The Interview – Documentary Approach to Storytelling!
No I do not mean a job interview, but this can be loosely applied. I am thinking about what it means to conduct an on-camera interview for a story using video. Once, again…a story. One of the most profound ways to tell a video story is through the eyes, ears, experience, and perceptions of others. Writing a story for the news, for video, or however you want to display the information can be done in so many ways. But one way is through interviews. We can write the best copy, but interviews provide that red-string that binds a compelling story together.
This post is dedicated just to the interview…not to the implementation of the interview into a story. One fundamental ideal I always carry with me comes from a long time journalist and NBC Corespondent Bob Dotson. I remember the first time I ever listened him to speak to a group of journalists (photojournalists) at the NPPA week long boot-camp in Norman, Oklahoma. The best way to conduct an interview is through a series of questions and statements; but what ever you do, ask the question and stare…make the interviewee fill the void. When you get back to listen to the tape, you do not want to listen to answers with your “Uhh Haa”, “Really”, or “Wow”. You want to have the interviewee’s audio as the only audio in the interview.
Conducting an interview is like telling a story…the interview needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. You want to create a conversation between you and the interview subject. Also…you want your interview subject to forget that the microphone and the camera are surrounding them!
When I conduct an interview for a story…I first think of how to make the technology go unnoticed. The first thing that needs to happen is that the wireless microphone needs to be put on the subject FIRST. It needs to be put on in a way so that it is hidden from the view of the camera and thus the final audience. I like to have the transmitter placed behind the subject, maybe of the pants waste-band, then the microphone and wiring under the shirt, blouse, or sweatshirt. The end of the microphone near the neckline of the shirt to pick up the audio of the subject. Then, the camera needs to positioned in a place that the subject is not focusing on the camera. It can be placed in the adjacent room where the lens can zoom to shoot through the doorway.
Once the camera is rolling, I like to start off with what I consider throw-away questions and answers. I ask a series of questions that have nothing to do with the subject matter at hand but merely to learn more about the person to gain trust. This is to build the conversation so that when the real questions are asked, the answers come naturally.
As I move into the questions that are the purpose for the interview, I am building up to the main questions, the main purpose of this interview. I always have notes of topics that I want to cover on a notepad, but in topic form so that I do not use the piece of paper to recite the question. I use the interview as an opportunity to explore the subject’s expertise, gaining knowledge not only for me as the storyteller but for the audience.
As I move through the questions…I always have a few questions that are the most important, the ones that require the best response. I place these appropriately in the line of questioning that makes sense and come out naturally. I build the interview to these questions where each question leads to the next response that ultimately leads to the questions that matter to the interview.
The Interview is merely the process of telling a story. Allowing the interview subjects to provide supplementary information that supports that main object of the story. The interview provides context and allows their “expertise” to bring credibility to the story and context to the audiences minds.
Conducting an interview is just a conversation, an exploration…learning more about their experiences and expertise. The video camera is merely a device to help us relay this story to the intended audience.