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Old June 8th, 2008, 11:06 AM   #1
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Shooting an interviews with one camera and no interviewer

Hello everyone. I am working on a small documentary at this moment. For this documentary, I am using one camera. I did some try-outs with camera setups and I tried to vary a bit in my framing during the interview. I am not very satisfied with the result. So what is a good way to do this?

Should I just setup the shot and leave the camera at the same focal length and frame for the whole interview and then use another setup for another interview or are there efficient ways to vary with focal length/framing during a shot to make an interview more attractive to watch for the viewer?

Ideally, I would have two cameras and an interviewer so I could have one static wide shot and use the other camera to take some nice close-ups of head, hands, eyes, lips etcetera.

I would like to learn how other people are doing this. At what moments do you zoom in or zoom out, or maybe even reframe the whole shot, or do you use a static frame for the whole interview? I watched a lot of documentaries and in some of them they used this method.

Thanks for your feedback.

Edit: typo in the header. Should be interview without an s.
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Old June 8th, 2008, 11:44 AM   #2
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I work with one camera and 'no interviewer' quite often. It takes a bit of practice, but it can be done well.

One way, is to simply reframe between questions. "How did you become a member of this company?" - Then reframe with "Why do you think it needs to be eliminated?" In other words, wider shots for those answers you think will be broader, less 'personal' -and tighter frames for those questions you think will be harder hitting.

Of course, this assumes your subject is answering the interviewer 'off camera'. That is, the person interviewing is off camera and the subjects' eyeline is directed at them. It is easier for most people to 'talk to a person'when they are being interviewed. This is not always possible.

If I feel the need to 'ride the camera' during an interview, I will give the subject an eyeline target. Hopefully, this is another live human being. In other words, I might have someone else sit in the eyeline, and ask the subject to direct the answers to THAT person, as if they had asked the question. If no one else is available, then I'll tell them to look at that picture on the wall when you answer my questions. That's a last resort, but it DOES work, and I've used it without problems before.

Another decision to make is whether or not your interviewer is ON CAMERA or off, and whether or not the QUESTIONS are heard by the viewer. This is a stylistic choice. For me, I prefer to have the subjects tell the story with NO intrusion of an outside voice. This requires prepping the subject by telling them to answer in full sentences, including the questions within the response.

"My questions will not be heard, so if I ask you a question, you must include the question within your answer. For instance - If I ask you "What is your favorite color' - you must answer "My favorite color is Blue" or "I've always liked the color Blue" - If you simply answer with the one word "BLUE" it will not make sense to the viewer."

Occasionally, as the interview progresses, you might have to ask them to repeat their answer in a fuller context.

This is my approach anyway.
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Old June 8th, 2008, 12:38 PM   #3
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Thanks for your quick response Richard.

I prefer an interviewer that is off camera and no interference of an interview voice so indeed, questions repeated in the answer of the interviewee. But that depends on the item you are shooting. Sometimes it can be very nice to have an interviewer on camera. But mostly, I don't like it.

So what you basically say is that I should have the interviewee looking at a target or that I should have someone who can conduct the interview. I just have to try some things and see what works and what does not.
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Old June 8th, 2008, 01:10 PM   #4
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When I'm a solo shooter/interviewer. I will sometimes set up the shot, and then sit next to the camera - (But close enough to see the viewfinder). Alternately, I can use a monitor - BUT DON'T LET THE SUBJECT SEE IT - it's like some sort of magnetic eyeline attracter, they will scan the monitor constantly.

When they are answering, I'll glance at the viewfinder or monitor to check the shot, but still give them the 'personal feedback' that makes the answers more human. I'll give them a smile, a frown, a nod, whatever it takes to encourage them to continue responding. That's the value of having them address a person as opposed to a 'target'.

But I've done 'target answers' too, and they can look alright, its just not my prefered method. In between questions, I'll reframe the shot tighter or looser.

