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Old February 27th, 2012, 09:22 AM   #1
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What to look for. Learning to shoot an interview..

Hey guys, I'm brand new and want help learning to film. This is an interview I did. It wasn't paid, they are both friends of mine. I'm wondering if you wouldn't mind critiquing it for me. Be honest about EVERYTHING. Image quality, composition, and basic editing (would you have cut questions down? The interviewer was rather wordy.) This will likely never be a career of mine, but I'll have an opportunity to do a LOT more of these so I'd like to learn and do it right. If you don't mind, when you point out a fault, let me know what should have been done (camera setting...) to fix it.

My set-up was, a Canon XLH1 set to full automatic including audio. The mic was the on board mic, and the lighting used was room light and natural light. I left everything base on purpose because I wanted a benchmark to compare to so I can see that I'm improving my capturing. I don't have any lights yet though...

I gave some thought to the items on the table but in hind sight think it may be a bit off balanced. I had a large height difference between the 2 people and didn't want to put items on the table in front of Mike making him appear berried behind things. I wanted it to look natural and not "staged" so I left the photo in the back off center as well... I'm wondering if that was wrong.

I appreciate your help and advice in advance!

Interview with Mike Ingham on the 2012 J/24 Worlds in Rochester NY - YouTube
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Old February 27th, 2012, 04:45 PM   #2
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Re: What to look for. Learning to shoot an interview..

Sure, Paul. I know it's not always easy starting, kudos for giving it a go.

Here are some critiques, in my perceived order of importance in your production:

1. AUDIO
Consider what the absolute most important part of this entire interview is. For the content, we really don't care what they look like... the subject's words are paramount, and should be the primary focus in this instance. A few audio tips:
- a poor mic close up is better than a great mic far away. Get a mic mic closer in - either a pair of wired lavalier microphones on the host and guest, or a single boom mic suspended just above (or below) and out of frame. Placing a mic low does have a better chance of catching subjects' clothes rustle and fidgeting noise, but can be easier to conceal... but concealing is absolutely secondary to getting good audio. This is why newscasters hand-hold a big lollipop mic... it has always looked silly, but they MUST get their audio captured or there's no point being on camera.

2. LIGHTING
You really don't NEED fancy lighting to do a decent job... I've done a ton of professional shoots using a pair of $8 fluorescent clip-on lighting fixtures and a 5-in-1 collapsible reflector (and, heck, sometimes just the reflector). Lots of people use simple 500W halogen worklights with some inexpensive diffusion material. The point of lighting is to separate your subjects from their environment - in this case, it looks like there's more light on the background than on the people. Even if you shut off every light in the room except a few on them, it will help.

I can't get too far into specifics, as there are whole books and DVD series dedicated to the art of interview lighting. Google "three point lighting" and "interview lighting" for more links and YouTube how-to videos than you can shake a clothespin at. Simple take-home message is: get some light on your subjects, and not just from overhead.

3. SETTING
Don't worry about making things look "natural"... there's absolutely nothing "natural" about the filmmaking process, and with over half a century's worth of cultural acclimatization to a set of basic film and video conventions, it simply takes a little bit of effort (don't worry, often just a little) to arrive at what audiences will actually perceive as "natural" for your format.

Considering your frame as a canvas, pay attention to things like symmetry, "clutter," positive and negative space (or, where things are and aren't), and active lines. Quickly glance at the frame and see where your eyes are drawn... if it's not your subjects, that thing needs to be moved so that it's less prominent. Even not knowing the rest of your space, here are a few simple recommendations:
- center the painting in the background (move the table set to accomodate this)
- move the interview subjects slightly forward and closer together.
- encourage the subjects to lean towards one another, on the table. The interviewer's position is good, the interviewee looks too slouched... his body language says "disinterested" or "passive."
- ditch the lighthouse on the table, or possibly place it on a table against the wall centered beneath the sloop painting. I'm OK with the drink and hat, but perhaps shift them so they offset one another on either side of the table.

