Five Tips for Creating Emotionally Powerful Interviews

Photo by Irvin Tyan.

The type of work we predominately do at Dare Dreamer Media is documentary style films. I like to rely heavily on authentic interviews to drive the stories we tell. Even for the promotional films we create for clients, I will always lean towards an authentic interview vs. a scripted voice over. I have found that unless you’re dealing with a trained actor or voice over talent, scripted VOs sound too canned and/or cheesy. I want to share with you five tips I use when conducting interviews that help me get those emotional soundbites.

  1. Know Your Subject: whether you’re interviewing a Fortune 500 CEO for a commercial project or a bride for a love story, the more you know about the person ahead of time, the better. Your knowledge of the person (and their organization if applicable) will help you ask the right questions to get the right soundbite or elicit the right emotions. For instance, I  know that whenever interviewing a mother about her children, I’ll ask questions that touch deeply on topics and issues close to a mom’s heart.
  2. Start off with Small Talk: never jump right into the meat of any interview. Always start with small talk, even if you know they will be giving you info you never plan to use. You gotta get the ball rolling. It could as simple as, “Tell me your name, your role here at the company.” Many times you may be interviewing someone who’s never been on camera before. Small talk gives them time to get used to the process and loosen up a bit.
  3. Pay Attention: always stay in tune with your subject, reading body language, voice inflection, picking up on any physical or verbal hints that a particular topic may affect them in a certain way. If you notice something, don’t be shy about having the interviewee elaborate. Feel the freedom to go “off script” and verge away from your planned questions, even if only momentarily, to explore something that could be deeper and more poignant. For the CEO Women 10th anniversary video we shot, we were interviewing a woman from Mexico sharing about her immigration to California to find a better life. We were going through the list of questions we came up with, and the women casually mentioned that she had to leave her son back in Mexico. The representative from  CEO Women started onto the next question, but I stopped her to have the interviewee tell me more about what it was like to leave her son. It wasn’t part of the “script,” but it was an important story to tell of these women who make huge sacrifices in hopes of bringing a better life for their family. And, it was indeed an emotional moment for her that was captured.
  4. Be a Director: just because this is a documentary style interview doesn’t mean you can’t direct it as if it were  written script. Adjust your camera position and focal length to accentuate the stronger emotional moments (i.e. close up shots for emotional moments, wider angle shots for lesser ones). Also, if appropriate, ask the subject to go emotionally to a place you want them to go. Let them know it’s okay to act on their feelings.
  5. Don’t Cut Too Soon (“Tape” is Cheap): once the interview is over, or once the subject has finished answering a question, fight the urge to cut right away. Sometimes the best soundbites come AFTER the standard questioning and the subject is more relaxed. You don’t want to miss out on some great remark or comment just because you stopped rolling the cameras. And the moment will be lost afterward, so asking them to ” say that again, just like that” won’t work. As we used to say in the day of digital tape, “Tape is cheap.” (Yes, I know there are some of you out there still shooting on tape, but a lot of us have gone tapeless. It’s going to be 2011 in a few days for crying out loud. 🙂

BONUS TIP: I know I said five tips, but I have one more…

Embrace the Uncomfortable Silences: sometimes you’ll ask a question or head down a particular path and the subject may clam up, or sit and think for a while. It’s our natural instinct to want to hurry them along. Don’t! Just sit there and wait. And wait. Give them the space and time for their thoughts to coalesce. You’ll know when they’ve absolutely exhausted their thinking and can’t contribute anymore. Sometimes they may just be getting up the nerve to say something on their heart that they want to say, but may be afraid or timid to share. Reference tip #3.

Obviously, there is a lot more than just these six tips that go into an interview, but these are six high on my list of things to keep in mind when conducting these kind of interviews.

Do you have any tips to share? Please do so in the comments. I (and my blog readers) would love too know.

5 thoughts on “Five Tips for Creating Emotionally Powerful Interviews

  1. oi amigo.
    Moro no Brasil na Bahia gostaria de saber como faço para comprar um SLIDER TRACK,qualquer coisa mim mande um email.te agradeço.

    obs: os seus trabalhos sãomuito bom


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