thought. It can put a lot of pressure on a person to say the perfect thing, especially at a momentous party or wedding. By nudging him a little, even with something simple like, "Wish the bride and groom luck," you can improve the chances of getting great comments and footage.
TIP FIVE: DON’T INTERRUPT
Like over-directing, cutting your subject off mid-sentence might ruin a person’s train of thought. Sometimes a person just needs to work through his answer. Often a great clip will arise just when you’ve given up hope. If all else fails, try asking the question in a different way. This will allow the person to continue focusing on your question while maintaining the comfort level you’ve already carefully established.
TIP SIX: GET AWAY FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY
If there are others involved in what you’re shooting, make sure they’ve given you their input before the interview. Discussing lighting, backgrounds, camera settings and interview content while you’re in the middle of an interview can distract and confuse your subject. The focus will veer away from the important conversation and possibly shatter the comfort zone you’ve created for your subject.
In order to maintain control of the comfortable environment you’ve established make sure all advice to your subject flows through you, the director. If you don’t make this clear, the good intentions of people on the set could undermine your goal.
TIP SEVEN: DON’T PUTTER WITH YOUR GEAR
Adjusting a light or a microphone is a smart thing to do as you get started, but constantly fiddling with your equipment throughout an interview will ruin its flow. Often, however, adjusting or changing framing is necessary during an interview, and if you’re shooting alone without a separate camera operator, such adjustments can be disruptive. If appropriate, make adjustments when it’s time to begin a new question.
In order to keep the established flow, you’re better off casually continuing your interview while making the adjustments rather than pausing to do so. This way you don’t miss a beat, and you keep the focus on the interview and away from the camcorder.
A video monitor can also help framing. It allows you to make adjustments without having to peer through the viewfinder. In an interview, your main goal is to allow your subject to be as natural as possible. When you maintain focus on the interview you can keep the technical stuff almost invisible.
By practicing these tips, you can remove much of the intimidation and awkwardness of an interview. The comfortable environment you’ve created will let you capture great footage. At the same time, your sensitive approach won’t send people running for cover when you and your camcorder enter the room. The result will be open and natural interviews that can dramatically enhance your videos.