• Art Ruiloba

How To Prepare for an Interview


Investigate locations for the interview


If time allows, check out both indoor and outdoor locations. Consider more than one location in case you need a Plan B. Time is valuable to both you and your speaker, so try to be prepared for almost any situation.


A potentially great interview can be ruined by:

  • choosing a location with an unpleasant background.

  • poor indoor lighting or sunlight that is too bright.

  • unexpected noises that make it hard to understand the speaker.

  • wind, rain or other bad weather conditions.

  • bad camera framing.


Still frame photo from an Interview with a Master Gardener
Image Credit: IMRE Video Unit/NMSU

Relevance of the location


Try to select a location that is relevant to the message.


The still image above is taken from an interview for the Doña Ana County Extension Service Master Gardener Video Series. The subject is interviewed in her home garden, which is relevant to the story. The entire interview is recorded with a speaker in her quiet garden, which has good light and no irritating sounds. The environment should make the speaker feel comfortable. Some of the light is supplemented with a LED, bicolor temperature light instrument that is adjusted to match the outdoor shade light.


After an interview is complete, record video, often called B-roll or cover video, that is related to the topics discussed by the speaker. In this case, the B-roll consists of the speaker walking in her garden along with various static and moving shots of the garden landscape.


Sound and noise


Before recording an interview, listen for noises that could distract or overwhelm the speaker's voice, such as noises from people, vehicles, machinery, animals, or airplanes. The same applies for indoor interviews: listen for air conditioners or refrigerators, office noise from adjacent rooms, meetings, hall traffic, phones ringing, lunch room noise, etc. Ask about any scheduled maintenance or cleaning in the building that might happen on the day of the interview.


Certain natural sounds or noises may be relevant to the story or interview. So at times, these sounds can be incorporated into the interview. But be sure to carefully place the interviewee so the sounds complement rather than impede the quality of sound from the interviewee.


Here's an example: You're interviewing the chancellor for a story about university campus life. The easy way out is to interview him in a controlled environment, like his office, and cover some of the interview with campus B-roll or cover video. The alternative is to conduct the interview outdoors on campus, where the visuals and sounds would be more profound.


Find a location that is aesthetically pleasing, with good light and a non-distracting background, where campus sounds can be heard, but not overwhelm the interview. This can be challenging at times, but the extra effort can make the interview more interesting.


Outdoor interviews and the sun


When videotaping interviews outdoors, the sun can work for you or against you!


When scouting outdoor locations, take into account:

  • the time of day an interview will be conducted.

  • the direction of the sun in relation to the subject at that particular hour.

  • the background of the speaker.

  • the direction of the sun in relation to the background.

  • the weather forecast.

Sometimes, the sun isn't in position to softly light up the interviewee's face as well as the background. Select a time of day when the sun will work with you, not against you.


Usually, speakers look best on camera when recorded during the early-to-mid-morning hours, or a few hours before sunset. During these early morning or late afternoon hours, the sunlight's color temperature (measured in kelvin, not degrees) is usually between 2000 to 4500 kelvin, and is soft, naturally-filtered light that makes it easy for your speaker to look straight into the camera and the sun's light. They will look great on camera!


In contrast, avoid if possible conducting an interview when the hot sun is directly overhead. If you do, the speaker's face will have unforgiving shadows, and the speaker may feel overheated and look uncomfortable on camera. A hat will not help much. Though the speaker may feel more comfortable, the hat will cast an even larger shadow on the speaker's face. If you try to adjust your camera to compensate for the shadow on the face, the rest of the scene, including clothing, background and even the sky, will look washed out. In short, the video will not look professional.


There are a few things that can be done when the speaker's face is dark due to shadows from overhead sun or a hat.

  • Zoom in on the speaker's face to eliminate most of the clothing and backdrop. Framing this tightly defeats the purpose of being outside and showcasing the scenery.

  • Frame the shot wide with the correct light exposure and from a white reflector. This may be unpleasant and hard on the speaker's eyes.

  • Frame the shot wide and use a lighting instrument such as an LED light (with adjustable bicolor temperature) to illuminate the speaker's face. These lights can be matched to the sunlight's color temperature.

It's best to avoid videotaping in these situations, but sometimes it's unavoidable, so compensate with the above tips. But it's always best to use the sunlight to your advantage, and plan ahead.


Image Credit: IMRE Video Unit/NMSU

In the interview above, the subject was placed under some trees in a garden area, and the edge of the background is a park. The crew is dealing with uneven lighting from the sun piercing through the trees and full sun in the park area. The speaker is also wearing a hat, which shadows his face.


An LED adjustable bicolor temperature light was used to provide "fill light" for the speaker's face and his clothing. The color of the light was adjusted to match the filtered light around the subject. The videographer adjusted the camera's iris so the majority of the scene around the subject had even-light saturation. Notice there are some hot spots behind the subject at the edges of the background where the light is oversaturated and bleached. Try to avoid having these oversaturated hot spots on the subject and the majority of the surrounding scene. In this case, hot spots were reduced to a tolerable level. But it is always better to have uniform light across the whole scene, in the foreground and background.


Backgrounds


When recording interviews, pay attention to what's behind the subject!


Check the speaker's background; look for issues such as bright spots caused by the sun. Look for objects such as windows, roofs or landscape objects that might reflect blinding light towards the camera during the interview.


If you have an unpleasant background behind the speaker, and relocating isn't an option, eliminate the background by creating distance between the speaker and the background. Move the speaker as far away as possible from the background and focus the camera on the speaker's face. This will cause the background to be out-of-focus.


