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Old October 2nd, 2008, 12:27 PM   #1
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Interview technique suggestions and tips?

Hey all,

Im new to all this and currently working on some video that will be used as a recruiting tool for my organization. We are conducting a number of interviews of people and Im looking for tips on how to make everything flow better with the questions. Ive shot about 5 interviews so far and my first ones were kind of 'bad' in that the subjects were kind of searching for their answers (very easy questions so I dont believe it was the question that caused the brain-lock) and I believe that Ive found a few of the problems I was having and have minimized them (discussing the questions with the subject, doing a dry run etc. and filming *everything* including the dry run). So, can you all share some of your tips to improve how interviews are approached? Thanks

Steve
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Old October 2nd, 2008, 01:15 PM   #2
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This is just my own little set of rules:

Rule #1) Listen. For real. It's not about you, it's about them.

Rule #2) Don't ask yes or no questions.

Rule #3) You're not the talent. Keep it short, ask it and let them talk.

Rule #4) Don't cut them off - let them go until they are done, then re-phrase the question, ask a follow-up question, or move on. I remember in film school we discussed a famous documentary film-maker (can't remember his name) who would just sit in silence for hours until his subjects would start talking. I think he did some prison films or something. It's a foggy memory but it makes me think twice before moving on. Sometimes the best byte is after your subject has said the first thing, and has sat there for a bit, and then thinks of the next thing.

If you are looking for specific sound bytes, you can help coach them a little. I shot some interviews for a VH1 reality show and I was surprised by the amount of coaching the story people gave the talent. I can see instances where you might use some coaching if they are saying something profound but are not phrasing it in a usable sound byte. I'd use this sparingly though - I like to keep it real and honest. Maybe it'd be better just to ask them to say it in a different way.

You'll find that each person has their own style of responding which will present their own unique challenges during editing, but that's half the fun of it.
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Old October 2nd, 2008, 03:47 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Philip Gioja View Post
This is just my own little set of rules:

Rule #1) Listen. For real. It's not about you, it's about them.

Rule #2) Don't ask yes or no questions.

Rule #3) You're not the talent. Keep it short, ask it and let them talk.

Rule #4) Don't cut them off - let them go until they are done, then re-phrase the question, ask a follow-up question, or move on. I remember in film school we discussed a famous documentary film-maker (can't remember his name) who would just sit in silence for hours until his subjects would start talking. I think he did some prison films or something. It's a foggy memory but it makes me think twice before moving on. Sometimes the best byte is after your subject has said the first thing, and has sat there for a bit, and then thinks of the next thing.

If you are looking for specific sound bytes, you can help coach them a little. I shot some interviews for a VH1 reality show and I was surprised by the amount of coaching the story people gave the talent. I can see instances where you might use some coaching if they are saying something profound but are not phrasing it in a usable sound byte. I'd use this sparingly though - I like to keep it real and honest. Maybe it'd be better just to ask them to say it in a different way.

You'll find that each person has their own style of responding which will present their own unique challenges during editing, but that's half the fun of it.
Phillip, thanks for your reply. Those are some good suggestions. I actually caught myself coaching today, but thankfully stopped short of putting too much of my own input into it. Part of the bigger problem my subjects are having is that most of them are afraid to be natural on camera. I know thats not something I can control (or can I?) and Ive thought about just letting the camera roll and discussing things without them realizing its on and only in the end letting them know that it was done and they werent even aware of it. Pie in the sky probably for that one though. LOL.
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Old October 3rd, 2008, 03:49 PM   #4
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I can tell you that I'm the worst person in the world to be interviewed - I hate it. So I try to put myself in their shoes.

I like to use a shotgun mic on a pole or mic stand rather than a lav. I know it may not be the best for sound, but I feel like that's a lot less intrusive on the subject's personal space. I also usually go for very sparse lighting - usually use ambient light as much as possible with maybe a softbox or two. That's partly to keep it low key and partly because I haven't spent a lot on lighting (-:

But I usually don't have a lot of trouble. Keep your style in mind - don't be too aggressive, just try to have a conversation and listen more than talk. I don't know - usually works out ok for me. I'm not an expert at this by any means - still learning it myself.
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Old October 4th, 2008, 09:41 AM   #5
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Regarding lighting: if I'm using 3 - 5 instruments for moody studio style interviews, I make sure all the lights are lit when the subject enters the room. That way, that is their perception of the room. If they walk into a "normal" room, which is then changed by someone running around turning on instruments and fiddling, the possibility for anxiousness to increase magnifies itself.

