I’m launching a new series of blog posts on DouglasHorn.com to talk about film gear. There are tons of great sites on the Internet dedicated to the latest new camera or other filmmaking gizmos, but I haven’t found any that talk about the real gear that filmmakers work with every day. Cameras are advancing in technology every moment, it seems. C-stands and gel frames, not so much. But these more common, less flashy tools of the filmmaking trade are often crucial to allowing a film crew achieve the look a director or cinematographer is after in a way that is efficient, reproducible, and safe. In this new film gear series I’ll talk about a lot of the basic tools of the trade—things that I use regularly to make my shoots go better.
So, you’ve been asked to represent your company or organization in an interview as part of a promotional or information video. Congratulations! It means people believe you’ll present well on video and avoid saying anything embarrassing. In other words, somebody thinks you’re good looking and intelligent—not too shabby. I have seven tips that can make a video interview process enjoyable and effective.
I direct video shoots for organizations all the time. Frequently, the people I interview are executives who have received corporate media training, but more often the interview subject is new to the process and a little nervous. The tips that follow are the ones I give to friends or clients who are taking part in their first corporate video.
1. Remember: Everyone is there to make you look good. Let them!
The crew on a corporate-type video may be small or large, but whatever the size of the crew, every person on set is there to make the subject look and sound good. A corporate video shoot may take over a room in your building or perhaps even your own office. If you’re the subject of the video, people may be messing with your hair, telling you what clothes to wear, pointing lights at you, and attaching microphones to your body. Even with the most respectful crew, this can seem overwhelming. It helps to remember that as the interview subject, you are the center of all of these people’s attention and they are working to make you look and sound good. That may not make it feel any more natural, but it really is all about you. Try to bear that in mind. The better the crew can do their jobs, the better you will look and sound in the finished product.
2. Take the make-up.
It can cost hundreds of dollars to bring a make-up artist to a shoot, but it’s money well spent. Video captures a much harsher version of reality than the human eye. Make-up helps smooth out the rough edges so that when people watch the video, they focus on you, rather than the way you look on video. Paradoxically, the right make-up makes a person on video look like they’re not wearing makeup.
There’s a famous story about the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon presidential debate. Kennedy wore the offered make-up and looked presidential, Nixon refused and looked like, well, Richard Nixon at his sweaty, five o’clock shadow worst. According to polls, people who listened to the radio felt the debate was a draw but those who watched on television gave it to Kennedy.
Time and again, I meet male business execs who resist the make-up. Just go with it—otherwise people watching the video will be concentrating on why you look so blotchy and sweaty, rather than what you’re saying. Wouldn’t you rather be like JFK than Richard Nixon?
3. Speak in complete thoughts.
The most common type of corporate video is the “talking head” interview. This is an interview where the audience sees the interview subject on screen talking about his or her organization and the great things they do. These videos don’t have an on-camera interviewer—the interview subject needs to tell the whole story. To do that, it’s important to speak in complete thoughts rather than responding to questions from someone who will not ultimately be part of the video.
If you’re being interviewed for a video, the director or interviewer may ask you what you think about such and such. As tempting as it may be, you can’t respond, “It’s terrific.” The video requires you to speak in complete thoughts so that the viewer can follow your line of thought without the interviewer. So you’ll need to get in the habit of repeating the subject in your response. Instead of a simple response, you should complete the thought by saying, “Such and such is terrific…we are discovering new uses we never imagined.” This is basic stuff, but if you can get in the habit of doing it, your interview will go more smoothly and be more useful and persuasive.
4. Use periods. Often.
It’s unlikely that your interview is going to be filmed straight through and posted intact. More likely, you will answer the same or similar questions several times and the video producer or client will have your responses edited together to tell the most persuasive and succinct version of the story they can.