Try some of those things and see if you don't like what you've shot more than your first attempt.
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Old February 27th, 2012, 05:20 PM   #3
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Re: What to look for. Learning to shoot an interview..

Kevin,

Thank you so much! That was all really good and helpful. I felt like the lighthouse was too much but the guy doing the interview liked it. I had told mike to sit-up, so that was my fault. I was concerned about their height difference. I agree that he does look passive as if he doesn't care. That's the opposite of what we were trying to convey. The goal was, "here's a guy who's really good talking about why you should come to the event and what you need to do to win here."

That is good info about the lighting on them. I actually went on to film a lecture in that room and it is just SO bright from outside natural light. I'll look into a few of those cheep lights as you suggest.

For the mic, on a real budget, what about a single wired mic on the table? Would that work ok? I mention that cause I may have access to one. What type of mic are those "lollypop's." I'm thinking that may be what I should invest in rather then an expensive wireless set. (for now that is.) I actually have been thinking of getting a wired mic for some voiceover recording. Would the same mic work for both applications?

Now, I'm guessing since my lighting was so screwed up there's no real use talking about my camera set-up and work there. Was there anything glaringly obvious there?

Thanks again!
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Old February 28th, 2012, 12:43 AM   #4
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Re: What to look for. Learning to shoot an interview..

Hi Paul,

Welcome to the wonderful world of video production. It's a lot of fun and you will find that you constantly learn new things and ways to improve on your videos. Kevin's hit on the main things to concentrate on for now. Audio is very important especially in interviews.

A single mic on the table would have been better as long as you've got the right mic. For indoors most shotgun mics would not be ideal and if you had only had one it would not work ideally. If you are going to continue to do two person interviews you could consider getting a couple of wired lavs. They would be cheaper than a single shotgun and would give better results in this situation.

Lighting is a very big part of making your footage look good. Here is a decent primer to basic interview lighting. Warning, it's a long video.


Your white balance looks off too. I would manually WB against a white card or warm card. If you don't have one of those, use 3200K if you're indoors with incandescent light, or 5600K if your outdoors.

The XHA1 doesn't have much pop with factory settings. It's not a knock against the camera and as a matter of fact is better for grading purposes. But, if you aren't going to color grade your footage you'll probably want to try some of the custom settings you can find in these forums.

As for the setting, I'd try to get them farther form the back wall and if possible get a different background altogether. That wall adds nothing to the interview and the color is not very flattering to the subjects. The picture should be removed also. The reflection in the glass is distracting especially when someone moves in the reflection. Also, the hot white spot is in a very bad place for the speaker on camera left.

The table needs to be either larger or removed. Having it positioned with the ends showing creates a very odd effect. Lowering the camera a little would help make it less noticeable but the two ends would still give an odd look. It also doesn't give a very pleasing look to have the subjects' bodies sticking out from the corners.

The lighthouse, hat, and especially the drink don't lend to the interview and should be taken out. If you are worried about size difference in your subject place an apple box or a couple of books under the shorter subject, have them slightly in closer to the camera, and tighten up your framing so that you don't see their waists. As a general rule you shouldn't have anything that is vertical in form in front of your subjects. The lighthouse and cup are good examples. They both break the framing into odd proportions and are also distracting. As a viewer you want to go up and move them because the seem to be blocking your view.

As Kevin suggested I'd get them closer together too. That would again allow you to tighten up the shot. The framing is a bit too wide considering there isn't anything of interest surrounding them.

Also, manually focus as it seems that the subjects are bit soft focused.

If I had to shoot in this location these are a couple of quick things I would have done. Flag the light off that's hitting the curtain camera right. It's brighter than anything else in the setup. Removed the picture from the background. I'd also use the flagging cutting the light on the curtain to create some streaks of light on the back wall. Remove the table and pull the subjects another 3 to 4 feet from the back wall. Drop the camera and tighten up the framing enough so that the vents in the background aren't showing. If I didn't have lights, I would have used two bounce cards to bring the light on them up. That would allow me to get the background a little darker and create a little more intimate feel.

