We’ve all seen them: interview videos that are hard to watch. 

Maybe you can sense the interviewee is uncomfortable or they have shadows on their face or something just seems off. Whether you’re a seasoned filmmaker refreshing your memory on how to film an interview or a business owner finally hitting record on your iPhone, this guide is designed to help you embrace the experience. 

More than fancy equipment, the way you approach filming an interview — and especially the preparation you do ahead of time — will make the process and product better all around. 

Best practices on framing, equipment, sound and more 

Whoever you’re interviewing, no matter who they are, will be interesting to watch because humans enjoy looking at human faces. When framing your shot, favor a plain background over visually distracting elements. Placing your interviewee further away from the wall behind them will give the frame depth and look better than sitting close to a wall.  

Using a shotgun microphone and external recorder for sound will make a big difference in sound quality. Since your interviewee is sitting still, you can set up your shotgun mic in a fixed location using a C-stand to hold it. Position the mic above your interviewee’s head and point it down toward them. You want the mic just out of frame, yet close enough that you’ll need to remind them not to bump their head when they stand up!

If you can add it, a lavalier microphone is always helpful. Learning how to use a broadcast loop/newsman’s loop will give you the best audio result and keep your equipment in good shape. 

How to prepare for filming an interview

Aside from your gear checklist and proper equipment set up, your mindset plays a big role in interview preparation. This includes expectations, pacing, order of questions, allowing enough time, listening, improvising, and curiosity.

Come up with questions and do your research

Doing research helps you gain just enough details about the person you’re interviewing to make you intensely curious about the right things. A brief video call pre-interview is a great way to establish a rapport and get a sense of how the person may be on camera.

For example, video production company Concurrent Productions asks specific pre-interview questions like:  

  • “Have you ever been on camera before? What was the experience like for you?
  • Is there anything you want me to be sure I ask you?
  • What excites or interests you most about this subject? What compelled you to do this interview?
  • Do you have any questions for me?”

Even if you don’t think you’ll use the footage, finding out what’s important to your interviewee will help them get it off their mind so you can steer the conversation forward. It will also give you a place to start where they feel comfortable and excited to engage. 

You’re going to get better results if you don’t share the questions with your interviewee ahead of time. Shared questions are likely to be rehearsed and will feel stiff. Sometimes this is unavoidable and you can’t violate it. In that case, ask the first few questions on your pre-approved list, then simply change the order of the questions. 

Prioritize your most important questions

You always want to have a lot more questions than you need and you want to prioritize those questions quickly while you’re filming an interview. A color coded system works at a glance so you can be sure you ask what is really necessary without rushing. 

Getting complete sentences can be tricky. Preparing some “fill-in-the-blank” sentences can help in “repeat after me” style. You don’t want to put words in someone’s mouth but…you do need those sound bites. Inviting your interviewee to repeat your prompts or put the sentences in their own words is a good practice. Also, give them permission to skip any of the prompts. 

Here are some examples: 

By placing these prompts at the end of your interview, the interviewee is primed to summarize and you’ll likely get the sound bites you need while still keeping a natural flow.

Make the people you’re interviewing feel comfortable 

Having a short ritual to be present in the moment with your interviewee can be really helpful.

“Once everything is set and ready to roll—even after we’re rolling,” says Kerri Feazell at Concurrent Productions.

“I like to take 10 seconds to ask everyone to close their eyes and take three deep breaths. It helps me get focused and resets the room from the flurry of all the technical logistics. It also lets the interviewee know that the tone of the interview is going to be spacious and thoughtful. Shoulders relax and we can get into it.”

Kerri Feazell, Concurrent Productions

Make decisions ahead of the interview

About those technical logistics: make a clear choice ahead of time to have your interviewees look directly into the camera or look off camera. Decide, communicate that direction clearly to your interviewee, and be consistent to the point of interrupting the interviewee to gently remind them if needed. 

Looking directly at the camera works best when you want to convey that the interviewee is speaking directly to the audience. If you need this feeling, there is a brilliant solution known as the “interratron” (interview + terror!) designed to ease the terror of looking directly into the lens.  

Start with questions that ease into the interview, something your interviewee is very comfortable talking about. If you know you’re asking someone to be emotionally vulnerable, ask those questions in the middle of the interview and end on something lighter. This is especially true with documentary interview questions. You can invite an honest answer without pushing, simply by letting there be silence and staying connected to your interviewee with eye contact.

Listen generously and get genuinely curious about the answers

During the interview, be prepared to improvise and follow threads that light up your interviewee. “Tell me more about…” is always a great go-to! Show some emotion yourself so your interviewee will be more likely to reflect it back to you.  

Assure your interviewee that they’re doing great. Do that a lot, as long as it’s genuine. If they’re not doing great and are intensely nervous, take a break. It will be worth it. Remind your interviewee that they can say things twice and start over if they feel like they messed up.

Overall, empathy is your guide. As the interviewer, you can physically be a stand in for your interviewee. It helps your crew as they light the set and reminds you what it feels like to be in the hot seat. 

What’s a good amount of time for an interview?

Plan for at least 30-60 minutes for an interview and give enough buffer space in your schedule for a new camera set up between interviewees. Make sure the interviewee has time to answer the priority questions in detail. You might need to ask the same question in different ways and at different times.

How to light an interview 

Placing lights in the proper place makes a world of difference and is pretty simple to set up. The three point lighting technique is the recommended basic set up for one camera:

  • Main/Key light: Place close to the camera at about a 45 degree angle from your interviewee.
  • Fill light: Place this light opposite the main light and adjust to fill in shadows; be sure it doesn’t compete with the main light.
  • Backlight/Hair Light: Also at a 45 degree angle from your interviewee, this light should be positioned high behind your interviewee and to the side. 

