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Shooting Interviews

COW Library : Indie Film & Documentary : Mike Cohen : Shooting Interviews
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CreativeCOW presents Shooting Interviews -- Indie Film & Documentary Editorial


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Woodbury Connecticut USA

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Whether you shoot surgery, reality shows, documentaries especially, how-to videos, cooking, painting, sculpting, decoy carving or...you name it...you are going to be shooting interviews. Number one tip - be ready for anything. Join Mike Cohen for more great insight into shooting interviews.



Whether you shoot surgery, reality shows, documentaries especially, how-to videos, cooking, painting, sculpting, decoy carving or...you name it...you are going to be shooting interviews. Number one tip - be ready for anything. If you are told you will have a quiet private office, assume you might get the opposite. If you have some time to plan and you are going somewhere more than an hour from home base, ask someone to snap a photo with their phone and send to you in advance, or have a local contact tell you about the room. If less than an hour's drive away, it may be a good idea to make a visit in advance. Two hours out of the office can pay dividends if it allows you to be better prepared.

For a great refresher on lighting techniques, I recommend picking up Tom Miller's DVD: http://store.creativecow.net/p/136/lighting_and_shooting_gorgeous_interviews

What I am going to talk about is the various situations and locations I find myself in and some tips for getting good results.


Offices

A typical private office, assuming your subject is not CEO, is cramped, hot, sometimes messy and prone to being uninteresting to look at. In the case of a doctor's office, there is likely a wall of diplomas or if you are lucky a bookshelf full of colorful volumes, perhaps a family photo or two and some trinkets. What you want to make sure of in any location is that you do not park your subject right up against the background, be it a wall, bookcase or piece of drapery/muslin/curtains. However in a small office you may feel like there is no choice. Last time I was in this situation, I had the subject stand in the doorway, and I positioned the tripod as far out into the hall as possible so I could zoom in, get a suitable shot, and thanks to the longer zoom, achieve a shallower depth of field.

If your subject IS the CEO, or someone with a bigger office, and perhaps some wooden furniture, you are in luck. Still, find a way to get some separation between camera, subject and background. Don't be afraid to move things around, within reason. Just remember to put things back where they came from.


Conference Rooms

This means something different depending upon the location. On two occasions we have been presented with a cramped room within a library, lined on two walls with glass door bookcases and the other two walls being plain bland gray paint. Often there is a heavy conference table taking up most of the floor space. In these situations you make the best of what you have. In the below example, the interviewer also wanted to be on-camera, so one way or the other those glass doors were going to be in the shot. Oh, and we had about 30 minutes to setup. So I used a Kino-Flo 2' 2 bank for each key, a 2' 4 bank on the opposite side for general fill in the tight space between the bookcases and the people (remember, most of the room was taken up by conference table so we had to be crammed against one side of the room or the other), a 150w as backlight for the subject only, and a gold reflector for additional fill on the subject.

The below photo, taken from behind the A camera, shows that I was presented with limited options for framing. Given the subject's body habitus, the appropriate action was to frame head and shoulders, and watch out for reflection of the subject.


Other times a "conference room" is a corporate board room. Just today I was shown to a mammoth board room with a table down the middle with seating for 30 chairs, two big plasma screens on one wall, a reflective polished wood paneled wall and a long wall of windows overlooking downtown New Haven. Great for a meeting but not great for a sit-down interview unless HMI lights or a big roll of ND is available. Plus my Spidey-sense detected some construction noise near the adjacent Interstate 95. I requested something on the other side of the building and was shown to a smaller room - seating for 15, same two large plasma screens, and a wall of windows overlooking the Long Island Sound. In fact it was such a clear day you could see Long Island. I closed the blinds, killed the lights, and set about my business. Arri 650 with lots of diffusion for the key, gold reflector for the fill, 150 for backlight and a 350 with the barndoors making a slash of light with a green gel on a patch of wall that would be visible over the subject's leading shoulder. I flagged this light somewhat to tone it down a bit. The length of the room allowed me to get some distance between camera and subject - the background ended up being partially a glass wall with office cubicles behind. I managed to blow out the background with a shallow enough DOF that it didn't look half bad.