Mike Ingham looks very stiff so I'd have a few minutes of just casual conversation with him to get him to loosen up. then ask him to try not to look off into space that I found almost annoying. I assume you weren't the interviewer but you need to let them know what things are looking like on camera.

I'm not trying to be harsh, just giving some observations. When I first started doing interviews I thought, how hard could it be. Those guys on tv make it look so easy. Then I did my first one and what a disaster. You did a very good job for your fist interview. The best advice is to study what you see and like. Then go out and try to recreate it. Practice and testing is the key to improving and getting to the point that you want.

As always, just my 2 cents,
Garrett
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Old February 28th, 2012, 07:51 AM   #5
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Re: What to look for. Learning to shoot an interview..

Garrett,

Thank you for that. I don't find your comments harsh at all. Honestly, I know this is hard. There's a reason you can't just go spend the money on a wiz/bang camera and expect to make a living. I'm trying to develop my eye, and learn what to look for. Honestly, I was going back and forth on posting this. I knew it wasn't great but I really hate having something (even a hobby) that I'm really not good at.

I really appreciate you're comments on what you would have done in that room. I'll likely be there again for the next one.

Thanks again!
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Old February 28th, 2012, 09:40 AM   #6
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Re: What to look for. Learning to shoot an interview..

First of all I enjoyed the interview and learned something about the J/24. To add to the previous comments, the relative distance of the interviewer and interviewee to the camera makes it appear the interviewer is much larger than the interviewee. I think your short focal length on your lens added to that a bit.
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Old February 28th, 2012, 10:41 AM   #7
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Re: What to look for. Learning to shoot an interview..

In the category of less is more... see the "product video" at the bottom of this page.
Building Share - Starfish Treasure

The "Interview" was done with two lavs on the speakers and two cameras. A shotgun on a boom that follows the conversation would have also been a tremendous and inexpensive improvement over the onboard mic. Closest mic wins every time.

Note the positioning of the subjects in the wide angle put's people at an angle to the lens vs straight on (people look better at an angle). Second camera is over the shoulder of the "interviewer". Either of these would have been an improvement for a single camera shoot.

I coach people to maintain eye contact on the other person... always. Your subject seemed to be looking and talking to folks off camera.
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Old March 1st, 2012, 07:51 AM   #8
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Re: What to look for. Learning to shoot an interview..

Oops, in case anyone tries to watch this, I had to take it down. Compliance issue... lesson learned. HAHAHA
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Old March 2nd, 2012, 08:15 AM   #9
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Re: What to look for. Learning to shoot an interview..

Just wanted to tell you guys that the "Client" for this interview was so happy with how this one turned out he asked if I'd be willing to film interviews leading up to, and during the week of the event!!! I'm going to get to meet and film some of the best sailors in the World during their World Championships and since it's a "Free" gig, the event is treating me like a "Sponsor" I get to put my branding All over it and use it for advertising for myself! There's going to be 2 lower key interviews between now and September for me to practice with and try out some of these techniques you guys mention. If you don't mind I'd like to post those here for more critique.

I have between now and September to build my website and get some business cards! Shooting sailing video is my dream and this seams like it could be a slight in into that market!!! Even if I fall on my face... I'm really excited for the opportunity to even try!
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Old March 2nd, 2012, 11:45 AM   #10
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Re: What to look for. Learning to shoot an interview..

Good for you Paul,

My motto is basically the Nike add, Just Do It. That's how I've "fallen" into my last two life passions, making movies and martial arts.

Sounds like you're in for an exciting journey. I'm out here in the San Francisco Bay area so the upcoming America's Cup is generating a huge amount of buzz. I'm hoping to be able to go out and get some good footage of it. I'm trying to work some of my connections to figure out how to get a press pass as a freelancer. Maybe get one of the local stations to get me press creds in exchange for some footage they could use.

One thing I was thinking about, maybe in your next interview you could have the water in the background. It poses some lighting challenges but it would make for a beautiful setting for the interview.

Good luck and keep us posted,
Garrett
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