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#264 Interviewing Techniques for Storytellers – #7 Transcription

Post Shoot – Getting away clean

  • The time between tear down and edit

You’re listening to the Video StudentGuy Show and I’m the guy, Paul Lyzun

In the previous episode I talked about the interview from the subject’s point of view. Now we’re at the point where the shoot is over. There’s a lot happening at once during this time. The subject is being thanked, maybe the interviewer is double checking his notes and talking to the DP or Production Manager, and everyone else is packing up.

Take the pulse of your crew

While you need to move quickly you also need to do it in an orderly and consistent fashion. If you’re in charge of production you need to pay attention to what everyone is doing. You’re not there to tell people what they’re doing wrong, you’ll just be looking at what is happening and considering if people are using good judgement, or not. You also need to mine your crew for their perspectives on how well or poorly the shoot went.

Now is the time to evaluate your success, not solely on the quality of the footage captured but how effectively people and processes worked. Everyone should care about how well they can do their job and they all have opinions about how well equipment worked, whether there were any difficulties or useful items that were missing. They can even offer a unique perspective on how well their job fit in the overall production process.

Check with everyone in your crew and make note of any problems that occurred with the equipment during setup, shooting or tear down. Any equipment failure should be noted so it can be corrected when you get back to your studio.


Is equipment being put away in boxes/bags/containers in a consistent way so that everything is accounted for? If someone were to look at it they would see it’s all there in a single glance?

Ideally there should be a checklist in every equipment case that has the day’s date and actual check-boxes. I know I’m sounding very OCD, but on tear down everyone is moving very fast, it’s easy to get distracted by other people and you can overlook some small piece of equipment. Checklists are also good for creating consistency in names used for equipment, particularly if some of your crew is new and unfamiliar with the names of specific tools that you use. Finally, a completed checklist is a quick and effective review tool for a final check before closing the lid on a case.

One last thing about putting equipment away; If you have the right kind of containers, the kind designed for the equipment they’re holding, then you should be able to put the equipment in them in a consistent fashion. Say we’re talking about lights. You have stands, lamps, power cables, scrims, gels. Maybe the lamps are different sizes, like one is 350 watts, another is 450 watts. All these pieces of equipment should be loaded in the cases so that when you open them up what you need first is on top or closest to you.

For instance, the light stands are closest, then the power cables, then the lamps are further to the back. Scrims and Gels aren’t scattered on the bottom, but are in specific pockets or at least in their own boxes or bags, again in a specific location in the case so that you always know where you look to find them or anything else.

Really, its not OCD, there can be a long period of time between shoots and you don’t want to discover after 3 months that you left an important part of your equipment behind somewhere.

Media Management

Now I want to talk about media management. In a nutshell, this is about keeping track of which tapes or cards are being used for recording and which ones are full and need to captured to a drive.

Although I’m talking about this now, now that the shoot is over, this task needs to be managed during the shoot as well. Someone needs to own this job, whether they carry the title of media manager or not. I think it needs to be some one because only one person can see the entire picture. It’s no good to distribute this task across multiple people because things can get confused quickly.


Before you even leave your home base the Media Manager has to determine, through conversations with the interviewer and the Director of Photography, how many tapes or cards will be needed and then pad that a little to compensate for underestimated guesses and inevitable media failures. Erring on the side of caution is never a mistake and it’s important to remember that the price of recording media is cheap, cheap, cheap in comparison to running out of recording media before you’re done.

The media should be tested before you leave your base. Here I’m being OCD again, but if this is an important shoot you should record something on each card, play it back, capture it to a drive, test it again in the editing software and then reformat it and confirm that it is readable in the camera. Mark each card according to the camera where it will be used. Keep it simple, like camera 1, camera 2, etc. Include the date and time and location on the label if space allows.


If there are enough people in your crew, someone should record the time code for each camera with a note of the topic being discussed, or perhaps other major points. This action has a lot of applications but it’s really going to be helpful when it comes time to edit. Another use for recording time code as you shoot would be to check your footage for errors when it comes time to capture it to a drive.

If there’s any break at all in the shooting, even if you haven’t copied the media from the card to the computer you can still put the card in the computer and review the footage. You’re looking for things like the frame jerking unexpectedly because it hadn’t been locked down. Maybe there’s an object you didn’t see in the background, or some movement that’s distracting. You can also double check the sound, make sure it was recorded cleanly. Mostly you’re making sure that you have usable footage.

The great thing about capturing the time code as you shoot is that it will help you find specific things quickly instead of blindly scrubbing through the video on the computer. I mean, if we’re talking about a talking head, nothing really changes in the frame. Annotated time code can make it much easier to determine whether you’re looking at footage where the subject is talking about their childhood as opposed to their first job.

Juggling Cards

Where media management really gets tricky is when you’ve filled up the card and you need to replace it with an empty one. There a few things going on simultaneously that need to be watched so you don’t wipe the wrong card.

First, there’s the recorded card in the camera. Once it’s full, shooting needs to stop. I know, there are some video cameras that have more than one slot so that when you fill one card, it automatically switches over to the next one. This gives you the advantage of choosing when to stop the shooting. It’s tough if the subject is talking a blue streak about something important and in the middle you yell cut. You’re not going to get that energy back. At the same time you can’t swap out one card while the other is recording – that process is physical, it will move the camera. It may not seem so at the time, but you’ll see when you review the footage, so be careful so that as you approach capacity that you make the card transfer process as smooth as possible.

Once the card is ejected you have two options, one, store the card until, at a later time, you can capture it to a drive, or two, capture it to the drive then and there. I prefer the latter, but if you’re working alone, that may not be possible. My suggestion is, that if you need to put off media capture you should number the cards so you can keep track of them in the order they were used – number them like 2 of 5 and so on, so that before you pack up, you can quickly and reliably check that you have all the cards that hold data.

On the other hand, if you have the luxury of transferring your media to a computer during the shoot, then by all means do it. But you need to be organized, dare I say meticulous, as you go about downloading the media from your cards to a drive, and then wiping it on return to the camera.

Copying media from a card to a computer will take time, it varies according to the speed of your computer, so it is advisable to have a blank card available, immediately, to replace the one you pull out. The card going into the camera should be marked that it’s been downloaded and it should immediately be formatted. Generally this is accomplished quickly in the camera. I don’t recommend doing this in the computer. The computer will format it for reading on a computer, but not necessarily for your camera. The camera on the other hand formats the card so it can both record footage and be readable by computers.

Marking the card so it’s quickly identifiable by all as, either to be formatted or to be downloaded, is absolutely critical There is no retrieving of footage if you accidentally wipe a card. Use a piece of colored tape to indicate whether a card is ready to be recorded on or downloaded.

Test, test, test

Once the card is in the computer, I like to test the footage in the editing software even before I download it, then check it again, after capture, just to make sure it reads properly. Some cards allow you to copy the footage to the computer, others only allow you to capture through software, either your editing software or the camera manufacturer’s own proprietary software.

Be careful in copying files from the card directly to a folder on your computer. Some cameras create files in the card that help your editing software read and download the footage. These are non-video files which are easy to overlook. If they’re not available at the time you capture, even though everything is fine with the footage, the footage won’t play on your computer, nor will it be captured. So, either capture the footage directly from the card through the appropriate software or copy the entire card to your computer. I like to do both, first copy the entire card then capture, Do a little research in the camera manual and it should tell you. What am I saying, don’t count on the manual, check online and see what other people’s experiences are when capturing from your camera and learn the best way to do it from them.

Think Archival

I learned how to shoot when digital tapes were the standard recording medium and the process was to record to the tape, capture from tape to computer and then store the tape for archival purposes. With cards, there is no reliable archival process now, but I take the effort to copy the card whole and keep it on a separate drive. Despite the fact that hard drives aren’t archival, at least I have the footage in the original format. It gives me peace of mind and that’s what media management is all about.

