Setting Up Video Interviews—A Project Manager’s List

The interview is the foundation for many kinds of videos—from executive updates to a good story. Setting up a good video interview starts with you, the project manager, before the video crew ever arrives. Here are some tips we share with our clients that can help you get a better video.

What can I as the on-site project manager do to contribute to a good interview?

  • Get the talking points or video goals to the interviewer (crew) well before the shoot. This gives the interviewer time to think about how to best draw out the story.
  • Give the interviewee time to think about his/her content and the purpose of the interview. Make sure they know going in what to expect and how to prepare.
  • Allow adequate time. Depending on the piece, 30–60 minutes may work. (The crew can tell you what’s needed for your particular project.) We usually book an interview with extra time in case the person is late or has to leave early, since rushing an interview almost always results in a quality compromise.

What kind of spot should I reserve for the shoot?

Reserve a space for the interview that gives options on the set-up. Look for things like:

  • Natural light (and windows with shades that can be used to control the light)
  • Interesting textures as background—brick walls, nice windows, or architectural details
  • Interesting furnishing elements, art, or plants
  • Does it contribute context?
  • Sound control. Good audio is essential to a good video—so make sure the room has a door and isn’t near a noisy location, like an elevator or a highly traveled hallway.
  • Enough space. It’s best not to film a person sitting right up against a wall, as having depth is important. Aim for a space that has at least 15’ in depth. That gives the crew room to make the set-up more interesting and keep it from looking like the dreaded driver’s license photo.

What is b-roll?

B-roll is supplemental footage that may or may not have sound. It’s often used to intercut with the interview, to bring a story to life, and to cover edits.

What makes good b-roll?

  • Time. It’s easy for a crew to feel rushed when they’re intruding on a work space. But allowing a bit of time to set up the shot and shoot it is essential to getting good footage.
  • Focal point. Having one prominent element of interest in the shot guides the viewer’s eye.
  • Good lighting. Natural light is great, but isn’t always available. Having the time to light the shot is important if natural light isn’t available.
  • Close-ups. Sometimes showing just a piece of the story (hands, an object on a desk that reveals something of the person being interviewed) is powerful. You don’t need to tell the whole story in every image—just evoke a piece of it. 

What about teleprompters?

Whenever possible, it’s best to avoid them if you’re going for a natural, comfortable style. In some cases, where language must be precise (such as when there are legal considerations), a teleprompter can be helpful, but there is usually a tradeoff in the overall tone. If you’re looking for an authentic, personal interview, teleprompters generally disappoint. Our crew is very comfortable drawing out a story from people who aren't accustomed to being on camera, so we generally prefer this option.

Who does the interview?

Our crew generally conducts the interview, but you’re welcome to if you have experience doing this and would prefer to.

How much footage will it take to do a video?

This varies widely by project. It’s not uncommon for us to shoot a 20–40 minute interview that gets cut down to two minutes. That doesn’t include another 20–60 minutes of b-roll.

How much time should we allow for an interview?

It depends on the project. Person-on-the-street interviews can happen almost instantly once they are set up.

An update from an executive can take 30–60 minutes. An interview for a story can take 30–60 minutes, depending on the video’s desired length. Allow an additional 30 minutes for set-up (depending on conditions) prior to the interviewee arriving—and another 15 minutes for take-down.

Will we need a script?

Scripts make for efficient delivery of content, and are generally used when you need an audio-only portion of the video. CMBell employs script writers who are experienced in writing for this specific application—as it is different than other kinds of writing.

Generally speaking, people who aren’t trained actors have difficulty delivering a script in a believable way. Unless it is a situation with legal concerns, where the language must be precise, we prefer to conduct an interview using talking points.

Tips for writing talking points

Do:

  • Create a bulleted list of ideas you want to cover. Things like “Top priority: Increase quality scores by 20%” work as great prompts for both interviewee and interviewer.
  • Include hard-to-remember data (if any) so that we can prompt the interviewee if that information isn’t top-of-mind.
  • List talking points in order of priority. Talking points are used by the editors (who are often a different team than the videographers and interviewers) to ensure that the client’s points are all made. If the video has a time limit, sometimes this means deleting content. Prioritized lists help the editors know which things must be in, and which are optional.
  • Provide any background stories or videos that have been developed on the topic.

Do not:

  • Provide a script or send the talking points in prose form using full sentences and paragraphs. This makes it harder for both the interviewer and the interviewee, who need to maintain eye contact.
  • Provide the talking points the day of the shoot. Both the interviewer and interviewee benefit from time to think about the content.
  • Change the talking points substantially after submitted.

What should we tell the people being interviewed?

  • The purpose of the project.
  • How long the interview will be.
  • Location.
  • What kinds of things will be explored in the interview (talking points).
  • They can prepare by reviewing the questions and purpose in advance. It can be helpful to write something out to help them think about their message before the shoot, but they should not plan to memorize or read what they write.
  • Wear what they’d normally wear in their work or life (depending on the story). If they’re in uniform at work generally, they should appear that way in the video (as a bonus, uniforms provide instant credibility).
  • Camera lights tend to wash out faces. Participants who normally wear make-up may wish to bring along any make-up to touch up before the shoot. Generally, we do not have make-up artists at the shoot.
  • Avoid excess in apparel and accessories. Stay away from large wild patterns and wrinkled or worn clothing (for professionals) if a professional look is desired.
  • There will be a professional team there to guide them through the interview. Our job is to make them feel at ease, explain the process, and draw the story out from them. We’re patient and try to give them as much time as needed to deliver their message.
  • We will do multiple takes to ensure we get the best one—so there’s no pressure to be “perfect.”
  • Be yourself. Authenticity is more important than getting everything precisely right.

Who handles releases and HIPAA-compliance issues?

The client is always responsible for obtaining and archiving release forms. Additionally, the client is responsible for ensuring HIPAA compliance if the shoot is health care related. This means paying attention to content that is being shot and reviewing the edit to ensure that no HIPAA violations have occurred.

Shoot etiquette

  • If shooting in a health care setting, patient care is always first. We are accustomed to working around the complexities of health care and are respectful of your first obligations.
  • Keep the set quiet. It’s especially important to have 2–3 seconds of silence before and after each interview question is completed, to allow the editors content to work with.
  • Save questions and comments for the end. Sometimes it is best to run through the entire interview and keep the momentum of the story going—as it preserves the energy.
  • Plan on multiple takes. We generally take safety shots (extra takes) that allow us to have additional options for our editors.

What is my role in producing this video?

  • Determining the message and goals of the project.
  • Providing talking points, if the video calls for them.
  • Doing a pre-interview with our crew to discuss the elements of the story.
  • Finding and securing shoot location(s).
  • Arranging for interviewees.
  • Acting as site navigator—escorting and introducing the crew and setting expectations for participants.
  • Getting and storing release forms from anyone in the shoot.
  • Ensuring HIPAA compliance.
  • Providing additional assets—photos, existing b-roll if you have some—that flesh out the story visually.
  • Reviewing the video for accuracy and seeing that anyone who needs to be involved in the review is.
  • Being the single point of contact for CMBell and supplying all changes to us directly, rather than delivering them through multiple sources.

Are there things I can do to keep costs down?

Yes. The biggest thing is to review it carefully at each step of the way, since a video is produced in a sequence which each layer building on the previous one. Changes to the audio that come late in the process, for example, can mean substantial edits. Think of it as deciding to move a wall in a new home in the painting phase. It's much more expensive to do so then than it would be to do so when the house plan is being reviewed.

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