We’ve been shooting NON-STOP lately. Between I AM BIG BIRD, which we’re trying to wrap shooting on by the end of February, WE MUST GO and various freelance work, we’ve interviewed quite an array of people over the last few months. And though the topics change, the techniques remain the same. Every interviewer is different, but we thought we’d share a few tips we picked up for those of you just starting out in the doc world.
DO WHATEVER YOU CAN TO MAKE YOUR SUBJECT COMFORTABLE
Some people, like Caroll Spinney, are born to be on camera. They’ve spent thousands of hours talking about their lives and careers in front of a sprawling crew. But for others who’ve never been on camera, the prospect of sitting down in front of strangers with bright lights blinding them is terrifying. We found this especially true of working with children.
So, how do you make them comfortable? With most people, we’ve found that the more we can talk to them prior to an interview, the better it goes. Instead of going in with a print-out of questions we want to ask (which we certainly do), we can go into the interview as though we’re revisiting a past conversation. The result is a natural flow of information that doesn’t feel prompted. In extreme cases, like working with kids, we’ve had to be more creative. ForBROWNSTONES TO RED DIRT, we allowed children to draw while they talked to us. We found the distraction was just enough to let them escape the intimidation of a camera crew, but not enough to make them lose focus on the topic at hand. We also let two kids do an interview together, which helped them open up because they felt the focus wasn’t just on them.
RUN WITH A SKELETON CREW
An important part of making your subject feel comfortable is not just establishing your own rapport with them, but also making sure that your crew can interact on a personal level with the subject. The smaller the crew, the easier this is to maintain. When shooting interviews, we only have essential personnel on set. It helps create an intimacy which benefits the shoot.
MAINTAIN ENGAGED EYE CONTACT
This tip seems like a no-brainer, but in the past few weeks, multiple people have asked me where I look during an interview. The answer is simple: directly in a person’s eyes. When doing an interview, you may become painfully aware of the fact that prolonged eye contact doesn’t happen that often on a daily basis. But if you lock eyes with your subject, it helps them zone out and forget about the crew and cameras pointed at them. It’s also important to react to what they’re saying—again, this may be basic knowledge, but you don’t want to be a blank slate when they are telling you a story. Make it clear that you are interested and engaged in what they’re saying.
BE HONEST WITH YOUR SUBJECT
You’re talking to an interview subject with a motive in mind. What is that motive? Are you trying to get background? An opinion? How do you plan on using that subject in your film? While you don’t want to influence what your subject says, you need to be straightforward with them. Craft your questions and conversations in a straightforward manner. Not only will the subject appreciate it, but you’ll get better responses. You’re expecting openness and honesty from your subject—they should be able to expect the same from you.