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How to Conduct an On-Camera Interview
Behind every well-spoken person on camera is a producer or crew member asking them questions behind the scenes. Shooting interview-style videos, or “talking heads”, requires someone who knows how to: ask the right questions, build trust, and get that perfect sound bite from an interviewee. But how do they do it?
We’ve put together some tips about conducting a successful on-camera interview that makes both, the interviewee and the interviewer, look good.
Part of being a strong interviewer is knowing which questions will spark an authentic and powerful answer.
Create a list of questions referencing everything you want to include in the video. When working for a client, sometimes a list of questions will be provided for you. Becoming familiar with the content is important. Reviewing the questions several times before arriving on set will help produce an organic conversation during the interview.
It’s important to remember that open-ended questions provide a better interviewing experience for both parties. For example, using phrases such as, “Describe how you felt when…” or, “Tell me about…” leads the interviewee into telling a story with their emotions rather than providing a short, structured response. These types of phrases also remind the interviewee that they are conversing with another person, rather than answering questions. This environment typically makes them feel less intimidated by the camera.
Know that you do not need to stick to your list of questions. Think of your list like a roadmap to a destination. Feel free to diverge from that path when one of your questions elicits an interesting response that builds a deeper conversation. Asking follow up questions to get more details, clarify confusing concepts, or cover certain points, brings depth to your interview.
Also note that while you want the interviewee to be prepared, you don’t want them to memorize their answers - this will come off as robotic and non-genuine on camera. Providing them general overview of the type of questions you will be asking is the best way to navigate this possible issue.
Before the lights come on and the cameras are set up, it is your job as an interviewer to make your interviewee feel comfortable. Start by establishing a connection. Introduce yourself, ask them about their day, compliment them on something, tell a story, and make simple conversation to put them at ease right away. If the interviewee feels like they can trust you, they will be more willing to open up on camera.
If you can tell the interviewee is feeling uncomfortable during the interview, offer them a break and some water. Always come prepared with water bottles in your car or with your gear. Remember that the more comfortable your interviewee is, the better answers they will provide.
Before beginning, instruct your interviewee to look at you the whole time, not the camera (unless the director wants them looking into the camera). Remind them throughout the interview if you find them glancing at the camera or in the background. Finally, give them an overview of how the interview will occur and see if they have any questions for you.
Jumping into hard-hitting questions right off the bat in an interview can be a little jarring. Instead, start by asking some easy questions to get the ball rolling and provide context. If you are familiar with journalistic style, then you know the importance of covering the who, what, when, where, why, and how. The interviewee will likely be knowledgeable about these pieces of information, meaning their answers will flow naturally. You get into the heart of the interview after these opening questions.
Often, the goal of an interview-style video is to record sound bites that effectively get a message across in an engaging way. A sound bite is a short clip of a recorded interview that exemplifies the essence of the rest of the video. You may need to rephrase a question to achieve this desired result. Remind the interviewee that some questions may sound similar, but that is because you are trying to get the best sound bite you can - not because they aren’t answering correctly.
Another tip is asking your interviewee to restate the question within the answer to provide context for the audience. By restating part of the question in their answer, context is provided. You have editors for a reason—they edit out the question asking and pick the best sound bites for the final cut.
Finally, if the interviewee tells a long story that reveals compelling information, ask them for a 20 second, condensed version.
When you can sense that the interview is winding down, ask the interviewee if they have anything else they want to add. They might think of something that you have forgotten, overlooked, or simply wasn’t aware of but is crucial to the story.
After that, conclude the on-camera interview with the interviewee’s introduction. It may seem backwards to record this part at the end, but at this point, the interviewee should already be feeling comfortable on camera and can give a genuine and energetic introduction of themselves. They can say a simple greeting, their name, and their role or position. Conduct several takes to allow the editors a selection. Then ask them to spell their name for the editors for safety and accuracy in editing.
Once the interview is complete, don’t forget to thank your interviewee for their time and willingness to be on camera.
Feeling confident behind the camera comes with preparation and practice. We hope these interviewing tips and techniques help you tell stories that matter.
Want to more video production tips? Check out our guide to being on a production set HERE.
Utah Women in Production and Photography was founded by women for women. Their mission is to advocate for women in their respective industries. Women provide unique perspectives, skills and insight, making impactful decisions on set. BW Productions is proud to represent a dedicated group that advocates for and collaborates with women.