wikiHow to Film Interviews

Three Parts:Preparing for the InterviewFilming the InterviewKnowing What to Avoid

Filming an interview isn't as easy as the professionals make it seem. There are many things to consider before you can even begin. Here are some important steps that you can take to make your shoot a success.

Part 1
Preparing for the Interview

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    Know your intent.
    • Ask yourself:
      • What is the subject/purpose/theme of my film?
      • What are some good questions I can ask my interviewees?
      • Why am I conducting these interviews; what do I hope to gain from this?
      • Where do I want to take this film or what do I want to do with it when I'm done?
      • Who do I want to film?
      • Do I want to be on or off camera when I ask the questions?
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    Watch television or documentary interviews. Try to find films or television shows that have a similar subject to yours or that offer a style you hope to imitate.
    • Ask yourself these questions when viewing:
      • How is the interviewer asking their questions?
      • Where is the interviewee looking when answering the questions?
      • Where is the camera's focus?
      • Where is the light hitting on the subject's face?
      • How close or tight is the camera shot?
      • At what angle is the camera pointed and the interviewee sitting.
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    Prepare your interview questions.
    • Have at least 10 to 20 good questions prepared, and be prepared to ask more on the fly.
    • Be prepared to stray from the questions you have written down; your interviewee might offer information that you weren't expecting taking you in an entirely different, yet more interesting, direction.
    • Start with topical questions that will make your subject to feel at ease; e.g., What is your name? Where are you from? These kinds of questions are easy for the interviewee to answer, so they will feel comfortable.
    • Save the hard questions for the tail end of the interview. A person tends to forget the purpose of the questioning and becomes more comfortable talking with you in front of a camera after about ten minutes.
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    Find willing participants. The biggest fear of anyone that agrees to be on camera, is that the person interviewing them wants to make them look like a fool.
    • Be upfront with your interviewee with what you are doing and why you're doing it.
    • It is imperative that your subjects are okay with you asking them questions and comfortable with the idea of a camera being pointed at them. If they're not, you will have a resistant person and the interview will be difficult.
    • Some people will want a list of the questions before they agree to do the interview; this is not an open minded or willing participant; this is an apprehensive person, and you may want to consider asking someone else.

Part 2
Filming the Interview

  1. Image titled Film Interviews Step 5
    Have the set ready. Your interview location and background are as important as the interview.
    • Know if you want the set to play a role and shape the tone of the interview, or if you want the subject to pop out from the plain or dark background.
    • Let the interview subject know you are not wasting their time. Have a place for your subject to sit and all the lighting in place at least 15 minutes prior to their arrival.
    • Adjust the lighting based on your subject's height and what they're wearing.
    • Place the camera where you want it to be before they arrive. Plan to adjust the height of the tripod and the camera settings once your subject is in place.
    • Have the camera on and ready to shoot before the subject arrives.
    • Be prepared for last minute changes. Rarely do things go precisely according to plan in the business of film-making.
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    Follow the rules for camera and subject placement.
    • Know the rule of thirds. Place your subject's face on one of the axis points; i.e., where the vertical and horizontal lines intersect - also in red in the picture.
    • Film the interview subject straight on or at an angle (45 degrees is ideal). Filming straight on requires that you place the interviewee in the left third or right third of the camera's screen.
    • Have the interview subject speak directly to the person asking the questions, not directly into the camera. Sit near the camera (within 45 degrees), but not behind the camera, when asking questions.
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    Be comfortable interviewing.
    • Relax. If you're relaxed, you will put your interview subject at ease and they will relax.
    • Be confident. If you're prepared with your questions and you arrive early to the set, there's no reason to be uncomfortable. You can do this, it just takes practice. This calm confidence will be silently communicated to your interview subject, and things will go well.
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    Ask open ended questions.
    • Ask thought provoking questions that cause the interviewee to pause and contemplate an authentic response. These are contemplation centered questions as opposed to content centered questions. For example, ask: What do you like/dislike about driving a car? What have you learned about driving over the years? rather than: What is the purpose of the gas pedal? The last question leads the interviewee to your desired answer rather than letting them contemplate a personal response.
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    Listen actively to your subject.
    • Ask your subject a question, then listen to the answer. Pay close attention to the content of what they are saying, the context in which they are saying it, and what their face, body, voice, and eyes are really saying to you. Notice if they are uncomfortable with the question, and find out why without forcing the issue.
    • Nod with your head and focus your eyesight to let them know you are listening. Insert the occasional, "Yes," or "Uh-huh." Make sure you don't overlap or interrupt the interviewee. Your voice will be on camera also.

