The Ins and Outs of Shooting a Documentary Style Interview

No matter how well you think you might prepare yourself, there is nothing more elevating, insightful and inspiring than using all your skills and everything you’ve learned as a filmmaker in the real world on set. The practical experience you can get this way is invaluable and lasts for a lifetime, indeed. And, what a better place to utilize your skill set than shooting a documentary out in the wild. Whether it’s a corporate video, a documentary work, or even your Kickstarter campaign’s video, you have to be ready for those multiple run-and-gun shooting scenarios and situations when everything might happen all the time.

All in all, the primary rule always stays the same, though – never stop rolling! Here’s what else you should know when filming a documentary-style interview. Jay P. Morgan from The Slanted Lens will show us how to shoot a simple two camera profile interview piece with a talent on location by covering position of the cameras and lights, choosing the location, shooting B-roll, creating an outline and questions for the interview and everything in between.

Typically, you can film such a short doc with a crew of no more than two or three people. It’s even possible to shoot this alone if necessary. Whatever the case, make sure that you’ve done most of the planning in advance. Before starting your project, it’s always an excellent idea to create an outline that includes several points that you want to cover.

For instance, where the company is located, what is the main reason to be in the business, how do they benefit the community, etc. Overall, this outline should cover the main points you want to see in your interview and also it should give you some guides and ideas for the B-roll.


Then, write down your questions that will illustrate the points in your outline. Again, like any other interview setup, finding the right location is a critical aspect of the process. Always try to find a way to make the area benefit your story.

Using two cameras is another way to add more production value to your project. For instance, you can use one of the units for medium shots of your interviewee and the other one for the close ups. Stay as close as possible to the cameras and look at your subject all the time.


Depending on the location, you might not even need to use any lights. Using a reflector board and utilizing only the available natural light might be more than enough to complete the shot. In case, you have an extra camera in your bag, put it on a tripod, frame your shots and do a timelapse. Come back when you are ready, re-frame and hit the trigger again. These extra angles will be so valuable later in post.

In terms of sound, it’s always essential to have at least two sources providing feed to your field recorder. Using a lavalier mic and a boom mic would be a great combo to start with. This way you’ ll have two sound sources in case one of them has a problem.


Further, let your subject know that when you ask a question the audience will only hear his/her answer. Make sure that they repeat the question in a way in their response. When a question sparks emotion, it’s always important to follow that path and don’t interrupt your interviewee. Don’t be looking at your notes or looking around during the interview, make the conversation comfortable and just let it flow.

At last but not least, don’t underestimate the role of the B-roll footage. All those low angles, crane shots, dolly shots, etc. will add an incredible amount of production value to your project. Ensure that you have coverage of everything your subject talks about or related things at least. Remember that B-roll will significantly help you to complete the story. As-a-rule-of-thumb, try to get as much coverage as possible so that you can make a quite diverse professional production in the end.

[source: The Slanted Lens]

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