When people are nervous, they tend to cram their words and phrases together to get them all out there. Unfortunately, long, run on sentences are difficult to edit together. Cutting up people’s words within a sentence is very difficult to get right. To help the editor make a persuasive video for your organization, you should use short, complete sentences and pause for a second between each one. This may feel unnatural, but it makes you look calm, decisive, and thoughtful on video. When I direct a shoot like this, I will often arrange a sign with the interview subject ahead of time that means, “Put a period on that sentence.” If the director of your video doesn’t do this, you can suggest it to him or her. Or just remind yourself to pause and take a breath before moving on to each new thought.
5. Understand how your interview will fit into the video.
Before you start talking, ask the director to give you a little information about how your interview is likely to fit into the context of the completed video. Will you be telling all or most of the story, or just a part of it? If others will also be interviewed, will they be speaking on the same topic to augment what you say? Knowing this can help you understand whether you need to spell out a very clear point-to-point explanation of the topic or just provide context or counterpoint to someone else’s interview.
Similarly, you should find out whether you should be directly addressing the camera or speaking with an on-camera or off-camera interviewer. Videos use on-camera interviews infrequently because they’re more expensive to produce and are often no more effective than a talking head interviewer. However, they are very easy on the interview subject. If someone is interviewing you on camera, just talk to that person, build a report. You don’t need to worry about where you look.
However, mostly you will be speaking with an off-camera interviewer. In this case you need to understand whether to look directly into the camera or off to the side. An experienced interviewer should make this very clear at the outset of your interview because where you look has an enormous impact on the feeling your interview. Looking directly into the camera is very personal to the viewer. They feel that you are looking them right in the eye. This is most appropriate when you are making an appeal to them to take action. Looking directly into the camera has it’s place, but most of the time, it is the wrong choice for corporate video.
For most videos of this type you will want to look just off camera. This allows the audience some psychological distance from your message while still making you most engaging. The director or interviewer should stand or sit next to the camera, at the same height and usually just a few inches off to the side. On camera you will look like you are facing the audience but not directly addressing them. If the director does not stand here, you can ask for a piece of tape to be places where you should look for a spotting point.
6. Imagine you’re speaking with a friend.
Giving an interview can sometimes be daunting. A good director should make you feel comfortable right away. When I’m directing a shoot like this, I consider building a report with the interview subject to be my most important job because any nervousness they feel will translate to the video. Part of the director or interviewer’s job is really to be your single-serving friend. You can help with this: before you start recording your interview, it’s a wise move to get to know the person who will be asking you questions. Find some common ground and build some comfort in talking to that person. You will come across as much more confident in the interview.
But what do you do if you’re a person who just doesn’t open up to new people quickly? Or maybe you just want to cover your bases in case the interviewer doesn’t click with you. Well, there’s no reason you can’t bring a friend or colleague to the interview with you. I have had interviews where I would bring the subject’s friend to sit next to me so that he could look at her when answering my questions. Even a picture of a friend, colleague, or loved one taped up next to a stand can work wonders in making you feel more comfortable during your interview.
7. Know what YOU need to say.
The tips up to now have been about the mechanics or style of your video. Let’s not forget about the content. You can’t give a good interview if you don’t know what you want to say. You should prepare ahead of time by getting a brief of what the point of the video will be and what you will be asked to speak about. It’s a good idea to confirm this understanding via e-mail the day before the shoot. Often there will be a pre-script showing what the producers hope to hear from each interview subject.
Know the points that are important to you and your organization. Interviews do sometimes get off track. This is especially common when there is no clear script or pre-script to work from. Here, you can help yourself by knowing your key points and steering your responses back toward them. At the same time, you should remain open to ideas from the director. He or she may have years of experience in crafting effective statements and judging how your interview will come across on video and you should take advantage of this experience.
Videos create opportunities.
Companies go to the trouble and expense of creating promotional videos because they are highly effective at positioning them and their messages. When you appear in a video for them, you may personally enjoy some of these same benefits. The resulting video allows you to present yourself and your message to people you’ve not yet met. It also provides a platform for people in your company or industry to develop a new image of you. Several people I’ve interviewed for videos have told me later that surprising new opportunities appeared for them shortly after the video aired. With these tips, you are in a good position to present yourself well both for your organization and yourself.