On-camera interviews are an essential part of many kinds of filmmaking. From documentaries to brand advertisements to reality television, interviews are extremely important. While placing a camera in front of a subject and filming as they answer your questions might seem like an easy task, there are many details that can easily be overlooked and make editing the interview a nightmare later on. By following these tips on how to film an interview, you’ll ensure that you get the proper coverage to make your interview look great and be easily editable.
First, let’s quickly go over the equipment and general knowledge that you’ll need to conduct your interview.
- Two or three* cameras that shoot similar “looks”
- If it’s not possible to get the same camera, make sure to do some research on the looks of your cameras. Google searching “Camera A” vs “Camera B” will usually pull good results; sometimes people will even post videos online showing the difference between the two. Using different cameras won’t ruin your interview, but consistency is always better.
- Sturdy tripods
- It’s up to you whether or not you want to shoot the interview using a tripod. Handhelds can lend a more dramatic, gritty feel, which might be ideal for the interview you’re conducting. Generally though, using a tripod is the way to go. Make sure the tripod can handle the weight of your cameras.
- Lavalier microphones are best for interviews. They provide the clearest sound from a stationary subject and can usually be hidden easily (even though a lav mic that is noticeable in an interview is usually quickly forgiven by an audience). If you don’t have access to lav mics, a shotgun mic pointed at your subject will usually do the trick — just be sure to do your interview in a quiet place.
- Depending on your camera, sometimes you can get away with using available light, but it’s always better to have a light or two handy to make your interview look better. Kino Flo makes an array of very functional lights — you can change their bulbs to match daylight or tungsten lighting and provide soft, natural looks.
Below, we’ll be focusing specifically on coverage. In video production, “coverage” is used to describe the number of different shots and angles used to capture a scene. Coverage ensures that you’ll have enough differentiating footage to work with in editing. In interviews specifically, proper coverage will allow you to clean up your subject’s speech and cut out any unwanted pauses or mistakes.
Example of a camera set-up
The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out where you’re going to place your subject. In this case, we’re going to assume that the interviewer is never going to appear on camera. (If you do want your interviewer to be on camera, however, we’ll touch on that at the end.) Choose a place in the room that will give your shots depth and include interesting (but not distracting) backgrounds.
Don’t put your subject right up against a wall; instead, place them somewhere near the center of the room, so that the background will be somewhat out of focus while you shoot. Picking a background is all about the style of your interview — sometimes all white or all black works, and sometimes we want something else in the background. Regardless, you’ll want to separate your subject from that background and create depth.
Once you figure out where your subject will be, you’ll need to set the cameras. In order to give yourself proper coverage in editing, make sure that you’ll be able to get a close-up and a medium to wide shot. “Camera A” should be placed near the person asking the questions, so that your subject’s eye line falls either to the left or right of your camera. “Camera B” should be placed on that same side (following the 180-degree rule), but should be set to a shot that shows more of the subject. It should also be set to the same height as “Camera B” to keep the eye-line correct.
Keep in mind these are just general rules — feel free to break them! It’s only essential that “Camera A” and “Camera B” are set in such a way that their shots are noticeably different; otherwise you’ll have trouble cutting between the two shots in editing.
After you’ve figured out where you’re placing your cameras, you’ll need to frame your shots. It’s generally a good idea to give your subjects some leading room on the side they’re talking towards. Frame your shot using the rule of thirds. If you’re shooting one or both cameras handheld, don’t be afraid to add some movement to your shots by adjusting the frame a bit every once in a while — it keeps the shot interesting. Again, don’t be afraid to break these composition rules if you feel comfortable enough to get a more interesting shot.
Close-up from “Camera A”
Medium-wide from “Camera B”
When all of your components are set, it’s time to start rolling the cameras. Try to have your subjects sit (or stand) as still as possible without looking too stiff. This will help keep them in frame and in focus. If your interviewer is not appearing on camera, make sure your subjects know to talk in complete sentences. Asking them to reword the question as they answer is necessary for editing purposes. Since the audience won’t be hearing the questions, they need to be able to know what your subject is talking about.
Interviewer: When did you first get into photography?
Subject: When I was twelve.
Subject: I got into photography when I was twelve.
If you’re recording sound on a device other than one of your cameras, you’ll need to sync the sound later in editing. Use a slate to make this easy — write the subject’s name on the slate, begin recording sound, roll all of your cameras, and then clap the slate. If you don’t have a slate, you can have someone stand in the shot say the subject’s name and clap their hands. As long as the sound recorder can hear the “clap” and the cameras can see the slate or hands hitting together, you’ll be able to easily sync your sound later. Make sure that every time you stop recording on any of your devices,you stop all of them and re-do the slating once you start up again. Another way to ensure synced sound is to simultaneously record sound from one of your cameras. Then, in post, you can use a program like PluralEyes to take the two sound tracks (recorder and camera) and sync them with a click of a button.
While the interview is taking place, make sure you watch the frame for any distractions. Take note if something happens (lighting changes; someone walks into the background; your subject looks directly into the camera). Go slow and allow your subject to be comfortable while answering the questions. Sometimes you might need to direct in order to get a line or shot right. Just be polite and specific. For example, if your subject is moving too much, wait for them to finish answering the question, and then pause and tell them what they’re doing wrong. Even showing them the frame can help them understand why your request is necessary. Also, try not to tell your subject exactly what to say. By doing that, you are forcing the subject to act, which could lead to an response that isn’t genuine. Instead, try pulling the answer out organically by asking them to elaborate on a specific point or topic.
During or after you’ve conducted your interview, make sure to get some B-Roll. This will help cover up any harsh edits and just generally set the scene and make the interview more interesting. Get some close-ups of your subject’s hands moving or interesting parts of their wardrobe. Make sure that you can’t see their mouth moving so that you can use these shots anywhere in your final video.
B-Roll of hands while the subject talks
It’s also a good idea to get some insert shots if you’re doing the interview in a specific location, like the subject’s office. Establishing shots of the building or city that you are in, shots of their workplace or home, and footage of them interacting there are always a good way to set the scene and have interesting things to cut to later. If you need more B-Roll, you can always go to Shutterstock and find tons of great clips that will help establish your setting — check out the clipbox below for some examples!
- If you have a third camera, use it to get more interesting angles of your subject. Also use it to pick up some of the B-Roll — hands, wardrobe, etc.
- If you’re planning on showing your interviewer, but you still only have two or three cameras, set them up using over-the-shoulder shots and a wide two-shot. Over-the-shoulders help to give an audience a sense of being in the conversation with two people, while the wide shot will help establish the setting and space that the subject and interviewer are in.
- Remember, feel free to break rules — always look for interesting angles and shots that speak to the story you’re telling with your interview. “Camera C” can always be used to do this, but if only two cameras are available, one can be set in a standard way and the other can be used for interesting compositions.
Do you have other questions about capturing great interview footage? Let us know in the comments!