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
- How to find and manage the Subject of the interview
- Setup Interview
- Visit and secure locations
- Secure and test equipment
- Working with the talent and crew
- Considering the cost
- Tracking your liability
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Expressive, authentic, eloquent, patient
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Media and equipment
- 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
- 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
- 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
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,