Ten Tips to Produce More Professional Video Interviews

The personal interview is perhaps the most powerful tool for video storytelling both online and off. Here are some basic technical production tips for producing more effective and watchable video interviews.

I’m aiming at those readers who may be beginners, or who may “know enough to get themselves in trouble.”

1.  Use a lavalier mic. Use the best microphone you can get your hands on.  This should be a lavalier mic, either wireless, or wired with a sufficiently long audio cable.  Be aware that inexpensive wireless mics can be noisy, and may pick up interference from other radio transmitter or noise generated by computers or machines. You may have to switch the frequency setting to get around the interference, or move your subject to a different location. Better wireless systems are diversity receivers, and automatically switch between frequencies to avoid interference.  If you have a less expensive video camera that lacks an external mic input, you will have to use the on-camera mic.  If that’s the case, be sure to find a quieter location to minimize background noise, and get close to your subject.

2.  Monitor your sound.  Monitor through headphones when you are interviewing  (or have the videographer do so if you are lucky enough to have one!)  Listen for problems with the mic, clothes rustling, wind, or other background noises.  Ask your interviewee to repeat a thought if there was an audio problem during the recording, or they stumble on a word during a particularly useful quote.

3.  Get proper audio levels.  Use a manual setting on you audio levels if your camera has them, and set the levels such that the signal only occasionally peaks in the -12db (decibels) range on the audio meter, and doesn’t hover in the “red” zone above that. The goal is to record the audio as loud as possible, but without distortion.  Viewers will put up with bad video (as YouTube proves), but are very impatient with bad audio.

4.  Use a tripod. While we have become used to “shaky cam” over the years, it can be hugely distracting in interview situations.  I tell my video students “Use a tripod even when you can’t.” This may sound uncompromising, but I assume that beginners will still be tempted to handhold the camera more often than they should.  For interviews, camera stability is critical:  at least find way to prop yourself against something solid, and failing that, form a tripod with your elbows on a table.

5.  Frame your subject effectively.  Follow the “rule of thirds” when framing your video subjects to bring a more powerful and aesthetically pleasing composition to your interview. When looking at your subject in the viewfinder/LCD panel, visualize two sets of imaginary parallel lines dividing the image horizontally and vertically into six zones.  The four locations where those lines intersect are “power” points.  Composing your video image to put interesting objects on or near these points will can energize the image, increase viewer interest, and be more engaging to their eye.  For example, instead of placing a person being interviewed in the exact center of the picture, pan the camera slightly to one side and put their eye line on a power point.  Beware of giving your subject too much “headroom”, and tilt the camera down to balance the image vertically.  You might want to also occasionally reframe the picture to provide some variety when editing your interview.

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds 

6.  Get close.  Video is a close-up medium. Frame the image of the interviewee to create a “chest shot”, or move in even closer.  How close can be a stylistic preference, but setting up the shot to see the whole person can be difficult to pull off, as people can look awkward, distant, and usually not have a clue of what to do with their arms!

7.  Choose where the interviewee should direct their answers.  Consider directing your interviewee to talk “off-axis” to the interviewer (which may be you as both camera operator and interviewer.)  Have them talk to you as you stand beside the camera, or to an imaginary person just a few degrees off-center.   The alternative is to have them speak directly to the lens.  This creates a very different feel to the interview, and is not recommended for non-professional talent.  Whichever way you choose, stick with it throughout the production.  Better cameras have the ability to flip the LCD viewer 180 degrees and place it flat against the camera facing out.  This way you can conduct the interview with the camera on your right, and quickly glance at the viewfinder to monitor your shot without distracting your subject.

8.  Prep your interviewee.  Give your interviewee some tips before starting the interview.  Remind them that your questions will not be heard on the final edited program, so they should include some of your question in their answer to create a complete thought.  Remind them that “electrons are cheap” and you can always stop and re-start if they aren’t happy with something they said or if they misspoke.  Make them feel comfortable.  It’s not easy being interviewed on camera.

9.  Get their info on camera. Be sure to begin the interview by asking your subject to say and spell their name aloud, and identify their position/title.  This helps immensely when you are editing and adding their names with on screen fonts---you might lose your notes, or may not be the one who edits the video.  Misspelling a name in a production is a major faux pas you want to avoid!

10.  Express gratitude.  Be sure to thank your interviewee, and offer to get them a copy of the final program, or send them a URL to the video after it’s placed online.