Filming InterviewsOct 09, 2023
UNEARTH THE REAL PERSON
The white and yellow walls made the room feel bright and cheerful. I adjusted the white balance on the DSLR and pointed the 35mm lens toward the empty chair. Double-checking all my settings, I felt excited and nervous. This was my first major client since graduating college.
I was on a university’s campus setting up to film an interview in the newly constructed architecture building, one of the most energy-efficient and self-sustaining buildings in the country.
The door opened and a professor stepped in. RIght on time. After chatting for a moment, he took a seat. I secured the lapel mic to his shirt and tested the audio levels.
The hairlight glowed softly around his head, separating him nicely from the background. I raised a light to reduce the glare on his glasses and quickly adjusted the manual focus to get a perfectly blurred background. Finally, I sat in a chair across from the professor, right next to the main camera.
We were ready to film.
This interview was one of about 40 interviews that I was holding across campus to create a series of promotional videos for each academic department. Some professors had a more natural presence on camera than others. I quickly learned a significant trick that helped the interviewee feel more comfortable:
The more engaged I appeared, the more engaging the interviewee became.
I pulled the list of questions out of my pocket. As I asked questions and listened to the professor’s response, I was intentionally more animated than I would have been in a normal conversation. For example, I would lean in and nod my head with greater enthusiasm. I would laugh at the appropriate times (I’d laugh without making noise, of course - I wouldn’t want to record that in the audio!).
These non-verbal cues give the interviewee more confidence that what they are saying is interesting and important. That confidence dissolves the nervous jitters and makes the interviewee appear less robotic and more human. This subsequently made their content delivery more engaging.
When you pull out the real person during the interview, you get the real, authentic inside scoop. You get past the bullet points and discover what’s beneath the surface. That’s when you’ve uncovered the hidden story.
CAPTURE THE WHOLE STORY
As I interviewed, I looked for soundbites in what the professor said. At times, I noticed he said something really well, but didn’t take a beat between sentences (meaning in post, I would not be able to cut out the soundbite and use it). I then asked him to say it again so I knew that I had it.
“That was so good! I loved what you said. Can you say just that first sentence one more time?”
The professor smiled, elated that he said something profound in front of the camera and repeated the one line.
As we continued to talk, I had my list of questions, but I would also allow for the occasional bunny trail to potentially capture a golden nugget of the inner workings of the academic department. This strategy also turns the interview into more of a conversation, which always helps interviewees feel more comfortable.
We wrapped up the interview and I thanked the professor for his time, affirming him for the great things he said. I want all of my interviewees to walk away feeling confident that they did well in an interview so that if I have to film them again, they will feel more confident and comfortable in front of the camera.
After stuffing the paper with the questions back into my pocket, I tore down the three lights and two camera setup.
With the interview fresh in my mind, I began mentally piecing together the story. What did the interviewee talk about? What visuals pair well with what he said? How can I complement the verbal narrative with a visual storyline?
It was now time to film B-roll. This is all of the extra, secondary footage that I can use in addition to the interview footage to make the promo video more visually exciting. It also helps to build the story.
I explored the architecture building, and came across a few students working in one of the architecture studios. I began filming B-roll of pencils, rulers, blueprints, desks and stools. I filmed students working together and building models.
After I finished filming, I immediately pulled out my laptop and backed up everything I had recorded. Always have two copies of your footage!
PIECE IT TOGETHER
Once all of the video footage was dumped onto my computer, I had hours and hours of content to sift through. I began organizing it into bins by the academic department. Then I created a timeline for each promo video. I cut up each interview by question and placed it on the timeline. There was about one hour of footage that needed to be narrowed down into a 2-3 minute video.
First I cut out the easy parts. The parts that weren’t good. Whether the professor stumbled over their words, rambled, or didn’t say anything that was promo video worthy. Now I was down to 10-15 minutes of video.
Then I stopped and took a step back. The most powerful videos have a storyline flow to it. They don’t just list answers to interview questions. Rather, it tells the story of the academic department.
I didn’t just want to place one interview question after the other. I wanted the video to flow; to find connections between the interviews so that I could strategically place clips together to tell the narrative.
By taking a step back, I could look for patterns and connections. I could see how this response by one professor to one question actually tied into what a different professor said when asked a different question. By looking for patterns and connections, slowly a story began to emerge.
Like putting a puzzle together, I began to move soundbites up and down the timeline, uncovering the story hidden within the collage of interviews.
The promotional video suddenly came to life as the story emerged. I began adding B-roll that matched the narrative.
As a professor talked about students working together on projects, I used shots from the studio of two students building a model home. When they talked about how rigorous the program was, I picked a closeup of an eraser removing pencil marks to correct a drawing.
The narrative tells the story; the visuals bring the story to life.
Finally, I added music. I adjusted the audio gain and tweaked the color correction on every shot. Like magic, everything came together in beautiful harmony.
These are the strategies I have used with every promotional, wedding, or other highlight video I’ve made.
Simply capturing an interview and editing verbatim gets the job done. But, drawing out the hidden story from the interviewee, incorporating compelling visuals, and piecing together a cohesive narrative creates a powerful combination that draws the audience in, wanting to be a part of the story.
This is the power of story. The story already exists. You just need to find it.
By Caitlyn Neel - CoFounder, Speak with People
Caitlyn has a media background and was the Post-Production Manager of a film company, which released full length documentaries seen all over the world. Also as an author and speaker, Caitlyn used her communication experience to launch Speak with People, a leadership and communication coaching company.