Getting a Great Interview

How a smaller crew and thoughtful questions can get you the gold you need.

Getting a Great Interview

#So, you’re shooting an interview. Simple, right? ​

Interviews are a deceptively tricky thing, mostly because they’re built on paradoxes. You just need to capture a natural, genuine conversation. In a setup that is neither natural nor genuine. Where there are mandatory talking points and a time limit. Y’know, nothing at all like an actual conversation.

Because interviews are so inherently manufactured, it’s very easy to get caught up in the artifice of it. You spend your time trying to make your interviews better with more cameras and more gear, when really the thing you needed to be focusing on is putting all that in the background and just talking to the person across from you.

The secret to pushing past all the artifice and getting a genuine interview is comfort. The talent needs to be comfortable in order to open up and give good answers, and the interviewer needs to be comfortable enough with the material that they can ask good questions.

The moment you start scripting answers is the moment you realise your budget should have gone to a good voice over.

#Let’s start with the talent side of things.​

How do you get someone comfortable for an interview? First and foremost: no scripts, no supervision. The whole reason you use an interview is because you want something genuine; the talent’s own thoughts in their own words. The moment you start scripting answers is the moment you realise your budget should have gone to a good voice over. Having someone else in the room to coach answers is even worse, because then on top of bad answers you’ll have eyeline issues.

The only people who should be in the room for an interview are the ones doing the talking; everyone else is non-essential. If you have to have technical crew on set, keep them as far out of the talent’s eyeline as possible. The only thing that they should be focused on is talking to the person in front of them.

On that note, you’re going to need some time to get them settled in. Put yourself in the talent’s shoes; you’ve never been on camera, you walk into a room filled with bright lights and a big camera, all pointed at your face, and then a person you don’t know sits you down and asks you to describe synergy. Does that feel like the start of a conversation or an inquiry?

Planned questions should not even be a factor in the first ten minutes of an interview. Ask them how their day is going. What did they have for breakfast? What are they doing on the weekend? If they’re clearly nervous, talk with them about it! Let them ask questions about what you’re going to use the interview for, or some of the topics you’ll cover.

The more you get to talking, the less they’re worried about the camera, or how they’re sitting or whether they sound good. You want to focus on building a rapport so that when you do start asking the questions, it won’t feel any different to the conversation you’re already having.

Do some research on the person you’ll be interviewing. If you can make your questions feel specific and personal to the talent, the answers will resonate on that same level.

#Getting comfortable behind the camera.

The truth about interviews is that most of time, you shouldn’t be asking questions without some idea of what the answer will be. Odds are you’re working to a brief, so at the very least your client will have some expectations about what the final product will look like. Going in with lofty aspirations of ‘unrestricted creativity’ and ‘finding the narrative in post’ is only going to disappoint your client (and infuriate your editor).

Take the time in pre-production and work with the client to develop a vision for what the final product is going to be. You need to have a clear understanding of the topics you want to cover, the themes you want to convey and the tone you want to set. Beyond that, do some research on the person you’ll be interviewing. If you can make your questions feel specific and personal to the talent, the answers will resonate on that same level.

More importantly, having that prep and research means in your back pocket means that you have the luxury of exploring things in the interview. The questions aren’t shackles; they’re a road map, and sometimes roads have detours. Conversations are meandering, and if you’ve taken the time to get the talent talking, they’re going to go off on tangents. That’s fine! That’s what will make your footage feel genuine.

The secret to elevating that content and getting something truly special is knowing where to go from those tangents. How to take those off-the-cuff moments and relate them back to the larger vision of what you want the final product to be. Whether it’s tying it back to a broader theme or topic, or relating it to something you found out about them in research, being able to guide the conversation with insightful follow-up questions is going to make the talent feel like they’re being listened to, which is what will make your interviews feel real.


James Henry IV

James Henry IV

Director & Editor

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