This is the second in a two part series, where I provide tips on how to get the most out of a PR video interview. My background is teaching video skills to would-be journalists and bloggers in Vietnam. What I learnt there translates beautifully to the UK – after all, the art of communication is not limited by geography or language.
Last week I looked at interviewing skills, but this week is all about the filming component – an aspect that can make or break the success of your video interviews.
The ability to interview and film like a journalist (or as close as you can) is becoming an increasingly important part of our business.
While interviewing is not too hard of a skill to pick up for PRs, learning the ins and outs of a video camera can be a little more painstaking. Here’s how we prepare for and complete our filming on the day:
Before you go to do any kind of video interview, you need to make sure all your equipment is ready. Have you charged all the batteries? Do you have spare batteries? Do you have SD cards with plentiful space with you? Do you have lighting capabilities? Do you have several places to back up your files once you’ve finished filming?
These are must-have elements of the preparation process. If you answer “no” to any of these, you’re planning for disaster. There is nothing more embarrassing than realising you’ve forgotten something or haven’t got enough battery in front of your talent. Create an inventory checklist of what you need to do, and go through it one to two days before your scheduled interview.
Ideally you’ll be filming in a location that gives context to your interview and your talent will be dressed accordingly – for example, a doctor dressed in scrubs with a background that looks like a hospital or GP’s office.
This can be challenging if your client can’t elaborate on what your location will look like in advance or if you know you’ll be in a dull setting, but do your best to dress the background appropriately and bring props if necessary.
Regardless, ensure there’s nothing distracting happening in the background of your picture, such as extra people, signs with text, and bright objects (or inappropriate content!). Likewise, avoid filming in front of things that may look like they’re protruding from the talent’s head or body, such as trees or poles.
Set up an interview in a (right-angle) triangle. Your interviewee should be positioned in a straight line from the camera lens, while your interviewer stands slightly to the side of the camera. This will ensure your talent is looking at a slight diagonal to your interviewer without looking too front-on or side-on.
We like to remind the talent to maintain eye contact with the interviewer for the duration of the interview too, so that they don’t get nervous and look down the middle of the camera. If you’re the interviewer, also do your best to be at the same eye level as the talent, so the talent doesn’t appear to be looking up or down at you in the footage.
Use a tripod wherever possible and ensure it is set at a height at the eye level of the talent. There is nothing worse than shaky footage!
If you’re stuck without one, try to find a solid wall or post to lean against and clamp your elbows together to help reduce the shakes while you film.
If there’s nothing to lean on, crouch in on yourself as much as possible. Keep your elbows locked, bend your knees, and rock in gentle, small, and very slow side to side motions as you film so any shakes are controlled. It sounds ridiculous, but it works!
Always monitor the audio as you film with a pair of headphones to ensure it’s clear throughout. Ideally your talent should be speaking at -6dB (not over -3dB) – you will usually be able to check this level is being met on the visual display – at their usual talking volume to get the best results.
Keep your microphone as close as possible to the talent without obstructing the visual, and take care to ensure the talent removes anything that may jewellery ‘jingle’ in the microphone, such as necklaces, bracelets, or watches.
Have them say a few lines before you start filming to ensure everything sounds correct and that they’re sounding clear. We often ask clients to introduce themselves to the camera with their name and title – this comes in handy in editing too if you need to confirm surnames or positions for title slides.
A well-framed shot is essential for video interviews. Generally for an interview, a medium-to-close shot of the subject is good, but ensure you aren’t cutting them off at the elbows or the tops of their shoulders.
Another important part of framing is the looking space. If your interviewee is looking to the left at your interviewer, ensure there’s background showing to their left of the frame and vice versa. You don’t want your talent to look like they’re too centred or as though they’re staring into the edge of the shot. Similarly, ensure you leave a small amount of space above their head and to the side of their body that’s not on the looking space side.