Other Settings

Last year we had two days of interviews and b-roll in a hospital. We took a tour of various free locations for interviews and settled on a delivery room. Modern delivery rooms are made up like hotel rooms. When mom is ready to get to work, wooden panels in the walls and cabinetry open up to reveal monitors and oxygen hookups. We had a few interviews to conduct, so with a two camera setup, Kinos for key, Arris for backlights and background lights and my trusty gold reflector for fill, we got to work.




Switching cameras allowed us to use the same room with minimal changes to the setup while making different subjects look different




Operating Rooms

As described in my previous post, an interview with a surgeon is often part of a typical project. An OR luckily has plenty of eye candy. However an OR is usually incredibly bright. Turning off all the lights, adding 1,2 or 3 point lighting, and using the built-in Xenon lamps to paint the background, can be a very fun experience.




Likewise, if you are in other technical settings (laboratory, factory, etc), see what happens if you turn off some or all of the lights and selectively light the environment. Just because you are in a working setting doesn't mean it has to look exactly like it normally does. Obviously ask permission if it really is a hot zone with people doing their jobs.


Private Home

When you are invited into a home, whether for a news interview, documentary or other type of production, the key piece of advice is "respect your host." Before plugging in a light or anything else, make sure the electrical system in the home is sound. If you are in an older home and you see non-grounded two-prong plugs, consider very low wattage lights such as fluorescent or LED or simply natural sources of light. You don't want to blow fuses. Check is high amperage appliances, such as a coffee maker, are plugged in a turned on, and turn these off. Also seek out a GFI outlet. Next, avoid moving fine china or family heirlooms. Furniture is probably ok, but best to ask permission. If you are bringing cases, camera bags or anything else that normally sits in the back of your van into someone's home, make sure you respect their carpeting, flooring etc. Bring towels or mats to set your gear on. Same goes for light stands. If your last location was a coal mine, please wipe down your tripod before stepping onto someone's white carpet!

Move around gently, quietly and deliberately. When carrying a light stand, tripod or anything else, always look around you for obstructions. If you swing a stand and it hits the wall in an office setting, it's not the end of the world. If you knock over grandpa's urn you've got a big problem.


What's in your Kit?

I make sure to have a few key items with me:

Clothespins - some call these C47's to sound cool, but a 99 cent investment lasts for years and holds gels to barndoors and save many burned fingertips

Makeup Kit - just a few shades of pressed powder and a package of foam or cotton applicators can take care of many hot spots on men or women. You can buy fancy HD products from MAC or Sephora if you wish, but in most cases "a dab will do ya." If faced with a really shiny bald head, reduce or eliminate the backlight. Most people get a little shiny under video lights. Men can be reluctant to let you put makeup on them, and women are usually thankful. Watch for shiny spots on the tip of the nose, cheekbones, forehead, and chin. Some people are oily by nature, while others get nervous and sweat a little.

Number one rule of makeup - less is more, especially with HD. Number two rule, possible number one - do not reuse applicators. Dab some powder, dab the hotspot and spread out to soften, then discard the applicator. If you double-dip you risk transferring bacteria between interview subjects. The pressed powder becomes a fomite and is a nice home for Propionibacterium acnes between interviews. Foam pads are dirt cheap. If interviewing the President of the United States or doing a studio production, hire a makeup artist for whatever the market rate is in your area. Actually Obama probably has his own makeup person.

Tissues - if doing something like a documentary in which subjects will be reminiscing about the old days, a departed loved one or a bad memory, have some tissues - either a fresh box or those little travel packs. Have them standing by though not obviously so, but at the ready if tears start flowing. It shows that you are prepared but that you are a nice person. If tears are wiped, either stop recording or pan away, and then check makeup before rolling again.

Bottled water - cold is good but any water is ok. People talking for more than a few minutes get dry mouth, tongue tied and hot. And if the tears start flowing, a sip of water helps. If a table or the floor is in your shot, make sure the bottle or glass is not visible.

Metal Spring Clamps - these can be had for about a dollar each at your local home center and are great for numerous tasks on set - holding a reflector to a light stand, holding a cable out of the way, hanging coils of cables from an equipment cart, holding a flag or cookie to a stand. The list goes on.

