Shooting a great interview Part 1. Camera, sound and lighting.

Shooting a great interview requires a few key techniques to make it come together. Here we will just outline the audio and camera work side of things. In a later blog entry we will cover the techniques required by the interviewer that will get the best out of the subject and make the video post production phase of the process much easier for the editor.

In our time we have shot a wide variety of people from very different walks of life. From CEO’s of big multinational companies like Qantas and Coca Cola for corporate communications videos to very relaxed surfers for documentaries and sporting TV shows.

Photo caption: Australian cricketing legend Allan Border mid way through a piece to camera / interview. This interview was lit by one light. The Lowel Rifa which was positioned just off to camera left. Just out of frame on camera right was a mirror hanging on the brick wall which bounced back enough light at the right angle to fill in most of the shadow side of Allans head.

Photo caption: Australian AFL legend Kevin Sheedy on the same day and lit the same way as Allan above.

Generally, with the busy important subjects, the production crew is given a short amount of time with that person and this is where being well organised is important.

We start by determining what background will work for the interview and if that area is acceptable for audio considerations. Bad audio can make or break your shoot and can be difficult to hide or fix if you walk away from your shoot with sirens from the street outside or helicopters and the like in the background of your interview.

Photo caption: This interview was shot at a medical confrence in Brisbane Australia. Because we are based in Sydney we packed up or interview kit that is fit for flying and flew up to Brisbane for the day. We shot this as a two camera set up as we needed to be able to edit out any stumbles or pick up points as we only had the subjects for a very short time and we only got one run through of the questions. The entire kit including lights, cameras and audio gear fits neatly into a large pelican case a long c stand bag and a take on board camera bag.

That lighting kit contains an 2ft x 2ft daylight balanced LED panel. Two x Lowel Tota 800w tungsten lights and two x Dedo light 150w tungsten lights, enough various gels to get the lights to the colour tempreture we need them at and light stands.

Key light was the LED panel, we had one Tota light just off behind the book case on camera right and one Dedo light behind the subject with the barn doors closed enough to create the slash of light behind the interviewee. We went with a warm look for all of the background lighting and set the camera to 5500k, to match the key light being the LED panel and left the background lighting at 3200k. We did not use any hair or separation lights as the subject had a nice contrast with the background so we felt there was no need.

Sometimes you have to deal with the space you are given and some noises will be impossible to avoid. If this is the case sometimes you can position the subject in a way that the source of the noise can be seen. The noise will make sense to the audience and make hearing those noises in the background totally acceptable. On the same note if you have an audio bed (a song) or backing track that will play under your interview this can hide a lot of noises as long as those noises are not too loud.

Generally we start by positioning the subject and most of the time this will be done by using a “stand in” (an assistant or some one who can stand in for the subject, especially if the subject is a CEO) and we get our rough frame lined up. A lot of the time that person is “sitting in” as a lot of the interviews we shoot are done with the person sitting. We then mark that area so the subject knows exactly where to stand or sit.

Photo caption: Again here we have used the Lowel Rifa light and a reflector as a one light but two sources on the subject set up. Then we have just utilised the ambient or available lighting.

When interviewing a CEO we like to sit them in a chair that is like a dining table chair. Chairs that are similar to a lounge tend to make the subject slouch too much and that is not a good look for someone in a senior position of a company. If you are interviewing the very relaxed surfer then the lounge can work, it all depends on how you want to portray your subject.

We then light the background if we think it needs it, quite often we are blocking stray light that might be coming in windows or hitting our set from lights in the office space or factory or where ever we are shooting as most of the time that environmental light wont match the colour temperature of our lighting. We then work forward towards the camera with the lighting so next would be the back light on the subject, this is optional as sometimes you may not want backlighting. Then we light the subject. Typically we use a three light set up and fill the shadow side of the subject with a reflector.

The lighting we would use on a typical interview shoot would be a Lowel Rifa that is a softbox style light (gorgeous shadow gradation for a single person with the light positioned about 1 meter away) running a 500w tungsten globe. A California sunbounce 4 x 3 ft reflector on the shadow side just to open up the shadows a bit, silver to open then up as much as possible with the reflector, white to open them up a just a touch and black to go for a moody look.

For the backlight and in most cases the background light we use 150w Dedolight units unless we want to light a big area, then we might go for a Lowel Tota 800w flood light and then cut the light with cutters to shape it, or, pump it through a diffusion frame to soften it.

For our audio, when we have the time to set up a dual mic system, we use a lapel mic on or in the subject clothing and a shot gun mic positioned just out of shot above and just in front of the interviewee. We then aim the shot gun into the subjects chest, getting that mic as close as possible to the subject but remaining out of shot is key as this will give your mic the best chance to reject environmental noise.

Photo caption: Courtney Dober delivering a piece to camera as a hosting for Here we used the LED panel which, at close range will give some fill light in full sunlight and a twinkle in the eyes.

Tip: record 30 seconds of room tone or atomos (audio) if you are working somewhere that is not perfectly quite. This will help the video editor smooth out the audio. Make sure everyone on set is perfectly quite while recording this.

Happy shooting!!

At Octopus Films Sydney we shoot a lot of interviews for many different purposes from broadcast TV to YouTube content. If all this sounds too hard give us a call and we will shoot it for you.

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