The Secret Of Awesome Interviews

If you’re intending to make commercial films then you need to learn how to set up a professional quality interview, and our CVP expert Jake Ratcliffe is here to talk you through.

Setting up an interview situation must be one of the most regular jobs that a commercial filmmaker has to tackle and they are destined to come in a variety of shapes and sizes. You might, for example, find yourself working in an office situation, with a bunch of distracting backgrounds, noise issues and a mix of artificial light sources. At other times you could be outside and at the mercy of the wind, numerous passing distractions and light that’s difficult to control. 

If you want to tap into the booming market for commercial filmmaking, however, then you’re going to have to know how to confront all of these situations, plus a host of others. Some of your decisions are going to be based around what gear you should be taking with you, while you’ll also have to finely tune your interpersonal skills, since the success of an interview will invariably lie with how well the person in front of your camera is performing.

While our regular CVP expert, Technical Marketing Manager Jake Ratcliffe, is well placed to advise on the former, given his wide knowledge of the extensive stock carried by this leading broadcast and professional video retailer, he’s also a seasoned filmmaker himself, and so he’s equally well up to speed on what the logistics of a well-prepared interview scenario are likely to consist of as well. 

“Setting up an interview or talking head is a staple for so many avenues of filmmaking,” he agrees. “These can be as simple as just one camera, a mic and your lighting, through to larger set-ups with multiple mics, B or C cameras on longer lenses and even perhaps the use of selected motion accessories, such as a slider, to add extra interest. You need to be asking yourself at the outset how dynamic you want your shoot to be, and there are so many awesome tools on the market now that will help you get the job done. 

“To achieve a good interview set-up you need to be practicing all the fundamentals of filmmaking, such as good lighting, compositional awareness and solid audio. All of these things will need to come together on a production and if you’re weak on any front, then the likelihood is that your interview could end up looking somewhat less than professional.”

Preparing for Your Shoot

Whatever the level of interview you’re planning, the starting point will be to talk beforehand to your subject, to explain to them what it is that you’re hoping to achieve and maybe sharing with them some of the questions you’re looking to ask so that they have time to prepare their answers. You need to try as much as you can to keep them relaxed and at ease. 

“Making your subject aware of what you and your client need is really important,” stresses Jake. “However, making your subject comfortable is just as important. This is where your people skills are going to come in. Have a conversation with them to gauge how comfortable they are, and this will also help you to work out how best to handle the interview going forward.”

People who don’t regularly appear in front of a camera might rise to the occasion or, conversely, they could panic, forget their lines and appear hopelessly wooden. Often you’ll either get what you need in the first take or it could be hard work, since fluffed lines will then flummox a nervous subject still further. The golden rule, even if you’re up against a tight deadline and really need to capture the sequence, is never to show your exasperation, since this will only serve to make matters inexorably worse. 

Autocues might prove themselves useful here, since they’re a valuable means of popping the words up in front of your subject and it will help them to remember exactly what they’re meant to be saying and will ensure they don’t forget key messages. It also guarantees they’ll be looking down the barrel of your lens, but that’s not necessarily a good thing, and you will find a few downsides with this way of working.

“Autocues can be really useful accessories to work with depending on the subject and scenario,” says Jake. “I use one when creating our YouTube videos, because their length and in-depth nature requires me to script out everything I want to say. However, using them just for prompts is also a great idea, and it allows your talent to stay on track but also still deliver their words naturally. We stock products such as the EyeDirect II (CVP price £1795.49), which is a flexible kit that’s designed to travel, and this allows your subject to maintain eye contact while reading a script. The device supports iPads and tablets up to 7x10ins and 3/8in thick, and it comes in a foam fitted rolling case for location work.”

However, sometimes having the subject gaze directly into camera isn’t the look that’s required for the production, and if this is the case then Jake can equally suggest other systems stocked by CVP that can help you around this. There are also other approaches, such as setting up a B-Camera at an angle to your main one to provide an alternative viewpoint that you can subsequently cut to at the editing stage. “This really helps you to change the feel of a set up,” says Jake, “and it allows you to break up the interview if you’re not intending to have much B-Roll over it.”

