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Old November 18th, 2003, 12:12 AM   #1
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Video Interview Preparations and Advice

I will be shooting my first interviews in the coming weeks for a documentary using a Panasonic DVX100 and some basic lighting.

I have written down some questions for my "talking heads" to answer and thought I'd tune in to this forum and ask for some final advice before I head out and do the production.

How do you guys prepare to do interviews? How do you ask your questions? How long should I take when doing interviews? Do I just jump right in and ask them questions or there is a method that people do in order to get the subjects to relax?

What's the secret to good interviews??
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Old November 18th, 2003, 01:15 AM   #2
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My advice:

1) don't tell them "okay, we're rolling", just set up, sit down, and start chatting.

2)Instead of asking questions try to give prompts: "tell me..."; it's very hard to give a one word answer to "Tell me about your view on filetrading."

3) If it feels like it's been long to you, they are probably dying.
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Old November 18th, 2003, 03:18 AM   #3
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First, chat for a few minutes just as you would during a first time conversation. Once your subject and you are comfortable in conversation, fire away w/ your first question, "So tell me about..."

Also, if you are not appearing on camera, explain to your subjects that their answers should include your question somehow since you will not be heard asking the question. This is a hard trait to master. For example, if you ask, "Tell me what you did last summer," their response of, "I went swimming," wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to viewers. Therefore, "Last summer I went swimming" puts the swimming into context. Make sense?

Another pointer if you're not going to be heard asking questions, be careful with the "uh huhs" and "hmms" while your subject is talking. This of course is something we do during daily conversation, but can screw up good sound bites on camera.

But if you are going to be included on camera - disregard everything I've told you : )
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Old November 18th, 2003, 06:46 PM   #4
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Quick question: If I already know the direction that my documentary is going to take, can I lead my subject on to the topic and tell him how to start off rather than just having him start talking spontaneously?
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Old November 18th, 2003, 08:16 PM   #5
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If you pose your questions cleverly and in a certain order, you should be able to steer them a bit and "make them say what you want them to say" to a certain degree. Lawyers, for instance, usually know the answer before they ask the question, so they ask it in a way that will reveal what they want.
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Old November 18th, 2003, 10:37 PM   #6
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Quote:
If I already know the direction that my documentary is going to take, can I lead my subject on to the topic and tell him how to start off rather than just having him start talking spontaneously?
Well you can let them answer spontaneously and maybe they'll say something interesting. If you don't like it you should be able to edit that stuff out. It should be more interesting if you don't guide your documentary though. You could shoot your footage and weave a story out of the footage, whatever it may be. Or you go with your existing story/angle and find that there's a dimension to the story that you never saw before. I'm leaning towards saying "no" to your question but I don't think I know the answer.
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Old November 21st, 2003, 12:38 PM   #7
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i haven't made a true full blown documentary yet, but i have been reading this book and it is excellent...


Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos: A Practical Guide to Planning, Filming, and Editing Documentaries of Real Events
by Barry Hampe
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Old November 22nd, 2003, 10:36 AM   #8
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You'll get the most bang for your buck by making your subjects comfortable. I've just completed a series of 12 interviews for a winemaking documentary and the subjects ran the gamet from total camera shy newbies to seasoned interview veterans and they all came through like troopers once they settled down and felt comfortable with the situation.

First, when contacting them about scheduling I offered to send them a set of sample questions so they wouldn't have to go in cold. All of them took me up on this and so were somewhat prepared on the day of the shoot. Though we covered topics not on the original list, by that time they were comfortable enough with the situation that only one them even commented "That wasn't on the list."

Before each interview I went into "full disclosure" mode. I reiterated what the project was about and why I thought this person was important for the project. I explained how the interview process would proceed: don't look at the camera, look and talk to me; that my voice wouldn't be in the video so when I didn't respond for several seconds after they answered a question, I wasn't ignoring them I was leaving some trailer for editing purposes; that since I wasn't going to be on the video, when I asked questions like "When did the winery open?" not to say "1975" but rather "The winery opened in..."; that we may have to stop momentarily if that forklift drives by again; etc. Demystifying some things about of our world of <a href="http://go-advertising.com?go=cameras" onmouseover="window.status = 'goto: cameras';return 1" onmouseout="window.status=''">cameras</a> and lights helps sand a few burrs off of their nerves and gives them a bit of an "insiders" feeling which always makes people feel a bit more cocky and less nervous.

I also explained how long the interview was likely to last and asked if they wanted some water, whether they preferred sitting or standing (depending on the setting), and if they would like any other creature comforts before starting. Doing these things and then just being incredibly flexible, getting them to ask me questions if they wanted and being courteous in general all helped to raise their comfort level to the point that once we started things generally took right off.
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Old November 22nd, 2003, 01:39 PM   #9
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Depending on what type of documentary you are making, I would be careful about deciding on a "direction" before you start filming. You need to have a topic to explore, obviously, but you need to be prepared to follow it where your research takes you, rather than going into it knowing what you want to say and finding only the people who will prove your point. That kind of pre-visualization can be irresponsible. Having said that, you do need to cut people off when they stray off topic, or the interview will never end. I guess there's a fine line.
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