Skip to Main Content

Video Production Tutorials: Videotaping Interviews

Before You Start

  • Be aware of battery life. Most digital video batteries last for about 1 hour when using the LCD screen. Extreme cold will further reduce the batteries life. Make sure you have a fully charged battery so you don't run out of power during an interview.

  • Record extra video for editing. Start recording at least 5 seconds before the action or talking begins, then continue recording at least 5 seconds after the action or talking ends. Editing will be a lot easier if you have a little extra footage before and after the event you are trying to capture.

  • Avoid Group Interviews. Interviews are best when you are one-on-one with the interviewee. In most situations it is a bad idea to interview a group of people all at once, they may tend to answer for one-another rather than the audience and they may play off one-another in a manner that is distracting (e.g., interviewing a band). Also, group interviews are extremely hard to shoot with one camera and get close-ups of the person talking without lots of distracting panning and zooming.

Preparing for a formal interview

  1. Generate an initial list of questions for the guest. It's always a good idea to provide the guest with these questions prior to the interview so they can be ready with their answers.

  2. Your questions should focus on what interests you (and your audience) about the thoughts and ideas of the person you are interviewing. Make a list of understandings, concepts, or attitudes you would like to find out about and form them into questions.

  3. Focus on questions that elicit an opportunity to share their thoughts, understanding and knowledge, experiences, predictions etc. Do not ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.

Camera and Guest Placement

Camera & guest placement and shot composition for a formal interview:

  1. Set up the shot of the guest with the camera slightly behind and to the side of the Interviewer. (See Fig. 1) Use a tripod!

  2. Use an external lapel microphone or shotgun microphone for the interview if available. If you're using an external microphone, be sure to use headsets to monitor the audio to assure that the microphone is working.

  3. If you have to use the camera's built-in microphone, you MUST have the camera within 5 or 6 feet of the person being interviewed to record decent audio ... closer if there is a lot of background noise.

  4. Try to position the camera about 30 degrees to the left or right of the subject- not straight on.

  5. Frame the shot with the guest's eyes on the upper third line and allow a little more space in front of the face in the direction they are turned. (See Fig. 1)

  6. Have the interviewer sit and face the guest so they have someone to connect with and talk to. The interviewer should ask the questions and tell the guest to ignore the camera and just "talk to me."

  7. Start the interview with a medium or medium-wide shot, from just above waist to top of head, with eyes on the upper third line! This will allow room to put in a title key over the video when editing. (See Fig. 2)

  8. You can zoom in to a closer shot later in the interview, but do it while a new question is being asked. It will make editing easier if you're not zooming during an answer. (See Fig 3)

Note to camera person: Don't be afraid to ask the interviewer and interviewee to wait a second when adjusting the framing of a shot or changing shots. Let them know when you're ready to record and when you are recording. Wait about 5 seconds AFTER you start recording to cue the interviewer that it's ok to start.

Figure 1Figure 1.

Beginning shot: composition of guest for interview: over the shoulder (OS) shot

This shot is wide enough to include part of the head and shoulders of the person doing the interview. It helps establish the relative position of the interviewer and guest being interviewed.

This shot isn't always necessary but is useful if you are going to have "reverse" angle shots of the interviewer asking questions or reacting to something the guest is saying, like nodding in agreement as the guest talks. You could also pan just a bit right to eliminate the interviewer from this shot leaving you with just a medium shot of the guest.

Figure 2 - Medium close-upFigure 2.

Medium close-up shot: guest with title key added during editing

This shot positions the eyes of the guest on an "imaginary" line (indicated by the upper red line) approximately 1/3 of the way down from the top of the screen. In addition, the shot is wide enough to allow space to add the name and title of the guest being interviewed. Notice that the guest is not looking at the camera but at the interviewer and there is slightly more room in "front" of the face in the direction the guest is looking. Use this shot at the beginning of the interview.

Figure 2 - Extreme close-upFigure 3.

Extreme close-up shot

As in the previous medium shot, the medium close-up positions the eyes of the guest on the "imaginary" line approximately 1/3 of the way down from the top of the screen. Notice that there is slightly more room in "front" of face in the direction the guest is looking.

You can zoom-in to this shot anytime after the first question is answered but do any zooms while the interviewer is talking so that you're not zooming while the guest is talking unless you can perform a really, really smooth zoom.

If you want, you can zoom-in even tighter to a close-up shot but be careful to maintain the eyes on the third and be aware that the closer you get, the more the chance that the guest may move out of your shot unless you're prepared to pan to follow them if they sway back and forth.

Conducting the interview

Remind the guest that your words are not as important as theirs to what you are doing and ask them to repeat the question within their answer:

Q: "Why did you start this program?"
A: "We began this program because..."

This will be very helpful in editing. 

Listen! Be sure to really listen to what they are saying and respond accordingly. Ask follow-up questions if needed for clarity keeping in mind that the guest's answer needs to be a complete sentence. Incomplete sentences are difficult to use. If necessary, have the guest restate their answer to include the question ... See Q&A above.

Shooting cover video

In addition to the "talking head" video of the guest, you need to shoot "cover" video. Cover video can be used during the editing process to cover edits needed in the interview or to provide visual support for narration. Try to observe the following hints:

  • While the interviewer and guest are sitting and talking (before starting the formal interview) try to get some shots of the guest's hands or just the guest sitting and listening to the interviewer. You can use these shots in editing. Do this quickly though and be ready with your first medium shot of the guest when the interviewer is ready to begin.

  • Ask permission to stay in the location (office or wherever) that you shot the interview for a few minutes more to tape cover video for the program. 

  • If you can, move the camera around to a position next to where the guest was seated and get a medium shot of the interviewer from the guest's perspective. Record the interviewer asking questions and just sitting and nodding as if listening to the guest (only need to have them do this for about 5 seconds, then ask the next question. These shots can be used later when editing the interview.

  • Get shots of other things at the interview location. Any signs, objects on desks, anything that might be associated with the content of the interview.

  • You can almost always use video of the guest's company's building, both exteriors and interiors. Get wide shots of the exterior before or after the interview.

  • Try to incorporate any company signs in the shot with the building in the background or get shots of just the company sign; make sure it's a steady shot. Use your tripod. You can pan or zoom if you have to but also make sure you have at least 20 seconds or more of a wide still shot.

  • When possible, get interior shots of anything you can. If you can get shots of people working, great! But be sure to get permission first.  Many companies don't like their employees being recorded and many unions have rules against it.

  • Limit panning and zooming. Don't "spray paint" or "yo-yo" your shots. Don't pan over here to something interesting, then pan over there to something else. Similarly, don't zoom in and out. Think instead of a series of still shots.

  • Hold every shot still for at least 15 seconds or more! Count to at least 15 after starting to record a shot before stopping, changing shots, starting a pan or zoom, etc. Some shots, like an exterior of a building or an interior of a working space with workers should be recorded for at least 30 (or more) seconds without moving the camera. A hint: The wider the shot, the longer it should be on to allow the viewer to "see" everything in the shot.

  • Do not use in-camera digital effects while shooting video. Once recorded, they can't be removed so leave effects to the editing room.

Why do you need cover shots?

To avoid jump cuts.

What's a jump cut anyway?

This animation shows what happens if you try to edit out part of what the guest is saying without video to "cover the cut". The result is a "jump" in the position of the guest that is distracting.