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Moving Pictures – Let people tell their story

I’m a sucker for a good story. When a story is told well, simply told, I’m captivated. I’m a firm believer that a well told story on video will always cause people to stop and listen, and some of those who listen may be moved… to make personal changes, to get involved, to tell others. While I appreciate all of the technology that is available in shooting and editing thses days, all of our tools and toys should never distract or upstage the story.

I love this piece for it’s simple beauty; not much flash at all. Beautiful video, shot in such a simple way… lots of natural light and no cheesy backgrounds. The edits stay simple as well… it looks like there is minimal treatment and just the right amount of b-roll to create on-going emotion… lots of faces; Faces tell the best stories. Above all, it looks like the people were able to just tell their own aspect of the over-all story.

Re-telling a good story on video is not difficult if you know how to capture the right elements.

Ten tips for a great interview:

1. Get your equipment set up as quickly as possible. As soon as possible, figure out where you’re going to set up your interview. Over-thinking the set-up and taking forever to set things up can make your subject more tense than they already are as the anticipation builds.

2. Record everything. I start recording things even while I’m setting the initial framing. I have found that I can get some great images in those first initial moments while my subject is just settling in. In moments like these, their vulnerability is high and is often quite visible in their eyes (go for the tight shots of their eyes!). Capitalize by rolling on these early moments… you never know what great cut-aways you may get to add to your edit.

3. Have a conversation. While everyone involved may call this appointment an “interview”, put your subject(s) at ease by telling them that you’re just going to have a conversation, you just happen to be recording it! This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a few predetermined questions, but let the conversation dictate the details and pace of the conversation; this is a great way to put people at ease and feel less intimidated. When I conduct a video interview, I do my best to make my subject feel comfortable; let’s face it, most people aren’t accustomed to having lights, mics and cameras in their faces. I’m around this stuff all the time, but I can’t ever forget how a simple interview might feel like a police interrogation to my subjects.

4. Set up good answers. This is different from asking questions… Stay away from questions that will only solicit short answers (“yes/no” can be such a buzz-kill)… instead, set up good questions by framing them with an opening for your subject to tell more of their story. i.e. “Talk about what happened…” or “Tell me more about…” These are great ways to keep the conversation going.

5. Take good notes. In addition to having some good leading questions, keep a pad of paper in hand so that you can add good follow-up questions based on your conversation. This is also a great way to take good notes to help you later in post production.

6. Mental editing. Listen to your subject’s answers and think about how they will factor in to the editing process. If your subject makes a good point but doesn’t leave you a good “out”, kindly ask them to re-state their answer. It’s much easier to get that content while you’re there rather than wishing you had it once you’re in the edit session.

7. Take your time. While schedules may dictate how much time you have with some people, don’t just plow through your questions. The more you can talk with some one, the more they are likely to feel at ease with you. This is critical to a story that may be very emotional for some one to re-cap for you. Be carefull not to rush through these moments; assure your emotional subject that it’s ok to be overcome, and that they don’t ever need to apologize for it.

8. Gather assets. Over the course of your conversation, be mindful of what other assets might be helpful in re-telling the story. Is there some one else that you might interview? Are there any pictures or video (before/after, events, etc)? These things can add great value to your final product, and keep the piece from being merely a “talking head”.

9. Finish strong. Make sure that your subject feels like they have said all that they need to say. Even if you feel that you have asked all of your questions, ask your subject if they have anything else to add; this is an easy step that can re-assure them that you are being very careful with their story.

10. Be gracious. Thank your subject(s) when you start and when you finish. Thank them for allowing you to re-tell their story. Even after a great conversation, people can still feel very self-conscious about how things went;  Give them assurance that you will take great care to present them in a positive light. If you have some idea of when and how the final product will be presented, let them know how they will be able to see it.

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2 comments on “Moving Pictures – Let people tell their story

  1. Great stuff Steve! These tips are invaluable to rookies and a great reminder for the seasoned! I can see how following these can make editing a little less of a headache.

    Any suggestions on a mid-line camera?

  2. […] batteries: Seems like a simple thing, but having to stop an emotional interview to change batteries can be a real buzz-kill. Start with fresh batteries and have fresh ones […]

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