Interviewing Techniques for Kona, Hawaii Multimedia Storytellers

Nikon D5, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 280, ƒ/8, 1/100

When I teach students photography, multimedia, and storytelling, I often reflect on the content.

Nikon D5, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/1250

When I was down at South Point on The Big Island of Hawaii, I saw how all the trees were leaning in one direction.

Nikon D5, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/10, 1/200

When I say all the trees, I mean all the trees are leaning from a constant wind. The wind is so consistent and promising that they use windmills for wind power.

Nikon D5, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/7.1, 1/800

While this strong wind is excellent, it will affect the landscape. Well, when I teach, I am trying hard not to make so much of an impression it looks like my students are too overpowered.

Some of the things we discussed today was interviewing techniques. Now when I teach with my friends Jeff Raymond and James Dockery, we compile a list of tips we give to the students. Here is that list, plus some that I have added this week:

  1. Remember, the audience doesn’t know the question from the interviewer if they are not recorded or on camera. Therefore, remind the subject to restate the question in their answer.
  2. Write down at least five good questions beforehand.
    1. Listen to their responses and be ready to deviate from your list
    2. Listen as if you only hear their words, not the question you asked
  3. Ask open-ended questions
    1. Ask questions that the subject CAN’T answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
  4. Ask “how” and “why” questions.
    1. If the person speaks in the abstract, ask, “Can you give me an example of that?”
  5. Dig for anecdotes and details
    1. Ask the person to tell you precisely what happened moment by moment
    2. Ask for specific details along the way.
  6. Understand them and their story
    1. Try to see the world through their eyes.
    2. Remember, it’s not your story. Get the subject’s story right.
  7. Ask your questions, then be quiet. Use silence, and don’t be afraid of it. No noises to affirm them. Affirm with gestures. Your noises will distract from the sound quality. 
    1. Don’t finish their sentences.
    2. Be a good listener. Sit still as they wrestle with what they are trying to say.
  8. Coach the person to speak with the passion they feel about the subject.
    1. Can you say that again, but with more feeling?
    2. Remember, they may be pretty up tight in front of the camera and need not just to relax but bring the emotion through their voice.
  9. Get the basic details right
    1. Get the spelling of their name (business card, or have them write it down).
  10. Clarify
    1. If something they said didn’t make sense, ask for clarification.
    2. Review your footage while you’re still overseas, where follow-up is much easier than after you go home.
  11. Please get to know your subject before interviewing them. Learning more about the subject will not just help the subject be more relaxed but help you understand how to interview the subject and perhaps help the subject relax.
  12. You can interview at the end of the coverage and not at the beginning. I find it is easier to have someone sum up what we saw today than have the subject talk about a lot of stuff that I never caught on camera by the end of that, again. But, again, this helps you from lacking in b-roll or images. 
  13. Ask the subject to summarize what you have seen that day. While you may not use all of this, it will help you with a starting place for the narrative.
  14. Mirror them. Keep the subject going by nodding and smiling.
  15. Keep them on topic. If you have two or more interviews in your package planned, then each person needs to know what they are covering. Sometimes I break it down to let one person tell me why something happened, and the other explains what they did to make it happen. 
  16. Help them revise their comments. Often I need about 30 to 45 seconds of words, and a person may talk for more than 5 minutes. If I were to edit it later, there would not be a good flow. I try and help them summarize what they just said or even edit. When I say edit–I mean cutting content.
  17. Get variety. I like to record longer comments often and then follow up with them, making them short. Sometimes I use the longer word. Get another direction, just in case. Doing this for a few minutes often engages their minds, and they find a new way to articulate themselves. Allow for this to happen.

Remember that you don’t need them to tell you everything in words. You will also help communicate a good part of what they do with visuals you will capture and use as a b-roll. It would help if you told you the things the visuals don’t convey. While you have a visual that shows something happening, it often doesn’t help the audience know why.

The story will be unique if you do a good job interviewing. The branches of the report can be like Angel Oak Park on Johns Island near Charleston, South Carolina. Angel Oak is estimated to be 500 years old. The subject’s character will shine through and be who they are rather than all the wind forcing its power on the tree.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 400, ƒ/8, 1/250