Setting up the Shot

Lesson Details

Subject: Shooting

Title: Setting up the Shot


How to Get The Best from Formal Interviews

There are some situations where you are going to want to conduct a formal interview rather than just gathering soundbites while you're filming. If you're making certain styles of documentary or longer form news stories, a formal or "sit-down" interview may be appropriate. 

The subject matter may also call for a longer, more formal interview.  For example if you are interviewing a political figure or responding to a crisis situation with an expert as your interviewee then a couple of soundbites will not be as effective as an in-depth interview. 

In this lesson we're going to look at the important elements of doing a well crafted formal interview.

You will learn the following:

  • Setting up and checking the shot correctly
  • The importance of acquiring good audio
  • Choosing the right location for your interview
  • Making the best of available lighting
  • How to avoid distractions

As you'll see, the subsequent lessons in this course cover some of these elements such as lighting and audio in much more detail.

When you conduct any kind of interview, the first thing you will need to do is set up the shot correctly. This takes time and should not be rushed because the decisions you make now will have a huge impact on the way the interview both looks and feels. It's easy to make simple mistakes at this stage such as having too much noise in the background or positioning your subject so it looks like they have a plant sticking out of their head! 

Michael Rosenblum has produced award winning documentaries as well as thousands of hours of programming for cable television. In this lesson, he will show you how with a bit of planning and preparation, you'll ensure a smooth interview that will look good in the frame.


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So a now you’ve got your camera all set up, its securely on the tripod. I like to do the things sitting down because you may be there for some time and there’s no point in standing up. Have your subject sit across from you. Line up the camera so that the subject is actually looking into the camera and peer down the lens like this. Get behind the thing. This may not be the most natural thing in the world but it’s more important the way the subject appears on camera, on the screen to the person who’s watching it than your own particular comfort.

So when you get the whole thing lined up and you get behind it of course be sure to mic the subject. Put a radio mic on them or a hardwire mic on them. You want to pick a quiet space. The whole point of an interview it is by definition it's an artificial event. Interviews don't normally take place in real life. When were shooting actuality, we like not to direct. We like to capture things as they’re actually happening. But when it comes the interview, the interview is fake from beginning to end. So you can set the subject any way you want.

The most important thing when you’re setting the subject is two things, one is you want someplace quiet because you’re going to take the vast majority of this material and you’re going to drop it as a VO over shots that you've done a ready or weave it into the story that you’ve shot. We’ll talk about how to make those two things married together later in the session. The second thing is we want to focus on lighting. What we want to avoid is the necessity of carrying around a lot of artificial lights. They’re heavy, they’re bulky, they get in the way.

They’re cumbersome if you work by itself is pretty much impossible. If you're on the road, if you're following an operation, if you're on a truck or bus somewhere, you going overseas you don't want to be dragging around light with you. That having been said, you do want to make use of the available light that you can find. You don't want backlit, you don't want to put people in front of windows. Essentially you want the light on their face whether it's electric light, artificial light, or window light. So you want the primary source of lighting behind you and you want them fairly well lit. I'm not crazy about lighting myself. I don't go nuts with it, with shadow and stuff like that because let's face, it the vast majority of the sound bites that you are going to be eliciting to are going to be used as voice over.

You’re not going to have the person on camera all that much. So I’m much more concerned with clean audio than I am with in terms of how well the thing is lit. And clean audio means finding a really quiet place that doesn't have a lot of room tone, that doesn't have a lot of vibration. That doesn't have a lot of echoed sound in it. You can tell how a room is by simply going in it and going like this. And hearing if the noise bounces off tiles on the floor or metal or stuff like that. You like carpeted, you like curtains, you like someplace quiet. Now, a lot of people make a really typical mistake with this thing and they go through all the effort and they slam somebody up against the wall which believe me looks terrible. You don’t want to one make it look like they are you know convict shots or you know perp walk shots or passport photos.

What you want to do is you want to put a person a position where there’s some depth and some drop behind them. You want them kind of in the center of the room. And you want something going on the background, nothing to distracting. Most times people are so nervous about doing the interview and getting it set up and so concerned about their questions, they really don't bother to pay much attention to what the surroundings look like. So you want to watch out for trees growing out of people's heads or wires going by or shadows behind them or putting them up against a wall or something like that.

If you’re are shooting somebody in a factory situation, in their workplace in a sporting event or something like that, you want to place them in a situation where the event, the larger, the factory, the sporting event whatever it is is going on in the background but quite far away so it's not distracting. You want to give a sense of depth of the thing and really the impression you should get when use them on camera which will not be all that often, is that you kind of grab them in the middle of the workplace or the operation if this is possible.

If it's possible, I emphasize if you’re in a noisy factory, find a quiet office where you can do the to the interview. I’m much more concerned with the audio with this thing than I am with the way that it looks. But we do want to be careful since we’re placing somebody and the whole thing is artificial to begin with, that we take a minute, think about it and before you start to roll really look at the setting and the way the whole thing is framed objectively to see if there's anything strange going on in the picture that you’re going to find distracting later.

© Michael Rosenblum & Lisa Lambden 2015 to 2020