Video Essentials

Learn the Secrets of a Great Interview

Steve Garfield is a video blogging pioneer and has advised Fortune 500 brands like AT&T, Kodak, Nokia, and Panasonic. We’re thrilled to present this excerpt from his book Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business.

When conducting an interview, think of it as having a conversation, but not a regular conversation. In an interview, you want to let the interviewee have a chance to speak. In normal conversation you might want to acknowledge what the other person is saying by saying “yes, ah ha,” and other verbal confirmations—in a video interview you don’t want to do that.

Let the other person talk and complete a sentence. When the person is finished, pause a moment. This gives the interviewee time to add an additional thought. If you talk over the interviewee, it’ll be hard to edit the interview later.

It’s good to research the person you are interviewing, but don’t come to the interview with a list of 10 questions. That will inhibit the interview. If you’ve got points you want to cover, list them out as bullet points to refer to, but don’t go down your interview questions in order from 1 to 10.

Listen to what the interviewee is saying and follow up with questions based on what you hear. Ask what is interesting to you. Be present in the moment.

The Interview—Basic
Here’s an example of an interview done in one shot. The interviewee knows what they are going to talk about, and starts off the interview by saying who they are.

I shot this video with my mom, Millie Garfield; she’s 84 years old and is a great storyteller. She’s been featured on ABC World News and in the book 15 Minutes of Fame, Becoming a Star in the YouTube Revolution.

The video is “My Mom’s Cookies.” We’ve done a lot of videos like this. Before I turn the camera on we review that she is going to introduce herself, give her blog name, and then tell her story. What you can see from the video is that she’s real, authentic, and comfortable. A good example for anyone. Yay mom!

When I shoot videos with my mom, I use a small camera like the Panasonic FX37. It’s small enough that it doesn’t get in the way. It’s a great size because the interview subject forgets that a camera is even there and ends up talking to you, the videographer.

We shoot these videos in her dining room to take advantage of the natural light coming in from large sliding glass doors. I have her sit to the side so the light from the outside shines on her. I also turn on the dining room overhead light.

The sound is great because we are in a quiet environment and the camera is relatively close to the subject.

GET SEEN: If the interviewee has a number of topics they want to talk about, have them talk about the first point, then pause. Think about what they want to say for the second point, and continue. They don’t have to memorize everything. You can edit together the points later and make the interviewee look good.

GET SEEN: If the interviewee gives a really long answer, you can ask them to restate their answer using fewer words. Say something like, “That was great, can you re- peat that answer again but with a lot fewer words?” Since the person could have been formulating their answer the first time they answered, they will be able to be clearer and shorter the second time.

GET SEEN: “The moment you figure out that you don’t have to be ‘that guy’ and you should be yourself is when video becomes comfortable.”

The Interview—Advanced
An advanced version of the interview is done with additional equipment.

I was happy to work with Ann Handley of MarketingProfs on this video to open the Digital Marketing World online conference.

The interview setup consisted of a Canon GL/2, Tota Light, and Sennheiser Lav Mic. In this setup I place the camera on the opposite side of the table, I light Ann from the side, and capture the sound directly to the camera with the lav mic. I wore headphones to monitor the quality of the audio being recorded.

Another video I shot that’s a good example of using B-Roll is of the Ireland Basketball National Team. B-Roll is interesting footage that you display to make the video more interesting.

I shot this video for Boston City Councilor John Tobin. I’ve been shooting videos for him for years. In this example, he wanted me to make sure that I interviewed Joe Walsh, Commissioner of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference. I also interviewed David Baker, assistant coach of the team.

The basketball court was noisy so I asked Coach Baker if he’d step out into the hallway for an interview. There it was much quieter and I conducted the interview.

Once I finished recording the interview, I went back to the court to shoot some B-Roll.

In this case I shot video of the team in the huddle, basketballs going through the hoop (I used a monopod for that shot), and lots of different angles of the practice and the game.

When it was time for the edit, I had great sound, and lots of extra footage to use to enhance the final video.

A Two-Person Interview
When you are conducting an interview with someone and don’t have a crew with you, a tripod and external microphone makes the shoot easier.

In this example, I produced a report for web news show Rocketboom on the Chevy Volt. I was producing this shoot myself, so I used a tripod to set up the camera.

