Corporate Video Interview Tips from the Best

One of my top 5 favorite film and video podcasts to listen to is Carl Olson’s Digital Convergence Podcast: a show dedicated to filmmaking, photography and post production. Carl’s weekly regular panel includes PlanetMitch of Planet5D fame, and veteran editor Chris Fenwick. I’ve had the honor to be a guest a few times over the past month or so (I think I may be on more often if they don’t get sick of me. 🙂

Anyway, their past few episodes have addressed the topic of conducting video interviews. They’ve had some veteran producers and directors on the show who’ve given some amazing advice on the topic. The whole episodes are worth listening to, but I thought I’d share some of the juiciest tidbits.

Steve Weiss, Co-Founder of Zacuto

Steve was on episode 79 and he had some advice that is perhaps the most unexpected.

  • Get up close and personal. One tip he gave was to sit extremely close to the subject. Almost uncomfortably so. Keep your eyes locked on them. This will keep them distracted from all the gear, and keep the conversation more personal.
  • Shoot the breeze. In order to help get interviewees loosened up, Steve will engage in small talk. For instance, when interviewing Rudolph Juliani shortly after 9-11, one of the first questions he asked him was about baseball of all things. Get your interviewees speaking freely and comfortably by first asking them questions that help sets them as ease.
  • Vary questions on a theme. Steve’s other tip was to vary up the questions on a theme so as to get varied answers. For instance, during the filming of Zacuto’s “Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout,” Steve got to interview some of the top cinematographers in Hollywood (including Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning go-to guy, Janusz Kaminiski). One of the questions Steve asked them was “What is light?” He got the kind of answers you’d expect (e.g. light travels 186,000 miles/second, etc.). To others he asked, “How does light make you feel?” By doing this, on the subject of “light,” he got a whole range of answers, some very scholarly, others more emotional.

Peter Dippery, Producer/Director of Fuse

Peter was on episode 94. He has been serving Fortune 500 companies for over 15 years. He produces commercial and original content for global organizations. Here are two excellent tips he offered.

  • What’s the most compelling truth about the product or service. When producing promotional videos, you can’t spend a lot of time covering all sorts of topics. The most effective videos will hit one main point or objective. To that end, Peter asks the interviewee to talk about one specific aspect of the product or service they think is the most important or compelling.
  • It’s business. At the end of the day, these videos are for business purposes. Your goal is to create a video that helps achieve that objective.

Stewart Cheifet, Executive Producer, Computer Chronicles

Stewart wasn’t a guest on the show, but on last week’s episode (95) Chris played a short interview he did with Stewart. Stewart was the host and executive producer of Computer Chronicles, a show in the late 80s to early 90s that was the predecessor to just about all the computer and tech shows that followed. He conducted over 2,000 interviews for over 500 shows, so he knows a thing or two. (Naturally, his tips are best related to shows vs. commercial promotional videos).

  • Do your research. Make sure you know about the topic at hand before time. This will help you lead the interview in the right direction. It makes the person you’re interviewing have more respect for you because you’ve come prepared.
  • Conduct a Pre-interview. Interview the person ahead of time to get some info you may want to cover in the main, recorded interview.
  • Be the boss. Keep in mind this is your show, your interview. Don’t be afraid to rein in the interviewee if he/she goes off on a tangent. If you have a specific objective in mind for the interview, take control and make sure the interview goes in the direction you want.

One More Tip

Chris’ interview with Cheifet reminded me of one of my own frequently offered interview tips (and one that I gave on that episode): don’t be afraid to be “the director.” Depending on the video you’re producing, there may be a certain emotional feel or level you want to come out of the interview. Use the same skills a director of a narrative piece of fiction might use to elicit emotion. Don’t be afraid to have the interviewee repeat the answer, but with a different angle. Sometimes I’ll ask an interviewee to imagine they are talking to their grandmother, or some other loved one. If I sense a particular point that seems to hit an emotional nerve, I’ll then hone in on that point, even if it means veering off my scheduled questions. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions that may make them uncomfortable at first, but ultimately will yield a more engaging interview.

Choose the Right Strategy

One other point I made is that the interview strategy you take will obviously depend on the kind of interview you’re conducting. The way you interview someone for a promotional video will be different from how you interview a bride and groom for a love story, which will be different from how you interview someone for a news or technology show. Gear your strategy for the purpose.

What are some of your favorite interview tips and techniques. Share in the comments.

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