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#262 Interviewing Techniques for Storytellers – #5 Subject Point of View

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As I may have mentioned in the previous episode about the concerns of interviewer, once he and his crew are on site, the area where there is least control is the interview subject. In this episode I want to consider how the interview experience looks from the subject’s point view. This is vital perspective for everyone involved to understand since, as I just mentioned, you have a limited control and even that is based on how well you’ve developed your relationship with them.

I believe that the subject has certain rights on set that serve the basic needs of any individual Also it’s up to the crew and specifically the interviewer, and/or director to address those needs, if not out of common decency, then at least for the benefit of the production.

Since my goal is to present the perspective of the subject I am presenting this episode as  an advocate on their behalf (keeping the best interests of the production crew in mind of course), speaking to them directly as I detail the progression of events.

#261 Interviewing Techniques for Storytellers – #4 Transcript

Preparation and management of the interview

Immediately Prior to Interview

Bring a personal approach to developing a trust relationship with your interview subject. Take charge and lead them through the process of preparing and engaging in the interview.

Provide information to subject so they’ll understand what to expect. It’s empowering to them to know how they can respond to questions, use a question as beginning of answer. And give them leeway to provide a personal, idiosyncratic  answer in order to benefit from their authentic response. At the same time let them know that you may have to interrupt them if you feel they’re going off point or into to much detail, or too little.

You’ll need to emphasize that you’ll often respond to their comments through non-verbal cues such as a nod or a smile. You’ll want to limit your verbal interaction to avoid your voice colliding with theirs. You should even go so far as allowing the silence to extend between their answer and your response in order to elicit more information. Often people who are being interviewed are nervous and may talk so rapidly they may be difficult to understand, so when you do talk, do so in a measured fashion as a model for their response.

Trust relationship

Throughout the process of searching for, acquiring and recording the interview subject you are involved in a relationship that will grow based on the degree of trust you create. Information is key for this process to succeed. Discuss your needs, goals and requirements with subject and establish roles and parameters of responsibility. Remember that though you’re directing this process and so in charge of events, you may have control, but don’t use it like a hammer.

Before the questions start

You should have already visited the location, taken photographs and identified the best places for the equipment, lights, camera, interview set to be. You should l already know where the outlets are and whether or not they accommodate 3 prong plugs.

Before you engage with the subject make sure you’ve taken care of the details of setting up all the equipment. There are going to be setbacks and contingencies regardless of how prepared you were. The important thing is to never let them see you sweat.  Your problems are not their problems, so don’t complain or blame during setup, interview or breakdown. Always treat them and your associates professionally and don’t denigrate or diminish your status, You know more that you think and respect for you can erode if you don’t respect yourself.

Make sure you dress appropriately and that you show some respect for the occasion. At the leas,t business casual, maybe a suit is necessary, but not jeans – khakis instead. Essentially your attire should match surroundings and the person you’re interviewing. You don’t want to embarrass them by making them feel over or under dressed. In the case of a video interview, remember to provide them with details about the type of clothing they should wear. Specifically, avoid white, small patterns and stripes.

Warming up

Spend some time chatting with the talent. Get them comfortable talking to you in this unfamiliar environment. Provide them with an outline of proceedings, that will give them a sense of control. Dehydration is an easy problem to overlook, so keep extra bottles of water available. Coffee, tea – anything hot, or soda are bad choices. They can constrict the larynx.

As far as directions you can offer, tell them how you are going to act. To avoid the possibility  of talking over them (creating difficult or impossible to edit audio), tell them that you will often respond to their comments affirm non verbally, that you will often write or read notes during the interview, but that doesn’t mean you are not interested or paying attention. And let them know they should not be surprised that you will ask same question twice.

It’s very helpful that the subject understand your purpose during the interview, so take the time to present your  goals .You want not only the answers to the questions you ask, but you also need clearly spoken and concise answers. As a result, sometimes you will need to redirect the conversation, ask the to repeat something misspoken or misheard  return to a previous answer to clarify and idea. You also want them to know they have time to consider what they have to say, that it isn’t necessary to rush through a response. After all if they don’t have time to consider a question how can you be certain you have the best answer?