GET SEEN: When shooting B-Roll, hold steady on your shot for 7 to 10 seconds. Some things you can shoot B-Roll of are interviewee hands, the computer keyboard, and the computer screen.

The camera I used for this shoot was a Canon GL/2. I set it up on a tripod and flipped its viewfinder around so I could frame myself and the interview subject in the shot. Then I used a handheld mic to conduct the interview.

When you watch this interview, you’ll notice that it makes use of a lot of B-Roll. While conducting the interview, I made note of all the things that the interview subject was discussing. Then after the interview was complete, I went around and shot all the images. In the editing process, whenever one of those things was mentioned, I showed it in the final video.

When you watch the video, make sure that you watch until the end where someone from the crowd interrupts our interview with lots of questions. I’ve used this video in many journalism classes where we talk about whether that footage should be included. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

GET SEEN: When using cue cards, hold the cue card next to the lens. Don’t drop the cue card on the floor—it makes too much noise. Either hand it to someone, or quietly place it down.

Tripods and Monopods
In order to get a steadier picture, I suggest using a tripod or a monopod.

Tools: Monopods—Pedco UltraPod Tripod, Joby Gorillapod

I like the Pedco UltraPod Tripod that you can get at REI. It’s a small tabletop tripod that’s easy to carry around. When closed you can also use it as a camera handle. The Joby Gorillapod is flexible and allows you to attach it to irregular surfaces like a fence or a chair. There’s also a whole range of larger tripods to choose from.

Tools: Monopods—Manfrotto 680B, Brunton, Xshot

The monopod I use is a Manfrotto 680B. It’s big enough to support a miniDV cam and can also connect to a Flip camera or any small camera with a tripod mount. An add-on for the 680B allows it to stand by itself on three legs. Other options include the Brunton Monopod, which also acts as a walking stick, and the Xshot 2.0 Camera Extender, which allows you to extend the camera far enough away from you to be able to get an in-focus shot of yourself, or a two-shot of you and someone else.

If you don’t have a tripod or monopod available, improvise. The Flip has a flat base, so you can place it on something like a windowsill and it won’t topple over. Other ways to keep the camera steady are leaning it up against something stable like a lamppost or a wall.

Note: My standard style is to shoot a steady shot. That doesn’t mean that you have to. You might want to move the camera around, up, down, in, out. Experiment with different styles.

GET SEEN: Although the sound in the room and the interviewee might sound great to you, what is being captured might not be. The mic might be picking up rustling from clothing or jewelry. You wouldn’t know that by listening to the interviewee in the room, but you’d hear it right away with headphones.

Shooting Tips
Here are six shooting tips that will help you get the best footage from a pocket video camera:

  1. Shooting yourself? Shoot a preview video to see framing. Since most pocket cameras do not have a display that allows you to see yourself when shooting, you can shoot a preview video to see how it looks first.
  2. Hold the camera steady. If you hold your arms against your body, that will keep the camera steadier than holding it out at arms length. When you hold your camera out at arms length, it usually makes for unsteady footage. Once you get some experience, you can hold your camera at arms length with a steady arm. Note: All your video doesn’t have to be rock steady either, sometimes you might want a shaky shot, like you see on TV.
  3. Understand where the camera starts focusing to get your subject in focus. You might have to position the camera three to four feet away to focus on the subject.
  4. Put the camera in record mode early, then start the interview. That puts less focus on the camera and more on the connection between the interviewer and the interviewee.
  5. It’s okay to interrupt the interview and reset the camera to get a different shot; you’ll be editing it later. You don’t have to post the whole interview in one continuous stream and can edit things out. Pause the camera and go from a wide shot to a closer head-and-shoulders shot for visual interest.
  6. When the interview is over, don’t stop the camera when the interviewer ends the interview. Let the camera roll. You might get your best moment after the interview when the subject relaxes.

Excerpted with permission from the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business, by Steve Garfield. Copyright © 2010 by Steve Garfield.


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  1. Re: Volt car interview
    Steve – I thought that the first couple of questions were actually legit and elicited good responses. I would have eliminated Nancy asking the questions and assembled together the interviewee’s answers (as it pertained to your original intent for the video) covering up the jump cuts with b-roll.
    PS – I left the same comment on Youtube

    Posted by Frank Mari | June 7, 2010, 9:22 am
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