6 Steps to Shooting a Great Interview
Updated: Jan 16
Shooting interviews are done to get information out of somebody who has knowledge to share with the world on a particular topic or just to get their feedback on an experience. Interview shoots are one of the most basic video production. Even so, some of us would still make some mistakes while shooting an interview, so here’s a guide on how you can ensure that your video shoot will go smoothly
Step 1: Location
Finding the right location for the interview. Depending whether your interview is outdoors, indoors or in a video studio, always look out for good lighting, leading lines and a good composition where depth can be achieved. If the interview is done in a studio, do look out for the best angles and space for the interview to be done comfortably. As you look for the right location for the interview, do take note to also listen out for any noise disruptions that can interfere with the interview in the surroundings.
Step 2: Placement of Camera
Once you have found the right spot to place your interviewee, position your camera accordingly. The composition of the camera would be best when you can achieve a clean frame of the interviewee with minimal distractions in the background. Remove any distracting objects and add in muted colours with a pop of bright colours in the background to make your framing more vibrant but still pleasing to the eye.
If you have more than one camera for the interview, set your main camera angle according to where your interviewee is facing. This main camera would have a wide shot or a mid-shot of the interviewee where there is spacial freedom for the interviewee to shift slightly or move their hands during the interview. Allow sufficient looking room or negative space and apply the rule-of-thirds in your framing. Look out for proper headroom and ensure the camera’s height is around the interviewee’s eye level.
For the second camera, position it on the ‘shadow side’ of the interviewee, where it is opposite from the key light’s position. The second camera would take on a tighter framing, slight side profile of the interviewee’s face. This framing of the second camera, where it is on the ‘shadow side’, allows better creative taste and more depth to be achieved.
Step 3: 3 Point Lighting
Lighting will be done once the cameras are in position. Lighting up the set based on the availability of natural light on the interviewee is the way to go. First, set up your key light which is the main light for the subject. A lot of filmmakers often wonder where to place the key light, should it be on the left or right of the subject. This decision is determined by to where the subject is facing. If the subject is facing camera left, the key light will be on the left too. Bringing the light close to to the subject will allow the light the "wrap around" the subject better, creating a softer look. Adjust the colour temperature of the light according to the surrounding environment’s lighting. Angle the light where you want the shadow on the interviewee’s face to fall, however do ensure that it is complementing their facial features.
Back light is placed behind the subject, matching its colour temperature levels similar to the key light. Back light is used to separate your subject from the background, highlighting your interviewee prominently. This helps when your interviewee looks too blended with the background or when you are using green screen. It is best to place the backlight on a boom arm. This is will allow the light to directly behind the subject without getting the lighting pole in shot. The fill light which is place directly across from the key light will have less intensity compared to the key or back light.
Exposure on your camera has to be readjusted once lighting is set up, this would enhance the depth and shadows in the background, allowing the interviewee to be highlighted better.
The bounce is placed under the subject, in front of the camera. The purpose is to fill some light on the dark shadows that is created by the key light, often under the chin and the eyes.
Step 4: Camera Settings
Your camera settings would then play a part on creating the best framing that you would want to achieve for a video interview. To create a shallow depth of field between the subject and the background, adjust the aperture to the lowest such as F/1.4. Keep the ISO to the minimum to reduce as much noise in the frame. Most modern cameras will be able to fine filming at ISO 800 and below. Shutter speed for video are generally at 1/50 seconds per frame, however to compensate the low aperture, you can bump to a higher shutter speed. However, shooting video at a higher shutter speed may cause a flickering effect on TV screens and some lights, so do watch out for that. Adjust the white balance according to the lighting colour temperature levels. Ensure all the settings for every camera are the same or as similar as possible.
Step 5: Audio
Audio is the other key factor in a video interview. You would want to be able to hear and understand what your interviewee is saying. Firstly, addressing the environment by understanding the noises, be it outdoors, indoors or in the studio. Generally listen out for noises, echoes and buzzing sound around the area, this should have been done when you are looking for the location. If the sound could be controlled or not, that is the main issue in a video interview recording. You can use a boom microphone or a lavalier microphone for an interview.
Common mistakes for audio, especially when using a boom microphone, is that the microphone is placed too far from the subject. Normal distance for a boom microphone to be positioned would be between 6 to 14 inches (15 to 35cm) away from the subject. The distance varies depending if it is seen in frame. Ensure that the boom microphone is angled to point directly towards the subject's chest area.
For lavalier microphones, the placement of the microphone has to be in the middle of the interviewee’s chest region to hide it in frame yet still capturing good quality audio. Tape it on the interviewee's shirt, checking that the tip of the microphone is not covered. Taping it on the shirt would reduce the probability of the microphone falling off due to body sweat or movements. It would also reduce the rustling sounds that could be picked up when the microphone rubs against the clothing of the interviewee. Settings of the lavalier microphone are generally where the receiver is set at 0db and the transmitter at -30db, to avoid any distortion of audio.
To test the microphone levels, have the interviewee to talk in their normal tone, the interviewer could provide warmup questions where the interviewee would be able to answer comfortably, as the sound-man adjusts the levels. Peaking levels are at -6db, and the low end levels are at -18db, so just adjust the levels according to the interviewee’s tone of voice. Best to keep the audio range between -12db and -18db.
Step 6: Pre-filming Warm Up
Prior to the shooting the video interview, you have to help the your interviewee feel comfortable on set. Most people are not used to being on set with lights and cameras in their faces, especially with the crew and equipment, they would feel intimidated. Talking to them about something you know they would be comfortable with would assist them on the interview flow.
It is best to have the interviewee to face the interviewer off-screen than to have them facing the camera directly, unless they are trained and used to it. This would also create a more relaxed and comfortable setting for the interviewee and they would not look too stiff on camera.
Prep the interview with the questions and key pointers on cue sheets or cue cards for the interviewee to refer during the video interview. This would reduce moments where the interviewee may not be as prepared for the answer or when they lose their train of thoughts.
As you prepare the questions to ask the interviewee, do refrain from following the prep questions strictly. Be flexible depending on the interviewee’s responses. Always listen to the interviewee’s responses and try to lead to the next question once they have finished talking. Pay attention and avoid from constantly looking at your cue cards and notes while they are talking as it may give the impression that you are uninterested in what they are saying, especially when you need as much information from them. Through listening, you may even be able to come up with better questions for the interview to run smoothly.
Once you have all the steps covered, you are good to roll and get that interview going with the best shots, good audio and all the information you need!