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SportsShooter.com: Member Message Board

The Art of the Interview - what are your techniques?
Alex Witkowicz, Photographer
Denver | Co | USA | Posted: 4:13 PM on 08.16.10
->> I have been doing a lot of video work lately, and with that has come a lot of on-camera interviews.

The biggest surprise for me with video has been the incredibly rewarding experience of conducting interviews, something I didn't do before. It's a unique opportunity because some people are really willing to open up and bare a piece of their soul to you. So I feel a big responsibility to ask the right questions, and to do their story justice.

Easier said than done, of course, so I'm wondering what sort of lessons you have all learned when conducting interviews, on camera or otherwise.

My biggest challenge so far has been keeping the interview to a reasonable length. When you ask people specific questions about themselves and what they do, they can talk for hours. So how do you keep an interview on track without being rude? This is especially challenging with video because you don't want to interrupt someone and risk losing a sound bite. My technique so far has been to prepare a specific set of questions that I will review with the interviewee beforehand, and explain to them the direction I want the interview to go.

It has worked well, but I'd still love to get a discussion going on the topic, and to hear what experience has taught some of you about conducting interviews effectively and efficiently.
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Ian L. Sitren, Photographer
Palm Springs | CA | USA | Posted: 4:40 PM on 08.16.10
->> I have interviewed a lot of people in my time; and I have been interviewed a lot myself on everything from CBS Nightly News, local television news, radio and even a half hour segment about me.

I think the most important thing is that you have to be genuinely interested in people and your subject in the first place. If you can be prepared ahead of time with some knowledge of the person and subject that is great; but if not, ask questions logically and in some order learning about your subject.

And be casual, be their friend, not unlike just talking to a person across the table at lunch or a drink at the bar. Be genuine but in control with the way you ask questions. So if you have to jump in to cut off a long reply, they will go with it, because you have control.

This is one I did recently. Luckily I knew my subject because I had no idea I was doing the interview until 5 minutes before. The person who was going to do the interview disappeared and the publisher just turned to me and said "You do it!". The publisher is a buddy, so I did.

http://tinyurl.com/2fj4enl
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Chuck Liddy, Photographer
Durham | NC | USA | Posted: 4:50 PM on 08.16.10
->> do not ask questions which can be answered with a "yes" or a "no", that is your first rule.
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Jim Colburn, Photo Editor, Photographer
McAllen | TX | USA | Posted: 5:42 PM on 08.16.10
->> I agree with Chuck. Instead of asking "Did you crash your car into the bank building yesterday?" try asking "Tell me how your car wound up in the bank lobby last night."
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Curtis Clegg, Photographer
Sycamore | IL | USA | Posted: 6:56 PM on 08.16.10
->> This article is a good start:
http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=36&aid=38681
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Mike Burley, Photographer
Dubuque | Iowa | USA | Posted: 8:11 PM on 08.16.10
->> Listen to some Terry Gross, that always helps me.

http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=13
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Mark Loundy, Photo Editor
San Jose | CA | USA | Posted: 9:13 PM on 08.16.10
->> Alex,

You don't need to use entire interviews. They can be edited.

Or am I misunderstanding you?

--Mark
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Alex Witkowicz, Photographer
Denver | Co | USA | Posted: 10:22 PM on 08.16.10
->> Mark - I edit my interviews considerably. The interviews I am doing are more on the side of narrative interviews, where the subject tells a story or talks about a particular aspect of their life and/or about a specific subject, and the interview is laid over and in between b-roll. Here is an example of one of my recent films to give you a better idea: http://vimeo.com/12402140

I'm not necessarily looking for pointers, but rather personal experiences people have had when conducting an interview that led a subject to really open up, and where they felt they got to the heart of the matter and did the subjects story justice.
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Eric Seals, Photographer
Detroit | MI | United States | Posted: 11:44 PM on 08.16.10
->> Great topic Alex!

You're starting off the right way by having questions ahead of time and telling them the direction you want the interview to go.

Several things that I've learned;

1. I always make sure my red record light is taped over with black tape. It might seem really silly but honestly some people (and there are all kinds) see that red light and they might freeze up or get distracted even in mid-thought and of course it would happen during a good sound bite. I actually have the black tape on all the time.

2. I make sure they are seated comfortably. I have them framed in-camera a certain way and the last thing I want is them wiggling or wanting to stretch a bit which would make them go out of frame.

