The Art (And Science) of the Interview

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Sooner or later, every commercial filmmaker comes across a project that, for one reason or another, requires him or her to conduct an interview. Whether it’s a brand film, documentary, or testimonial, interviews with ‘real people’ (non-actors) bring a unique set of challenges. Most producers know this, and they also know that they ought to prepare for this kind of interview—but how? 

At Anchor Films, we’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with ‘real people’ over the past few years, and have developed a process that allows us to confidently approach each one knowing we have the tools to pull it off. So we thought we’d share some of the things we’ve learned along the way—from mentors, resources, and often plain old experience. Conducting an interview is an art—but it’s also a science. And truly excellent interviews require the interviewer to understand how to practice both well. The result is a genuine, conversational interview that meets marketing objectives. Here’s how we do it:


The Science

The science of an interview is all about the preparation. Here are some key ways to perfect it:

  • Start with the goals in mind. The best interview in the world won’t save you if it fails to align with the needs of the project. We always start with doing our research and knowing the marketing objectives, so our story falls within these parameters
  • Do a pre-interview. Either in-person or over the phone—and, ideally, this will be done by the person who will be conducting the interview. First (and most importantly) it helps you determine whether a specific person will be the best fit for the piece. Second it helps you identify stories that align with marketing objectives. And finally, it allows the interviewer to build rapport with the interviewee.
  • Meet the subject. Whether you do a pre-interview or not, the actual interview should not be the interviewer’s first interaction with the interviewee. You need to build a rapport to put him or her at ease—sometimes this means simply chatting on set before the interview begins. The more interaction the better, even if it’s on the day of the shoot.
  • Shape a comfortable environment. Most people are not comfortable having a camera in their face, but you need them to feel as comfortable as possible. Choose a neutral, pleasant location without a lot of distractions. Minimize the intimidation factor by limiting the use of technical terms, and how many people are visible to the subject. This may include coworkers, bosses, or crew members. (Tip: for clients or agencies, have monitors with headphones nearby—but out of sight.)
  • Know the subject matter. If you have to keep looking down at your notes, it reminds the interviewee that he or she is being interviewed. And it also disrupts the natural flow of the conversation. This is why we recommend having the interviewer do a pre-interview whenever possible. Knowing the material—and the interviewee—makes for a genuine, organic interview.

This kind of preparation radically changes the tone and experience of an interview, and, in turn, the content.

The Art

It’s not just about preparation—there’s an art to conducting an interview. The key is keeping the interviewee comfortable, and making him or her feel that he or she is in a safe environment. The interviewer, then, has the freedom to shape the conversation to fit the project’s marketing objectives.

  • Be conversational. If you do nothing else, do this. Nothing kills an interview faster than robotic, stilted language. The interviewer should give positive non-verbal cues and keep eye contact with the interviewee. This helps the lights, cameras, and crew fade into the background, and opens the door to a genuine, comfortable exchange. The best interviews always feel like a conversation.
  • Be encouraging. This is one of the simplest things you can do, and also one of the most important. Making your subject feel comfortable and confident means authentic, powerful content. But be genuine—an interviewee can tell when you’re lying, and it usually makes him or her even more self-conscious.
  • Begin with a seamless transition. Don’t make a big deal about starting the interview. Sometimes, we even roll on camera and sound before the official interview begins (shhh…don’t tell). It usually takes a while before the interviewee even realizes the interview has begun—and in the meantime, they’ve been speaking in a relaxed, conversational tone. (Bonus: keep rolling after the interview ‘ends,’ as interviewees often open up and elaborate on key topics from the interview.)
  • Shape the conversation. You know what you need to get from the interview, so guide the conversation in that direction. This begins with knowing the material inside and out (see: science), but it also requires the interviewer to be able to recognize moments of transition and connection, and know how to circle back to earlier questions. We always cover the material twice per interview—and let the interviewee know ahead of time, so he or she knows there’s a second round coming.
  • Give them the words. Sometimes, when a subject is having trouble articulating something, you can help by giving them ‘softball’ questions—easy ones they’ll be comfortable answering. Then re-ask the questions they struggled with, but this time using the words you want them to use in their response. More often than not, they’ll follow your lead.

These things take time to develop (if you want to do them well), and lots of practice. But when perfected, they make for efficient, comfortable, powerful interviews. The safer and more comfortable the interviewee feels, the more heart and depth the story will have.

In this blog post, we’ve outlined some of the things we’ve learned along the way—but it’s not the end of the conversation. We hope you’ll find them helpful, but we’re also curious: what works for you? How do you make your interviews successful? Let us know in the comments.

ABOUT

Anchor Films is a full service production agency based in the Midwest. Our process is relational, not transactional--we see ourselves as an extension of our partners’ teams, sharing their stories in a manner that best captures the essence of their brand. And we approach these projects the only way we know how: with an eye for the exceptional and a tireless dedication to quality. Learn more at http://anchor-films.com.

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