It all starts with a conversation.
“Hey, Dan. What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing much, I just wanted to run an idea by you. What if we wrote an article on how to create a proper interview, but I interview you on the subject.”
“So, you mean, you are going to interview me about interviews and how to make them?” “Yep. I also want to talk what makes an interview good, the difference in content, and the technical sides of these productions.”
“Sounds good to me. Want to do it now?”
“Sure. My first question is…”
What makes a good interview?
“First and foremost a good interview is the content being said more than the technicalities. You could have an excellent interview shot on a smart phone with horrible sound quality, but the content is done right.”
The number one priority in most interviews is the conversation. Where a lot of media relies on visual techniques to be able to convey a narrative, an interview is purely about the discussion that is happening between the two on-screen characters. This obviously doesn’t mean that it is acceptable to have terrible visuals and audio, but focusing on the questions and on the interviewee is the first step in creating a good interview.
“The second most important thing is audio. It’s better to sacrifice image quality in favour of sound quality, because it can get frustrating to try and listen to an interesting topic when all you can hear is mumbling.”
Many interviews, especially during a pandemic situation, are being done over online platforms. Does this mean that they are bad? Not in the slightest. By favouring the audio of the piece, high quality interviews are still being carried out because, at the end of the day, people want to hear the content instead of trying to lip read it.
Our hosts discussing the next Talking Alpacas episode
What makes the content of an interview great?
“You should always have some pre-made questions, but you need to always be open to a discussion. If the interviewee introduces new information, you have to be flexible enough to go down a new line of questions. You can’t just repeat information that people already know.”
Creating a flow throughout an interview is one of the most important pieces in the puzzle that is content. If an interviewee answers a question with a story, then going off onto a bit of a tangent in the search of new information can help the feel of an interview, lending to the authenticity of it. It wouldn’t be the first time an interviewee completely derailed your questions, so being able to think on your feet and continue digging deeper is a must in any scenario.
“Research. Before having an interview, researching about the interviewee is key. Getting to know the interviewee from before can also help, so conducting pre-interviews to help solidify the story goes a long way.”
Knowing is half the battle, and interviews aren’t just about the questions. By researching the interviewee, the level of content is going to rise. Looking through previous interviews, being up to date on their current work and projects, and even having a discussion with them before the actual interview are all ways at effectively preparing yourself. Building a relationship or an understanding of the person allows the questions to flow while also being versed in who they are, creating a rhythm in the dialogue.
For example, Netflix’s new docuseries The Last Dance contains many interviews with basketball players, all of which feel natural yet informational. There is a clear link between the research put in and the quality of the final product; there is a reason that when speaking to Michael Jordan, they ask him how he felt about specific players as they already know what sort of reaction they are going to get.
How do the technical aspects enhance the content?
“Lighting plays a huge role. It’s all about the story and the feel you want to get across. For a more dramatic topic, you might lean towards a one-point lighting-esque setup, but if you want a more relaxed vibe, having something simply well-lit might put a greater focus on the conversation.”
Deciding on the look and feel of an interview is going to set the tone for the rest of the discussion. You eat with your eyes first, so although visuals are on the bottom of the priority list, everything matters when it comes to professional content. This doesn’t apply to just shots of an interview, but every piece of b-roll, previous footage, and audio clips need to reflect the same atmosphere, all coming together in the edit.
So, how do you approach an interview on a technical level?
“Identifying a background makes all the difference. It needs to be both practical and visually relevant. During the interview, you don’t want to stop mid-sentence because light is hitting the camera, but casual interviews should be done in casual places, so finding a balance is important.”
Whether the interview will last five minutes or fifty, every shoot requires a recce. Not only should an interview look good, but it should be technically sound to be able to produce the best content possible. How is the sound quality? Will the natural lighting ruin the continuity? Will the interviewee sit comfortably in this environment?
Finding the right look takes time and research, and that doesn’t exclude practical knowledge. Certain projects would have the interview look better static on a greenscreen, while others would look better in a library with close-ups for dramatic effect. Interviews are stories which need visuals to help them reach their end, so identifying what is needed (and being able to execute it well) will help put the quality over the top.
Interview with President Emeritus Dr.Hugo Mifsud Bonnici.
Any other suggestions?
“I know it might sound a bit contradictory but try not to prepare yourself up to the full stop, just know what you want to get across. This applies to both the interviewer and the interview. Keep the flow going and try not to be rigid; think about all the points you want to hit and get to them naturally. You know the content, so relax.”