One last thing, let them know they can interrupt the interview for personal needs or off topic question. You don’t want them to be afraid of interrupting you. If they’re inhibited they may become distracted by their own internal dialog.

Before you Start

Once all the equipment is set up, tested and you can begin, take a deep breath and smile. Not like some goon, but remember that whatever you have on you mind, don’t make your concentration appear to the subject as a negative sign. They aren’t aware of all the things that go into setting up this interview, they only know their part, and of that very little. They perceive the interview as a conversation between you and them. So no matter what you’re thinking, don’t let that  show on your face. Always smile.

It’s a good idea to ask inconsequential questions during the warm-up leading to the interview. Manage their expectations by giving them an idea of topics that will be covered. Outline your goals for interview. Provide them with some context about this unfamiliar world of interviewing by explaining how you go about asking questions.

One thing I find invaluable is maintaining eye contact. It helps them stay focused on you and that keeps them focused on what they’re talking about.

Also during the warm-up process you want them to talk. You want them to get comfortable talking, just talking, so aske them where they’re from or places they’ve travelled to. Get them to talk enthusiastically about something. It will focus their energy and build it into something positive. This also gets them in mind of telling stories and stories are what you’re looking for in their answers.

Visual considerations and prompts

During this warm-up period you should also be evaluating your subject, their state of composure, body language, anything that will appear in the audio or video that could subtract the impact of their response. Are they slumped in the chair or fidgeting or swiveling? Are their clothes going to cause problems to the camera because they’re wearing strips or white?

There is an effect that appears on video caused by very fine lines patterns called moiré. It creates an effect where the pattern of the fabric they’re wearing is vibrating or otherwise moving. You’ll find examples of it online and I’ll include a link to a video show you what it looks like, but you’ll only recognize it after you’ve captured it on video. The point is, it’s extremely annoying and it’s a terrible distraction to the audience. It’s always best to stick to fabrics of solids with colors in the midtones. Unless jewelry is a prominent part of the subject’s identity encourage them before the interview to wear simple jewelry, otherwise the light reflected off them will be difficult to control. Glasses can also be a bother to light, but you will have to remember to include time in the setup to overcome any reflective problems.

For your part you need to be physically animated and engaged in their presence. More often than not people will mimic the way you act. Smile and they’ll smile. Also, project confidence and negate any critical comments they cast on themselves. Don’t rush through the questions and more than likely the answer will be more thoughtful.

I’ve spoken about the types of questions you can ask in a previous episode in this series and you should be aware of the different types and the circumstances where they are best used. Just remember that there are no throwaway questions. You might as well throw away time. General rules to keep in mind are be concise, remain focused on the purpose of the question as they answer, avoid vague or multiple questions, give the subject time to answer and don’t be afraid for silence to stretch between their response and your next question. Silence on your part is a goad for the subject to reach deeper for an answer.

Your ability to control the interview is based on preparation and foresight and since we’re all human things will happen you don’t expect, so accept that you can only do what you can do, learn from your mistakes and oversights and continue to move forward as gracefully as possible. Look ahead, not backward.

Turn off the phones, recognize the impact of ambient sounds such as fan or motor hums, or the unexpected noises of cars and voices from outside the interview space. Mic placement can make a difference as can the exact seating location within the location. Pay attention to everything that might interfere with a good recording and be prepared to stop wait for the interruption to pass and then begin a new take.

During the Interview

Shoot for an authentic response

Authenticity has a powerful appeal to the audience. The look on the face on an actor you can make you believe they just thought up the words they’re saying is what makes them believable. You can get that same look of authenticity from your subject if they can user personal stories to illustrate the answers to your questions. Once someone begins to recount a story they can be drawn to the event in their memory and in their minds they will be reliving it as they describe it. The connection between their raw emotions and their words will resonate powerfully and deliver a virtual reality experience with the audience

Sometimes you’ll discover that the subject is reticent to talk about a particular subject, what can you do? The entire interview is a process of building trust through rapport. Every question you ask is building or tearing down trust between the two of you. If you are aware certain subjects may be difficult to bring up you can approach them through a series of questions that introduce them slowly. Let them learn that you are interested in their thoughts, even if it means going off track. You don’t want them to feel as though they’re an answering machine, required to deliver a narrow set of details. Giving them the freedom to volunteer information, such as reactions or related thoughts to the question can reap responses with valuable and unexpected insights.

