Filming an Interview Part 1: The Set Up

One of the most common situations you might face as a filmmaker is the need to set up an interview, and it’s really important you know how to tackle this. There’s a fair amount of technical know how involved, and a number of accessories that will make your job easier, but on top of this you’ll also need considerable people skills. The fact is that many of those standing in front of your camera will find the experience rather nerve-wracking, at least at first, and it’s your job to put them at ease and to coax the best possible level of performance out of them.

Because there is so much involved in mastering the interview situation we’re going to split this blog up into three parts. Part one will cover the set up, while in parts two and three we’ll be focusing on audio and lighting respectively. Together these will build up into a comprehensive overview of interview technique, and I promise you that you’ll find the skills you’ll learn here invaluable throughout your entire filmmaking career.


Stay Chilled

The first thing you need to do is to look at the bigger picture. Who have you lined up to interview, and what are you going to be talking to them about? Give yourself plenty of time to sit down with your subject and to talk through the process with them: what questions are you going to ask them, what responses might you expect in return? Go through a mini rehearsal of the interview if you can, and offer feedback to your subject in terms of their delivery, how verbose they are and the speed they’re talking at. If a subject is nervous it’s common for them to race through their words to get to the end and you need to encourage them to take a deep breath, to relax and to pace the answers they give. Make sure they stick to the point and don’t go off at tangents and look out for too many errs and ums, which people invariably use to buy time if they can’t think of a word. When the interview is in progress keep on filming even if your subject messes up their lines and stops: simply backtrack and shoot that section again, and you’ll be able to pick out the good take at the editing stage.


Setting up the Camera

Now consider how you are going to present your interview. Do you want it all from the same viewpoint throughout? If so then opt for a sturdy tripod, such as the Kenro Standard Video Tripod Kit, perhaps paired with the Kenro VH01F Video Head, to ensure solid and shake-free footage. The chances are that your subject won’t be moving around too much while they’re talking so the fact that you’re not mobile with your camera won’t be a problem.

If you have a back up camera you can use to shoot B roll to hand, then a really effective method is to set up a second viewpoint from the side of your subject. Perhaps use a long lens so that you’re tighter in on their face, then just set this camera running as you start filming with the main camera. Mounted on a second tripod this can be unmanned, but you’ll then have alternative footage to drop in at the editing stage, and it can add crucial variety to the shoot and make the whole thing look less static.

Also think about movement from the camera as the subject is static. A slider, for example, can enable a smooth pan from side to side or even at an angle: a piece of kit such as the latest Kenro Double Distance Slider is not only versatile and straightforward to operate but its clever design also ensures that it’s extremely compact and easy to carry around.


Location, location, location

At the set up stage you need to be thinking about a location where your interview can take place.

  • If you’re going to be using an office or a room in the subject’s house you need to take your time to consider the details: is there a window behind the subject and, if so, is there anything distracting going on outside? What about the state of the room they’re in: is it tidy, are there dirty cups on the desk they’re sitting at, is there general debris that shouldn’t be there? What about the subject themselves: should they be jacket on or off, formal or informal, is their tie straight, their hair combed? It might be a good idea to have had a conversation the day before to talk through with them what they are going to wear for the shoot. You don’t want violent colour clashes or stripy shirts that can be prone to fringing for example.
  • If you’re filming someone who is going to be talking about something interesting that they do, then an option might be to interview them in the place where they work. A car mechanic in his or her workshop, for example, an actor on a stage, a footballer in their dressing room, a tailor measuring up someone for a suit. Suddenly you’ve got colour and life in your shot and, as a bonus, people are generally more relaxed when they’re in familiar surroundings.
  • Whatever you do, don’t put pressure on. The more that someone fluffs their lines, the more nervous they will become. Never shout at anyone or show exasperation: if things are getting stressed then step back, give everyone time to calm down and go back and try again. If all else fails, try to break down the interview into bite sized chunks so that you can edit it together later on with no apparent seams. 
  • If you’re struggling with someone who is not a natural in front of the camera there are still ways to get what you need. Perhaps give them something to do: if they are a craftsperson they could be turning a piece of wood or making a piece of jewellery as they’re speaking. Also think about the value of the voiceover: you don’t need to be focused on the face of the person doing the talking all the time. Have an establishing shot and then cut to footage that relates to what they’re talking about while their voice continues in the background.


Part Two: How to achieve pro-level audio

Part Three: Lighting the Interview