Interview Research

I have just been looking at this article on the videomaker website to learn more about how to conduct an interview. The article is quite an in-depth guide to anyone who wants to use interview in documentary, and I personally found it very helpful for a beginner.
Visit the article here –

The post, created by Peter Biesterfeld, outlined an effective way to structure an interview, but it also included some really interesting tips which I would not have otherwise thought of, that have the ability to make the interview much more successful.

The following is a slightly summarised version of the article, and bits I think will be useful:

– Before interviewing, you really need to know what your documentary is about, so you need to have done a lot of research.

-You need to know the information role you want each of your participating subjects to play (you need to know what you want them to say before you question them).

It is important to focus the documentary – deciding what information you will or wont include. This will inform the strategy for each interview and its purpose in the documentary.

-Interviews can be factual or personal (asking for their opinion or emotional response).

Pre-Interview: this is a critical stage, where you should get to know the person you are going to interview, without a camera. It should not be a rehearsal, and you shouldn’t give away the questions you will ask, because you want their response to be spontaneous and natural on camera. You should however, outline what the documentary aims to explore, find out what involvement they have with the topic, and tell them what general topics you will cover.

Style: It is important to consider whether you will include the interviewer’s questions in edit – if not you should make sure the subject gives answers in context. You should ask open ended questions, don’t settle for yes/no answers – push for more detail by asking for examples, stories. descriptions, emotions etc.

Types of Interview:

In-depth – sit down interviews which can potentially carry the whole documentary. In this kind you should listen well and respond to their answers rather than just asking your next question on the list. It should be like a conversation. Don’t let opportunities to explore emotions slip away.

Walk and Talk – This is where you interview the subject whilst they are doing something, this can be more engaging for the viewer and more relaxing for the person being questioned. What they are doing should relate in some way to what they are talking about.

Vox-Pops – Same question to different people to collect a range of opinons, can be cut into documentary in different places to add variety.

(hint for vox-pops: make it light hearted, tell the person what the documentary is about and ask if they’d like to comment on the subject) I found this bit very useful, as in previous attempts at collecting vox-pops, i found it difficult to approach people, and even more difficult to get them to agree to say something on camera. I will try this more casual method to see if it has more success.

Shot framing: Sit down interviews work best in their own environment e.g. their home, workplace etc. The location should say something about the character. This advice conflicts with my idea to film in the photography studio as it is an environment that is easy to control in terms of sound, lighting and scenery, and I would not need to carry equipment to different locations. I was also interested in a simple white backdrop from a stylistic point of view, to make the person’s message the focus. I may try filming both in the studio and also in other locations to compare the results. I could also perhaps film around college but with more interesting backdrops. 

-Don’t position them beside a wall, you want to separate them from the background plane.

-Don’t be behind the camera, as it isn’t engaging for the subject. A good position would be to be very close to the opposite side of the camera to them, so that they’re making eye contact across the camera. You should swap the side you are on for different interviews to add variation. A really clever point that was mentioned was to plan so that the eyelines of opposing sides of an argument face opposite ways to visually represent the debate.

Shot size: Start filming the interview with a medium shot, for the introduction of a subject. Wide shots are good if you want to add titles in editing. Over shoulder shots are good (if you want the interviewer to be in shot) to show the subject/interviewers response (these should be filmed before the interview begins, while the two are just preparing/chatting). Close-up/extreme close-ups are for more intimate parts in the interview which occur normally towards the end and feel more natural once the viewer gets to know the subject.

-If the interviewer is included in the shots, its a good idea to film re-asks of the questions with the camera pointing at the interviewer, these can be filmed after the interview.

An issue that I have noticed from this research, is that the best results may come from getting another person to film me interviewing someone, so that the shot size, framing etc can be changed without having to stop the interview, and break the flow of conversation. This is not something I mind if working in a collaboration, however I did plan to develop my own camera skills, and put them to use. At the moment I think I will just go ahead alone while practising, and see if the disruption to the conversation is a big issue.

The videomaker website is a really great source of information, and I expect I will be consulting it quite a bit for guidance in this project. I may begin purchasing the magazine as a way to receive up to date info in the area of practice.


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