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  • Writer's pictureGiles Gough

Production Tips: How to shoot and edit an interview

Interviews are a staple for documentary filmmaking. They are also an important part of promotional content. It’s often an opportunity for you to hone your sound and lighting skills without the added complexities of shooting a piece of fiction.


1. Preparing the interviewee is an important step that can’t be neglected. Depending on the kind of interview you’re doing, you may want to give your subject questions ahead of time. Unless you’re conducting a piece of hard-hitting journalism, you want your subjects to be as comfortable as possible. Reassure them that it’s OK to make mistakes as they can be cut out.


2. Firstly, you really want the interviewer and the camera operator to be separate people. Making a subject feel listened to and appreciated requires a lot of attention, and you just can’t do that if you’re also looking at the monitor. Secondly, you really need two cameras for this job. If you’re tight on equipment, it could be tempting to film the subject and just film the questioner afterwards, but this can create problems. You might misremember the question, put emphasis in a different place, or slightly rephrase it. This could end up with your subject looking foolish if their answer doesn’t quite match how you’ve phrased the question.

3. In an ideal world, you would have two cameras of the same level of quality, but if you have one that is slightly better, make sure that is pointed at the interviewee, as that’s who we’ll be focusing on for the most part.

4. Normally you’d frame a person right in the centre of the shot, but for an interview, it’s a good idea to put them just off centre. Give a bit of empty space in front of where they are facing. This gives them space to talk into as it were. It’s standard practise to put the cameras at the same height on the tripods so that both parties look like they are on an equal footing.

5. In the first instance, you’ll probably just use the microphones on the cameras. If you find that audio isn’t as clean as you’d like it to be, you may end up using separate audio recorders. I use lapel mics for both people, and hook them up to either my Zoom H4n (Around £200) or my Olympus 650 (around £139). This means I get nice, clear audio from both speakers. If you can’t get this, try recording the audio on phones and place them just out of sight of the camera.

6. When playing back an audio clip, it’s not obvious what the clip relates to. So it’s important to say what you’re doing when you press record e.g: “Rolling on the zoom h4n Patricia interview take 1” means you’ll know what clip is what within seconds. It’s important to make sure you can sync up the audio to the visuals. In the absence of a clapper board, you can just CLAP loudly.


7. In the edit you want to take video and audio clips and stack them on top of each other. When looking at the audio waveform, you’ll see a sharp spike where the clap is. Line all the clips up to this point so you’ve got all the audio synced up.

8. Cutting bits out of the interview is an important part of the job. Jump-cuts are something you want to avoid at all costs, it just looks a bit…janky. If you have the video clips on top of each other (I usually put the interviewer at the bottom and the subject on top), you can cut out any waffle or irrelevant speech from the interviewee. A good trick is to just cut back to the interviewer responding (it could be as simple as a smile). Then you can cut back to the interviewee talking, so long as the speech still makes sense when you listen back to it.

9. It’s a good idea to think about how you can make the interview more visually engaging. One way to do this is to add in photos or video footage on top of the speaker, to illustrate what they’re saying. If, for example, they’re talking about their life story you can usually ask the person for any photos related to the time they’re talking about, and they’re usually only too happy to supply them. Once you’ve got them, you’ll need to make sure they move or zoom in in some way, look up the ‘Ken Burns effect’ to get an idea. Once you’ve done this you should have an interview that is concise and engaging. Good luck!

If you want to see what the interview we filmed here looked like, scan here:

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