Regarding posing questions: I have a CONVERSATION with people that does require that I talk more than most interviewers but I've been very fortunate to get casual delivery out of people that PROBABLY wouldn't have otherwise. And yes, LISTEN. Your next "question" should be a follow up to what they've just said, NOT just the next question on your list. And once they start speaking, STOP, period. Allow them to speak, unless they are going in such a tangential direction that it is of NO use to you whatsoever. You never know where people ar going with a response that MAY lead you to new ground.

Don't ask "closed ended questions". Where do you live? "Winnipeg". Tell me about where you live. "I'm currently in a 3 bedroom townhouse in West Winnipeg that I share with..." And make sure to ask people to include the premise of the question in their answer. "Tell me about where you work" should yield "I work as a videographer and production coordinator, running my own business..." instead of "Gearhead Visual".

Pre-Interviews: I believe in talking AROUND the points you plan to raise in interview but not posing the exact questions as you are more likely to get the classic "well, like I told you earlier..." response which isn't bad if it's at the beginning of a statement, but if it comes in the middle it's harder to edit. It is my practice NOT to provide a list of questions in advance. I provide talking points that my subject should be prepared for, though.
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Old October 5th, 2008, 09:24 AM   #6
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Philip and Shaun, thank you for your advice! Ive got so much to learn. Im actually doing all this to prep for a documentary that I want to create and I will be interviewing a number of people (if all goes well) and a couple of the interviews are going to be very hard to get, and even harder or impossible to repeat should I make a grave mistake. I plan on forwarding them a general outline of the flow of questioning. They will be trying to recall events from about 50 or so years ago. I spoke to one of my subjects by phone for the first time last week and I told him what my plans were and he said "oh man, that was so many years ago, I dont know how Ill be of any help", but despite this, he eagerly agreed to be interviewed.

Last edited by Steve Sprague; October 5th, 2008 at 09:26 AM. Reason: clarification..not enough Dr. Pepper yet
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Old October 5th, 2008, 02:29 PM   #7
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Philip and Shaun gave excellent advice.
All I can think to add is:

- try to relax and enjoy it. If they can sense that you are enjoying it, they will too. If you are tense and uptight, they will pick up on that. It wants to be as spontaneous as possible.

- it can be very tempting to ask people to retell something for the camera or even to tell people what you want them to say. If the interviewee is a good actor it _might_ work. Usually it's a disaster.

- some of the best material often happens at the end of the interview when everyone thinks it's over and they relax. Make sure that the camera is rolling and the sound on so that you can get this if it happens.
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Old October 5th, 2008, 10:40 PM   #8
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Philip and Shaun gave excellent advice.
All I can think to add is:

- try to relax and enjoy it. If they can sense that you are enjoying it, they will too. If you are tense and uptight, they will pick up on that. It wants to be as spontaneous as possible.

- it can be very tempting to ask people to retell something for the camera or even to tell people what you want them to say. If the interviewee is a good actor it _might_ work. Usually it's a disaster.

- some of the best material often happens at the end of the interview when everyone thinks it's over and they relax. Make sure that the camera is rolling and the sound on so that you can get this if it happens.
Oh yeah, good points about keeping things rolling. I fully intended to do that, not only at the end, but in the beginning. Part of some of the things Im concerned about involve simply what to ask. My project involves the history of a particular area and the events that happened there. Im very familiar with the history of the overall project I will be ultimately doing, but I know the least about this particular portion of my project subject. Im also not likely to learn much between now and then, but I have 3-4 people that were there when everything happened, willing to be interviewed, I would even say they are excited about it. I guess Im simply afraid of not asking the appropriate questions. Im thinking that Ill ask questions and follow ups and just let it flow. Is it reasonable to expect to complete an interview in one sitting or should I plan on more than one interview with each subject? I guess I dont know what to expect and I want to ensure Im not going to be a nuisance/bother to these folks.
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Old October 5th, 2008, 11:05 PM   #9
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Generally, I feel it's bad form to ask folks to come back for a second interview UNLESS you are following them around as part of the story or content reveals itself organically over a period of time.