Whether they talk to little or too much, make any direction for information about the story, not about you or them. They may fear strong emotions and possible tears if they answer some personal questions, though you might be surprised by how forthright and open they are to discussing personal experiences. It’s not uncommon to discuss things with a stranger that you would never talk about with a friend or a relative. That depends on the level of trust you’ve established too. But often you can eliminate resistance by explaining how the story both of you are engaged in telling requires some details that they may feel are too personal. Remind them that they have stake in the success of the story you’re trying to capture. If you can move past that barrier be prepared for tears or anger and accept them without judgment. Everyone has a right to feel their feelings.

Ask you’re asking the questions you need to think about the video you’re shooting. Be conscious of the visuals you could capture for particular phrases, descriptions general cutaways. Pay attention how the subject looks, particularly in terms of how they will look on camera. Read their face and respond appropriately, the story is in their face

Some final considerations during the interview

Pay attention to everything: the set, the subject, the background sound, the equipment, light. Not to sound paranoid, but don’t trust the equipment, check it from time to time to make sure it’s working properly.

Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. Follow up questions are vital for getting a better understanding of names, places, events or jargon and slang. You may be in control, but you are not the expert, the subject is. They can easily refer to things that are so common in their own circles they don’t require more than a passing mention. You, for the sake of your audience and the story need that information to create greater depth and understanding. If you don’t feel stupid you won’t look stupid.

Without appearing anxious or distracted you need to keep track of the time. At no point do you want to make the subject feel rushed. Try as hard as possible to let them make their point, but temper that freedom with redirections that keep them from providing irrelevant information. And give them enough advance notice that the interview is drawing to a close so that anything they feel they can add will be included.

A not uncommon question is when the interview winds down is “is there anything we haven’t discussed that you would like to add?” How much time you allow for that is at your own discretion, but if your interview has a hard stop, don’t wait to late and then run over the deadline. That shows disrespect and can hinder future contact.
Time it

Immediately following the interview

Remember to incorporate the goodbyes and packing up time into the allotted interview time. It’s not good if the subject has an appointment to keep and you’re holding them up.

You want to end the experience on a grace note. Thank them for their cooperation and assure them that you got what you wanted. Ask if they are willing to take a follow-up call if you have any further questions and especially ask them if they can recommend someone who may have related information to offer. Their response will be a true measure of how well you conducted the interview.

If you don’t have deadline to finish you may find the person quite energized about the topics discussed and so the conversation will continue. Sometimes remarkable things are spoken during this time. The subject may feel that a veil of anxiety or stress has been lifted and they may feel almost euphoric. Using your best judgment and leaving it complete up to them, ask if it would be possible for you to continue recording this conversation. Circumstances like that sometimes yield the best and most compelling stories.

When all is done and you’re packing up you might find additional b-roll opportunities, or perhaps you discussed things to video tape related to the story during the interview. Without taking advantage take care of capturing these things right away. If there are any b-roll opportunities exterior to the interview location you should also capture those.

When you’re done take a moment to consider what you’ve got and possibly what you missed. Perhaps you will need to return to get additional b-roll or shoot a follow-up interview. That opportunity is available in the future so don’t try to shoehorn everything into one session. You’ll discover that people are remarkably generous with their time if you’re kind and generous yourself and you treat them with respect.  So much of your success depends on this generosity of spirit and curiosity that we all possess.

There are so many things that are a part of recording an interview and the actual interview itself is only one of them From you perspective as a filmmaker/videographer it make seem like the least of all. In truth the subject and they’re permission to be filmed is the center of the entire process and you jeopardize your success if you forget it.