So you’ve captured the footage, confirmed it reads properly in the editing software and now you format it right? Yes, but remember, not in the computer, in the camera. Put a piece of colored tape on the card that indicates that it is ready to be formatted and hand it over to the camera person.

If your role is dedicated to the media management process there is one more thing to do. Using the time code sheet that is being recorded, double check it and add notes to it by scrubbing through the media in the editing software. You’re going to need to do this at some point when you return to your base, so why not do it while the experience is still fresh and you have time. Along with nailing the time code to specific sections, you can enhance the comments and add notes about how useable the footage is. You could also use the shot list or storyboard to indicate which segments would cut well together. You’ll save the assistant editor a lot of time by pointing out where the good and bad footage is. Of course they’re going to review the footage in detail, but you’re still going to speed up the process by refining what is essentially a table of contents.


Once the shoot is done and everyone is packing up, or sooner if you have time, you should transfer your captured footage from the external drive to another drive. Is that really necessary you ask, how redundant do I need to be? Well, as media manager its your job that all the footage is safe and usable, I don’t think that traveling back to your base with duplicate drives in two separate vehicles is too much to ask.

Once you’re back at the home base you should make sure everyone who needs access to the media can view it as soon as possible, either through the server, or a an external drive.

For archival purposes, follow the rule of 3&3, that is, make 3 copies of all your footage, each one on a different media. That could be Mini DV or Digital Audio Tape, external drives, DVDs or the cloud. If you’re fortunate, you may have your own server that you can FTP to.

At least one backup should be kept on location locked away and the others should be kept safe in other locations, far away.

The last thing to make sure of is that all the cards are accounted for and in their protective cases before you leave the location.

Any cards with media that haven’t been downloaded should be kept in a separate location during transit and immediately downloaded and reformatted when you’ve returned to base.

Alternative Backup Options

I’ve been talking exclusively about digital media cards throughout and I just want to add that there are other alternatives. Of course you can use the cards once and then store them as archival media. It gives you the peace of mind of knowing you can go back to the source media at any time. You can also capture directly to an external drive that can be mounted directly to your camera. Pricey, but fast and compact.

I have to say I’m ambivalent about this process. On the one hand you don’t have the risk of losing your data through lost or accidental formatting of a card. But on the other, I don’t like the idea that all, all my media is on one device. Personally I would say buy larger cards if you want to record your footage in fewer pieces.

Finally, some cameras allow you to capture your footage in real time to an external computer via SDI. That’s also a pricy setup, but it simplifies the production workflow and in the end the shorter the workflow, the fewer errors are possible. And after all, that’s the goal, create a process that eliminates as many possible errors through efficiency and simplicity.


What a relief, we’re done with the shoot and the media has been captured. What now? Are we ready to edit? No, the Assistant Editor needs to organize the footage before editing can begin. While that’s getting started there’s something else that can be done that will really help accelerate the editing process: transcription.

What is a transcript? A transcript is the verbatim written copy of an interview, or any event where words are spoken. Ideally it is a literal copy, word for word along with notes in parentheses indicating sighs, burps, uhms and ahhs and other audible sounds from sirens outside the window to lights crashing down.

This document needs to have margins for annotations such as the time code and notes indicating specific content. These notes can be descriptions of actions in the frame or commentary of the usefulness of a particular segment such as connections to other parts of the footage that would fit well together. Simple comments would include good or bad with a short explanation.

Annotations that help you find things

There should be a time code at every location of a unique comment or change of topic. Furthermore, if there are multiple people being interviewed the time code should represent when each one begins speaking. Time codes don’t designate a range of time, only the beginning of a new speaker, new topic or significant event. Each occurrence of time code identifies an ending of one segment, thought or idea and the beginning of the next. Practically speaking you’ll get direction from the editor about what deserves to be noted with it’s appropriate time code.

If you’re doing the editing yourself, as well as the transcription, even if it’s just one individual you should be generous with your time code designations. The point here is to be able to quickly find every discreet piece of information. Otherwise, if the speaker in on a single topic for a lengthy piece of time I prefer to space out time code every 10 minutes at the most, but you can choose what works best for you on your own.

Think about the edit

The important thing to recognize about time code is that it is going to save you a boatload of time when organizing your footage and cutting. A good transcript is going to make it possible to find any word as quickly as a text search. Much faster than scrubbing through hours of interview footage, which visually contains little or no clue as to what is being said.

With accurate time code you’ll be able to find exactly the piece of video you are looking for, even if a particular comment or reference was recorded more than once.

Transcripts are also helpful in collaborative workflows. Certainly the Producer or Director (and I’m using the terms loosely here, referring to role, not the actual job title) would want a copy to become familiar with the material and provide suggestions on appropriate uses of specific clips.

Even an ad hoc conversation about a particular portion of the video between the editor and someone else might produce suggestions for alternate footage and here again the transcript can save a lot of time by identifying if it exists, where it’s located and confirm that it’s good footage, without wasting much time at all.

Budget your time

The last thing that I would say about transcribing your raw footage is that it is a time consuming, painstaking process which I know from personal experience grates on you because you can think of a zillion other things that you would rather be doing that would actually be getting things done. If you’re working alone on the edit it can really eat into your time and sap a lot of your energy and enthusiasm.

As an editor I already know I’m going to be really, really familiar with the footage as I go about organizing and cutting it and I might feel I can take a shortcut and do without it Some times circumstances require that I make do without a transcript. Still, be cautious about dispensing with this tool out of hand, there’s a tremendous amount of value here and it does save a lot of time during the edit, in particular it spares the need to go on a wild goose chase for some phantom piece of footage and in the process breaking your concentration and editing flow.

Let me suggest that you make some kind of accommodation at the least, a list of highlights of the footage with timecode. And as you use it, continue to annotate it. If nothing else it will help you get to know the material faster and certainly that’s vital once you begin editing.

Search tags

Here are some examples, in no particular order, of relevant, searchable tags or content type you can use to identify your material:

  • scene
  • time
  • location
  • place in the story
  • talent name
  • topic,
  • quality of shot
  • usefulness of shot
  • type of shot
  • b-roll
  • talking head

What’s Next?

And that’s enough for today. I’ve talked about media management, getting your equipment packed up efficiently and preparing for the edit by transcribing the footage. That puts us in the perfect position for editing, which I’ll talk about in the next two episodes. In the first I’ll explain the role of the assistant editor and producing the rough edit. That will include an overview of the basic tools and workflow within the video editing software.

In the second part on editing I’ll go into greater depth by reviewing more sophisticated ways to edit, working with effects and cleaning up the audio.

Thanks for taking the time to listen. If you have any comments on this episode please add them to the post. Any questions about the rest of the podcast you should send to my email, videostudentguy at gmail dot com.

I’ll talk to you later,


#262 Interviewing Techniques for Storytellers – #5 The Subject, Transcript

Subject Perspective on the Interview


In this episode I want to talk about the interview, running up to, during and the aftermath of the interview from the subject’s point of view. I’m addressing the subject directly in this one.

But, if you’re the interviewer, don’t pass this up out of hand. Listen a little, there’s always something to learn from someone else’s perspective and doubly so when it’s that of the subject that you’re interviewing.

After the phone call and before the interview:

What is the goal of the subject who is being interviewed?

In a nutshell, telling engaging and informative stories about the topic through personal experience and / or reliable background information. It’s a complicated role if you think about it. The subject has to provide details about the topic that build a multi-layered picture for the audience. He needs to be clear and concise in order to hold their attention while also being approachable and appealing in such a way that the audience is comfortable watching and listening them for an extended period of time.

You were contacted because you have a story to tell and you’re are eager to tell it.