If you’re going to work with a B-Cam then it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll need to hire in a second shooter. Set your second camera up on a tripod and have it running as you activate your main camera. It will provide a fixed view of your subject, but if this is only used sparingly then it can add the necessary variety you need. Do, however, aim to work with the same make of camera, if not the same model, since this will help to ensure the look, colour and feel of the footage will match closely. 

Awesome Audio

By its very nature, an interview situation will be requiring audio, and it’s crucial that this is up to a high standard. This can be done in a number of ways, and it’s up to the filmmaker to decide on the approach that they feel will work best for them.

“Arguably audio is far more important to nail when conducting an interview than the image itself,” says Jake, “so making sure  you’re fully equipped to tackle any combination of talent position and shooting situation is crucial. 

“Different types of microphones, as well as alternative positions they may be placed in, will change how your audio sounds. A lavalier mic clipped discreetly onto your subject’s lapel or a shotgun microphone boomed close to your talent are both solid ways to capture your audio, but different scenarios will demand different solutions. The golden rule will be to get your mic as close to your audio source as possible, since this will give you the best result.”

Working wirelessly is a good solution, and there are excellent products, such as the Sennheiser XSW-D Portable Lavalier Set (CVP price £279), that will do the job for a budget price, while shotgun mics, such as the latest RODE VideoMic Go II (CVP price £99), will also provide a great solution without breaking the bank. 

It’s wise to always carry lighting with you on a job that’s likely to involve an interview since you don’t want to be relying on the available light you might encounter in the typical office situation. This could turn out to be unflattering, potentially noisy if it’s giving off a hum and maybe even a mix of sources, which will play havoc when you’re looking to achieve natural looking colour at the post-production stage.

“The lighting you opt for will really come down to what style the client you’re shooting for is after,” suggest Jake, “and what space and time frame you have available. There are, of course, different lighting formulas you can follow, which will depend on how many lights you can use. For example, a three-point lighting set-up, which consists of a key, fill and backlight, is commonly used when lighting people, so I would suggest starting there and then exploring how moving and changing your lights and lighting ratios will change what the light on your subject looks like.”

There are numerous two to three-head battery or mains operated lighting kits available, such as the Ledgo E268 two light location lighting kit (CVP price £512.99) and the Dedolight 24V Three Head Basic Kit (CVP price £2098.80) , which come with stands and a carrying case, and these and other options can be the perfect one-stop-shop outfit that can cater for all your lighting requirements.

Finally, just a word about potentially setting up an interview situation on location, where there are a host of potential new challenges awaiting. “There are plenty of things that can ruin your interview that are worth keeping an eye on while shooting,” confirms Jake. “This could be such things as noise from people talking in the background or cars, planes or trains going by. It could be visual things, such as people walking past or other distracting elements in your frame. It’s also worth bearing in mind what’s behind the camera position, since distractions happening that you might, as a camera operator, not notice, can easily ruin a take or interfere with your subject’s eyeline.”

Embrace the challenge, learn the basics and make sure you have enough kit to handle every eventuality and you should be ready to nail interviews, whatever form they might happen to take. It’s a fundamental of commercial filmmaking, and if you can master the art then you’re well on the way to success. 

Jake Ratcliffe

One of CVP’s resident team of technical experts, and a self-confessed camera nerd who gets way too excited over kit, Jake’s background mirrors that of so many creatives these days. After graduating with a degree in photography, he took up a freelance career and found that many of his clients were asking for video services so, rather than turn the work away, he started to teach himself the filmmaking basics. Having been based at CVP for four years now, Jake epitomises the ‘equipment agnostic’ approach of the company and devotes his time to advising customers who might be looking for impartial feedback on which products to invest in as they look to make the same journey into motion.


If you set up a B Camera that’s focused in on your interviewees from a slightly different angle then you can cut in some alternative footage to add variety.

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