Learn about other important considerations for interview mise-en-scène, which include many of the different aesthetic decisions that can affect the way the interview looks and feels. These include elements such as framing, subject positioning, staging, on-axis vs. off-axis, lighting, focal length, and more.
- Once you've decided where to interview the subject you'll need to make further choices about how you want the interview to look in terms of its mise-en-scene. One thing you'll need to determine is your framing. Most interviews are either medium shot or close-up, since these compositions focus on the subject with secondary attention to the background. Usually the closer the shot the more emotional impact the shot will have. So save those extreme close-ups for highly emotive moments. If it's important to capture the subject in the context of the environment then you can use a long shot or a medium long shot.
And if you have the resources and crew recording an interview with multiple cameras gives you the flexibility in cutting back and forth between different sizes of shots, which makes it easier to edit the interview together without discernible jump cuts. Now one luxury of today's HD and ultra HD video capabilities is if you shoot the interview in a medium shot, for example, you can punch into a close-up if you need to. Here you can see how this interview is easily cut together between medium shot and close-up.
Now this is just one method to hide jump cuts. We'll discuss plenty more in the third course in this series Documentary Video: Editing and Post. Framing in terms of shot composition is one thing, the positioning of the subject is another. For traditional interviews you generally want to adhere to the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is when you divide the frame into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, and you place the subject's head along those lines of intersection. Let me show you a few examples of what I mean.
Here are several interviews in a medium shot. Notice how the subject's head, specifically the eyes, intersects with the top and right thirds of the frame. Now look what happens in a close-up. Again, the eye lines up along those lines of intersection. And when you cut back and forth between the medium and close-up the cut works, because the rule of thirds is maintained between the cut. We as viewers are very conditioned to watching interviews that follow the rule of thirds. So I want to show you what it looks like when you break the rule of thirds.
As you can see, this looks strange and off-putting, so really keep this time tested technique in mind during each of your interviews. Also, you usually want to vary the side of the frame for each interview. And you should really do this in terms of where the subjects eventually appear in the film. What I mean is if an a hypothetical example I plan to have all of my executives appear in act one of the film and all of my veterans appear in act two of the film I don't want to position all of the executives on the left side of the frame and all of my vets on the right side of the frame.
The visual weight of the interviews will feel stale and predictable if each interviewee is positioned in the exact same place one after another. So think about where the subjects appear in the film, who you anticipate appearing before and after them, and just vary the positioning in terms of left and right placement accordingly. In addition to positioning the subject, it's important to consider other items in the frame as well. Moving items in and out of the frame is called staging. And again, it's all about the mise-en-scene.
You as the director decide what to show and you decide what not to show in the frame. In general less is often more. You usually don't want to clutter the frame, but it can be nice to bring in a few items for visual balance. And it's great if the items you include are in some way informative in terms of who the subject is and what they're offering to your documentary. Again, in the Project RELO doc we've pretty much chosen to go with the neutral out of focus backgrounds for each of our interviewees, so staging wasn't an important consideration for us.
But if you're going with a more classic visual style in terms of interview setup staging can be a great way to help the viewer connect to the subject on an even deeper level. You also want to make sure that you're visually weighing the frame appropriately. So assuming the shot adheres to the rule of thirds, that means there's already a great deal of visual weight on either the left or the right side of the frame, so just make sure that you've staged the shot by visually offsetting the placement of the subject. And again, even though we aren't doing any formal staging in the Project RELO doc, we've definitely still adhered to this important idea of visual balance.
Notice how we've used shapes and colors and lines within our neutral backgrounds to offset the subject within the frame. Something else to consider is whether you conduct your interviews on axis or off axis. Simply put, on axis interviews are when the subject looks into the camera and off axis interviews are when the subject looks at the interview, who is most often sitting very close to the camera. Most documentaries choose to conduct off axis interviews, which subconsciously makes the interviewer seem more involved even when the interviewer's questions are removed.
When a subject is filmed on axis the interviewer is subconsciously removed from the equation and it seems like the interviewee is speaking directly to the viewer, as you can see here in this example. Lighting is another way that you can change your shot's aesthetic. For example, here's a shot with fairly even high key lighting and here's a shot with dramatic low key lighting with plenty of differentiation between the light and the dark areas of the frame. So many lighting setups can be aesthetically pleasing and interesting, but you just want to make sure that your lighting choices appropriately match the tone and mood that you're going for in the film.
Now we also did talk a bit about focal length and how that can definitely affect the look of the shot. Sometimes you may want to keep everything in focus, both the subject and the background. Other times you may want to take the background slightly out of focus. And other times you may want to completely blur the background, so that it becomes indiscernible in terms of a collection of shapes and colors. All of these are considerations when you're setting up your interview. So take your time in planning the aesthetics, and likewise, take your time in getting the production setup to match those aesthetics.
- Reviewing important production documents
- Effective directing strategies
- Setting up the location and aesthetic of an interview
- Conducting interviews
- Shooting b-roll
- Capturing engaging observational scenes
- Camera, sound, and more
- Working in the field
- Management media for successful handoff to post