Using stories, whether they’re short or long is a good way of answering questions. Stories are the natural way we connect with people, the glue that transforms a stranger into a friend. It’s not something you have to force. It shouldn’t be forced. The great thing about telling stories is that it distances you from the unnatural experience of the interview, all the people and lights and equipment and it helps you focus on the subject that you’re discussing with the interviewer. We’ve all got dozens stories about particular events or people that we’ve told many times over the years until it’s a perfect package that has a great ending.

The alternative to stories is to answer questions with yes or no or brief sentences that leave the audience hanging in dead air.

Once interview arrangements have been made, you should be going over stories you’ve told, or could tell, which would create the best picture. And remember that each story isn’t an island. Every story you tell is just one Lego piece in a box. Once they’re all out of the box and arranged on the table they can be put together in the audience’s mind to create a much larger, more detailed picture than any one story could by itself.

And you don’t need worry about what order they should appear in. The interviewer will create order through the questions that are asked and again, afterward, when it is being edited.

Team arrives and sets up

When the day of the interview arrives you may find yourself in an unfamiliar place. Perhaps your home or local hangout isn’t an option because they can’t accommodate all the people and equipment necessary to record the interview. Or even if you are on your own turf, you’ll still be distracted by all the people buzzing around, furniture being moved hot lights and so on.

It can be very distracting and unsettling. A good way you can regain focus is by getting some information from the interviewer about how the interview will proceed. You have a right to some control over the situation and if you think about it carefully you’ll be doing yourself and the interviewer a favor by settling your mind with information about the next few hours.

Of course lets take a moment to consider what the interviewer is doing once he arrives. Lets say he’s in charge and answering questions from everyone in his crew, so, of course, it may be difficult to find him or get his attention and you wouldn’t want to get in his way while he sets things up. There’s a lot going on and he’s aware that the longer it takes to begin talking with you, the more weary you become.

What I want to encourage you to keep in the front of your mind are any questions that you need answered. Remember, everyone is busy and you don’t want to waste time with irrelevant conversation while there’s work to be done. What I’m talking about are important questions about your role in this interview. Say, “hey, would you have a few minutes before you start setting up, I have a couple questions for you”?  Maybe you could refer to what you want to talk about.  There’s always something you need to know and getting a few answers can take just a few minutes. In general terms:

  • I think anyone would want to know how things are going to proceed, what is the order in which things will happen, such as:
  • Will you be able to take a break at some point if you need to
  • Can you have some water or something else to drink
  • Really, anything that makes you uncomfortable should be addressed before the interview begins
    • you don’t want anything weighing on your mind while you’re being asked questions.

Just remember you don’t want to unnecessarily distract or waste the time of the interviewer. It isn’t a time to get chummy, you can do that when everything is set up and you are preparing to begin.

What is going on around you?

As you wait for everything to be set up, it’s evident that the team is running through a number of mental checklists. Actually, if the interviewer is interviewing for a paper or recoding audio, there may be little to nothing to prepare short of finding a comfortable, quiet place to sit.

But for a video interview there are lots of preparations. Most equipment will be electric and either need to be plugged into outlets or large batteries. People will be running wires for lights, microphones and the camera, then covering them so no one trips over them. The lights have to set up so you look the best on camera and that will include some testing. There will be a microphone set up to record you, either overhead, attached to your lapel or perhaps sitting on a table in front of you. It also has to be tested so that it’s recorded at the right volume. You will most likely be asked to repeat some nonsense information like recite the alphabet, or answer a simple question in order to complete the sound check.

Lighting is very precise and the video crew has to consider all the shadows that appear in the camera frame including your face and perhaps the face of the interviewer. if there is something distracting behind you they may need to move it, or the chair or the camera. And the camera-person will be deciding the location of the camera and how close you appear in the frame. They may ask you to wait in location you’re going to be interviewed for a while, so make sure you’re comfortable and you’ve got some water.

Just a note about water, it’s very important, particularly if the interview goes on for some time, like hours. And unless you’ve got a drop-dead time to stop you would be amazed how quickly an hour or more can pass. So it’s very important to keep yourself hydrated so you don’t wilt under the hot lights and the lengthy conversation.

What you drink is very important. You may wish to drink a soda or coffee, but that isn’t the best choice. These drinks contain elements that constrict the larynx and can prevent you from speaking clearly. Water is the best choice under the circumstances and you will be doing yourself a favor, as well as the interviewer if you keep that by your side.

Once the set up is complete the interviewer will sit down and begin talking with you. He isn’t going to start the interview right away, he will probably take the time to ask you how you’re doing and hopefully what if any questions or concerns you have that haven’t already been addressed. This isn’t just a perfunctory, polite offer; it’s a necessary part of the interview, a way preparing your mind for the next step. It’s like a swimmer who, standing on a diving board, takes a deep breath as he prepares to jump, a time to clear your mind and focus.

This is the time you should speak up with any concerns before proceeding with interview questions. He may also engage you with unrelated chit chat which is also meant to help you focus and get your comfortable with the intimate process of question and answer. His goal is to make you forget everything else, the lights, the people, camera, the room, and just think about his questions and your answers.

Something else the interviewer should address at this time is his expectation for the interview. He should have had this conversation once already, through the introductory phone conversation or shortly after. At this point he should just be reviewing his goals. He’ll talk about the kinds of questions he will ask, his particularly interests, perhaps how you should respond to a question, such as including part of the question in your answer. If he is filming he will want you to keep focused on him and not the camera. He’ll let you know that whatever actions, short of getting out of your seat, will be captured by the camera and that you don’t need to be self conscious. You also don’t need to be concerned about mispronouncing or backtracking because you misspoke. In the case of stopping and then backtracking you should try to start over at the beginning at sentence. There’s no need to apologize, really, just start over.

Don’t feel embarrassed by making mistakes or misunderstanding the question. The camera records everything, certainly but the finished, edited interview will only be a fraction the entire recording and the interviewer only has the story’s best interest in mind which includes not making you look foolish. And as far as editing is concerned, it’s much easier to cut pieces of footage or recorded audio if there are space between the thoughts you speak.

Of course, this is an unfamiliar and unnatural experience for you and it’s only to be expected that you would be a little nervous. You may talk too quickly, change direction unexpectedly or run your sentences together and slur your words. Certainly you want to avoid that and a good way to check that behavior is to be conscious of the speed in which the interviewer is talking. He’ll set the pace.

This is just one example of how an interview can be set up. It really depends on the interviewer and that can vary according to circumstances at the location and even how he feels at the moment.  For myself, if I’m working alone, I may feel confident enough that I will keep up a running conversation with the interview subject. That way I can keep them occupied and hopefully focused on the matter at hand. It also allows me to take care of setup and answer any questions at the same time, hopefully saving time.

What I hope you take away from all of this is that you have a part to play and your responsibility includes getting enough information so you feel comfortable. I wouldn’t fault you for a question you honestly felt needed answering on the grounds that if you are not confident or in any way ill at ease, that’s going to show up on the camera or the audio recording as appearing tentative and distracted. It also can unconsciously weaken your ability to concentrate as you work to recall events. Being the interview subject is an important job.


Before we begin the interview, lets consider what makes a good interview subject?
·      you should be conscious of what you want out of the exercise. Why did you agree to this interview? Why were you asked to participate? Keeping these things in mind will help you understand the purpose of any question the interviewer is asking and the kind of question they’re expecting. An example is, if you’re asked to talk a little bit about yourself

  • talk naturally, if you think your voice is too loud or too low don’t worry about it, the audio equipment will be able capture it properly
  • the audio technician is always listening to all the audio being recorded and any variation in the volume of your voice will be detected and compensated for
  • you may think you’re right on topic and be surprised that you are being interrupted with a question that is about something else
    • accept this, the interviewer is in charge of the interview and has the right to follow his own curiosity
    • Be passionate, act as though you believe in what you’re saying
    • Be affirming, don’t negate or denigrate things or people
    • Listen to the intent of the questions and consider whether your answer satisfies it
    • Remember that everyone is different, be yourself and make no apologies

During the Interview

It goes quickly

Eventually the time comes to begin the questions and answers. Time will fly during this process and if you’ve thought about what I’ve been talking about, it should go smoothly. There are just a few things I would add that you might not expect.

