Testimonials and InterviewsWhen Should I Use Interviews?

Interviews and testimonials are a way to lend reality and authenticity to a subject or event.  People never get tired of watching other people or hearing stories and interviews provide the opportunity to give information while establishing credibility through the speaker.

Interviews are staples for businesses.  They appeal in commercials, information pieces, and sales videos.  They can appear as stand-alone videos, or as evidence to supports a larger message.  The interview can also serve as a voiceover for a more complex piece that features a montage of related footage, contextualizing the information within the day-to-day operations of a business.

Interviews are also an under-used creative element in home videos.  For example, it’s easy to overlook how interesting kids can be when answering questions, and video creates a vibrant image that encapsulates whatever age or moment for posterity.  Interviews can also set the tone for graduate videos, reunions, and weddings, acting as a repository for remembrances and stories that will continue to entertain and inspire nostalgia for years to come. Here are a few basic tactics for conducting successful interviews:

Preliminary concerns

Take Casting Seriously. There will be times when an interviewer is assigned talent.  Otherwise, be as selective as possible when choosing your interviewee, choosing someone whom you feel will bring the right energy and presence to the interview.

Prepare.  You are looking for authenticity and the interviewee has to feel comfortable expressing their perspective.  Think about whom you will be talking to and design a few preliminary questions that help elicit the information you are hoping to receive.  Remember, however, that the questions must be brief.  Interviews are never good when it is the interviewer doing all the talking.

Consider Your Role. Are you a character in the interview, like Stephen Colbert or Michael Moore, or will you be seen at all?  Knowing this upfront is crucial to issues like sound and staging.

Sound.  Unless you are reporting from less than a foot away from the subject, never use the camera microphone.  Instead, employ lavelier mics and booms to create a sense of intimacy and immediacy.  Finally, make sure everyone who will be speaking during the interview has their own microphone.

Think About Location and BackgroundAs a general rule, you want the interviewee to establish an eyeline slightly to the side of the camera and not directly at it.  Use a shoulder mount or tripod to position the camera just off the interviewer’s shoulder, immediately next to his/her face.  Additionally, make sure the background is appropriate for the interview and is (at the very least) pleasant to look at.  Backgrounds provide context and communicate unspoken information to the viewer.  A media consultant could appear in front of a wall of video monitors; a famous historian could appear in a library.  The idea is that the background should help the viewer feel immersed in the day-to-day context of the interviewee. An interview against a blank wall wastes the opportunity to speak to the viewer and impoverishes the footage.

While the camera is rolling…

Be Approachable. Especially when working with inexperienced talent, use your presence and persona to put them at ease.  Be friendly and inspire conversation, even if it means taking more time. Their body language should communicate what they are feeling and you want a relaxed posture with fluid, natural gestures. Smile without being cheesy; share laughs and make small talk. Strong eye contact helps create trust, also encouraging the subject to look at you, not the camera, while they are talking.

Relax.  Let the interviewee set the pace of the interview.  This doesn’t mean taking a hands-off approach, however, because you must still be responsive to the needs of the talent. Understand when the person is ready for a new question or looking for your feedback.

Make the Conversation Real. Think of your job as a “provocateur of reality.”  The best interview moments are the ones that that aren’t planned but happen naturally, giving the audience a glimpse of seemingly unstaged insight.  Don’t be afraid to employ controversial or emotional questions.  These will bring out the passion, humor, and personality of the interviewee.  Additionally, in normal conversations, we respond to the person we are speaking with and let our natural curiosity guide our questions. Employ this in interviews and testimonials, reinforcing the notion that the interviewee is an interesting person and his/her insights are important and relevant to others.