I want you to imagine a nightmare. You’ve been hired to capture a video interview featuring a high-profile subject – maybe it’s a CEO, a famous athlete or an actor – and everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong.
You’ve cut it a bit close today, arrived just a little bit later than usual, but it should be fine right? You pull up to the tallest building in the city, head deep into the carpark and lose 10 minutes getting grilled by security. You lug your gear up two different freight elevators to the 37th floor. The room your client has chosen is a boardroom with automatic window shutters you can’t raise and a giant table that doesn’t move! How on earth are you going to make this look good? And then you realise you’ve gotta set up 2 cameras, sound and lighting – and you’ve only got 10 minutes until your high profile interview subject is about to walk through the door. Tick tock. The sweat drips off your forehead as you realise you’ve royally messed up.
Sound familiar? If not, then you’ve got something to look forward to, because it happens to everyone at some stage in their filmmaking career, whether you’re working in corporate, commercial or documentary. Or, maybe you’re a marketing manager that has been on the receiving end of this and wondered what went wrong. Regardless, here are some tips to help avoid this nightmare when you’re filming a video interview with someone whose time cannot be wasted.
Check your location first
Checking locations before you shoot is a standard part of most video production projects, especially higher end ones like commercials or narrative films. But they tend to get overlooked when shooting a video interview when it’s still really important.
Looking out for potential audio hazards is most important: things like construction, roads with heavy traffic, parks with lawn work planned, generators, fans, old fridges… the list is endless!
Next, you want to look for visual hazards and potential backgrounds. Visual hazards might be automatic blinds or fluorescent lights you can’t control or may need to black out, or physical objects you can’t get around like the dreaded boardroom table. Use a sun tracking app like Sunseeker to check where the sun will be when you’re shooting this so you can plan your lighting setup.
Lastly, check what the logistics of bumping in will be: where are the loading zones and parking? Is there a sign in process? Have we got a room chosen or will I need to burn time on the day looking. Or maybe you’re shooting in a public space and will need to get a permit from the local council ahead of time.
Check your kit
Having a gear checklist is a really good way to avoid leaving anything behind, especially if your kit is often changing. Just a list of all essential parts helps to reduce the chance of an essential part of your filmmaking kit being left at home. We’ve all recited the classic “basplate, batteries, cards!” mantra before!
This is an easy one, and should be built into the schedule as part of your billable day as a videographer or camera operator. We like to arrive an hour before our talent is scheduled to arrive, an hour and a half before if they’re high profile. This gives you enough time to unload all your camera equipment, to choose a background, detect any final unexpected hazards and set up your gear. You want to be 100% ready for when they arrive, so having your camera assistant, producer or even the client’s representative to stand in for framing and lighting. Ideally, record a test clip and play it back to check for any rogue settings that may still be present from your last shoot.
Controlling the elements
If the video interview will require filming outdoors, make sure you are prepared for inclement weather. Check the forecast in the days leading up and the night before so you know what kind of conditions you’re going into. For wind, bring a dozen shotbags and make sure every stand has at least two on there and all your c-stands are tight. For sun, make sure you’ve got a 4×4 diffusion panel, a reflector of some kind (I like polystyrene boards) and a floppy or black that you can use for negative fill. If it’s a fully overcast day, consider bringing along a 1.2 or 600w light that you can illuminate your subject with. If you often find yourself shooting without access to power, consider investing in a lithium portable power station like this or sufficient V-lock batteries. Here’s a picture of our cinematographer Brian Loewe with this kit.
Make them comfortable, keep a cool head
Never underestimate the power of small talk and a few warm interactions before you start filming. Our industry puts a lot of value on ‘vibes’, so even if something hasn’t come quite come together as you wanted, don’t reveal this. If you keep a calm, collected and positive attitude your client will as well, and likely so will your interview subject. Authenticity and charisma on screen are essential to good content, so making your subject feel like they’re being represented well, and that they’re in safe hands, will do wonders for their confidence.
As you can see below, shooting with your subject’s back to the sun is often the best option — both for lighting and for comfort. You can diffuse it, though this is sometimes not necessary, but the main source will be from either a light (as above) or the sun reflected with a piece of poly or a fleccy. You can also fill or “neg” — short for negative fill, usually a black fabric or board — to increase or decrease the contrast of the light on your subject’s face. You can see how this comes together in our ads for the Queensland Greens, all filmed outdoors in sunny Brisbane!
Always remember to stand in the shot before you lock it off, so you can understand what it will be like to be on camera. Your key might be too much for your subject’s eyes, so you may back it off a little and lift them in the grade.
Having a fresh bottle or glass of water ready to go is a small but helpful thing you can do. Speaking on camera is very nerve wracking for some people, even CEOs and celebrities – and this will help them avoid getting cottonmouth.
Lastly, having a kit of translucent powder to remove the shine from your lights is a good way to make them look their best. Your job is to make them look as good as possible.
The background check
Knowing your subject is important for all levels of video production, regardless of what level of content you’re creating. Make sure you know what they do, what their company does, any recent news that you may want to cover (or avoid) and what their preferred title is. Saying the wrong thing to the wrong person can result in some serious foot in mouth, and can make the shoot awkward as heck or may lose you future opportunities, so knowing your content background is essential.
Does this content even need to be an interview? If you just want the CEO or Minister saying something important, coaxing an answer out of them through carefully worded questions might be a more painful approach than it needs to be. Have their EA write up their response and just load it onto a teleprompter if it needs to be to-camera, or on a tablet if it wants to be off-camera. Take a couple of minutes to warm them up, to make sure they’re not coming across like they’re reading it, and you’ll get on-message content without the long winded lead in or extended edit to make their responses more coherent. That’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Keep it short! A good video interview doesn’t need to be long!
High profile subjects generally don’t have very long to be filming with you – you might get only 20 minutes or less with them. So don’t be afraid to push back on your client and ask “are they going to have enough time to cover all this”, or “can we combine or trim any of these questions? I’m conscious of not taking up too much of ____’s time.”
This is why it’s essential to be 100% ready before they arrive: you really don’t want to have them waiting on you to change lenses or swap out a battery.
We’ve recently been filming video interview content for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, which means we got to interview a huge range of high profile individuals including the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, the Premier of Queensland and Olympic gold medalist Nat Cook. For all of these we had to be entirely on our A-game, as we were not only filming people with very tight schedules, but we were often filming outdoors in largely uncontrollable conditions. By following these tips that we’ve picked up over the years, we managed to avoid having any problems with our shoot. Hopefully they work just as well for you!