This is where things get a bit more technical. The best way to ensure a perfectly lit video interview is to use natural light wherever possible. If you’re outdoors, stick to the shade (but ensure no harsh shadows are falling across the talent); if you’re inside try to make sure the talent is near a window and the light falls on their face and shoulders (there’ll be a shadow if they have their back to it). If the light is falling strongly to one side of their face, you may need to use a prop light to balance the unlit side and ensure they aren’t too shadowed.
Before filming, check if your camera has a button or dial called ‘zebra’. This will bring up moving, zebra-stripe like lines on the footage to show how exposed your footage is. Turn the zebra stripes to their lowest point (the shot may go dark), and slowly bring them back up until the stripes are just falling onto the talent’s face. Your shot should now be well exposed.
If there’s no natural light or you can’t bring in your own lighting, look for a setting on your camera titled ‘gain’. Set this to low, or L, and see how the shot looks. Ideally you will be able to keep the setting on low, but you can increase it to medium, or M, if it’s too dark. However, the more you increase your gain the grainier your footage will get – this is particularly bad if you’re going to display your video on a large screen. The lower the better!
Having gone through these, you should be safe to film. But there’s a few more things to ensure you’ve done before you wrap it up. If you’re going to be editing your interview to include the questions being spoken from the interviewer, set up your camera after the interview so it faces the interviewer and film them re-asking the questions. You’ll also need to film the interviewer’s reaction-shots of them nodding, laughing and so on. You never know what you’ll need in editing!
Similarly, if it’s a long interview you may like to include other footage of the interviewee doing something that relates to their answers – called overlay – to keep the visuals interesting. The more footage and angles you can get, the easier the editing process will be.
At the end of the process, it’s better to end up with too much footage than too little, and the more you can get right before the editing process starts the easier it will be to create polished video interviews. Don’t rely on post-production – always fix everything you can while filming. Good luck!
Go back to Part One: Interviewing.
In the first of a two part series, I’ll be providing tips about how to get the most out of a PR video interview. My background is teaching video skills to would-be journalists and bloggers in Vietnam. What I learnt there translates beautifully to the UK – after all, the art of communication is not limited by geography or language.
PR agencies can do more than just write a press release or blog post – video is really coming to the fore, both for B2B and B2C communications.
I’m not talking here about full-blown, high budget video production. Rather, the video work we do for our clients is designed to support their marketing activities – for example, video interviews with executives on topical issues, vox pops to support campaigns, or shots from an event our client is attending.
Even before you start to shoot, it’s important to have a sound knowledge of interview techniques. Here is how we approach video interviews for our clients:
Draft out a list of questions, but keep it flexible. To get the best out of spokespeople – your ‘talent’ – they must stay relaxed and be able to express themselves in their own words. Also, depending on the responses, it’s sometimes necessary to deviate from the plan and go down a different line of questioning in order to get the best answers.
Our approach is to start a dialogue with the interviewee before the camera starts rolling so that they relax, whilst ensuring their attention stays on us, not the camera lens! There are times where a piece to camera is appropriate, but it’s a harder skill to master and most of the time focusing on the interviewer is easier for the talent.
We also encourage the answers to be in full sentences – for example, if we ask “what’s your opinion about PR evaluation?” They say: “My opinion on PR evaluation is that most agencies don’t understand it,” not “Most agencies don’t understand it.” This means that you can better pull out sound bites in the editing process.
It sounds obvious, but really listening to answers can make or break video interviews. We never want to end up in the editing process realising that the interviewee could have expanded on an important topic or could have explained something complex more thoroughly.
Similarly, we ensure that the interviewee speaks more broadly than what we ask – they may add something we’ve not considered. At its simplest, we end the interview by asking “is there anything else you would like to say?”
As a public relations consultant it’s your job to ensure the video stays on message, so if you’re interviewing your own client or colleague, you’ve got a role to play here. Make sure you have your PR messaging sheet on hand and that you’re familiar with it.
