Whether you’re a journalist reporting on a celebrity, a documentarian trying to build a narrative, or a marketer trying to capture testimonials for promotional content, you will need to interview someone and capture their story on camera. Here are four tips to help you draw out their story most effectively while you converse.
Do Your Research
Benjamin Franklin once said that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” It is fair to say this is applicable to all of life, but it is particularly pertinent when hosting an interview on set during a production. In the same way you would review a candidate’s résumé and do a background check on them before interviewing them for a job, you want to make sure you go into the conversation with your subject having some basic understanding of who the person is and what they do. Research will help you formulate stirring questions that provoke unique answers and give you confidence while you guide your subject through the conversation.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Interviews don’t feel natural to everyone, so unless your interview subject is a talker, they may find it hard to open up. In some sense, you need to grant them permission to “own” the conversation. Do this by asking open-ended questions, such as, “How does ______ make you feel?” or “Tell me about _____”. Avoid asking “yes” or “no” questions; this sets you up for single word answers from your subject, which can kill the flow of the conversation and leave you at a dead end. Open-ended questions allow the subject to lead the conversation in the direction they find most interesting, which in turn will provide you with the best content. (As a side note: Whenever your subject answers a question, ask them to respond with complete answers. e.g. if you ask them what their favorite color is, they should respond, “My favorite color is _______.” This will make it much easier to piece together the narrative in post-production.)
Pinpoint their Passion
If you ask the right questions, the conversation will flesh out naturally and you should begin to detect a theme that excites your subject and to which they keep returning. This theme is your subject’s passion, and their passion is the golden nugget you’re looking for. Lean into this passion and ask more open-ended questions about it. If you’re doing a video interview, you will notice your subject is visibly more enthusiastic when speaking about their passion — which translates to ideal video content.
Specifics are Spicy
Every good story has an arch. While your subject’s passion is important, it may lack direction in how they talk about it. You want to enhance the story they are telling and tie off any loose ends. To do this, get down to the specifics. Ask them to provide examples and anecdotes that relate to their passion. In contrast to tip 2, try asking close-ended questions that funnel your subject’s passion and pigeon-hole their thoughts into digestible soundbites. Try presenting questions in multiple-choice form. If you had a particular question you were trying to answer when you went into the interview, now is the time to ask it. Remember: If your subject’s passion is the meat of the interview, the specifics are the spices; they bring out the flavors that are already there.