Also, you can pick up any 'b-roll' insert stuff before or after the interview. Closeups of the hands, documents, tabletop - even the 'setup' itself. A shot of the person sitting in the chair, in front of the backdrop with the lighting and mic-boom obviously present. That's a popular shot nowadays.
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Old June 8th, 2008, 11:16 PM   #5
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i've done something similar to what Richard describes. For one lady, I used her husband as an eye line target as she talked about her company. I was shooting the interview in their home so he was readily available and it put his wife at ease to talk to him.

-gb-
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Old June 9th, 2008, 10:38 AM   #6
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There are no set rules interviews other than keeping the eye lines correct, some people leave the interviewee in a carefully composed frame and just let them talk, others like the framing to change. I suspect, in the end, much will depend on how long you wish to run the interview. Many of the flagship documentaries tend keep to the same frame size, but they've usually other material to cut into the interview, so they're not holding just the same shot. If you just have the interview that could be a bit static after a while.

The shot size usually gets changed during the questions, although sometimes you do get a slow drift in (zoom in) if the interview is getting emotional. Although, it's usually best not to get onto a BCU with the interviewee breaking down and crying - a CU is really intense enough.

Two shots can usually be done after the interview, people tend not to move and it's not a big deal shooting it. CU's of hands and feet only really work if they're providing useful emotional body language, they can look false unless they're there for a reason.
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Old June 9th, 2008, 01:33 PM   #7
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Let's not forget the HD vs. SD issue.

You can shoot in HD and scale down to an SD frame size. Then you can resize and move the footage all around for different shots. You won't really be changing the angle, but you can punch in for closer stuff if you wanted to.
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Old July 2nd, 2008, 05:50 AM   #8
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Hello guys!

I have arranged a second camera (XH-A1, I have a XL-H1). So I am going with a two camera setup and I will be interviewing myself. The next question: how do I setup these two camera's? Do you put them in two distinct positions or do you place them just next to each other / over each other and have one wide and one zoomed in.

And normally on which side of the camera do you sit? I guess this depends if your subject sits on the left or right part of the screen.
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Old July 2nd, 2008, 09:50 PM   #9
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I've just started shooting interviews solo and although your situation may be different and your experience might be much deeper, here's something you should consider. If you shoot someone who's standing up there's a very real danger of them moving. I shot five wild interviews last Saturday on sticks and two of them moved from my set framing toward me standing beside (not behind) the camera. Don't know why and I didn't lose them out of the shot, fortunately.

Shot seven people the weekend before handheld with better results to my eye.

If this is so far afield as to elicit a response like, "who gives a monkey's bum"... sorry.

I'll go now.
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Old July 2nd, 2008, 11:41 PM   #10
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Yes, if the camera is not actively manned, then its a risk to have the talent 'mobile' IE Standing.

As to framing two cameras - that's your aesthetic call. I've worked a doc where the director wanted the cameras virtually next to each other, tripod legs entwined - and the shots were med/wide and tight. The interview looks good for the most part - my 'film' training sensibility tends to revolt against a 'jump cut' but really, its more a journalistic choice. Sure, it works.

I'd prefer to shoot a tight on one, and get a bit of seperation in both axis for the wide shot.

As to which side of the camera for the interviewer to sit - again there are 'usual' and 'counter' setups. Typically the questioner will sit on the same side as the key light, so the subject is looking 'into' the key. But this is not a hard and fast rule. Like putting the subject 'facing' a near edge and framing negative space behind - its a choice that is being accepted more and more. Go with what works for you.
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Old July 3rd, 2008, 11:47 AM   #11
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Thanks for your feedback.

So from what I understand you can use two cameras and do the interviews yourself but I need to be very careful that the subject does not move too much. My subject will be my grandmother in this documentary so she will be sitting in a chair so I guess I will be fine if I frame carefully. I only need to find out how to place my cameras.

