Preparing to conduct and film an interview

Post by Scott Zuniga, video production consultant for the Spanish in Texas Project

A great interview can be an excellent source of research, especially when the interview includes both audio and video. This article discusses the steps we took for planning, conducting and filming interviews for the Spanish in Texas video archives.

Step 1: Start with a Plan

This might seem obvious, but often, amateur interviewers fail to prepare for an interview beyond writing a list of questions that they think will draw interesting answers from their subject. It is your job as the director to think through all possible scenarios and to prepare to conduct your interview in a way that will help you achieve your objectives. Think about the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of each interview that you will be conducting and write them down on an interview plan template.

Step 2: Know Your Objectives

Chances are, you will be conducting an interview to fulfill a specific purpose, or “main objective.” You need to identify this objective and write it down on your interview plan and communicate it with your team so that everyone is clear about what to do when obstacles arise. Having a clear objective will help you make the right creative and technical decisions throughout the interview process. Think about your next interview or an interview you have done in the past and answer the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of my interview? (i.e. to get audio samples for research, produce authentic video for language learning, etc.).
  2. What audience is my interview intended for?
  3. Where will my interview be shown?
  4. What should you do to prepare for my interview?
  5. What should I do to prepare my subject for the interview?
  6. How should my interview sound? (Be as specific as possible)
  7. What should my interview look like? (Draw a storyboard of what you want your shot to look like – stick figures are ok).

The main objective for the Spanish in Texas video archive was to create a database of videos with samples of Spanish spoken in Texas for use by educators and linguists. Knowing this helped student interviewers work to get the best sound quality possible. This is just one example of how know what your main objective can help.

Step 3: Prepare for the Interview

Now that you’ve made a plan, contacted interviewees and have prepared your questions, it’s time to prepare to conduct the actual interview. It’s good to do practice with a friend or at least ask the questions out loud to yourself and try to anticipate the answers your interviewees will have. This will help you prepare for follow up question.

Good follow up questions are essentials to conducting a fluid interview that allows the interviewee to give thoughtful answers. Here are a few more tips that we used to prepare for our Spanish in Texas interviews, hopefully they will help you too:

Prepare yourself for the interview

  • Memorize questions to avoid looking at notes during interview. Reading your questions in order might not always be best depending on what your interviewee is saying.
  • Make copies of consent forms and questionnaires.

 Prepare your subject for the interview

  • Ask for their permission. It is good to have your subject fill out consent forms and questionnaires before hand so you don’t risk forgetting this important step.
  • Explain to your subject the purpose and intent of your project.
  • Tell them what to wear. No stripes, necklaces or noisy earrings. Don’t worry, you’re the director. The more confident and professional you come across, the more your interviewee will respect you and give you a good interview.
  • Ask interviewee to reserve a quiet room and tell them politely that the sound is very important.
  • Verify the appointment with interviewee the night before.

Prepare your equipment for the interview

  • Charge batteries
  • Do a test run
  • Review checklist of equipment (Batteries charged, Memory cards cleared, Microphones have spare batteries, headphones, tripod).

Following these steps will help you prepare for a successful interview. The more time you spend planning and anticipating for the interview, the more confidence you will have during the actual interview. Many unexpected things can happen during an interview, but if you are well prepared, you will be able to avoid mistakes, make the right creative choices and help you capture the perfect interview.

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