Few people are comfortable with a boom microphone dangling over their head, lights in their eyes, a camera stealing their wisdom and an interviewer asking embarrassing or dumb questions. The trick is to turn an informal chat into a believable interview.

Have camera, sound and lighting, all ready before the interviewee arrives. Keep the situation appearing casual but as much under control as possible. Direct the attention of the interviewee AWAY FROM the camera, the operator, the microphone, the lighting, the location, the crew, other events etc.


Time spent scouting the interview location will save time during the shoot and improves the end product. Don't let first impressions cloud your evaluation of a good recording situation. Look at the shot as the camera might see it, not for the great or terrible furnishings, paint job, view. (See Backgrounds) Be pessimistic and address problems before they occur.


1. Quietness while scouting AND at the time of taping. Questions to ask: "When does the gardener come?" "Is there construction in the neighborhood?" "Are there any events on the day we plan to shoot that would effect our taping?" "Is there a barking dog near by, can he be penned up elsewhere?" Our ears/ brain ignores sounds that microphones hear. Consider what happens if the shoot time or day gets changed.

2. Things to look for. Enough room to work in with good natural or existing light on the interviewee, a good back ground behind the interviewee. If there is air conditioning, is it quiet? Are there mixed light sources; fluorescent, day, incandescent. What if it is overcast or it rains? What if it gets dark? Sit in different positions relative to the lighting and background. A light 45 degrees over the front or from the side of people can look very good. Moving a few feet can make a big difference.

Before the shoot make signs that say "QUIET PLEASE, SOUND RECORDING", Signs on doors to not open, toilets to not flush, unplug the refrigerator (put a large sign on it to turn it back on and don't open often while it is off). Bring tape and sign posts if necessary.

Reverberation can be a problem. Clapping hands will check for bad echoes. Consider bringing a camcorder, mic. and head phones to test listen. If the location is good for everything but echoes, consider adding things that reduce the echo. Getting the mic. close helps the most. Moving blankets help but look out of place.

Some air conditioning controls are not convenient or can be locked up. Video lights make a room much hotter. A wet napkin over a locked and covered air conditioning control will fool it.

LIGHTING: Some meeting rooms already have adequate lighting, but have mixed light sources. Hotel rooms are sometimes usable, but natural light coming from end of a rooms may not be very usable unless the room is wide enough for camera, interviewee and background. Don't assume that a hotel's "news interview room" is adequate. Check it out personally. Make sure it has power outlets and the air-conditioning is quiet or will turn off.

THE INTERVIEWEE'S CHAIR: Consider the posture desired. A deep comfortable chair may relax the interviewee too much and limit their body language. An armless chair may tire people for a long interview. A swivel office chair allows them to swing around and has a greater chance of creaking and changing your lighting. The chair should "belong" in the situation it is in. Your audience shouldn't notice the chair. The best chair is one that is quiet, comfortable, dark colored, and appropriate to the location. What seat would be appropriate in the woods? A log, a stump or a rock? If you never see the seat, it makes no difference. The interviewer and operator also need quiet chairs. Couches often block much of the background and are usually too comfortable.

When people stand, they tend to preach. Sitting they are more friendly.

WARDROBE: Light clothing on dark complexions should be avoided. Someone coordinating before the interviewee arrives at camera should make this decision. A white shirt under a darker jacket is no problem. Be careful to not make a big issue about wardrobe and make-up because it can make people self-conscious. Video cameras have problems with saturated reds and thin stripes, but we often have to live with such problems to avoid making a big issue of it.

BACKGROUNDS: Here is where a lot of looking will pay off. When considering backgrounds, consider where the camera will go and if the interviewee will have decent lighting AND good sound. If all else fails bring in a background, such as darker patterned sheets hung like drapes. Have some dark cloth to tack up or throw over bright or reflective objects. Dark to medium gray is a good choice. Don't forget things when you leave.

Darker backgrounds are better in almost all situations. When lighting, it is difficult to remove light but easier to add it.

Trying to balance indoor lighting to a great scene out a window is very difficult without a lot of light on the interviewee or gelling the window with 85 and ND filters. HMI lights do run cooler, but cost more.

FRAMING: A one size shot of even the most interesting person soon gets boring. If a person is using their hands to communicate, include them, they help tell the story. During more intense or intimate times zoom in. If you zoom wide during a question it allows zooming in if the person gets intense. A very slow zoom in or out will not be noticed during cuts. Snap zooms, usually to include hands, can be covered by cut-a-ways in editorial.

Some good frames. 1. The interviewee should look into the frame. (More room on the side he is looking toward.) Make sure there is more background behind the interviewee on the side that he is facing. It's always safer to have more background than needed. It will prevent unwanted things creeping into frame that are not noticed until the tape is viewed later.

For close-ups, putting the nose in the center works. When zooming wider, keep the correct headroom and the person "looking into frame". I like about 1/8 to 1/10 of the frame for "head room".

It is quite tiring to look through a viewfinder for a long time. A monitor to watch is very helpful. 1. It will make it easier on the camera operator. 2. It will give SOME assurance that color balance is correct. A. If blue-gun adjusted. B. Still white balance often. C. Check for zebra in the viewfinder 3. It gives something for the camera operator to hide behind and not distract the interviewee. 4. A high-resolution monitor is best for focusing.

Before the interviewee arrives, or as soon as possible after, adjust camera height for the right background to interviewee relationship. The operator can ask the interviewer to ask the interviewee to move their chair side to side to adjust background. This is to distract interest from camera. By moving camera or interviewee, you can include or exclude things in the background.

Tape over or turn off the "record" light on the camera.