The interviewer is fully aware that he is being recorded but the real star of this event is you and what you have to say. He wants you to shine and he wants the audience to focus on you. So, for that reason, during the Q&A he is going to limit his presence in a variety of ways.

His questions will be, or should be short and concise. If there is any ambiguity that should be a clear sign that he leaves it up to you to decide the content. You can of course ask for clarification, but as the interview proceeds you’ll most likely develop an understanding of the manner in which the interviewer operates.

If he is silent following your answer it’s a cue to proceed along the same thought, elaborate, fill in the details or otherwise provide some context for what you just said, through a story perhaps. Stories are gold to interviewers. You may see him nod and smile a lot. It’s his way of agreeing or affirming what you’re saying so that you’ll feel confident in continuing on the same line of thought.

Certainly he’s not going to ignore you if you ask for clarification in response to his question, he may be quite expansive and eloquent in his answer. Just be aware that he will minimize his verbal responses throughout your conversation in order to get a clearer or more editable recording of your answers. He is acutely aware that any response that runs over something you say is likely unusable in the final edit. You’re still engaged in a conversation, but it’s a very formalized one.

Once again, if you feel a need to break during the conversation, don’t hesitate to ask. If you don’t want something you said to be used, say so. If you feel embarrassed by an emotional reaction such as tears or anger and you want that omitted, again, let him know. I would just like to add in regard to this last point that genuine reactions to ideas or questions have a powerful impact on the viewer and serves to create a bond of empathy with you and legitimize your point. It may feel awkward and embarrassing to be caught crying on camera, but I would encourage you not to dismiss it out of hand. The interviewer could just as easily paraphrase your answers with his voice as a form of narration, but that usually results in a bland uninteresting presentation. Your words, your voice, your presentation, including your emotions are the wings that make your story fly.

After the interview

After all, tomorrow is another day

At last, the interview comes to an end and it’s time to pick up the pieces and leave. But there should be time for the interviewer to thank you and give you an idea of how he felt it went. For all the time you invested in this exercise, you deserve to know.

In return he may encourage you to keep in touch. He might be interested in a follow up conversation as he continues to explore the story. He may also ask you if you could recommend someone who has experiences or information that could add dimension to this story.

You should also ask him what happens next. Even though your lives touched briefly you have both invested valuable time in this interview and it’s worthwhile knowing that even though you’re finished for the day there may be opportunities for you to reconnect as this story continues to develop.

#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.

#260 Interviewing for Storytelling #3 Writing Questions – Transcript


Preparing Questions for an Interview

What does asking a question involve?

  • Courage
  • It takes courage to ask questions. And it takes even more courage to question an answer.

I thought this episode would be long on technical details about types of questions and what responses they elicit. How to control the interview through questions and so.

Well it will, but I’m not going into a lot of depth. The important thing to remember about asking questions is listening and asking more questions

As in all crafts, and asking questions is a craft; you need to know the best practices and potential pitfalls. But we’re dealing with people here, so your people skills and ability to think on your feet will serve you just as well as the accumulated wisdom of the ages.

I recommend you integrate whatever questioning skills you come across, whenever you come across them. Make no mistake, you’re not going to take the gold from one seminar, class or interview and milk that for the rest of your life. Be open to the wisdom of your peers and people in general. But also recognize, given the intangibility of personal interaction, that you need to recognize your own skills and ways of thinking and build on those, rather than rigidly adhering to a script you’ve been using for years.

Every interview is different so always pay close attention to what is going on while you’re asking questions.

You’ve got to have passion when you ask questions.

What do I mean by passion?

  • You have to care about the answer
  • you have to listen
    • and you have to hear what the answer doesn’t say
    • then follow up with another question
    • You’re looking for understanding
      • every question you ask has to have purpose.
      • but you can’t assume you know what those relevant points are
        • you need to be open to new information and how it affects what you already know
  • so, be prepared to change direction

We all know how to tell stories to some degree and we even may think that we got our own stories down flat. But when you’re interviewing multiple individuals about a particular story no one person has a complete grip on the details.

So approach an interview as a mining operation. You don’t go digging randomly in the hopes that you’ll find gold before you bring the ceiling down. You should be aware of the manner in which you ask the question, the words you use and the order you ask those questions. Also, be aware of the subject’s own bias in regard to their perception of the details of the events.

 Ask yourself:

  • What do you want to know?
  • Who do you think you are, coming in here and asking all these questions?
  • I’m the guy who talked to you on the phone, set up this interview which you agreed to
    • You already have a spoken contract that implies obligations between you and your subject

In the previous episode I talked about Story, what it is and how you develop it. If you’re going to ask someone questions, you need to know the story you’re interested in. You don’t want to fish for the story as you ask questions

  • and you don’t want to loose track of your story/question goals just to satisfy your curiosity
  • though, you should also be prepared to take chances in following unexpected ideas that you think may lead to potentially fruitful information.
    • and be prepared to end that train of questioning quickly if it turns out to be fruitless

Just remember to be organized and make sure your questions follow an identifiable progression

  • you don’t want to confuse the subject by asking questions that are flying all over the place
  • instead, asking questions that are relevant to the subject at hand demonstrates your professionalism and reinforces your role as the one in charge of the interview
  • you are the one who is seeking information and should be in control of the interview, so you need to demonstrate your authority
    • Organize you questions from the general to the specific
    • Know the details of the topic so you can identify the veracity of your subject

You are ultimately responsible for the answers you get

Here’s a comparison, which is a little brutal perhaps, but appropriate all the same

  • Questions are a form of swordplay
    • how much blood you draw is secondary, perhaps irrelevant
      • compared to whether you control the play

Questions as tools

What are questions, really? They are tools, mining tools you use for digging for information. There are many of these tools you can use during an interview and you should be using the appropriate ones for the type of information you’re extracting. In a mining operation you would use a variety of tools, such as:

  • pumps
  • winch equipment for going deep
  • dynamite
  • pneumatic hammer
  • pick ax
  • wedges
  • hammers
  • boring machine
  • cleaner
  • minor’s light
  • hard hat
  • carts on rails for extracted ore

As in mining, there are a variety of questions you can use that will help you be more efficient is gathering information. There are not good or bad questions, each type, if used properly will deliver the answer you need.

Types of Questions

Conversational / combative

It may put the person on the defensive and force them to justify themselves. It can also damage the interview relationship if they become resentful and sullen.


Questions that imply responsibility or guilt that can make the subject feel as though they’re being attacked. They generally result in “damned if you do or don’t answers”

Open ended

The subject is allowed room to reflect on the answer leaving them free to volunteer information. It can also lead the conversation off topic.

Closed Queries

Very simple data specific questions that can be answered with a yes or no. They may not provide much detail or context, but they can allow you to confirm facts. No reflection or explanations are required.

Double barreled

General two or more questions in one,  requiring an either or choice in response. This can be confusing to the subject and may suggest that you don’t know what you want to know.

Meandering / concise

There are times when you have to couch a question using a specific circumstance, but in explaining you can loose the train of the conversation. Remember to that the subject should be doing most of the talking. Be concise when you are providing some context with a question and then use shorter questions during their answer if you need to clarify or redirect their answer.


Asking a question for further clarification about a vague answer or a definition of a technical term. Often it is a question that occurs when new or unexpected information is provided in response to a question


Silence makes people feel uncomfortable and there’s a reflexive response to fill the void. You can use this as a non-verbal means to generate further information following an unsatisfying answer. Also it may compel the subject to elaborate if they are reticent to continue.

Hard questions

Questions that are difficult to ask, whether embarrassing or possibly alienating. Just remember that you explained the topics to be covered when they agreed to be interviewed.