Figuring out how to light an interview takes some adjustments so practice before you get to set. When you do it right, your use of shadow and light with all three lights will create a sense of depth between your interviewee and the background.  

How to film an interview with one camera 

You don’t need multiple cameras to shoot a great interview. Frame your interviewee in a mid shot, positioned to the side, keeping in mind the rule of thirds. Position your interviewer to the right of the camera (if your interviewee is looking off camera) or behind the camera just to the side (if your interviewee is looking directly into camera). 

Because you’re framing a mid shot, filming in 4K is really helpful. This will make it possible to edit your business or documentary video without jump cuts by punching in to a close up using editing software. 

How to film an interview with two cameras 

Set up your main camera (A cam) as described above and add a second camera (B cam) to film an additional angle according to your preference. You may want to place a B cam more head on or capture a side profile shot.  

With a two camera setup, you will want extra fill lights to avoid spots and shadows (fill lights are always less powerful than your main light). 

If you only have one camera operator, make sure your B cam is set to roll without an operator. Your camera operator’s attention should stay on your A cam during filming to make any necessary focus adjustments during the interview. 

Can you film an interview with an iPhone?

Yes, you can film an interview with an iPhone (in 4K even)! 

A few interview video tips: 

  • Use landscape orientation
  • Clean your lens
  • Use an external microphone

What if you’re the one being interviewed? 

If you’re being interviewed, the best thing you can do is be yourself. The moments when you get lost in what you’re saying and feel like you said nothing or didn’t make sense are probably the best moments. That’s when you weren’t feeling self-conscious and just flowed. Especially if you start to feel passionate about something you’re saying, lean into that and do it more! If your interviewer doesn’t ask you something that you really want to say, be bold enough to ask if they have time for you to share a bit more. 

Remember — you can’t say anything wrong. That can be an instant confidence boost. Speak slowly and take your time to answer but don’t worry too much about saying it exactly right. If you get so nervous or overwhelmed that you can’t talk, don’t be afraid to ask for a quick break or just close your eyes and take a deep breath. Reset yourself and then keep going. (You’re doing great!)

5 interview examples we love 

There are so many amazing interview examples and we chose a few here that showcase a few different techniques and scenarios. 

Supermaker

We love this interview with Supermaker co-founders Jaime Schmidt and Chris Cantino. Not only does the content emphasize how easy it can be to just go make a video (do it!), the interview is a great example of a natural tone that features two people.

The use of B-roll and creative shots of their products add texture and life to the video.

Concurrent Products

This customer testimonial video by Concurrent Productions is an example of a single camera interview with no B-roll, using the technique of punching in on a shot to avoid jump cuts. As a “DIY like the pros” example, it was filmed remotely using a high definition webcam, ring light, and USB microphone.

The interview was conducted through the platform riverside.fm. By following the guidelines here to create a rapport and draw out a natural interview, the interviewee got emotionally engaging content without being in the same room. 

Zandra Beauty

In this example, 19-year old Zandra Cunningham shares the story of how she launched her own plant-based skincare brand.

A mix of interview footage and b-roll showing off Zandra’s social savvy give this interview a modern and approachable spin, like you’re simply in conversation with Zandra in your own living room.

Beard and Bowler

This fundraising documentary video from Beard and Bowler for Eva’s Village is a beautiful example of personal and vulnerable stories shared through interviews.

The filmmakers primarily use B-roll with sparse shots of the actual interviewees as a way to draw the viewer into each interviewees’ story. It’s clear that the documentary interview questions used were sensitive and allowed space for the interviewees to feel comfortable sharing vulnerable details of their personal lives.

This American Life  

Another great example of a very creative use of interview footage shows up in This American Life’s Videos 4 Us: Tattoos.

The interview footage is shown near the end, so throughout the video, the filmmakers weave in other elements of the story through animations, narration, and voice-over. This sets up intimate interview moments for a more powerful impact.

How to use interviews you filmed in your own marketing 

Interview videos are excellent marketing tools. Your interview doesn’t have to be one-and-done, you can repurpose it in myriad ways! 

Embed the interview on your website

With Vimeo, you can easily embed your videos on your website, customizing elements including player size; text and play bar colors; and what gets displayed after a video finishes playing.

Use as testimonial videos to promote a product launch or business service 

Customizing templates through Vimeo Create guides you through this process easily. Testimonial videos created through a well done interview process work really well to insure trust in your product and business.

Turn them into GIFs for your email marketing

Custom GIFs are a fun way to spice up your email marketing! Vimeo makes it very easy to turn your interview video into a GIF.

Splice them into 5 second “pull quotes” for social media ads, organic posts, and more

You’ll be happy you did those “fill-in-the-blank” prompts during your interview to get sound bites for super short content. And with Vimeo Create, you can splice them up from your main video directly and easily. 

Interview video tips for editing

If you’re new to filming an interview and editing feels like an overwhelming learning curve, don’t worry. With Vimeo Create, all of these tools are available to you in guided templates. Really: an edit tool, b-roll, music, and graphics! Putting clips together for social media or other use cases is easy for anyone to create a polished video.

If you really want to dive in to customize your business or documentary in the edit, here are a few other interview video tools the pros use:  

  • Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro are full editing suites 
  • If you didn’t film your own b-roll (or need additional footage), professional stock footage can be purchased from a site like Pond5. (You can also purchase music here.)
  • Music Vine is an online library devoted solely to licensing music for video and film.
  • For graphic elements, Envato Elements is set up to browse and license millions of creative assets.

Now that you know how to film an interview like the pros, let’s keep learning!

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