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Interviews 2: Arrival & Set-Up

Decide where to shoot

Choose the Location

Pick a spot with as much space possible. This will provide room for staging cameras, lighting and crew as well as enough space for the widest shot you will need. Space will also make it easier to have good depth of field in the shot.

The location should be quiet. Listen especially for hum from air handling equipment and echos in a room with no books, draperies or carpeting. If you must film in a location with noises, try to put the noise source on screen so the viewer understands the noise and record at least 20 to 30 seconds of the room’s ambient sound.

Before beginning to set up, take some quick photos to make it easier to return the site to its original condition. Avoid distracting visuals and movement in the background. You usually don’t want people walking in and out of frame during the interview. Also, avoid artwork or objects with logos, unless you’ve already gotten permission to use them.

If the interviewee will be seated, choose a chair that doesn’t allow movement (i.e., doesn’t swivel or have wheels). Don’t position it against a wall or you will be fighting shadows, and the background will lack interest and depth. If space is tight, consider using a hall as background or position the seat in a corner.

Set up the Lighting

Three-point lighting is the gold standard for indoor interviews (key, fill & back/hair light). See also Cinema5D's 8 Easy Lighting Rules and BorrowLenses Blog on Popular Interview Lighting Techniques.

Think of lighting as a paintbrush. Use lighting to emphasize important areas, and use shadows to hide undesirable spots. Use more light for darker-skinned people, less for pale-skinned. Position the key light slightly above the face to create shadows that make the chin appear well-defined and strong. Positioning the key light on the side of the face away from the camera creates shadows on the near side, creating a slimming effect. When the key light is on the side of the face toward the camera, it tends to broaden the face. Ambient lighting or a reflector can sometimes replace the fill light.

Using natural light with interviews can be challenging. Natural light changes often, making it more difficult for the editor to cut together different sections of the interview. Outdoors, bright sun can make the interviewee squint and create harsh shadows. Cloudy days are nicer, more like a giant soft box. “Golden hour” lighting is flattering but ephemeral. If you are filming inside with a window in the shot, be sure to light the face enough to compete with the window light. Also be aware that sunlight is usually a bluish tint, while most indoor light is more yellow, creating a potential conflict.

Position the Camera(s)

Keep the cameras back as much as possible to avoid being obtrusive. Two cameras are ideal. One camera usually gets a medium shot, while the second gets close-ups. Alternatively, the second camera can:

  • Film the interviewer, if they are to be included.
  • Alternate between close-ups and gestures.
  • Rove and get motion shots, especially if a demonstration is involved.
  • Use a slider, jib or dolly to get motion shots.

If only one camera is being used, one option is to plan to cover cuts and add interest with good b-roll, action shots of the interviewee, and photos or graphics. If you have the ability to shoot in 4K, it will allow the editor to zoom and crop in post. And finally, a videographer can shoot to make it look like there were two cameras. During filming, they will alternate between medium and close-up shots. Just after the interview ask some of the questions again, especially those when the subject was most animated. This time, get different angles without the moving mouth in the shot, such as hand gestures and foot movements.

Set up the Audio Gear

Use two microphones whenever possible. Typically, one is a lavalier or “lav” and the second is often a shotgun.

The lav will do the best job of getting the subject’s voice, but is also at the most risk of capturing rubbing sounds on the mic or cord. Wireless lavs are great for distances and/or if the subject is moving around, but are also subject to more technical issues and more likely to pick up RF interference. Wired lavs tend to be higher quality and are usually the best choice for seated interviews.

It’s tempting to mount the shotgun mic on the camera, but ideally the second mic should be as close to the interviewee as possible without showing in the frame.

If the interviewer and interviewee will both be on camera, or if there are several interviewees, consider using several lavs, adding in a mixing board if necessary or using a boom pole with an operator to move the mic to each new speaker.

The more attention you give the set up process, the fewer problems you will encounter in post production, so take your time. Make sure everything is how it needs to be and then double check just to be sure. Once you are confident in the set-up, the interview should go more smoothly.

To read more about this subject, click here for Part 3 of this blog series.

Jacquie Greff, author

Sharon Derby, author