If a subject will not answer a question, and it is important that they do, you can do a couple things:

  • immediately ask why they won’t
  • have a conversation where you can explain why it’s important, what your intent is and how important it is to the story you’re discussing
  • don’t be combative, but do be persistent
  • come back to it later,it may be a matter of trust that builds during the interview

Don’t be afraid to ask questions that my produce a negative response, such as anger, tears, indignation etc. If the story requires it you have an obligation to ask it. just tread lightly, it’s not an interrogation


Do your homework. If you don’t know what your story is about then you aren’t ready to start talking to people. You don’t want to be fishing for the story during a preliminary conversation or the interview. But in the phone interview you can be surprised, so while you don’t want to waste your or your subject’s time, give them the opportunity to volunteer information

Know the topic and know the subject’s perspective on the topic. The questions you ask should be tailored to the perspective and experiences of your subject, such as, whether they’re supportive or negative.

Ease in with broad questions to establish common ground. Ask questions that will develop a personal context for the topic

If you are trying to present a story, then you need to get answers to questions that present a personal, emotional point of view. If you find the person is reticent to talk, find out what their interests are in relationship to the topic and use that as leverage to pursue further information.

How do you engage a subject who is reticent to speak

Determine whether this could be a problem in the preliminary phone interview. Identify their verbal competence of subject during phone call

  • to create rapport
  • anything to get them on your side
  • ask short questions and see how expensive they
  • are they motivated to discuss this topic with you?

#253 June 2013 Slideshow Transcript

You listening to the Video StudentGuy show and I’m the guy, Paul Lyzun

Time again for a review of photographs I’ve shot during the past month of June. My goal is to shoot photographs every day and pick the best one, or best few and talk about them from a couple different angles. That would be story, technical settings on the camera, identifying ideal conditions for shooting a particular subject, but overall, creating entertaining, engaging photographs.

Let me be up front, I’m learning here, I’m looking for something in the photographs I take and want to take, but I don’t quite know what that is. I’ll know it when I see it I guess. I also want to sharpen my visual sense by repeatedly bringing what I understand about composition to bear on everything I see.

The goal is to be able to have all my critical visual wits about me whenever the opportunity arises for making a great, or at least compelling photograph. So let’s start with the first day of June.

01 A close up of a peony. I love the vibrance of the color and the texture of the stamen, the yellow part, against the petals. This time of year new flowers are coming up in our gardens every few hours.

02 On the 2nd I was looking out my backyard at the end of the day and saw these huge clouds ponderously moving in the west. I found that the best images included the tops of the trees as a frame. And their dark silhouettes were a nice contrast against the subtle shading of the clouds. This time of day, near sunset, if the clouds cooperate there are enormous possibilities for the photographer. For me, the point interest is the soft shadows of the clouds that provide a tangible sense of volume, contrasted by the silhouette of the trees and the subtler graduations of the background.

03 On the 3rd I was wandering through the art building on campus. Many of the rooms had windows in the ceilings facing north, letting in even light and creating soft shadows. The faucet on the sink was interesting to me because of the sharp reflection I captured using a shallow depth of field. I also like the fact that the dynamic range is limited to the middle. The same is true about the other two images.

These plastic covered panels were constructed for, I don’t know what reason, but I took it as a challenge to find interesting things to look at. Again the subtle lighting was what interested me. If you look closely you’ll see there are diagonal ripples on the stretched plastic that interact with the horizontal and vertical lines of the wooden frames. Of the three I prefer the first one of the sink. I like it because it is a simpler, uncomplicated image on the surface and yet the soft focus and shadows give it a feeling of mystery.

04 The texture on the windows in the image from the fourth help give this image a graphic feeling, like it is composed of different scenes that were pasted together. It’s interesting to me because of the distracting tension between the vertical lines of the window frames in the foreground and the evident horizontal, if fractured, scene in the background. As I look at it, my eyes are constantly jumping between the two, making it difficult to concentrate on what it is I’m seeing.

06 I got up early in the morning on June 6 so I could make a trip into Rockville Connecticut and take advantage of a sunny sky and morning light. I wasn’t as pleased with the light in the first three images, which are of the old buildings in the town center, but I was happy to capture these sculptural elements from the facade of the the Civil War Museum next to the town hall. The soft shadows work very well with the red stone and gave the carved elements a stronger organic feel.

The second set of images ,4 through 9 , are of an old mill that is in the stages of either renovation or demolition. My favorites are number 5 and number 9. Here the shadows added character to the scenes. There are multiple little jewels of interest in each one, from the shattered  or boarded up windows, to the hollow emptiness of the streets and dead end alleys.

And then, just to demonstrate how much atmospheric diversity is possible in one hour I passed this cemetery on my way into work, thinking I was done. In fact I drove right past it thinking what an interesting place it looked and that sometime I’ll have to revisit it.

Then I turned into to the first drive I saw and came back and took the last four pictures, among dozens of others, of this old cemetery. My initial perception was of the interesting depth of field that the fog provided. But as I reviewed the many, many shots of this scene I found they didn’t hold my attention as well as the 12th and 13th pictures of closeups of the tombstones. Here again it was the light, still low in the horizon, aided by the obscuring fog, that created this tremendous visual texture of the stone and particularly the soft shadows of the carved words on picture 13.

You know, I have to add at this point, halfway through this month’s pictures, that many of these images are not necessarily something to be proud of. They’re only the closest thing to what I was seeing when I looked through the viewfinder. The thing that keeps me motivated when I shoot and keeps me shooting is knowing that each photograph I create will leave an impression on my memory. It includes what I liked and didn’t like, how I framed it, what the light and weather added or subtracted. These memories are going to build into a mental library of possibilities for future photographs and eventually help me develop a better understanding of what I see in front of me.

I even go so far as shooting something that doesn’t appeal to me at all, although it draws my attention like a shout. I do it because it it keeps me open to different ways of seeing and how everything has potential.

09 The ninth. Cat. Low light. Underexposed. I can spend a lot of time looking at this image. I don’t doubt some of the blurriness is due to my auto camera setting and the sunlight, as well as the cat moving. But look under the cat’s chin. Her guard hairs are blurry but there are two whiskers off to her left that, though faint, are very sharp. One of the few in-focus elements in the image. The smeary paint bushy feeling of the image and the focus in her eyes give a feeling of restrained action and a tense feralness. And her eye, I love the way her eye sits against her dark fur as though it’s looking out of bushes in the night.

11 Eleventh. This was a bright, overcast morning following a heavy rain. I saw the high contrast of the trees in the water and how the water dropping distorted the refection.  Being able to see where the drops fell and shoot in time was very difficult. I chose not to shoot bursts, though perhaps that was a mistake. Even though I shot A LOT of this scene, I’m not wholly satisfied with the results. But I live the idea.

13 Thirteenth. The weather lately has been very favorable for dramatic clouds. I think images of clouds and foreground always depend on a good balance between the two. What you’re balancing is the big variable. Light and shadow, lines, patterns, I feel satisfied with the light/dark balance between the foreground and the sky. The two bushes and the trees on the horizon create variety that keeps the image from monotony.

14 On the 14th I was in the woods behind my house, photographing trees and I looked down to see these plants that were reflecting the diffuse light of the overcast morning. I was interested in capturing the subtle variations of light and dark and I’m quite happy with the results. I’m intrigued by the simplicity of the shape of the leaves and fronds of this plant and how it brings your attention to a wonderful variety of tone and color.

16 On the 16th, this time in my garage. I’ve taken a lot of photographs of my garage/workshop – it’s a mess really, and that makes for a lot of interesting scenes. There is always something elusively attractive about these clamps hanging from a shelf and I think I’ve come very close identifying it in this image. These cast iron c-clamps have a great texture and shape and reflect the light in a variety of interesting ways. I also like the the way the light varies on the screw threads depending on the depth of field. I look at this image and it feels like a workshop.

