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Interviewing

Checklist

  1. Decide if an interview is an appropriate asset for your project.
  2. Choose what style of interview is most appropriate.
  3. Brainstorm potential interview subjects.
  4. Contact your interview subjects and plan interview logistics.
  5. Write your questions.
  6. Borrow or rent the necessary equipment.
  7. Set-up equipment.
  8. Conduct interview.

Before the Interview

1. Decide if an interview is an appropriate asset for your project.

Interviews are most effective when you need expert testimony, someone that has personal experience with your topic, or someone who has an opinion on your topic.

2. Choose what style of interview is most appropriate.

Sit-Down, Interviewer Off-Screen

Man-on-the-Street

Sit-Down, Interviewer On-Screen

Direct Address

3. Brainstorm potential interview subjects.

Based on the type of interview subjects you will want, create a list of people you are interested in having in you video.

Expert on Topic

If you know someone who is an expert on your topic, such as a faculty or research staff member, their answers are just as good as research you will do. Their interview will be stronger than narrating research as a voice over because they will have authority on the subject. If you can’t find such an expert, stick to doing research and conveying it by voice over.

Personal Experience

Another good interview subject is someone who has personal experience with your topic. They can bring an emotional dimension to your project while still providing relevant information.

Opinion Based

For man-on-the-street interviews, you are just looking for opinions on your topic, but you can target certain demographics. If your video is about what students think about a new policy, you will want to ask only students.

4. Contact your interview subjects and plan logistics.

Schedule your interview a few days in advance. This is so you can ensure that your interviewee will be available when you are. Also confirm time and place one or two days before the interview as a reminder for both you and your subjects.

Plan to conduct your interview in a place that not only is going to be quiet and well-lit but – possible – also relevant to your topic. For example, interviewing a chemistry professor in a lab will be more visually interesting than in a generic classroom.

The HUB, student centers and dorm rooms are not ideal places to conduct interviews because they are often poorly lit and/or have lots of background noise. Other places to avoid conducting interviews include anywhere that has loud air conditioning or heaters, noise from the outside or fluorescent lighting.

5. Write your questions.

Before your first question, ask your subject to say their name and their title as it relates to your interview. Then ask them to spell their name so you can spell it correctly when you edit it later.

  • Avoid “yes” or “no” questions, questions with one or two-word answers, or questions that will lead to “list” answers. Use open-ended questions. (Instead of, “Do you like your major?” ask “What made you chose your major?” and “What do you find interesting about your major?”)
  • Ask questions that set up the topic, go into detail and then ones that sum up which is done well by asking about what’s to come.
  • Give your subjects a general overview of what you will ask but don’t send your questions to your subject before the interview. They may try to prepare and/or memorize answers beforehand, and then they will be more distracted with trying to remember their pre-planned answer instead of just answering the question.

6. Borrow or rent the necessary equipment.

University Park

You can rent equipment for your interview from MediaTech in the Wagner Building Annex for three days at a time, free of charge when course-related.

You will need:

  • HD camera
  • Lavalier (“lav”) microphone1
  • Tripod
  • Headphones
  • Batteries2

Optional:

  • SD card (if you choose to get a JVC camera)
  • XLR cable (JVC camera)
  • Lighting kit

Commonwealth

You can borrow equipment at your campus location – be sure to check your specific page for details.

You will need:

  • HD camera
  • Lavalier (“lav”) microphone1
  • Tripod
  • Headphones
  • Batteries2

If you are doing “man-on-the-street” interviews, you may want a cardioid handheld microphone instead.
Make sure all batteries are charged before going to the interview.

At the Interview

7. Set-up equipment.

Plan to set-up any equipment possible before they arrive to avoid having them wait around for you.

Give yourself plenty of time to set-up the camera and microphone. It will likely take longer than you expect.

Go to the interview with at least one other person to help you. That way one person can focus on asking the questions and the other can focus on the equipment.

Pick a spot that has plenty of light. Use extra lighting equipment if necessary. Do not place your subject in front of a window with the blinds up or other large, glaring sources of light; this will backlight your subject, making them look too dark.

When putting the lav mic on your subject, keep these rules of thumb in mind:

  • Have your subject put the lav mic under their shirt. This is to hide the cord.
  • Clip the mic on the lower part of their shirt collar. If they have a jacket or sweater, clip it to the side of the sweater towards the top. If they have a tie, clip it high up on the tie.
  • If your subject has long hair, ask them to push it away from the mic so that it does not rustle against it. Otherwise, it will interfere with your sound.

When framing your shot, keep these rules of thumb in mind:

  • Always use a tripod! Otherwise, your shot will look shaky instead of steady.
  • Use a medium to medium close-up shot of your subject. You want them to be the main subject of the frame, but you don’t want to be zoomed in so close that it’s uncomfortable/too intimate, or so far that other objects in the room will distract the viewer.
  • Make sure your subject, and not the background, is in-focus, especially if your camera settings are on “auto.”
  • Keep an appropriate amount of head room above your subject.
  • Don’t place your subject in the middle of the frame. Use the Rule of Thirds and give them appropriate lead room so the frame is balanced.
  • Don’t have your subject look straight into the camera (unless you’re doing a Direct Address style). Place the interviewer to the side of the camera and have your subject talk directly to the interviewer.
Correct Setup

Everything in this photo is correct. Here the subject is framed correctly, well-lit, is in-focus, the microphone is placed correctly, and she is not looking at the camera.

Incorrect Setup

Everything in this photo is incorrect. Here the subject is in the middle of the frame and too far away, the lighting is poor, it’s out-of-focus, the microphone isn’t placed correctly, and she’s looking straight into the camera.

When adjusting your sound:

  • Have your subject do a mic check. Have them speak at the same volume as when they’ll be doing the interview. Make sure your audio levels are as high as they can go without peaking into the red.
  • Use headphones throughout the interview to make sure that your sound is coming in well.

8. Conduct interview.

General Interviewing Tips

Have the camera record for a few seconds before starting the interview. If you don’t, the beginning part of your interview might get clipped.

Pause for a few moments after each answer to make editing easy and clean later.

Don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions that you may not have planned out beforehand, especially if your subject is talking about something really interesting and relevant.

Don’t hesitate to stop the interview if something goes wrong with the camera or sound. It would be a shame if you conducted the entire interview when the camera or microphone wasn’t working properly.

If the subject stumbles over their words, encourage them to start over.

Record 30 seconds of “room tone.” Have everyone in the room be completely quiet and record 30 seconds of silence.

Interviewer Off-Screen Style

Avoid acknowledging your subject verbally while they are speaking. Save it for when they are completely finished answering your question. Don’t say words like “mhmm,” “uh-huh” and “right” while they are speaking. Otherwise, you might end up hearing it in the background when you go to pick your clips, and it will be very distracting. Feel free to nod or give non-verbal cues.

Encourage your interviewee to repeat or rephrase the question into their answer so it will make sense once the questions are edited out.