How To Plan An Interview Shoot

Interviews are an art-form of their own, separate almost entirely from the standard filmmaking process in general. It takes a crucial amount of care, planning, and in some cases sensitivity, to achieve a top-notch interview. 

Interviews can be a whole suite of different things, running the spectrum from emotionally tough subjects to a glorified teleprompter read. Interviews are the bread and butter of telling human stories from the subject’s point of view. 

Creating an environment conducive to a good interview has a lot more to it than good lighting and framing, it takes teamwork, it takes communication, and most importantly—it takes great planning.

Here are some of our thoughts on planning a great interview.

Subject Matter

The overall subject matter of the interview will dictate a lot of the planning side of things. It will dictate how comfortable the subject is, it will dictate when and where you shoot, and as such, it’s important to have a deep understanding of the intended subject matter ahead of time. 

For example, if you know you’re heading into a guerilla style interview with someone while they’re driving their car through the city, this is going to create an entirely different set of challenges than if you were to be in a brightly lit corporate office with controlled audio and environment.

Both scenarios are very common, and there are a number of different styles of interviews in between that all carry their own set of rules and obstacles. The first step of planning an interview is deciding on the approach to the subject matter, and how to best create an environment for the achievement of that subject matter

A Comfortable Interviewee

As someone who has been behind the camera of more interviews than I can count, but has also never been the one doing the interviewing, I’ve seen a whole lot of different styles of interviewer.

There are the conversational types, who just kind of ease into the interview in a way that the subject never notices. There’s the type who is essentially giving the subject a line read for each edit point they want. Of course, there’s also the interviewer with no plan at all, who just very clearly flails and grasps intensely to any sort of story thread they can find while having an awkward conversation.

The best interviews I’ve been a part of are when the interviewer can create a comfortable environment for the interviewee, when you can truly allow the subject to be themselves and feel comfortable.

I have a pretty standard idea for how to easily achieve this no matter what kind of interviewer you are. Talk to them beforehand. Plan some time where you can create a brief relationship with the subject, and just start a casual chat. It’s so stifling and terrifying when you have to just sit down in front of a bright light and start being interesting. 

A great interviewer will plan for a “getting to know you” phase, before the camera ever starts rolling. An even better interviewer will find story threads and get to the fabric of who a person is before the camera ever starts rolling. 

The Pre-Scout and the Scout-Scout

If you have the chance to, it’s of course recommended that you get a chance to look at your interview location ahead of time. Give yourself a chance to figure out the different areas that will make for a great frame. You’ll also need to know certain things like the availability of power and what the audio situation is like. IF you can do this before the day of the shoot, it’s highly recommended.

If you don’t have that opportunity, then at the very least, walk inside and scout your location before you touch a single piece of gear. Just land at the location, get out of the car, and go inside. I’ve found that this process has yielded much faster and efficient work, because for one, you might realize you don’t need as much gear as you brought. Or, in other cases you might find that natural light through a window might be all that you need. 

In my early days, I would load up every piece of gear I had and roll into the location sweaty and tired and already in a bad mental space. 

Save all that for after you’ve gone inside and gotten a solid game plan together for where you want to shoot. 

The Finer Details

Now, we’ve gotten to the point where it’s time to get the gear out. Do you have a 2-camera shoot? Or one? How are you handling audio? Do you want to switch up the camera angles for each different subject? Does the director want the subject center framed, or with lead-room? 

If these are questions you’re answering with your interview subject sitting in front of you waiting—well good luck. It’s probably going to be a rough day. These are all nuances of the process that need to be decided on before an outside factor ever enters the equation. 

Interviews are always much more effective when the actual shooting process is almost invisible. There should be almost no extraneous communication. The focus should just be on creating an environment that is comfortable and seamless.

To do this, you must figure all of this stuff out ahead of time. 

How To Process The Footage

Interviews tend to run long. They can generate hours and hours of content that someone is going to have to watch through. You can certainly spend the majority of your editing time just scanning through hours of footage looking for that one statement you kind of remember the subject saying.

Unless, of course, you use Simon Says to transcribe all of your interview footage for you and send it to all the stakeholders to leave their notes and pick the clips they like themselves. Or collaborate with the whole team on finding the right clips.

What if you could just pull those clips into a select sequence and export the xml directly out of Simon Says? Well, you can. Here’s how:

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