Interviews with people are probably the single most common element in video storytelling, especially in documentary filmmaking. Any talk show you see on TV is made up of talking-head shots.
Learning to create awesome talking-head shots is a critical skill for videographers to develop. It’s one of the first skills you should learn.
The best looking video interviews should actually be called video portraits if you ask me. Even if you are doing low budget beginner films, you can get good lighting for your headshots if you learn to take advantage of natural lighting and then practice improving upon the natural light by augmenting with lighting fixtures. In this picture below, all the windows make a bright, cheerful looking talking head shot. That is not always true for windows, though. Windows can interfere with your videotaping too. With time, you will learn to recognize the differences.
A well done talking-head can be quite artistic and beautiful, with strategically placed lights that create an effect both flattering to the face and consistent with the intended story line.
Video Production Tips For Video Interviews
Producing a well done video interview requires many skills. You must be able to:
- Set the stage with appropriate lighting and backgrounds
- Set-up and operate the camera
- Record quality sound
- Make the subject feel comfortable (This is extremely important!)
- Be able to visualize the completed project before it ever begins
While this may sound like a lot of skills to create a video interview, anyone can be successful at this type of project with enough practice. For a greater chance of success, here are some tips and tricks.
Camera: With so many different cameras available on the market, it is very hard to distinguish which one is the perfect one for your project. The best thing that you can do is use a camera that you are very familiar with and find easy to manipulate. Many master videographers use older equipment because that is what they are most familiar with, and they produce exquisite pieces.
Many novices believe the magic element to a great video is having the latest and greatest camera equipment. That simply isn’t true. Your lighting, framing, and background composition are all more important than the specific camera you use.
When you’re learning, it is best to experiment and gain experience using as many cameras as you can. Camera technology today is able to create amazing results, even with low-budget cameras. Any video camera, or device that can take video today, are all going to have plenty of features to make a nice image.
Lighting: Lighting is crucial to your interview. In fact, lighting can make more of a difference to the quality of the final image that what kind of camera one uses. Triangle lighting is a term used for a standard form of lighting for faces. Basically, the subject’s head is surrounded by three points of lights, as you can see in the drawing below. You don’t have to use triangle lighting every time. You can get good results with just one light, usually the key light.
Most of the time, you’re going to want a talking head to look “natural.” This means your average viewer will not focus on your lighting, but rather on what the subject is saying. If your lighting is too bright, the video will take on a very unnatural look. The interview will appear staged, and the audience will not respond well to the information contained in the interview.
If your lighting is too soft, the interview will appear more intimate than you may have intended. Context is important. When you watch TV, pay attention to the lighting to see if you think it looks right.
When you’re trying to get it right during a shoot, don’t be afraid to adjust your lighting several times if necessary. Check what it looks like on the video before conducting the entire interview.
Shots: Most interviews will probably be shot using one-camera technique, unless you are doing them in a studio. When you only have one camera to work with, it’s customary after the interview to take cutaway shots of the interviewer, and wide shots of the interview setting. These can be very handy during editing.
If you are fortunate enough to have more than one camera, which is common today since cameras have become more affordable and smaller, you can get multiple angles and scopes at the same time. This will help make your show more visually interesting.
Sound: Clean, crisp sound is crucial for an interview. If viewers can not understand what the subject is saying, they won’t watch. Shoot in a quiet location for best results, no matter what kind of microphone you’re using. Do the best you can to eliminate all background noise. Professional crews will even turn off air conditioners or coffee pots humming in the background as white noise.
Use a microphone that can be placed close to the speaker’s mouth. Often this is a small, clip on microphone for interviews. Handhelds are also commonly used. Generally speaking, the mic attached to the camera is not the best for interviews, in part because of the distance from the camera to the interviewee. Notice in the picture below, the person speaking on camera is holding a microphone just a few inches below his mouth.
You may have to manipulate the sound in post-production if your recording equipment does not provide the quality you desire. However, this can be accomplished fairly easily with your editing software. You want to make sure that the interview is free of background noises, buzzing, or any other white noise that may be noticeable. However, it is always best to do whatever you can in the field to ensure that your sound is recorded as well as possible for the circumstances.
Staging: The background and environment you set a person in for an interview is important. If possible, I like to make the background relevant to the person speaking. For example, if I interviewed a doctor, I wanted the background to look medical. If I interviewed a teacher, I wanted the background to look like an obvious school setting. That is not always possible, so it is common to use an office setting or something that looks like a loving room.
You want to shoot your interview in a simple and meaningful setting. If the background is too stark, people will automatically believe the person being interviewed is scary or dull. However, if the background is too elaborate or cluttered, the focus will be on the background and not on the person being interviewed.
Research: For the best results, take some time before you film your interview to study how other people have done interviews. You will learn many things from watching other interviews, including what not to do in your piece. If you see something you don’t like, then you know what not to do! So as I always say, watch TV with an enlightened sense of TV production so you can analyze what the producers did and whether they did it well.
When you see a talking head on TV, look at how the person is sitting, how the voices sound, and how well the area is lit. Sit back and think about how the interview made you feel, and what, if anything, you would change. Research is one of your biggest assets. And watching TV counts as research, assuming you watch with a keen eye.
Script: Make sure that you are well-prepared to accommodate all questions and situations. This means having enough battery power and recording capacity. If you are the one conducting the interview, make sure that you are prepared for the length of the answers. If you are just shooting the event, have a copy of the questions from the producer so that you can obtain a well-rounded interview.
The most important thing you can remember is that the final product is what is going to matter most. Video interviews must have an emotional impact on the viewers. The people that are watching this video, for whatever purpose, must want to react in a positive manner to its content.
We hope that gives you some practical advice for shooting professional-quality video interviews.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- In your own words, which do you think is better, having an expensive camera or having your lighting, sound, and staging well-done? Does that agree or disagree with what the article says? (Disagreement is OK, just be able to justify your reasoning.)
- Describe what triangle lighting is for a talking head.
- Name three simple things can you do to make sure and get good sound during an interview.