17 The picture for the 17th is of the decorative braces of an atrium. Is it too dark do you think. I’m uncertain. I felt the shadows were important in order to balance the powerful curves and diagonals of the yellow girders. Is it too busy, distracting? If not it’s close. For myself It works towards a balance between the yellow and the white, between light and dark and between line and shape.

18 The next five images are from the 18th. I’ve presented images like this previously, but there wasn’t as much contrast visible as displayed here, due to recent rain. I walk along this path each day to my office and I’m always thinking how each portion of the sidewalk reminds me of maps. Cracks in the cement represent highways or waterways. The lighter areas of concrete represent land and the dark sand water. I see islands and peninsulas, capes and estuaries.

19 The picture of the tile wall in a bathroom is really about reflections. The wall to the right is like a control in an experiment, normal, baseline. The wall on the left demonstrates all the different graduations light can play on the surface. I’m particularly interested in the shapes created by the overhead light which creates an optical illusion of extending the diagonal lines of the tiles on the right wall into the left side. And the distortions of color created by the reflection of the light and funny little highlights on some of the tiles keeps my attention moving around a basically banal space.

20 The two pictures on the 20th are a study in contrast. I shot the tree bark while on a nature walk just because it was so unusual and colorful. Later in the day I made this photograph of a building I pass by every day because of the light reflecting off the surface and the contrast of the dark windows. I hadn’t seen how the pieces of copper making up this facade were actually bowed, bubble like, almost like they’re stretching out from the retaining welds, or however they’re attached to the exterior. The sun threw the edges into sharp contrast and created an interesting mirrored pattern of the windows, all of which are tied into this forced perspective linear pattern. Once I reviewed the images of this day I saw a number of similarities between this and the shot of the bark and felt they were ideal companion pieces.

21 The picture from the 21st really doesn’t require much explanation. I think it’s a funny scene. Overkill certainly.

24 The next three images  from the 24th are of clouds and light. Forgive me if I am repeating myself, but as a child, growing up in Toronto I would spend many days year round standing on the shoreline of Lake Ontario and watching the clouds. There were all kinds and they used to race across the water constantly morphing into fantastic shapes. Living as I have for many years in New England, far inland from the shores of the Atlantic, flat land is hard to come by so I always try to take advantage of a low horizon to appreciate the sky.

Although a beautiful sunset is always a thrill to see, it’s clouds like these, where the texture and the three dimensionality is emphasized through a spare color palette. And angry clouds, I love dark lumbering blobs of darkness. These images of blue monochrome vapors and the stark contrast between beaming light and thunderhead dark definitely appeal to that naive sense of  wonder and awesome scale that I enjoyed so much as a child and obviously, as I do now. The thing that appeals most to me and which I’m always looking for in images like this is the combination of soft gradiations from one shade to the next and the sharp contrast between light and dark which expresses the volume and sculptural solidity of something that is essentially intangible water vapor caught by the light.

25 On the 25th I wandered through one of the older buildings on campus. I quickly realized how intriguing it would be to shoot a series of images of doors, or doorways. As I walked through the halls I started paying attention to how the doors and the walls they were attached to framed the space beyond. Some, as you can see. were hallways, others opened into larger foyers and still others appeared to be dead ends. Doorways usually appear to us as one of many transition points along a path to a known destination and their specific context is rarely given a though. I didn’t have any immediate destination and so I tried to look at the far side of the door I was passing through as a passage into a new world where things were unfamiliar, or at least never before seen by my eyes. It got me to wondering why chairs were positioned as they were, why the floor tiles changed or even, as in the case of picture number 3, why the light changed from white to blue gray. Doing so distracted me from what was familiar and seemingly inconsequential forcing me to look at everything anew. It made me stop and think about what I was seeing before I could reflexively label it and move past.

27 The picture from the 27th is of another interesting sky. No voluminous clouds here, just this blue gray wash of impending rain. Ominous and a little surreal, which I attribute in part to the slight angle at which the lampposts are leaning. And the lights shining in the middle of a summer day are interesting also.

28 The last two photographs are more sedate and pastoral, again taking advantage of persistently overcast days we’ve experienced through the month of June. The flower in the photograph from the 28th is, well, I don’t know what it is really called, but I’ve always known it as a red hot poker, because as it blooms it’s color changes from yellow to red.

29 The black raspberries on my garden fence, taken on the 29th show off the soft highlights on the fruit and the leaves, thanks to the dull sky. I also like the contrast between the color and texture of fence against the leaves and fruit.

And once again I’ve come to the end. I can see that I leaned more to the anecdotal side of commentary and less of a technical critique. But as I’ve said before, photography is seeing the usual as unusual, and considering the character of light, framing, pattern, repetition, color and other compositional stuff needs to be present unconsciously in your mind in order to inform and direct  what you photograph. It does get to be very unconscious if you practice seeing without labeling. I’ve certainly surprised myself when I look at what I’ve shot a given day and see images that are richer than I recall shooting.

#251 Interviewing Techniques for Storytellers – Preproduction Transcript

PreProduction is where the entire project comes to life, on paper. It’s the planning process. If you’re not big into the planning, and make no mistake, it’s work, consider that…

Scientists say the brain uses 20% of the body’s energy, and the lion’s share of that is used up making decisions

If you have to do such heavy lifting, wouldn’t you rather be sitting in a comfy chair, sipping a double latte with the sound of rain failing faintly outside your window?

As opposed to say, on a set with the crew standing idle and the equipment burning up rental minutes because you have to deal with an unforeseen, but easily prevented problem?

To use another hackneyed expression, success is 10% Inspiration and 90% perspiration. If you’re going to sweat, be comfortable.

You can’t prepare for every conceivable problem, but you and identify most of them before you conduct an interview. Without a lot of effort, you can jot down one or two ways to sidestep a potential problem, so you won’t waste time you don’t have, troubleshooting it on the spot.

Take something as simple as forgetting a piece of equipment, like an extension chord or a microphone. Creating a list for every item and piece of equipment you plan to use for an interview and checking each item off when you’re packing the night before doesn’t take a lot of preparation but can pay off in aces by helping you keep on your tight schedule. No amount of name-calling and nail biting is going to give you back lost opportunities through wasted time. There’s only 24 hours in a day and they come and go at the same unrelenting pace, whether you’re being productive or not.

But preparation is not just about equipment; it’s about everything you need to do from idea to finished product. During the pre production phase you have the least demands on your time, the fewest people on the payroll and the greatest opportunity to explore your subject in depth.

You should take the time during preproduction to develop the scope of your story, identify your sources and subjects and place them on a hierarchy of importance. Find and test the necessary equipment and locations. Figure out how you’re going to use written, audio and video content to flesh out a your story.

You should consider where and how the interview will take place, what the editing process will involve, who will do it and how long it should take.

And distribution, you need to figure out where people will read, hear and see your finished story. You’ll need to develop connections with coworkers and partners as soon as you begin thinking about the project and continue to sell your goals through the entire production cycle so that when you’re done, everything will already be in place for you to drop off your story.

Since the interview is the focus of this series I’m not going to spend much more time detailing each aspect of the entire production process as I’ve just outlined. I want to move ahead and focus on aspects of preproduction that are specifically related to preparing for an interview.

All the same I hope I’ve made it clear that when you’re developing a story that you want to turn into a video, audio, mutli-part blog or photographic slideshow, everything relates to everything else. Preproduction demands that you focus on each facet as separate units, like items on a checklist, but never think this in an end in itself. Never take your eye off the prize, which is how they fit together as pieces in the puzzle that is the entire project. In the end, when you done, the only thing that matters is whether the story is engaging, compelling, watchable, as opposed to confusing, boring and sloppily produced.

