August 20, 2015 at 6:56PM, Edited August 25, 8:56PM

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Documentary Interview Techniques.

I just wanted to get a gauge on what my fellow NFS community of filmmakers felt about shooting interviews? Specifically, when would you shoot a standard interview - subject looks off camera to the interviewer - or when would you shoot something a little different - the subject looks into the lens a la Errol Morris? Thoughts? Experiences? Theories? Thanks everyone.

19 Comments

Unless there is an established "host" that is interviewing the person off camera, I prefer to have people look directly into the lens. I know it's not the norm, but I've always hated the standard documentary shot where we know that there's nobody else in the room but the person being interviewed is talking way off camera axis.

August 21, 2015 at 7:14PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30869

When poeple talk looking at the camera, they actually look at the spectator, so if they archnowlage it and actually talk to me watching this show, then it's fine, like a producer do.
But if it's an interview, which means the guy in front of the camera is answering someone else's questions. It's wierd if they look at me, the spectator, and not the person who asked the question. Every time I saw it as a spectator it it made me feel unconfortable. I feel they don't actually talk to me but at the same time they look at me. It feel that they pretend that I don't exist, but clearly look at me. They also pretend they are alone while clearly answering someone's question. I feel tricked.
Of camera axis is not the best, as Director I try to avoid it more and more but not by making the interviewed person look into the camera.

August 26, 2015 at 5:30AM, Edited August 26, 5:37AM

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AvdS
1188

I think Errol Morris uses a one-way mirror setup - called an interrotron - which allows the interviewee to feel like they're looking straight at him (though actually he's sat at 90 degrees to them), when in actual fact they're staring down the barrel of the lens. Most interviewees are more natural if they're talking to someone face-to-face - there's very few I've met who are as relaxed and candid if they're looking at the camera.

August 22, 2015 at 5:06AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3381

You can replicate this type of set-up with teleprompter and a second camera to shoot the person conducting the interview which is displayed on the teleprompter screen.

August 22, 2015 at 2:25PM, Edited August 22, 2:25PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30869

That's exactly what an Interrotron is.

August 23, 2015 at 10:30AM

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Andrew Klein
Camera Department
227

I find that people who aren't "trained" feel more comfortable talking to someone face to face so I have them look off-camera. I think making the subject feel comfortable is most important.
I also feel there are certain contexts where looking into the camera is too "direct" and too personal - having a piece with multiple interviews set up that way can burn the audience out on the direct, frontal attention that brings.

August 22, 2015 at 11:33AM

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Daniel Guillaro
Director of Photography, Editor
80

>>>I find that people who aren't "trained" feel more comfortable talking to someone face to face so I have them look off-camera.

If your subject is spooked by the camera set-up, you can have the person conducting the interview stand just above or beside the camera, which still gives the impression that the person being interviewed is talking directly to the camera.

>>>I also feel there are certain contexts where looking into the camera is too "direct" and too personal

This is when I would establish that the person conducting the interview is in the same room, so the audience knows that the subject is talking to the person that is off the camera axis.

...Having the subject talk to "outer space" when the audience knows that they are alone in the room, has never made any sense to me. I would rather go with their narration played over B-roll footage, then see them talk off-axis to someone that isn't there.

August 22, 2015 at 2:32PM, Edited August 22, 2:34PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30869

WOW, amazing feedback from everyone. Thank you all very much. We aren't planning on having an "established host" and I like the idea of doing things a bit differently, especially compared to other similar doc style web series' out there.

Thank you once again for your thoughtful and considerate feedback. I really appreciate this community.

August 24, 2015 at 10:39AM

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Bryan Tosh
Director of Photography
596

I shot a documentary recently with something of an Errol Morris approach to the interviews -- we were traveling around the world for the various interviews, shot in the often confined spaces of peoples' homes. Due to limited resources, space, and equipment, we couldn't bring something like the fairly sophisticated Interrotron or the simpler but similar in function EyeDirect system, so I did what Errol Morris did for his early films -- placed the interviewer's head to one side but as close to the lens as possible. It's not quite as piercing as the Interrotron effect (for better or worse) and you can get a feel of what it's like from 'Gates of Heaven,' 'The Thin Blue Line,' or in my case a teaser trailer linked on my profile. I felt it worked well, but you do need a camera operator standing near by ready to give the interviewer a nudge if he or she happens to lean into frame.