Gaffer Tape - this almost goes without saying. Safety First. Tape down cables that someone might have to walk over more than once. This is especially important in public spaces (lobbies, retail stores) and busy locations (factories, hospitals).

Sandbags - light stands or c-stands that are potential tripping hazards and/or that are supporting heavy lights/booms, etc should have a sandbag applied. A few pounds is enough.

Notepad and pens - Partially for yourself to log the interview, and partially for the subjects. Sometimes if people can't figure out what they are trying to say they may wish to write it out first, not to read during the interview but simply to get their thoughts together.

Insurance - although not always in your kit, some locations will request a certificate in advance, sometimes with the property manager or owner listed on the policy declaration. This is no joking matter.

Other legal or safety documentation - in my case, I often need to provide proof of vaccinations and training. On an annual basis I need to complete training on operating room protocol, bloodborne pathogen avoidance and patient privacy, as well as provide proof of immunity to PPD, MMR, Tetanus, Diptheria, Pertussis, Influenza vaccine and that I washed behind my ears. Keeps my primary care doctor and his phlebotomist busy!

This is enough for now - as I read through this numerous other tips come to mind which perhaps will go in part two.

Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen





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Re: Shooting Interviews
by Brent Dunn
I don't see a softbox. I like how the Kino flo has a small footprint on tight spaces. I know my softbox can take up some space.

Brent Dunn
Owner / Director / Editor
DunnRight Films
DunnRight Video.com
Video Marketing Toolbox.net

Sony EX-1,
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D
Mac Pro Tower, Quad Core,
with Final Cut Studio

HP i7 Quad laptop
Adobe CS-5 Production Suite



+1
Re: Shooting Interviews
by Mike Cohen
and here's another approach, speaking of looking at the camera:

http://magazine.creativecow.net/article/shooting-true-firstperson-interview...
Re: Shooting Interviews
by Mike Cohen
seems like we should add another useful link to this thread:

http://magazine.creativecow.net/article/get-what-you-need-while-shooting-in...
Re: Shooting Interviews
by Mike Cohen
Interview subjects are people, and most people have something that they do which they are not aware of doing, such as twirling a piece of hair, scratching their neck, rubbing their hands together, touching their face, slapping their hand against their chest right where the mic is attached - all of which can ruin a perfectly good take, but when you mention it they don't know what you are talking about.

Also, avoid swiveling chairs - people will twist, turn and rock.

If conducting the interview yourself as both interviewer and camera operator, try to maintain as much eye contact as possible with the subject. If there is an extra warm body available, you can use them for the eye-line, although this can be confusing to the subject also "you want me to answer your questions but look at my secretary?!?!?!?"

As Mark said, put the subject at ease. If it is not a politician or an actor, a tv interview will be a new concept. Most lay people never notice that tv interviews have the person looking off camera. "You mean you don't want me looking at the camera?"

Keep it going.

Mike Cohen
@Mike Cohen
by Jason Jenkins
"Also, avoid swiveling chairs - people will twist, turn and rock."

Yes! I like chairs with no wheels, no tilting backs and no arms. After my last batch of interviews I decided that I prefer padded chairs to non-padded. There were a number of times that an interviewee gestured, then returned their hands to their lap and whacked their fingers on the hard surface of the seat. I didn't notice it during the shoot, but I sure noticed it in the edit.

Jason Jenkins
Flowmotion Media
Video production... with style!

Check out my Mormon.org profile.
Re: Shooting Interviews
by Mark Suszko
Very often the interview is something new and strange to your subject, so you need to be working to put them at ease and give them confidence, from the minute you arrive.

Short, easy-to-understand explanations for things you're doing, as you do them, de-mystify the process. Also, actively engaging them by asking opinions and advice, or just sharing trivial things in common, while you work, gets them warmed-up and feeling you are "on their side", so that by the time they hit the chair, they are giving you their best effort.

You want to move and talk in a relaxed and friendly manner with the crew, no matter the pressure, because disharmony and angst in the crew is something the guest will pick up on, and you lose credibility as the all-knowing director.

