Interviews are the backbone of corporate and nonprofit video production. If you take a look at our portfolio, you'll see we've produced plenty of testimonial video projects that are based on interviews. One of the reasons on-camera interviews are so popular is that they allow for a sense of authenticity and realism that you can't often get with a scripted approach.
If interviews are so important in day-to-day production, then we as producers ought to try our best to learn how to conduct video interviews with excellence.
I wrote this post based on 10 years of experience interviewing CEOs, bankers, small children, and a lot in between. The content below is everything I've learned about conducting video interviews in those 10 years.
Do Your Homework
Doing your homework for a video interview means having a deep understanding of the subject-matter being discussed. In the corporate world this means you may need to read up and educate yourself on a topic like endoscope reprocessing or the history of loan sharking.
If you ask me, the homework is what separates mediocre producers from great producers. Sometimes it's tedious, boring, or complex. But you have to do it. It's impossible to engage in a thoughtful conversation with someone else if you don't have an understanding of what you'll be discussing.
Always Do Pre-Interviews
Pre-interviews are great for a couple of reasons.
First, they allow you to develop a rapport and relationship to the interviewee before the shoot day. The shoot day is a bad time to form a relationship with your interviewee. There are just too many distractions and chaos. Having a good rapport with your counterpart will make you both more comfortable and will in turn produce a better interview.
Pre-interviews also allow you to uncover new information that you might not have thought of. It could be new information about the person you're interviewing or new information about the subject-matter. Sometimes the only way to uncover that information is to do a pre-interview.
Minimize the Gear
Nine times out of ten, you're going to be interviewing someone who is not a professional actor or presenter. It might even be the first time they've ever appeared on camera. This is naturally a nerve-wracking event for many people. Seeing a wall of cameras, lights, and grip equipment only heightens that fear.
I like to practice what I call "Minimizing the Gear" by either reducing the amount of equipment you have or de-emphasizing it.
- Pre-Light - By the time your interviewee sits down, you should already be 95% done with lighting. Don't make your interview subject sit for 10 minutes while you fiddle with lights and discuss their facial shadows.
- Sit Close To Your Interviewee - There are obviously limits to how close you can get. You don't want to appear in the camera shot. But get as close as you can. This will help the person focus on you and not the gear.
- Minimize "gear talk" as much as possible - Talking about aperture, ISO, and lenses is fun, but it could have an effect of making your talent feel uncomfortable or isolated. The same goes for calling out "Action", "Sound Speed", and any other insider film lingo.
Reassure Your Interviewee
Many people are hesitant about being interviewed because they're scared that they'll say the wrong thing. They look at interviews as a one-shot deal. They think they have to step up to the plate and say the right thing or risk looking like an idiot.
This is why I always take time before every interview to reassure people I'm interviewing of three important things.
First, I assure them that I'm on their side, and that my goal as a producer is to make them look great and articulate what they want to say in the clearest and most truthful way.
Secondly, I assure them that if they don't like something they say they can go back and do it again. Once people get the idea that the interview isn't "one-shot" they ease up a bit with the knowledge that they can fix any mess-ups.
Lastly, I assure them that the editing process is something close to magic. Through precision editing and and slicing and dicing only the best parts of the interview we're able to clear up a lot of things that go wrong.
Don't Be Afraid of Silence
This takes a while to get used to because most people start to feel uncomfortable when too much silence creeps into a conversation. But some of the very best interview content I've ever gotten has been after a long uncomfortable silence. Sometimes people need a moment to collect their thoughts and open up. Allowing space for silence gives them the opportunity to do that.
Don't Ask Yes or No Questions
Avoid yes or no questions as much as possible. For one, they're kind of boring. Plus the audience will have no context for what the Yes or No means since they didn't get to hear the question.
Good questions start with "How did you" or "Why did you". We went the interviewee to open up and take us deeper. Yes/No questions put a damper on that.
Don't Take Notes
I typically don't take notes during an interview. Many people like to do this so they can remember good answers, but in my opinion when you take notes you may run the risk of the interviewee feeling like they're being graded on their answers. Plus I know we always have the recorded version that I can go back and look at to review answers.
The Magical 3-Word Phrase
This is such an easy trick it's almost silly.
When you're in the middle of an interview and you're really hitting on all cylinders and your interviewee is giving you great stuff - keep them on a roll with this simple and magical 3-word phrase:
"Tell me more"
It's so simple, but what you're doing is encouraging your counterpart to dig deeper, provide more context, and more details. You're giving them space and permission to speak their mind. I use this whenever I feel like we're hitting a good stride.
It's like doubling down on a good bet.
Interviews are an art form. You're dealing with people and people can sometimes be unpredictable and challenging. Interviewing is something that takes time and repetition to get really good at, but if you use the guidelines above during your next interview you'll be off to a great start.