Table of Contents

  1. Topic
  2. How to find and manage the Subject of the interview
  3. Setup Interview
  4. Visit and secure locations
  5. Secure and test equipment
  6. Working with the talent and crew
  7. Considering the cost
  8. Tracking your liability
  9. Setting your schedule and meeting deadlines


Everything I’ll be discussing for the remainder of this show is considered research. I think it’s important to point out because you’re liable to approach this in a couple different ways.

  1. Get it out of the way as quickly as possible, getting only what you think you need to know so you can move on into the fun stuff.
  2. Consider this a chance to explore your subject, the larger story, locations and presentation options.

I advocate the second option. Preproduction is the discovery process. This is the only time where you have the opportunity introduce changes, where the story is it’s most malleable and the most potential is available.

Once you have completed this process you are, mentally at least, locked into a specific train of thought, your goal has become focused like a horse with blinders. You are shielded from distracting alternate avenues of thought and ideas. In other words, your mind is set.

Certainly if you take this path you will have more information than you can possibly use, but that’s no crime. I feel quite strongly that no one should know more about the story you’re trying to tell than the storyteller. I’m not saying you need to know everything, only that you should know everything that matters. Unless you have a choking fit of procrastination, you will know when to stop.

After all, you’re the one who initiated this process in the first place. You know what you want and no doubt you don’t want to wait. That eagerness is essential for fighting off inertia. But don’t waste this period of unlimited possibility, this summer vacation of the mind. Once it’s over you will no longer have the freedom to do as you will. The story and it’s needs will then become the master of your time.

With that said, let’s jump into preproduction, starting with the Topic.

  • 1. Topic
    • What is a good topic?
      • Familiar, but novel
      • Recent news item or trend
      • Often the last thing anyone wants to discuss
      • Well known event locally or nationally
      • One that engenders a strong emotional connection
        • The sources need to be within the limitations of your reach
      • Timeliness may be important
        • A pivotal person, place or event
      • Ultimately the story topic you choose needs to connect with a common human characteristic such as humor, loss, love, tradition, family, identity
    • Look for it on the web, library, historical society or museum, neighbors, schools and other institutions
    • Newspapers, magazine articles, best selling books they are all fodder for ideas
    • Weigh your own personal interests and consider whether they extend to the interest or concerns of a larger audience
    • Ask people you know, who or what would be a good resource
    • Keep notes, a journal of everything you do
      • You should be doing this all the time, independent of any one production, so that you can rediscover ideas who time has come or will provide some impetus for moving in a previously unconsidered direction
      • Blog about it, tweet or setup a Facebook page to attract people interested in the same topic who can also contribute

The topic is the key element of the entire project. Without a clear understanding of the topic, you will waste a lot of time and effort gathering irrelevant information

So be thorough.

  • 2. Subjects
    • Keep in mind just what it takes to deliver a good interview as you speak with potential subjects
    • You will need a variety of perspectives in your subject matter experts
      • Both pro and con
      • People who are directly involved
      • A group or individual who represent the fulcrum of your story
        • Be careful not to omit people too quickly
        • The ideal candidate may not immediately be identifiable
    • who is a good subject for an interview?
      • Reliable, willing, eliciting a strong emotional response to the topic
        • Empathetic, someone with whom the audience can identify with
      • Trustworthy
      • Expressive, authentic, eloquent, patient
      • Not:
        • Ambivalent, indifferent, hostile, antagonistic, unreliable
      • Though, maybe some of the NOTS are desirable, as counterpoint to the main storyline

How do you reach these people?

  • Start with Cold Calls
    • Preliminary phone call
      • Clearly and concisely explain project goals
        • Elevator pitch – 30 sec
        • Not a syllable wasted
      • Be persistent if they are hard to reach
        • Be aware of their limitations
        • But don’t build the story around a weak link
      • Begin by asking individuals about the topic
        • Identify their depth of knowledge and experience
        • Their ability to talk coherently
        • The comfort level they demonstrate in conversing
        • Once you’ve established their value as a resource ask them if they would be interested in being interviewed in person, perhaps at a location that is nearby and relevant to their subject matter expertise or the topic of the story
      • During the phone interview,
        • Ask general, rather than specific questions
        • You want to get a sense of the scope of their knowledge, both breadth and depth, but you don’t want details, because
          • You don’t want to cover the same ground more than once
          • Save it for the in person interview
        • keep the call down to 15-20 minutes
          • show up front that you respect their time
          • Your goal is to establish that they are a viable candidate for a lengthier interview
            • AND, that you can be trusted
        • At the end of the call
          • Ask if there is anyone they know who might be interested in talking to you about this subject
            • Someone who has a different perspective but is still involved
    • How do you engage a subject who is reticent to speak
      • Recognize that this could be a problem in the interview
      • Identify verbal competence of subject during the phone call
        • Develop a rapport
        • anything to get them on your side, to buy into the project
        • ask concise short questions
          • this is important, it sets the tone for the in person interview and establishes that you are in the driver’s seat
      • the subject should be talking and not reporter
        • listen intently and follow up answers with further questions
    • Finally, arrange the interview meeting
      • Be as flexible as possible to their needs or limitations
      • Mornings? Evenings?
        • Depends on their internal cycle
        • Mornings are when people have the most energy
          • But not if they work the night shift
          • And keep in mind that interviews that take place at locations that are relevant to the story are most desirable
            • You may want to interview them at work, or at the scene of an event
      • Reciprocal indebtedness is the beginning of a relationship of give and take time that is worth time investing in.
      • Indeed the act of investing time in your project encourages participants to give even more, because of their vested interest in your success, of which, a part is theirs
        • Without promising much, you can reap a great deal of good will and enthusiasm that can work to your benefit
  • 3. Setup Interview

If you are going producing a written interview, for a magazine, paper or blog, you choose to setup an interview time and location and then conduct your interview when you meet them for the first time.

You’ve found your subject, created a tentative relationship via a brief phone conversation and agreed on a time and place where you can talk to discuss your topic. That can be the end of it, but if you’re using any kind of multimedia, even a still camera or an audio recorder, you many require a preliminary in person meeting further strengthen your trust relationship. That’s what I’m going to discuss in this section on Setting up the Interview.

The goal here is to strengthen your subject’s confidence in your interest and develop trust that your intentions are honorable. I know that sounds kind of hokey, but however you choose to characterize your goals, your success with each individual involved in your story depends on whether they trust you. It’s not my intention of overwhelm you with apprehension, but I don’t think I’m mistaken in saying that you have to make friends quickly at this point. You are selling yourself, certainly the story is the focus, but you’re selling yourself along with the story.

You can choose to fabricate a persona and if that works for you, go with it. For myself, I can only work with who I already am. I am not so clever that I can manufacture an identity and keep it consistent throughout even a short relationship. I recommend being who you are, being courteous and thoughtful and excited about the project you’re involved in.

