Join Anthony Q. Artis for an in-depth discussion in this video Scouting locations, part of Video Foundations: Interviews.
One of the first decisions you are going to have to make is where you want to shoot your interview. So, in this video I am going to discuss how to scout and choose a good location for your interview. There are two important considerations: practical-technical issues and storytelling. First let's start with the most basic practical features we need in an interview location, starting with permission. Are you actually welcome there? This is an issue particularly when we are talking about corporate-owned locations; we always have to make sure we get permission to shoot from the actual location owners.
Your interview's subject may be a surgeon at the hospital, but he doesn't own or run the hospital. Often, well-intentioned subjects will tell you that it's fine to do an interview at their workplace or organization, but they may not be aware of company policies and internal political issues that govern when and where a video can actually be shot there. So, to avoid any embarrassing situations, make sure that you always get permission from the actual owner of the location. The second important consideration when scouting is to try to find an interview space that you have control over.
What do we want control over? Everything that might possibly affect our shoot: people, noise, lighting, and electricity. You want to ask yourself a series of simple practical questions, such as, Do I have enough outlets and electricity in the room to plug in my lights? Can I control the light? Is that a conference room only lit by a florescent lighting or daylight? Do other people need to use or pass through the space? Now, you are not always going to know all these things ahead of time, but as many of them as you can figure out beforehand the better.
Now, the next thing to think about--and this is extremely important--is that your interview location must--I repeat, must--be good for audio. Can you record good, clean audio in this location? No matter how good it looks, if it ain't good for sound, it's not a good location for an interview. So, what else? Visual storytelling. A plain white room is one of the worse-case scenarios, if not the worst. You want to avoid plain white walls like a telemarketer.
So, here's how we are going to put boring frames on our do not call list. Use a poster, a cloth backdrop, a window view, a cookie-pattern, anything you can to break up boring, bland, lifeless white walls. In the lighting movie of this interview course, I discuss some specific techniques to overcome the challenge of plain white walls, so make sure you check that one out as well. But rather than plain-white walls, our ideal goal is to look for visually appropriate settings that will help us tell our story.
What we're asking ourselves is, what is in this environment that visually expresses something about my subject or my interview topic? So, even if the audience doesn't know who that person is, they still have clear visual clues about what it is they do, or what it is that they're talking about. The ideal is that someone could freeze- frame your interview and still be able to tell something significant about your subject or your subject matter. What's going to clue them in? The props that you include in the shot. If your subject is a doctor, the stethoscope around their neck, the poster of a human heart on the wall, the medical books on the shelf, the model skeleton in the corner are all props or objects that will help visually portray the subject matter.
So, we want to always look for topic-appropriate props and objects that will visually communicate character, setting, and theme. That means from time to time you are going to have to move furniture or bring in other props and decor as desired. Whenever it's practical in a documentary-shooting situation, I recommend always taking advantage of the natural features of a location, particularly the lighting. Keep an eye out for practical or pre-existing lights that you can also use to your advantage.
I am a fan of track lights because they often have strong halogen bulbs, can be tilted or twisted to aim where I like, and as a big added plus, most modern track lighting is generally installed with a dimmer switch so you can adjust the intensity precisely and on the fly. Another great quality to have in an interview location is some depth or space behind your subject. Shooting someone right up against a wall really flattens out your frame and doesn't give your audience much visual information to work with.
Apart from just giving you more space to work and set up equipment, shooting in a room that allows you to frame up a deeper shot with plenty of space behind your subject will go a long way in helping boost your production value by A) giving your interview more of a big-budget wide-open visual feel, and B) allowing you to use a long lens, or zoom into full telephoto to get a more cinematic shallow depth of field. So, the bigger or longer the space the better for the camera. Remember, the cold kiss of death of any video in the documentary genre is to show a bunch of talking heads over bland, boring backgrounds.
Even though it's an interview, essentially just someone talking, we still want to keep the focus on our visual storytelling. While your subject's mouth is telling a story to the audience's ears, your composition, camera work, and lighting should all be working to show the story to their eyes. Audio or video alone are powerful storytelling mediums, but when used together effectively, you get storytelling dynamite. Boom, boom, baby! Audio, visual!
- Choosing the right mic
- Mounting the mic
- Scouting locations
- Using backdrops and cycloramas
- Getting single-camera and double-camera coverage
- Making your subject look good
- Crafting interview questions
- Editing the interview