3. You're in charge here, if during the interview they start going way off topic and you don't want to interrupt the only person it is going to hurt is you. I've been, there done that and it sucks when I'm laying out my audio timeline and have to re-listen and then do lots of cutting up audio.
Keep them focused on the topic and don't be afraid to interrupt. To get them back on the topic I try and say things like "I like what you were saying a minute ago about ......., can you go more into that for me? What did you mean by ........." Stuff like that.

4. I know it's obvious but maintain great eye contact and not look at your questions list then back up at the person all the time. Or just commit the questions to memory and remember to make the whole experience like it's two people just talking. For some people the better the eye contact and the better the conversation the more they forget about your camera I believe.

5. Sticking to your list of questions is good but also remember if the person brings up or says something different/unexpected go with it and get ready for other follow up questions and not be so quick to move on down the list of other questions.

6. I always end it by asking if there is anything I missed, didn't ask or something else you want to add?
It helps to tell them that they are the voice of the piece plus it makes them feel not only important but they now know they have a good vested impact and interest in telling their story right.

Eric
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Eric Seals, Photographer
Detroit | MI | United States | Posted: 11:47 PM on 08.16.10
->> ah, sorry Alex.

I guess I was in the middle of typing my reply to you when you wrote that you're not looking for pointers but rather personal experiences that led a subject to open up.

I'll follow up on that tomorrow.

Eric
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Chuck Steenburgh, Photographer
Lexington | VA | USA | Posted: 1:12 AM on 08.17.10
->> Ian said it best - be genuine, casual, friendly. Remember this is about them, not you. (That's hard for me since the world, you know, revolves around me but I try!) Create an environment of comfort and ease and the story will come out.

I interviewed a graduate of my school once that I thought was going to be just another got-my-degree-and-a-good-job story that turned into a story of a single mom's triumph over drug addiction...there were four of us in the room, and we were all in tears by the time it was done.
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Jason Jump, Photographer
Humble | TX | USA | Posted: 12:29 PM on 08.17.10
->> I'm personally not a big fan of the interviewee knowing the questions ahead of time. I guess in certain circumstances it might be called for, but I think you get more "real" answers when you just ask.

It's good to have a set of questions, but be open to moving away from those questions if the opportunity shows itself. Listen to their answers, because a lot of times you can generate your questions from their responses.

I really liked the black tape idea.
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Daniel Hayduk, Photographer
Kelowna | BC | Canada | Posted: 1:38 PM on 08.17.10
->> Eric's last point about asking the subject if they would like to add anything is a great question to use at the end an interview.

Even if they don't bring up something they feel you've missed, they will likely give a short summary of the whole theme of the interview.

Asking the subject to summarize their position/feelings at the end of the interview makes it easy to get a good long usable, concise clip.

"Can you summarize what you witnessed into a few sentences. Keep in mind I want to know what it felt like to be there, etc."

I've found that during the course of an interview, general themes of conversation will pop up, but not necessarily in full sentences -- making it tough to get the point of interview across later on.

Then, if I all I needed was a few quotes to carry a story, I can often just skip to the end of the interview and use their summary.

Oh, and these two words are key in any interview: "tell me..."

/daniel
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G.J. McCarthy, Photographer
Dallas | TX | US | Posted: 2:31 PM on 08.17.10
->> I usually break the ice with armpit farts, then ask them how much they think I can bench press.

Works every time.
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Ian L. Sitren, Photographer
Palm Springs | CA | USA | Posted: 4:22 PM on 08.17.10
->> G.J.

You never talk bench press with the people I work with :)

http://tinyurl.com/2b8jy89

http://tinyurl.com/2dsevv3
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Chris Peterson, Photographer, Photo Editor
Columbia Falls | MT | USA | Posted: 6:06 PM on 08.17.10
->> I like to joke around, get them loose. If you can make them laugh a little your job gets a lot easier.
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Jeff Stanton, Photographer
Indiana | IN | USA | Posted: 2:35 AM on 08.18.10
->> I don't shoot much video anymore as our publisher refuses to buy a decent video camera system. I do however use my voice recorder a lot. When I do interviews, I often walk in with all my gear still in my bag and just sit it down and chat with the person or people for a few minutes, more or lease to allow my subjects to become comfortable with me.

I have found, especially in feature work, people love to talk about themselves. And the more comfortable they get with you, the more they will talk. Don't get in a hurry. Just let the conversation flow freely. It typically will take its own course.
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Thread Title: The Art of the Interview - what are your techniques?
Thread Started By: Alex Witkowicz
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