What is in between the lines in Interviews

Filming an interview seems to be a rather boring affair-  from a filmic perspective for videographers or editors. You need to know how to set the interview lighting (key, fill and backlight), have a proper microphone and make sure that the record button is pressed.
Well, even if you are not the journalist asking the questions, there is still more to it and worth to consider – from a filmic perspective. It is about the content, what is between the lines, the subtext, what is not said or how it’s said.

  1. Is the topic about the interviewee?  Interviews are about human beings in many cases. This is important as human beings are most interested in human beings. If you want to get the audience’s attention tell a human story.  Often, this is the person, who is interviewed. So, the question is, what is the agenda of this person. Politicians like to arrange interviews to get across a message. Artists like to promote their latest work. In corporate promotional videos, CEOs may want to present their company. However, there are also the involuntary interviews, where the journalist or documentary filmmaker has initiated the meeting. Is the topic about the person or about what the person has experienced? Or is it a factual topic where the person happens to have some knowledge or even expert knowledge?  Even if the topic is not related to the interviewee, in most cases there is personal element that connects the interviewee to the topic. If you have an engaged scientist speaking about his or her matter, it can help to propel a dry topic to something very exciting.
  2. What is the agenda of the journalist? Does the journalist want to get an information from an interviewee that the interviewee has not given so far, so to say, catching the interviewee off guard? In those situations, the journalist is as important as the interviewee. Often, those interviews become quite tense. The journalist may interrupt the interviewee. 2 cameras to film both parties are recommendable. Think of it as a duel. The editing wouldn’t be about showing the talking heads only, but also reacting to each other.
  3. What is the story of the journalist? This appears to be just a spin off of the second point. Again, 2 cameras are recommendable, but I might well be that the topic is about the journalist. Think about a format, where the journalist / presenter is on a tour to learn more about something which is close to the heart of the journalist. For example, a journalist travels to the place where his or her grandparents used to live and speaks to people there. There are also formats where the journalist is leading through a series of episodes. Paul Theroux’s shows come to mind. Those shows are quite often more about the journalist than the topic or the interviewees.  The camera often shows more the journalist than the other persons.
  4. Where does the interview take place? Is it a suitable room, which would be a room that reflects what the topic is about. If a politician is filmed in a room with wooden walls and a fireplace in the background and the politician intends to present himself as man of the people to explain what the benefits of his policy for the ordinary man will be, this room may not be so suitable unless it helps the journalist and yourself to reveal the background of this politician. Is it outside somewhere?  Even if the edited interview is only short, be aware that the audience’s eyes wander around after latest 5 seconds. If possible, give the audience something to see, but be careful. It should not distract. The most famous cases are people in the background who positions themselves behind the interviewee or journalist. Or think about the US American professor in South Korea who was filming himself in his office at home, when his children popped in. Even before that happened, the room was a bit too rich for the topic as there was too much space behind him, which made the eyes wander. Filming in front of a shelf is very common, but if the book titles are recognisable or if there are special items, also this can be more of a distraction. Flowers, a nice furniture piece or even a big space that is blurred can work quite well.

This was a more a brief and general look at the subtext of interviews. It is worth to be aware of it. In my next blog I will look at the filmic tools that can support the subtext. In a third video, I will  look at special characteristics of interviews for corporate videos.