When you meet for the first time

  • Introduce yourself
  • Meet subject on their turf
  • Be polite
    • the subject will feel more comfortable
    • Where?
      • in their setting
    • You can discuss the interview, from a logistical perspective, but don’t discuss the content of the interview in anything less than general terms
  • Advance information prior to interview
    • Not a list of questions
    • if they want specific questions give them talking points
      • offer a summary of your interest and examples of the type of questions you’ll be asking
      • nothing written down
      • You want them to answer freshly during the formal interview
      • Indicate the type of interview you want to have
        • i.e. conversational vs. Q&A,
    • If you find yourself covering the same information as your initial call
      • Indulge the subject
      • You’re living this process, it may take two or more times before they understand the details of what they’re involved in
    • You are setting the stage for a comfortable, familiar experience with the subject
      • You want no surprises, either for yourself or the subject
      • Anything you can say that will allay any concerns or fears is helpful
        • as long as you don’t mislead or promise something that will prevent you from getting the information you need
      • Be clear and focused, don’t introduce irrelevant or conditional information
        • Uncertainty is your enemy
        • I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but treat the subject like a horse you’ve never met
          • You don’t want to do anything that will spook them, you’re liable to get trampled
  • Follow up calls
    • Always keep each door of communication ajar as you leave a conversation
    • The more you learn, the further you can mine the information of each subject’s expertise and get deeper into the story
      • Indeed, the story can easily change during this process as you discover fresh perspective’s on what was previously a banal or opaque area of the subject
    • Get more people involved
      • every unique perspective adds value and depth to the story
  • 4. Location Scouting
    • arranging a convenient, comfortable interview location
      • subjects home
      • workplace
      • other location
    • Visit and talk to locals about the subject of your story
      • Find new sources and get a first hand view of location for better description
    • scouting location
      • visit at the same time of day that the interview will take place
      • Look at the
        • light
        • ambient sound
        • distractions that are physical, auditory or visual
      • make sure there is space for the equipment you will bring
      • include enough time for
        • meet and greet
        • settling in and pre-interview prep
        • budget time for unforeseen interruptions
          • like construction
          • noisy neighbors
          • unforeseen delays
      • get signed permissions from any responsible party
        • public spaces are the easiest to get and the hardest to control
      • consider the electrical availability
        • 3 prong outlets are not always available in old buildings
    • Scout location for B-roll, ambient sound, light, potential interview backdrops
      • B-roll
        • Budget time for capturing the B-roll
          • Look for scenes as soon as you arrive
          • Consider all angles and frames
            • Wide, Medium, CU, overhead
            • Consider shots you can include the subject in
            • Shoot footage before the interview
              • If possible and time allows
              • And after the interview
        • Take lots of photographs, video and sound
        • Keep in mind you are looking for material that represents the character of the location
        • Take photos as a reminder and post them on a wall in your office
      • Sound
        • Sound is more than 50% of your video story and you don’t want to be surprised by unplanned audio interruptions on the day that you shoot.
        • Is it Windy?
        • Are there sounds that occur at particular times of day, like lunch siren, noon bell
        • Try to find a place where the ambient sound is present, but soft
          • You don’t want to record in a vacuum
      • Light
        • The sun is constantly moving
          • Make sure it falls where you want it and not where you don’t
          • Test the light with sample photos using the same cameras you will use for the interview
        • Daylight is best, indoor or out, but not direct sun
        • Incandescent and fluorescent light will fool your eyes into thinking there is enough light for the camera
          • Don’t be fooled, they don’t provide enough
        • Fluorescent light will make your subject look like death warmed over.
          • It is a green light which looks terrible
        • Watch out for locations where different light mixes, blue, yellow and green, which can be very distracting
          • on the other hand, it may be exactly what you need to establish the location

Now I’m going to talk briefly about equipment, crew, budget and other details you need to consider as you plan ahead. I’ll talk at length about recording equipment and the formal interview setup in a later episode in this series, right now I just want to present a few details about important, logistical operations you need to attend to which don’t directly involve interacting with your interview subject.

  • 5. Equipment
    • Beg borrow or Beg for equipment, just make sure it’s available when you need to use it.
      • don’t discount a rental agency
      • if you can keep it down to a few hours, the price might be reasonable
    • what and how much equipment you can use depends on the number of your crew
      • Keep it lean, particularly if you’re working alone
      • You don’t want the equipment to get in way of conversation, so keep it out of site
      • Bring a
        • Notepad
        • Audio recorder (as a backup)
        • Still camera (B-roll exclusively if you’re shooting video)
        • Video camera on a tripod (interview and B-roll)
        • a lavaliere mic, wired or wireless makes all the difference in the audio quality of finished interview and I strongly recommend that you use one
  • 6. Human Resources/Crew
    • Just one person can make a difference
      • Dedicated to a specific task
      • Or extra hands, eyes and brain
    • Your job is to keep this person engaged
      • help them avoid the onset of boredom
      • a crew can also be a negative because it distracts you from your primary goal talking to the subject
        • Unless you have a production manager
  • 7. Costs
    • Keep track every dollar you spend and have a place for storing receipts and noting purchases
      • You will forget and without these detailed reminders
      •  as a result, you won’t learn how to fine tune your production process.
    • costs incurred include
    • Travel
    • Media and equipment
    • Meals
    • Reimbursement for crew
      • at the very least buy them lunch
      • food goes a long way to keeping a crew happy
    • Misc materials  and expenditures – stuff
    • Fees and permits – it’s inevitable
  • 8. Liability
    • Release forms
    • For locations
      • you should have them in your hand before you can consider the site is locked in
        • make sure the person who signs IS the person with the authority to let you shoot at a given location
  • 9. Deadlines
    • Set them and keep track of your schedule
      • they’re all that’s keeping your project from flying apart
    • Have a project inclusive timeline so you don’t miss appointments or have a conflict with different parts of the production cycle that may need to run concurrently

Be Organized

This last point regarding deadlines I cannot overstate, but minus some kind of extensive course of study or book on project planning I don’t think I can offer any information that will make an impact.

It’s not that I don’t think you’ll get it, I just don’t think you’ll appreciate all the little details that really, really need to be attended to throughout the entire of production, from concept to completion. If you’ve already done a story project involving multiple interviews and wrangled a number of crew you don’t need me to tell you what costs to count. If you haven’t, you’ll feel that at some point you can afford to cut corners or ignore some details because you don’t feel they’re relevant. And there’s no doubt you would be right.

Everything I’ve talked about so far is based on what I’ve read and experienced for myself. It’s not everything I know and anyway I don’t know everything. I do need to know how to avoid unexpected delays and on-location disasters. And the pessimist in me knows that you can’t be prepared for every disaster, no matter how careful you plan. Life is like that, no question about it.

You will proceed with your project and manage it the way you manage everything else in your life. You’ll operate in a way that you’ve become comfortable with in regard to planning and organization. And that will be the start of your education in multimedia production. You’ll learn as you go and that’s, Okay.

Let me end with a brief synopsis of a story I heard on a podcast  by Tim Coyne, an actor in LA who I met a few years ago at Podaster’s Across Borders, in Canada. Tim is an amazingly evocative storyteller who  can make you split your sides laughing one minute and break your heart the next.

If I can find it I’ll put a link to the full story, as he tells it, in the show notes.

Tim tells a story of the time he was acting in a film being shot by a local film student. Most of his podcast episodes are personally revealing and present his efforts to develop his professional acting skills. I’m going to skip over the more interesting details just to describe the more technical details surrounding the shoot at a local racetrack.

It didn’t even take place inside the racetrack, but in the parking lot. It was a pivotal scene, critical to the story and I believe the film was close to or behind deadline. The cast and crew arrived early in the morning and they had just begun when the track security came out and told the director he couldn’t shoot there, he had no permit.

The director insisted he did take care of filling out the necessary papers, though Tim believed it was likely he hadn’t, that he had let it slide. Security offered to take the director into the offices and call the owners but told Tim and the others remaining not to do anything until they returned.

It looked grim, but once security was gone, one the actors, who was more experienced than Tim or the crew, suggested they shoot anyway and he managed to play his part as well as direct Tim and the crew. They got the scene shot before anyone returned and of course, it was decided, no shooting could be done. Not until they were alone did the director find out that they had gotten the scene on tape. Sure he was happy, but not as grateful as he should have been.

From that I take away two lessons:

If you don’t take control of the details they will always bit you in the ass. And sometimes, cleverness will overcome careless disregard. But don’t count it. Luck is fickle.

Thanks for listening to the show, I’m Paul, the Video StudentGuy. This is part two in my series about interviewing.

The next episode in the series will cover Preparing Questions for the interview: what to ask, the types of questions there are and how they shape the response of your subject as well as the nature of your story. You can expect that to come out at the end of June 2013.

I’m glad you took the time to listen. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about this episode, or any topic having to do with digital media storytelling. You can leave a comment on this post at videostudentguy dot com or send me an email at videostudentguy at gmail dot com.

I’ll talk to you later,