10 Things to Remember When Shooting a Video Interview

Nine out of 10 Planet Forward videos include an interview component. "Hearing it from the horse's mouth," is still the best way to process ideas, and video is the best way to capture a horse talking. That makes you a horse whisperer, dear reader.

Congratulations. 

Here are 10 tips for conducting an interview that could appear on Planet Forward and qualify for our Storyfest contest:

1. Show as well as tell. It's one thing to hear someone talking, it's another to see them living. How can you flesh out your interview subject by showing them at work, in their offices, with family and friends, or confronting obstacles? Anything is better than nothing, so give us some subject-on-laptop shot if you can’t find anything else.

2. Focus your questions. Why should we care? Why does coral reef matter? How do CO2 emissions affect me? What about this subject can increase my understanding and improve people’s lives? 

3. Focus your camera. Zoom in on the subject's face, focus and then pull back out. If you have automatic settings, make sure the camera knows what subject to focus on. It should be the first thing you do when you point your camera at anything. 

4. Check your sound. A lavalier microphone — a lav mic — works best for an interview. Shotgun microphones, many of which can plug into a headphone jack, are the next bet. If you're using a budget camera or a phone, just look for a quiet, cozy space, not a big echoey room with other people in it.

5. Keep your camera on a tripod, or at least a stack of books. Even when you’re moving around a lot, collapse the legs on the tripod so it serves as a monopod that you can quickly set down in different spots to capture different shots. You might look funny running around with a tripod pointing a big camera at a solar panel or a row of dirt, but those stable shots will hold your piece together and make it look professional.

6. Hold "location" or "b-roll" shots for at least 7 seconds. There’s probably nothing I’ve said more in editing than “why didn’t I hold that longer?!” Think of yourself as a photographer of moving pictures, a collector of real-life GIFs. The frame shouldn’t change, only the things in it. These "moving pictures" will help you cut away from your interview subject to add layers of interesting visual context to your piece. They can also cover up edit breaks in your interview. Check out some recent Planet Forward submissions if this doesn't make sense. 

7. Remember to shoot close as well as wide. Most of what’s compelling to look at is either really close-up or the really far away. Details and patterns. A close-up of a cook’s face as they prepare a meal, an expansive shot of the DC skyline, the glistening side of a tomato, or your subject alone in a giant crowd looking like David vs. Goliath. We like these images because our eyes normally focus on what’s a comfortable distance in front of us. Close ups and long shots take us somewhere new.

8. Look for great music by searching for free services like Creative Commons or Kevin MacLeod's Incompetech or some of the medium-price services like Premium Beat. Picking music early can help you find the tone of your piece and edit based on the beats of the song. Don't overdo it with music though. It usually works best to bookend an interview piece — think "intro" and "outro." 

9. Watch a documentary between now and the time you shoot. "Food Inc.," "Fed Up," "Blackfish," "The Cove," "Man on Wire." A list is less effective than watching the masters, and you’ll be reminded why you’re doing this. Why it’s worth it to make an awesome video. The best documentaries have a way of changing minds that’s difficult to match. That could be any one of you, all you need to do is spend 10,000 hours failing and learning and having fun and arguing. It’s worth it! 

10. Have Fun. Nuff' said, but it isn't said enuff'. 

Planet Forward is here when you're ready to take a shot at video. What innovations do you know about that are moving the planet forward? Does it relate to "urban sustainability," this year's Storyfest topic? How can you take us there? Take a look at our "How-To" section for tutorials on storytelling and videography. 

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.