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Get What You Need While Shooting Interviews

From The Creative COW Magazine


Creative COW Magazine presents Get what you need while shooting interviews



Joe WombleJoe Womble
Atlanta Georgia, USA

©2007 Joe Womble and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:

25-year industry vet Joe Womble helps you cover your bases while shooting interviews for every kind of video.


I'm always thinking of the edit while I shoot.

I always cringe when I hear a DP, camera operator or director say: "Don't worry about that now, we can just fix it in post." You almost never hear that coming from the editor, the guy whose job it is to "fix it in post."

I know, because I'm often the editor. Other times, I'm the DP or the producer, but I look at every aspect of the production with the edit in mind. I have to, because that's where it all comes together.

As the project gets underway, I think in terms of effectively telling the story from all the angles that lead up to the edit. For example, is the lighting, camera placement and pacing contributing to the editor's ability to bring this about?

This actually becomes more important when I have to, as we all often do, play all of the production roles myself. The time I spend as the DP on improving, simplifying or insuring consistency between shots, saves me, as the editor, time and money - which also makes me, as the producer, very happy.

All of those are visual aspects of production, and each deserves a closer look. For now, let's focus on the part of the story that you hear.


THE INTERVIEW

As one example, let's consider the interview. Whether your interview will be part of a documentary, a news story, or a corporate video, the idea is the same. Prepare. Then listen.

There's a popular idea that documentaries, in particular, magically appear out of mountains of footage. Be objective, shoot everything, and let the footage tell you the story. That's oversimplifying the idea - but the idea itself is oversimplified, and usually wrong.

Of course the content you gather in interviews will help shape your story, but have a good idea of the content you need before you begin, or you wouldn't be able to make a list of questions. Prepare first. Having an idea of what you need is your best chance of getting it.

This is true for every kind of interview. As an example from my experience in corporate video, the chances are good that you will interview an executive who's not getting paid by the hour. They'll consider the interview to be a waste of time, and won't be there long enough so that you can "shoot everything." If you don't prepare, it will waste everyone's time and could be the last job you do for that company.

So you've prepared. The scene is set and lit to perfection. You're ready to roll. Now what? With the content you're hearing, start building the edit in your head. Start by listening to what the interviewee is saying. As you listen with the edit in mind, you'll be able to shape the unfolding story.

Are the answers or anecdotes delivered succinctly? If not, you might be able to ask the question a different way, or ask something more specific to get what you are looking for.

Now, you can't allow yourself to be so rigid with your vision of what the final piece should be that you don't recognize something better, even magical happening in the interview. The important thought here is that being prepared, and starting the edit while the interview is underway, not only allows for the opportunity of better storytelling but encourages it.

Whether it's the story you started with, or the one that emerges as you listen, do the answers or anecdotes help the telling of the story? If they raise more questions, ask them, even if they're not on your list.

Does the interviewee either work the question back into the answer or in some way make the context clear? If not, the content you get, no matter how wonderful, may simply not fit into the final piece. It might only be fit as one of those deleted scenes on the Special Edition DVD - which is never going to happen.


DEVELOP THE FLOW

Listen more closely, as the editor. Is there enough of a pause between question and answer (and the next question) to make an edit? If not, change the pace of the questions and the flow of the interview.

Do you hear paragraphs? Any help you can give the interviewee to start grouping their thoughts will make your life as an editor incredibly much easier.

Note that none of these suggestions involve putting words in the mouths of the people you interview. The point isn't to make them tell your story the way you want it told. By carefully listening, and by redirecting as needed, you help your subjects make their own thoughts clearer, in a way that you can actually use.

Think of it this way: The people you interview are writers. By helping them state their thoughts more clearly, you're acting as the editor.

To circle back to where we began, listening closely while you start to edit the piece in your head can also give you clues about visual material you need. Are there gaps in the story, awkward pauses or even camera bumps that you need to cover with B-roll footage? Are there graphic elements or photos that might also help tell the story? Might the person being interviewed be the best source for them?

These are a handful of things to keep in your head as you prepare for the interviews you shoot, and while you're shooting them. They're part of what it means to "work smarter, not harder," which embodies the approach I strive for in all aspects of the storytelling process.

Keep the edit in your head through the whole process. Prepare, so you know what you need. Listen, so you know if you have it. If you don't have what you need, find a way to get it before you leave the site.

You can't fix it in post if you don't have it!

Joe Womble
Joe Womble shooting an interview in Tokyo.


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