I agree with the medium/wide and the close-up. Only the placement of the camera is something I need to decide upon. Most books I have only mention one camera. And other books for filmmaking mention over the shoulder camera perspectives but those are for dialogues, not interviews. I would normally sit in front of the interviewee slightly off axis with the camera next to me. That would be one perspective. But where do I place the other camera? I guess close by will give the best results if there is enough difference between the close-up and the medium/wide there won't be a real jump cut.

But I would like some more input on camera placement.
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Old July 3rd, 2008, 04:35 PM   #12
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Floris, it is really a personal choice on how you approach the project. No one is going to send the 'edit police' after you and arrest you for doing it 'wrong'. Feel free to try several things. If an interview is going to be fairly long (I think anything over ten minutes is an awful lot of talking head) - and you don't have any B-roll to cut into it, then you should condsider taking the time to reposition and reframe your shots - whether you are working with one camera or two.

Make up a list of questions to ask - but be flexible enough to follow a story anywhere it might lead. Set up one camera as a tight shot, and one nice and wide. After a couple of questions, reframe/move the wide camera - maybe it's medium wide and moved over a bit, giving her more of a profile look - but without 'crossing the line' you've set up with her sightlines and the set.

Change compostions on each camera every three or four questions. Don't be afraind to do a slow 'creep' in on the closeup if the story seems especially compelling.

Heck, if you want to be 'newsy' set up a shot over her shoulder, looking at YOU - nodding and smiling as she is talking. Since you can't see her mouth, you can cut this into her stories anywhere you like - this is very standard practice for news interviews.

OR set up a REALLY wide shot of the whole set - including you AND the 'close up' camera - Sort of a post-modern shot that illuminates the context of the interview itself.

Really, the sky is the limit. Feel free to improvise.
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Old July 3rd, 2008, 05:06 PM   #13
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Thanks Richard.

I agree that there are no rules set in stone. I just want some basic guidelines as this is my first documentary where I shoot and interview. I did some small documentaries but those where handheld with one camera and I want to take a different approach with this one as I will be shooting like 10 hours of interviews which I will intercut with B-roll footage (behavioral, atmosphere, old photo's and maybe some other interviewees). So what I had in mind was a two camera setup with one wide/medium and one close-up.

I already did some tests earlier with one camera but I noticed that I found it particularly hard to operate the camera and focus/concentrate on the questions/answers at the same time. I think the interview itself is the most important aspect because you need to ask the right questions, question the answer, question the answer more etcetera until you get what you want. But when you also need to focus on framing/reframing etcetera you will lose on the interviewing part (unless you are really practiced I suppose).

That's why I want the camera setup to be right (or good enough to start with). That way I can focus on the interview and I will intercut it with B-roll footage, footage of my grandmother doing things like cooking, walking, in the garden, birds in her garden and pictures that relate to the things she is talking about.

I guess I just have to experiment with a test subject a bit before I start with the interviews. But many thanks for answering all my questions.
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Old July 3rd, 2008, 05:13 PM   #14
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Or re-record the questions afterwards. Pretty standard practice to finish the interview, then reframe to get the interviewer framed properly. If notes are available, then just ask the questions again, do some nodding shots for cut-aways, maybe while the interviewee is still there do a reverse with their head with it's back to camera, and the interviewer listening to them chatting about nothing. This gives you the master shot of the interviewees words with close ups. Change camera angle only while he interviewer is talking. You have some nodding shots for inserts, a reverse angle.

If you are going to use the camera and speak, then also watch out for unbalanced audio - your voice sounding very different to the other persons, making editing more tricky.
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Old July 17th, 2008, 05:38 AM   #15
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I am having second thought at this moment about how I setup the interviews. I was planning to do an off-axis interview with no interviewer on camera and cut out my question in post. However, I read some books who mentioned that for this style, it is nicer to have the subject looking directly into the camera as it makes it more personal.

It is a documentary about my grandmother so maybe a more personal look will work. But I read many many books where they say never have subjects look into the camera unless they are directly talking to the audience. What do you guys think?
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