One of the last questions I ask before terminating an interview is a variation of: "Have I missed anything?/Is there anything you'd like to add?/Is there anything else you'd like me or the viewer to know?"

That usually gets all your bases covered. In fact, in the past I've been ready to pack up after 15 minutes, hit the subject with that question and the interview has gone on for another hour!
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Old October 6th, 2008, 09:57 PM   #10
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Great advice, Shaun. Thanks again. Ive got a lot of learning to do. :-)
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Old October 7th, 2008, 06:57 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Philip Gioja View Post
I like to use a shotgun mic on a pole or mic stand rather than a lav. I know it may not be the best for sound, but I feel like that's a lot less intrusive on the subject's personal space.
Almost all the top sound recordists that I've worked with use a mic on a stand rather then the lav. The latter tends to pick up rustling when people move and positioned just out of shot a shotgun gives a natural vocal sound with only a little of the room's acoustics coming through.

It helps if the interviewer can relax the interviewee before you start filming. The best interviewers give loads of eye contact, encouraging nods and smiles - positive body language. They also listen to what's being said, to allow follow up question if the unexpected comes up in an answer.
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Old October 9th, 2008, 09:12 AM   #12
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Stationary mikes, especially directional ones, on a stand have their problems, too , though. If the subject turns away from the "sweet spot," the audio quality drops off considerably. If your subject is animated (and who doesn't want an animated subject?) this can happen even if they're sitting down in front of the camera.

Best bet is to do BOTH lav and a hypercardioid (assuming you're indoors) on a stationary boom. Feed each mike into a separate channel and use whichever sounds best in post.

Make sure whoever is doing the interview sits as close to the lens of the camera as possible, so the subject's eye line looks like they're speaking directly to the audience. Frame them so there's some space in the direction they are looking.
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Old October 9th, 2008, 09:34 AM   #13
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Here's a short clip I shot last week using a mic stand and a AT-897 shotgun. I put the mic just barely above the frame, and I felt like it worked out pretty well. Just used available room light.

I had someone else doing the questions since I didn't know all the kids.

http://www.centerstreetproductions.c...s_heavenv2.wmv

I know it's really small and compressed, but I was running out of server space and it was just a quick review for the higher ups (-:
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Old October 9th, 2008, 01:07 PM   #14
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Steve,

I've read here a lot of excellent bits of advise, and
I wouldn't be able (also because of linguistic limits) to express them any better.
But don't get scared, because it all boils down to one thing:
human-to-human relation.
You run the show! - but just keep in
mind that IT IS NOT a show!, it's a human, open, sincere talk:
that's what you're going after.
As a native European (with a penchant for coffee or wine, but beer works as well),
I'll explain it with the "bar" (as in: watering hole) example.
You have to try to recreate (as difficult or even impossible as it may sound)
that same kind of atmosphere: you're sitting there in your favorite dump,
with a bunch of old friends, and you're having an open, sincere, free, frank, deeply human discussion.
The trick is to be able to come as close as possible to that very peculiar atmosphere,
but a) you're not in your favorite bar; b) you're not talking or listening to your best friends: these people are probably strangers, and you've never met them before;
c) there's a camera involved, and mikes, and lights (all fairly intimidating "weapons")
You have to make up for all these shortcomings. How?
With your personality, your human touch, your feelings, your sincerity, your eyes
(my mentor used to tell me: "In this job, you see your good luck in the peculiar light that you're able to turn on in other people's eyes", or something along those lines... - you see what I mean).
It's as simple as that - as difficult as that.
Good luck

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Old October 9th, 2008, 10:32 PM   #15
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Wow, thanks everyone for the great advice. I like the idea of a stationary mic. Im planning on buying some lav mics as soon as I can afford it. Im also looking at the Rode VideoMic as that seems to be used quite a bit and its very affordable. Can you detach that and use it on a stand? Maybe I can cover both bases with it.

Vasco, thank you for your relational example. My subject matter has the potential to be extremely emotional..its sad, and its going to probably elicit some anger in a number of people if I present it correctly and the way I want to. I truly believe my project has the potential to be very moving and important. Im hoping I can succeed at this, in telling the story and evoking the emotion that this issue deserves. Again, thanks.

Steve
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