Wednesday, February 17, 2010

25 Tips to Make Documentary Film Interviews Better When Going Solo

There are a lot of lists of tips out there for documentary filmmakers. Here are a few recommendations of my own. These tips are based on doing the interview process by yourself, but I recommend getting someone to help you.
  1. Ask someone to help you: carry equipment, set up, run errands, etc.
  2. Read as much as possible about conducting interviews, the subject matter of your film, and the expertise of your interviewee before filming begins.
  3. Get a lot of rest before the interview.
  4. Pack your bags and check them twice. Do you have all of your cables, tapes, notes, extension cords, extra batteries, 2 sets of head phones, etc.?
  5. Get to the location earlier than you think you should.
  6. Bring water for you and the interviewee.
  7. Bring your digital camera (not just film equipment). Take a picture of the subject for promotional materials before the interview begins. Take a picture of the subject in front of the cameras so you'll have behind the scenes promotional materials.
  8. Schedule breaks for lunch so you don't work / film for 12 hours straight.
  9. Have your questions ready--all typed on one page so you can look down easily to get to the next one.
  10. Share the questions with the interviee prior to filmming, but only if appropriate to do so.
  11. Interview the person in chronological order--don't jump from past to present too much if possible.
  12. Choose a quiet room, with no distractions/interruptions to conduct the interview.
  13. Choose a background that's not distracting.
  14. Choose comfortable chairs that make no noise when sitting in them. (Or choose uncomfortable chairs if you want to have a certain impact on the person you're interviewing.)
  15. Choose a room that has no windows if you have lighting equipment. The sunlight will change a lot during the course of your interview, causing lighting inconsistencies on film.
  16. Remember to turn off the room's lights if you have lighting equipment. They may cast an unwanted tone on your subject.
  17. Put the camera in front of you so you can be sure the subject matter is framed properly.
  18. Wear ear phones to be sure the audio is being captured.
  19. Don't make any noises while they interviewee is talking.
  20. Maintain eye contact with the interviewee while they're speaking and react to what they're saying--nod, smile, laugh, etc.--but do so silently.
  21. Don't worry about stopping / starting the tape if there are interruptions.
  22. Ask questions so that the interviewee speaks in complete sentences, not just yes or no answers
  23. Be patient. Give the interviewee the moments of silence so they can organize their thoughts before you move on to your next question.
  24. Don't be afraid to cut them off if the interviewee derails from the information you really hope to capture. Every minute of what's filmed costs money in tape availability, transcriptions of footage and time spent editing it out later.
  25. Get your interviews transcribed by a professional to make editing easier later.

There are so many more tips to share, but one of the best ways to learn is by doing. I had to learn a lot of this by diving in, with my executive producer's support and encouragement. Sink or swim isn't always the best way to learn, but it will certainly make those lessons hard to forget.

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