Absolutely turn off tally lights on cameras and adjust monitors so guests can't see them, and start recording even as you're first attaching and "testing" the mic. Often, your best and ONLY good candid responses happen here, before your talent realizes the thing is underway and adopts some fake personality you don't want and can't use. I get some of my best quotes while pretending we're fiddling with lights or audio.
Re: Shooting Interviews
by Mark Suszko
Very often the interview is something new and strange to your subject, so you need to be working to put them at ease and give them confidence, from the minute you arrive.

Short, easy-to-understand explanations for things you're doing, as you do them, de-mystify the process. Also, actively engaging them by asking opinions and advice, or just sharing trivial things in common, while you work, gets them warmed-up and feeling you are "on their side", so that by the time they hit the chair, they are giving you their best effort.

You want to move and talk in a relaxed and friendly manner with the crew, no matter the pressure, because disharmony and angst in the crew is something the guest will pick up on, and you lose credibility as the all-knowing director.

Absolutely turn off tally lights on cameras and adjust monitors so guests can't see them, and start recording even as you're first attaching and "testing" the mic. often, your best and ONLY good candid responses happen here, before your talent realizes the thing is underway and adopts some fake personality you don't want and can't use.I get some of my best quotes while pretending we're fiddling with lights or audio.
Re: Shooting Interviews
by Chris Lehmann
[Mark Suszko] "Absolutely turn off tally lights on cameras and adjust monitors so guests can't see them, and start recording even as you're first attaching and "testing" the mic. often, your best and ONLY good candid responses happen here, before your talent realizes the thing is underway and adopts some fake personality you don't want and can't use.I get some of my best quotes while pretending we're fiddling with lights or audio."

I shoot a lot of testimonial interviews and I never thought of doing this. Thanks!
Re: Shooting Interviews
by Nick Griffin
Mike-
This is a good start and I too will probably think of more things after putting up this post.

I'll start be re-stating your point about the cleanliness of equipment. We routinely go from factory floors one day to CEO offices the next. That's why after every shoot we wet wipe the feet of the light stands, the spreader of the tripod, the flex track for our dolly and especially the power cables ("stingers"). And since I'm on stingers, it's important to make sure that during set-up and break down they're not dragged around corners. That may not matter in a factory, but it can really mess-up the corners of floor trim like that shown in your sixth shot. If the location is nice it's your job to keep it nice. And I especially agree about putting things back where they were when you arrived. It's common courtesy and professionalism.

As far as location sound for interviews goes, if the office has a paging system ask if it can be turned off or at least used sparingly while you're taping. When shooting the CEO this request is usually taken quite seriously. When your subject is the third shift maintenance manager, not so much. But it never hurts to ask. Also when in an office I ask for permission to unplug the phone(s) for the duration of the interview.

Far more often than not large conference tables are immovable. Usually because of their weight but more and more these days because they are wired for electrical outlets and phone/net connections. That's why I always bring along grip arms and sometimes small boom arms so lights as well as reflectors can be positioned over top of conference tables when needed to get the best light on the subject sitting beside the table.

As Mike states, site visits are important whenever possible. They are most useful for providing an un-hurried opportunity to scout out different backgrounds, check for any potential sound problems, think about your lighting versus the ambient light and in general come up with a basic plan.

In the work we do in large factories it's critical to know the color temperature of the ambient light so we know what we're coming into. Our few thousand watts of light are no match for the hundreds of ceiling mounted fixtures which cover a 50,000 square foot facility, so we better know what we're getting and have the right gels. The plant's manager can tell me on the phone that they have Sodium but probably has no idea if it's 5,500k, 2,600k or somewhere in between. (In one location a couple of years ago the light was so orange that it was well outside of anything I could white balance so instead we set-up for tungsten and just let the orange rooms go orange.)

One thing I would change in Mike's two camera delivery room set-up would be to find a way to flag the lenses from the key lights. This could be as simple as an on-camera French Flag, a stand-alone flag on a stand or even an articulated arm attached to the tripod holding a black card in place. Just a suggestion and by no means a criticism of what looks like a good set-up.

As I said at the start, I'm sure I'll think of more, but this is my attempt to supplement Mike's solid blog post.


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