GETTING ACQUAINTED: This is the most important aspect of the interview. If done well, the interview should be a success. Perfect lighting, a great background, good sound and camera work is nothing if the interviewee is not at ease. An ideal situation is if a coordinator can bring the interviewee into the "ready to shoot" situation. Repair make-up and wardrobe adjustments are already done. Name tag off. Noisy jewelry near lavaliere mic. removed.

While waiting, someone should small talk with them about the INTERVIEWEE's family, home, travels etc.

As the interviewee sits, the interviewer keeps the chatter going with non-interview, "getting to know them" questions, the cameraperson or coordinator attaches the lavaliere mic.. It's best if the cameraperson does not get acquainted. It keeps the interviewee's attention on the interviewer. It's OK for the coordinator became acquainted because he leaves the situation.

Before the interview. 1. Research. 2. Questions on paper. 3. The location scout. 4. What they wear. 5. Repair makeup. 6. Practice session if possible.

Single camera situations seem to make the interviewee more comfortable, because no one is behind them. With the camera operator hidden behind his monitor and no other crew in the room, people seem to become comfortable very quickly. A zoom control on the panhandle is handy. The other hand can focus.

Another important factor is the relationship of the interview team to the person arranging the interview. The more credibility the arranger has, the more cooperative the interviewee will be. Being "with us" and "they want to help us get our message out" is a very good introduction. Be ready to explain how the tape will be used. Being part of "the event" is much better than seeming to be making a documentary for some unknown and possibly negative purpose. If editorial control by the event sponsors is implied it can help. Avoid making commitments about editorial control by the interviewee.

Get a signed release before they leave. The coordinator can do this if one is available. Granting an interview is an implied consent, but one on paper is insurance.

We have found the interviewer-ee distance of about 7 feet ideal. Intimate, but not threatening. The interviewer should just be out of camera vision. This allows later pick-ups of on camera interviewer questions and reactions in a different location and with different wardrobe. The camera should be as far back as possible to allow an ECU at the more telephoto end of the lens. Long camera distance helps soften the background some and most of all helps relax the interviewee. Wide open video lenses get "slower" with longer focal lengths and effect manual exposure.

Even though the interviewer is not on camera, make sure to record good sound. Get his lavaliere as close his mouth as possible and free of clothing/jewelry noise.

In a two person side-by-side interview, attach the mics. as far apart from each other, but close to the mouth. This reduces echo if the two mics. are mixed together. (often done for window dubs) Later the audio tracks can be mixed separately. In an emergency, if you have only one lavaliere, attach the mic. high on the shoulder of the person with the least volume. (A compromise to be avoided.) If the VCR allows, put every mic. on a separate audio track.

Put the lighter complexion person farther from the light source. (Do this as they sit down.) If one is taller and might block light on a shorter one, place the taller one farther from the light.

Use 90 min tapes and get 2 interviews per tape. It really breaks up the flow to change tape. 30 min is usually a good length of interview, but some go longer. 90 minute VCR rentals are more expensive, but two 30 min tapes cost the same as one 90 min.

If doing a one camera interview and interview questions are needed right after the interview, have the interviewer, camera person or someone record his questions during the interview with a micro recorder or on paper. It will save trying to remember the questions or going back to the tape.

REMEMBER TO RECORD THE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS ON A SEPARATE VIDEOTAPE. It will help in editing. Remember to shoot more than enough cut-a-way reactions of the interviewer between each question.


Use lavalieres because they are soon forgotten. The interviewer should already be mic.ed and should always attach the mic. in the same place. (As close to the mouth as possible.) A hand held mic. for the interviewer should be avoided.

The interviewer should start his "getting to know" while the video operator or coordinator silently attaches the mic. Get the lavaliere as close to the mouth as possible. Let it show on camera. Clip the cable inside under the jacket or shirt. Try having the person sit on the cable to avoid fishing it through more than their top. Leave some slack, avoid jewelry next to the mic. Carpet tape patches stored on wax paper is useful for attaching the mic. cable to fabric.

Once the mic. is positioned, the operator can scramble back to the camera and set audio levels, focus etc. as the interviewer continues getting acquainted. Some small cue from the operator should let the interviewer know he is ready and that he can ease into the interview, such as "OK" or "rolling".

If during an interview the sound or lighting goes bad for some reason and the operator thinks it will continue, he can tell the interviewer that HE (not the interviewee) has a problem and stop to correct it. If it is a passing problem, he shouldn't interrupt and pray that the problem doesn't ruin the interview. If the interview is interrupted, the operator should remember when the problem occurred so the interviewer can repeat the question. Writing down the words will help. We never get as good a response the second time. Try not to interrupt the flow.

Asking a person their name makes them self-conscious. Do it at the end for positive identification of the tape.


It is very helpful if each interview team has a coordinator to bring interviewees to the location, entertain them while waiting, check if repair make-up is needed, check wardrobe and major hair problems, explain the purpose of the interview, and if trained, attach the lavaliere mic. If they attach the mic. they should then leave before the interview starts.

Have signs for the interview room door that says, "Recording in progress, Please do not enter". As soon as the interview is over, open the door for the new interviewee and coordinator, this also lets the last interviewee know politely it is over.


Although most interviews take their own course, the more known about the person the better. If an interview is not going well, prepared questions are back up. Knowing about less well-known accomplishments and projects gives you more credibility. Inaccurate information is a no-no. Knowing about rivalries and touchy subjects to avoid is wise.


The ideal question is one that requires the interviewee to repeat the question or at least give a complete answer not requiring the question to be included. Sometimes "how about XXX" is enough. The interviewee then will have to explain in his words what you are talking about. "What did you think about current national elections?" Would elicit a better answer than "Did you think the recent election was a fraud?" The answer to the first question would tend to specify which election, and the answer would probably include "election", not requiring including the question.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.