Production: 5 Tips for Documentary Interviews

Documentary interviews are their own little niche that not everyone can do. There is a lot of skill involved with interviewing someone who is not a professional actor on camera. You need to find the right people to speak to and lead them to their answers. You cannot force them to say what you want, otherwise it will appear unnatural. Here are 5 tips for documentary interviews.

1. Pick the Right People to Talk To

The first step in conducting a great documentary interview is to find the right people to talk to. This requires a lot of preparation on the film maker's part. Because each project is different, the amount of work that goes into hunting down your subjects varies.

If you're looking for experts on a little known event that happened 200 years ago, then you're going to have to do a lot of research to find experts, and when you do find them, they're probably so rare that you need to interview whoever you could get. But, if you're doing a documentary on a subject like heart attack survivors, then there are going to be a lot of people to choose from. Or, if your interview requires you to do man on the street style interviews, then you'll find the subjects the day of the shoot.

The key is to find someone who is knowledgeable with a great on-camera personality.

2. Edit Your Voice Out

You want the interview to come off as natural when you edit it, and that requires you to cut your voice out. Because of this, it's important to have your subject respond to your questions by first restating them. You need to stay on top of this throughout the interview so when you go to edit it, everything will make sense.

3. Let Your Subject Speak

Remember that your subject is the expert on the topic and not you. Ask thoughtful and insightful questions, but don't try to make your subject feel like you know more than they do. Be quiet and let them speak. 

4. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Them to Restate Something

As the director, you need to be very attentive as to what exactly the subject is saying. If they go off on a tangent, don't be afraid to ask them to rephrase what they said. Make them feel comfortable by letting them know that the reason is you and not them. Also, if a person says 'um' a lot, try to get them to say the sentence over again. 

5. Always Keep the Edit in Mind

You're going to find that your subjects have a lot of great and interesting things to say. It's fine to listen to them, but try to keep your final edit in mind at all times. After all, you're the director, so direct the interview.

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