Part 3
Knowing What to Avoid

  1. Image titled Film Interviews Step 10
    Avoid a Lawsuit. You can be held legally liable for many things such as defamation of character if the subject(s) of your film does not like the way you portray them.
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    Get your interviewee's permission. Get a signed release form from your film subject if you plan on showing this film anywhere other than your home.
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    Ensure you have location permission, too. Get a location release if you are filming in a location that does not belong to you; i.e., you do not own the property.
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    Avoid filming minors. Children under age 18 come with parents and a lot more responsibility for the filmmaker. Avoid minors until you are an established filmmaker and more aware of the legalities that come along with this.
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    Avoid filming professional actors, especially union SAG or Equity actors (Screen Actor's Guild). Again, until you are an established filmmaker, this is not an area you want to enter because there are many laws and regulations when working with professional actors and minors or both.
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    Avoid running out of time. Make sure you have plenty of time at your location, time on your batteries and at least one back up battery, and space on your recording media (e.g., SD Card). An interview with one willing participant is likely to run 25-35 minutes, so be prepared.
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    Avoid asking yes or no questions; e.g., Do you live in San Francisco? The interviewee will give you one word responses.
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    Don't let the subject see any emotion on your face except pleasure. A person on camera is very aware of everything around them. If it is a bad interview, you may need to do another one, but it is more likely that you will find usable pieces of the interview when you head into post-production editing. It may take some people longer to really open up on camera than others.


  • Make sure the interview subject's shoulders are visible otherwise you will have the severed/floating head effect.
  • If you're conducting interviews in public, you should purchase a steady cam or shoulder mount to keep the camera steady. The camera operator's arms will get tired and the shot shakier and shakier. Camera movement is good, but not too much.
  • If you're conducting interviews on the street or other public place, know that you will likely be in the shot and you can address the audience by looking directly in the camera. The interview subject will still talk to you.
  • Have camera batteries fully charged. Have at least one back-up battery that is fully charged.
  • Consider how you want your film to look. It will be hard for a viewer to watch just one person on screen for longer than a few minutes without losing concentration. You will likely want to film more than one person and have B-roll footage to go over their interview dialogue at times. For example, if the person being interviewed talks about how happy their dog makes them, you can run video of them at home playing with their dog over their voice as they speak about their dog. This will keep things interesting for your audience and help them focus; the images should reinforce what the interviewee is saying.
  • Expensive high-def camera equipment is not necessary for interviews. A nice smart phone will record in 720 high-def and look good enough. Film horizontally if you're using a smart-phone to record the interview(s).
  • Be prepared to dump footage in case your recording media gets full. Have a computer and a hard drive with space on set.
  • Amazing lighting is not required for interviews, but make sure the subject's face is illuminated and separate from the background if possible.

Make sure you capture good audio! A smart phone will record well only if it is near the subject's face. A Lav mic or shotgun/boom mic with an operator is ideal.

  • Connect audio equipment directly to the camera if you're using an external audio recording device. This will make it a whole lot easier when it comes time to edit the footage; audio recorded on external recording device will require the editor to sync the audio perfectly with the interview subject's mouth - a very difficult and time consuming task.
  • Have plenty of gigabytes available. Either have a large capacity card or several back-ups. One large one is better so that you don't have to stop the interview to reload.
  • Use a tripod. One steady shot is always best to start from. You can add a second camera that roams to capture a different angle or body movements of the subject.

Things You'll Need

  • Interview subject
  • Note pad or printed questions
  • Camera. This can be a smart phone or top of the line camera, but this is documentary-a top notch recording device is not expected.
  • Audio device
  • Adequate lighting (this includes natural lighting)
  • Memory card(s)
  • Location

Article Info

Categories: Interview Skills