That's a mighty big camera you got there Mr. TV Reporter!
Television is an industry wracked by anxiety.
(This could possibly explain WEtv's decision to commission a season of Cupcake Sisters, but more on that another time)
Today, we're going to talk about interviewing people.
As the path to disaster in video and filmmaking is 'shoot everything to make sure you didn't miss anything', so too is the idea of interviewing endlessly in hopes of finding that 'great sound bite'.
This is a really dumb idea, and it is astonishing how many people in the TV business still practice this.
It's a bit like excavating your entire front yard to a depth of 40 feet because there might be gold there. Might be.. One never knows.
Most really terrible film and TV producers start with the interview. The very first thing they will do is sit the subject down and cross-examine them for an hour, recording the whole thing. I have experienced this innumerable times when I was starting in the business. One truly memorable PBS interview went on for three hours. The 'talent' (and I use the word loosely) had drifted into a discourse on Marxian economics with the subject - and this with a minor local New Jersey state official. The 'talent' then turned to me and said: "now we're getting somewhere".
Years later, when I was teaching at NYU, I used to have my students record a story that aired on local news. Then, I would have them go out to Queens, (or wherever the story had taken place) and find the family that had been the subject of the story and play the aired piece back for them and ask them their opinion. It was always the same:
"I don't understand. They talked to us for hours and they only used like 30 seconds".
Only shoot what you need and what you are going to use.
Anything else is a waste of time, and frankly a disservice to the people you are interviewing.
As when we shoot b-roll, we strive for perfection. Think before you shoot. Think before you interview.
Do the interview at the end of the shooting day, not the beginning. At the beginning you really have no idea as to what the story will be. By the end, you should know what you want and need to make it work.
When you interview, be direct. Everyone is pretty media savvy these days, so be blunt. "You're only going to get 20 seconds here to tell me about X, so why don't you think about this before you answer". That's a lot more honest than blathering on for an hour and then chopping up their responses to make them say stuff they never really said (happens all the time).
When I ask a hard question and get an answer, I like to ask the subject if they were happy with that answer. Anything you want to change? This is their story, not yours.
If I have more time, I like to do a rough cut of a scene (or a soundbite from an opponent), lay it into FCP and then show it to the subject of the interview on camera and record their answer after they watch it. "Here's what your opponent said about you this morning. Care to respond?" Far more honest than cutting together two interviews and trying to create a back and forth. "Here is the mother of a child dying of a brain tumor she says was caused by chemicals from your factory. How do you respond to this".
If you are shooting a reality show, or something similar, instead of 'interviewing' the subject to elicit soundbites, just show them the rought cut. Take that single mother and sit her down in front of your laptop. Put a mic on her and start your camera recording. Then, run the timeline:
"You remember a few days ago when you were rushing the baby to the hospital. Here's the scene we shot. As you watch it I want you to tel me exactly what you were thinking at that moment..."
"I was so scared my baby might die"...
Get the concept.
And a lot more honest.
Also, a lot easier.
There is no reason in the world anyone should have to plow through endless hours of transcripts or listen to endless hours of tapes or drives to find the 'great sound bite'.
It would be less trouble just to dig up the front yard.