August 25, 2015 at 2:16AM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
940

When I shoot a more formal interview, I always go with the interviewer to the side of the camera. If I'm doing an interview in the moment, with the camera on my shoulder and I have a sound guy, I'll have the sound guy stand where I would and have the subject direct their answer to the sound guy after I ask. Sometimes if I am soloing a shoot and have a camera+minishotgun and maybe a LAV on my shoulder, I'll have the subject look at my face. It's not ideal in the sense that they are almost looking at the lens, but it's better than them feeling uncomfortable answering while pretending I'm over a foot or two.

That said, my approach is to always let the subject(s) tell the story. It's for this reason I avoid recorded voiceover, as well as having my voice in it. Being able to draw the story out from what is said in interviews and observationally makes things so much more powerful. Not that either of those are bad, that's just what I feel works best for me.

August 25, 2015 at 9:33PM, Edited August 25, 9:33PM

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Daniel Baas
Freelance Editor/Cinematographer
153

Hey Daniel, love your LAV on the shoulder technique, I'll definitely try it out.
I film solo, every single time. I carry my camera, minishotgun, tripod, shoulder rig, small led panel. And that's it. I do a lot of interviews. Sometimes I know the person and have talked to them in depth, but sometimes I just met them. I perch the camera on my shoulder, or if we're sitting just mount it on the tripod really close to me and start talking. I don't ask too many questions, I let them wander, go back and forth, drift away from the subject. I really like having a peek inside a persons mind, and that process in which they come and go, remember stuff, get angry, get resistant, deflect, get sad, happy, and come back to subject...that's why I do this! I really believe that being able to witness that stream of conscience is the closest you get to a true testimony. And by true I don't mean that they say things that are 100% true, but they are being truthful to who they are.
Having the camera on me also helps naturalize the situation, and eventually people just asume that those things are some extra weird limbs I have, and not a camera and a mic :)

August 26, 2015 at 12:31AM, Edited August 26, 12:30AM

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Luciana Serrano
Documentarist
140

Luciana,

What is your rig setup like? I'm using a C100 now, but I find the shoulder mounting options to be limiting and uncomfortable. I miss the days of the servo lens as well :(. Perhaps you or others have found a good and comfortable rig shoulder mount setup?

August 26, 2015 at 10:37AM

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I too am a fan of drawing the story form the interviews rather than relying on voiceover. Thank you so much for the feedback. Everyone has had some amazing words of wisdom and experience.

August 26, 2015 at 7:04PM

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Bryan Tosh
Director of Photography
596

I work alone. I do interviews for my docs, but not question/answer. I ask directional question and let people talk, looking at me(I put my face as close to the camera as I can) or directly to the camera and little bit around. In some important parts, I will ask them to deliver their message looking directly at the camera, creates strong message and connection to the audience. I usually do interview at the very end of my filming when I know enough about the person to ask questions and we already have established trust. My main idea is to be invisible in my docs, It's about people I shoot, not about me.

August 30, 2015 at 8:45AM

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Vladimir Pcholkin
BeekeeperStories
336

That sounds GREAT Vladimir. Thanks so much for your insight and sharing your method.

August 31, 2015 at 10:31AM

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Bryan Tosh
Director of Photography
596

Some film makers like to have the person introduce themselves to the camera (viewers). Most of the time I think it looks cheesy, but sometimes it can be a moving shot.

August 31, 2015 at 2:41AM

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Steven Arredondo
Photographer/Student/Musician
153

cool

November 20, 2017 at 2:28AM

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aswsm

November 20, 2017 at 2:31AM

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