Listen out for repetition or verbal tics. Often an interviewee will latch on to a phrase or term, that is repeated. It’s not noticeable in common communication, but on video it sticks out like a sore thumb.
As an interviewer and director, your role is to ensure that your talent looks and sounds as good as possible on screen. Most interviewees are too busy thinking about their answers to consider how it comes across.
Encourage your talent to ‘dial up’ their energy levels. Show them what you mean – often it’s important to make the case that no matter how ‘silly’ it feels being extra energetic in the moment, it won’t look over-the-top on camera.
Get them to talk about people they respect most on TV. Chances are it’s because of their passion for the subject. Another technique is to get them to talk about something they have a strong interest in, then dive back into the interview and see the enthusiasm levels maintained.
We sometimes find ourselves with an interviewee who is already particularly passionate about a topic. This is fantastic for the energy but it can also mean you get a lot of waffling. In these cases we listen to the answer in the first take, suggest the key points and retake until we have something succinct and punchy. Likewise, if the interviewee sniffs, coughs, sneezes, or another loud noise interrupts their answer, we simply redo the question. The result: neat, clear answers that make the editing process much easier.
The most important thing we strive for in the process of video interviews is getting it right first time. Messaging, particularly for client marketing material, needs to be on point and any mistakes in wording can’t be fixed in post-production editing. That said, while good interview technique is essential in producing a client-worthy result, the technical ability to frame a shot and film it properly is just as essential.
Stay tuned for our next blog post in this series – Part Two: Filming.
Fiona: I loved the first issue of aMuse – who is it aimed at?
Sasha: Affluent London women aged between 25 and 45 with a passion for fashion. We were overwhelmed with the response to our launch issue, so it seems there are a lot of these women out there, hungry for a magazine that talks to them.
Fiona: aMuse is a first: a free monthly title. What’s your vision for the title?
Sasha: I would love to see aMuse achieve a distinctive presence in the free magazine market in London. From a reader’s point of view, I want our readers to look forward to the last Monday of the month, not just for payday but because that’s when they’ll be able to pick up their copy of aMuse. I want them to love the magazine and identify with our positive view of London women and our tremendous achievements.
Fiona: What’s aMuse’s social media strategy?
Sasha: We are on Facebook and gathering friends at pace, and the office is filled with enthusiastic tweeters who use Twitter (@amuse_mag) to update our readers on events, new products and any random object of desire that catches their eye. We’re shortly to launch on Pinterest and will have an aMuse magazine app in September.
Fiona: What’s your view on free publications – what is their place in the media landscape and will we see more of them?
Sasha: As a former editor of ES Magazine, and deputy editor of The Times Magazine which are both, effectively, free publications, I absolutely think there’s a place for free publications in the media landscape. Readers now expect the highest quality from their free titles – and they are right to. And of course, where the readers go, the advertisers follow.
Fiona: You’ve been a journalist for 15 years, what’s been your best bit?
Sasha: aMuse is the first launch I’ve worked on and it’s been the most tremendously exciting, rollercoaster ride. It’s been a chance to dream up a magazine from scratch which is full of the stories, people and trends that I love. Definitely the best bit.
Fiona: And your worst?
Sasha: My first job was at Cosmopolitan Magazine and I’m struggling to decide which was the worst bit. Yes, I have it! Dressing up as a nun to run round Hyde Park on the hottest day of the year, having my photo taken for a story about nuns putting small ads in recruitment magazines.
Fiona: What’s been your proudest achievement?
Sasha: I’m deeply proud of aMuse and the team who work on the magazine, who are just so talented and brilliant with great futures. I’m also hugely proud of getting Kate Moss for the most recent cover of Pomp Magazine.
Fiona: And how can PRs best work with you across your three titles?
Sasha: I’m in the lucky position of being able to work with three totally different and very strong brands, so if a story doesn’t work for one of them, it might well work for another. I love hearing about anything new that’s happening in London, preferably via email in the first instance.
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