Also, check for constant movement behind the speaker. Movement in the background may distract the speaker as well as the viewer. The focus will no longer be on the speaker, but rather on the background movement. If the movement cannot be stopped, consider repositioning the speaker or relocating to another area.


Remember, movement is sometimes relevant to the story, but don't allow it to interfere with the interview.


Indoor backgrounds might be more manageable. Furniture, pictures, paintings, office artifacts, or personal belongings can be moved or arranged to make the scene pleasant to the eye.


Never position a subject in front of a window with bright sunlight streaming in. Also, when possible, avoid blank white walls. The one exception might be when the window is tinted, but glass is still highly reflective and can cause problems.


Lighting


Using extra lights, both indoors and outdoors, can improve your video quality.


Lighting will improve the interview, regardless of location. Usually, indoor lighting is more manageable than outdoor lighting.


Indoor lighting can be managed more easily by shutting down overhead lights and covering windows with curtains, blinds, or even a blanket or a dark bed sheet. Use whatever is available.


At times, available sunlight coming into a room can be incorporated into the scene. It can be the sole source for lighting a subject, or it can be supplemented with home lighting and or professional lighting equipment. Professional lights should be adjusted to match the color temperature of the sunlight.


Take into account that light coming in from a window may be too harsh on a speaker's face, so filter the sunlight with a white bed sheet, or cut it down with blinds. The subject can face the window head-on or at an angle. Remember, never place the subject with their back to a window!

Image Credit: IMRE Video Unit/NMSU

Simple lighting accents will add production value to the video. This interview with the NMSU College of Business Hall of Fame award recipient was lit with modern, bicolor temperature, LED lights. A three-point lighting scheme was used to light the subject. The lamp (left screen) adds detail and depth and accentuates the scene. It fills the void on the left side of the screen. It has purpose in the scene.


Weather


Watch the weather forecast. If the weather isn't conducive to recording a good interview, consider rescheduling or use "Plan B," such as an indoor location.


A sunny day makes people, landscapes, animals and even buildings look interesting. In contrast, an interview conducted under gray, ominous cloudy skies makes the entire interview look dull with little to no color, contrast or depth of field. Likewise, dark clouds that randomly cover and uncover the sun cause light fluctuations, producing inconsistent lighting and shadows on the interviewee's face.


Prepare the speaker for the interview

  • When initially contacting the speaker, let them know the context in which the interview will be used.

  • Provide the speaker with a list of questions ahead of time, so they can prepare high-quality answers.

  • Do not conduct a practice interview with the speaker. It can hurt the spontaneity of the recording session.

  • Speakers must sign a permission form, giving the video producer and the production company the right to record and share any videos clips featuring the speaker.

  • After the interview, the video producer should make a digital copy of the signed permission form and store these forms where they can be easily located if necessary.

  • Advise speakers to dress professionally, and have them consider clothing for the interview that contrasts with their skin tone. Suggest they avoid solid white clothing unless it's part of their work uniform.


Interview tips

  • Have the speaker state and spell their name on camera, as well as their professional titles, while the camera is recording. This will help avoid errors when their name and title are added onscreen during the editing phase.

  • The job of the interviewer is to help the speaker stay relaxed, focused and sound fantastic. Assure them that if they make a mistake or stumble, they can simply stop, take a breath, and start that sentence over again.

  • Follow the list of questions, and try to avoid surprise questions! Sometimes a follow up question is needed for clarification. Allow the speaker time to think and prepare their thoughts before answering a follow-up question.

  • Do not ask a question as soon as the camera starts recording! Let a few seconds pass before each question is asked. This “lag time,” when the camera is recording silence before the question is asked, is needed for easy editing.

  • Allow lag time (silence) in between a response and the next question. This also makes the editing process easier.

  • Do not interrupt the speaker while they are speaking! Long statements can be edited and condensed during editing.

  • An interview is not a normal conversation. A quote may come out of a long statement, so listen carefully and be patient.

  • Keep the camera rolling after the interview to allow a few seconds of silence before stopping the recording.

  • Allow the speaker an opportunity to add comments at the end of the interview.


How to frame the subject/speaker


Frame the speaker so the image looks natural and pleasant, not awkward. A good distance between camera and subject is about 3 to 4 feet. Apply the rules of Framing and Composition and Rule of Thirds when framing the interview.

Image Credit: IMRE Video Unit/NMSU

In this example, the grid over the climatologist speaker illustrates proper placement of the speaker in the frame. The speaker is framed off center screen, while the remainder of the screen is filled with people and equipment relevant to the story.


Try to offset the speaker. Utilize one-third to two-thirds of the frame in a horizontal composition, and use the remainder of the screen as lead room. This space can be occupied by background items that are relevant to the story.


Lead room is usually the remaining space in the frame, either left or right of the speaker. In most instances, the speaker is addressing someone off camera, but in other instances they may address the camera lens.

Frame the speaker with a few inches of head room between the top of the head and the top edge of the camera frame. Do not cut off the top of the head unless the framing calls for an extreme close-up of the face, which is usually applied to show the emotion on someone's face, during heartfelt interviews. Standard interviews are framed as above or even wider, sometimes from head-to-toe.


In some situations, a person of authority may be positioned center frame and addresses the camera head-on.

Image Credit: IMRE Video Unit/NMSU

Written by Art Ruiloba, NMSU-ACES Video Producer, aruiloba@nmsu.edu