You reap what you sew. What comes around goes around. Stone soup.

#261 Interviewing Techniques for Storytellers – #4 The Interviewer

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Make your interview experience flawless

After all your preparations, the day of the interview has arrived and you can heave a great sigh of relief, right? Not so fast!

Now more than ever you need to be vigilant in order to put the subject in the right frame of mind, and yourself for that matter. Double-check your checklist to make sure nothing has been forgotten, make sure everything is set up in a timely fashion, connect with your subject and most of all, pay attention to the answers.

There’s lots more that the interviewer has to consider during the interview and I’ve tried to cover most of the critical concerns. One thing to be aware of well in advance is how clothing appears when it’s recorded on video. A certain kind of fabric can create an optical effect called Moire´that can ruin the look of your footage by creating a distracting optical illusion. Check out the link for clear examples of this probem.

Now, get ready. It’s exhilarating, terrifying and exhausting. It’s showtime.

#260 Interviewing Techniques for Storytellers – #3 Asking The Right Questions

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All you can do is Ask

This episode is a continuation of a series about conducting an interview for print, audio or video storytelling which I began in January of 2013. There are many ways to gather information about your story topic. Interviews offers the most direct and compelling information through the first hand accounts of people who were directly related to the events you’re researching.

The questions  you ask during an interview are all that you have to add depth and authentic detail to your story. There are many kinds of questions you can ask and each one delivers particular results and are suited for specific circumstances. If you think of questions as tools, you can organize and keep them sharp so they’re ready for the time  when they will serve you best.

In this episode I want to present the types of questions you can use and review both good and bad interview question practices. I also want to emphasize that asking questions is an art as well as a craft and your personality and conversation style will have as much to do with your success, or lack of, in getting the answers you are looking for. If you’re interested in what I’ve already covered, check out the previous episodes on Preparing for the Interview and Story.

#259 December 2013 Slideshow

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Here is the last photo slideshow ()for 2013. For 12 months I’ve been creating photographs, almost every day with the intent of finding new things to see and capturing fresh images. It’s been difficult at times to keep going, but I believe, as a creative exercise, it was well worth the effort.


I decided right from the start to include, as part of this challenge, an audio critique of each image that covers the technical and creative thought that went into capturing each one. I hope you find it illuminating. I appreciate the challenge of putting my thoughts and intentions into words.

Speaking of words, during my introduction of this episode I spent a little time discussing the subject vs objective approach to describing photographs and the best words to use to convey meaning and intention. The word “like” was singled out for being totally meaningless and while I’ve been guilty of using it in the past, I promised I would do much better in avoiding it in this episode. Well, despite my rant,  I managed to use the word “like” quite liberally and unconsciously. How many times? I couldn’t bear to count, but too many for sure. It only demonstrates how insidious language can be,even when you know better.

In this show I mentioned the book that I based this exercise on, The Practice of Contemplative Photography, by Andy Karr. I also discovered a PDF book by photographer Patricia Turner: A Field Guide for the Contemplative Photographer. You can find it online for free at 365daysofinspiration.com.

The Field Guide is a quick read, due in part to the wealth of beautiful photographs and large type quotations, though skimming through the booklet is contrary to the spirit of contemplativeness. However or how often you read through it, you’ll find the essential elements of contemplative photography. If you enjoy what you see, you’ll find the Practice of Contemplative Photography to be the next logical choice for reading. It provides a solid foundation for exploring creativity through specific exercises and well written ideas. I think you’ll enjoy them both.

Patricia Turner – author of A Field Guide to the Contemplative Photographer
Aphotographicsage.blogspot.com

#258 November 2013 Slideshow

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Here is November’s set of photographs. Throughout the year it’s been my goal to make photographs each day that capture fresh, unusual, authentic images. I’m taking a cue from I book about creative visualize, The Practice of Contemplative Photography. I don’t claim that every photograph is a keeper, or even that they’re good, but each one I present through these monthly slideshows have a story to tell about looking and seeing. I hope that through these photographs  you might discover a different way of seeing yourself.