Video Interviews: Keeping Your Subject Comfortable

A friend recently asked me if I had some advice for ways to make people comfortable in interview situations. I thought to share some of that with you…

Honestly, until professional cameras get to the point where they are pinhole cameras mounted on an interviewers tie, and even then, interviewing can be a really difficult task. Many people simply get nervous when they see the large glass of the lens pointed toward them, and there is likely the basic fear of being captured on a permanent visual record for “the rest of the world” to see. Individuals who are otherwise fluent speakers can be rendered as bumbling fools when they sit themselves down amidst the recording situation. You, as the videographer, can have an impact on the situation, though, and it is important to do your part to make the interview as successful as possible. Here are some items for your checklist:

  1. Be professional – If you act like you have no clue, then they may get a bit jittery.
  2. Setup before they arrive. If they can walk in and get everything over with, it’s better than growing tension as they wait to play their part. This is not always possible, especially if you are going to their home or office.
  3. Speak softly, but directly. Tell them what you will be looking for.
  4. One big thing is that they should look at the interviewer, not the camera.
  5. The interviewer plays a huge part in this process. He should, maybe, while you are setting up, start with some small talk, then build up to questions he is going to ask and the types of responses he is looking to get. If ground rules are established, then interviewees will feel better as they reply, and also as they get a few concepts regarding the direction of the interview.
  6. Camera placement can have an impact. If you get a person who is just totally afraid of the camera, then you may want to deviate from placing the camera so that the interviewed individual is nearly looking at the lens. Try the more traditional format
    where both people are in the shot. This way the camera is perpendicular to the line of action. It won’t be as good of a video, but you’ll likely end up with better responses.
  7. Stay out of the person’s personal space. Give them a good 5-6′ of separation if you can. This can be hard in a man-on-the-street interview, because of sound (depending on mic) or pedestrian traffic on a sidewalk, but in a studio/inside setup, distance can really help.
  8. Re-shoot specific statements. A good option, and often times a necessity in a single camera shoot is to listen and write down some good statements that the individual says as they say them (or have the interviewer take notes). Then, go back and shoot your close-ups/alternate angles, having the person state the specific lines you want. In your final edit, you can pull these in as a part of your arsenal, along with any extra B-roll you might gather.

Hope these help. If you have any other input or ideas, feel free to pipe in with a comment.


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Video Producer, Director, Writer, Editor.