This article explains how you can prepare yourself to conduct an interview for video. It also explains how you can get the best out of your subject for the best sound bites.
This article is focused on corporate videos, and some of these ideas can be used for fictional work as well. These are the techniques I use personally, and are not an encyclopedia of all interview techniques possible. If you have a few tricks up your sleeve, please share them with me – I’m always looking to get better!
There are only three kinds of questions:
- The ones you already know the answer to
- The ones you don’t know the answer to
- The ones you don’t know
Let’s look at the last two first.
When you don’t know the answer, or the question
Some truths are hidden, and when they present themselves the experience is so new we are surprised. We would have had no way of learning about them beforehand, and if we were forced to find these, we wouldn’t know what to ask. These are the questions you don’ know you have to ask.
This is true with life in general, and the specific situation of interrogation. Many times, when a crime doesn’t leave many clues behind, police officers have to fish for the truth. They don’t know what they will find, so they have to dig nevertheless. This is a tedious but necessary process.
Similarly, if you’re an investigative journalist fishing for a story, you’d apply some of the same techniques, except you don’t have the same authority or control over your subject.
When you know which questions you’re going to ask, but don’t know the answer, you are in an open-ended interview situation. Examples are:
- Interrogation where the facts are known
- Job Interviews
In all of the above scenarios, you know the questions you’re going to ask because you have the end result in mind. You have done it many times and know the signs. It is almost routine.
The skills you need to get better at this are:
- Knowing how to frame questions the right way
- Knowing when to ask what
- Ability to vary your tone
- Ability to read body language
There are many strategies people use to ‘pry’ out the truth, but these are not relevant for our article. Our article is only concerned with the first kind of question – when you already know the answer.
Interviews for Corporate Videos
A corporate video, like a movie, is scripted. The script might be written by you, a writer, the client, etc. No matter what, you always know the answers, and you always start with the edit in mind.
The subject matter of a corporate video can be vast. They can cover:
- What you don’t understand (science, engineering, technology, etc.)
- What you understand (stuff you have experience with)
- What you think you understand but don’t (stuff you have seen a lot of and think you know a lot about, like sport)
- What you don’t care about (like a charity or organization whose methods you don’t agree with, or shooting a job because you’re desperate for money)
It doesn’t matter what the subject is. If you’re a professional your reaction and methodology for each of these scenarios will be the same. This is what separates the men from the boys. It’s like how a doctor treats a patient without caring about the nature of the patient.
The ‘approved’ script will dictate what needs to appear in the video. You will have a ‘map’ of what each individual appearing in the video will cover. You will also have the exact words that need to be said. If you are experienced, you know that half the time you won’t get those exact words.
When you know the answer
When you know the answer the subject knows the answer too. The question almost becomes a redundant device. After all, why not have the subject just blurt out whatever it is that needs to be said?
Experienced interviewers know that almost every subject can benefit from some direction. You must steer the interview to get the answer in the quickest way possible.
There are three ways to get a ready-made answer out of your subject:
- Get it verbatim, like a recital
- Get it extempore, and let the subject deal with accent, tone, pitch, volume, grammar and diction
- Get them to mimic you, like you would do to a child
I prefer the second way. I don’t like clients or subjects memorizing lines, nor is it good form to force a subject to mimic you (it’s manipulation – why not get actors instead?).
It also happens to be the most difficult way for most people. But not for me. You run with where your skills take you. The rest of the article is my way of getting clients to deliver sound bites extempore.
The state of the client
Great artists memorize the material but don’t think about it during delivery. A client or subject who has never faced the camera will always be:
They are conscious because there is a camera and a bunch of strangers recording their every word and movement. They feel important, and the moment feels more alive to them. Their senses are working overtime.
They are nervous because they have never faced this situation before.
They are scared because they don’t know how their answers will come out. Many will also worry about how they will appear on camera. Some are boderline fanatical about their looks, hair, makeup, dress, etc.
They are pretentious because they already have preconceived notions about the video or the process. The higher up the corporate ladder the worse it gets. They know everything, and they don’t need you, just a guy with a camera, to teach them anything. Of course, you aren’t there to teach anyone anything anyway.
They are wary because they do not trust us. Can this video be used for evil?
It is the job of the interviewer (you) to bust through these defenses and get your material delivered according to your vision. And, you have to do it quickly. Unlike movies, there’s no time for infinite retakes and angles. In a movie you can hide a bad performance by turning the actor away, putting them in silhouette, etc. Try doing that with a CEO. In a corporate video, there’s nowhere to hide.
Usually you only get two shots at it. If the person you are interviewing is way up (the CEO or similar) you might only get half a shot.
The difference between a corporate video interview and a take in a movie is that in the former the subjects don’t have to emote (unless it comes naturally). If they are really passionate about their job, they will emote.
In Part Two I’ll take you through my way of conducting interviews, step by step.