View Full Version : Help: choosing who to interview

10-08-2004, 12:01 PM
Thanks in advance for your suggestions ‘cause this is really starting to worry me. I need to film interviews of about a half-dozen experts that will appear in my doc but there are many dozen from which to choose. They're all published authors and usually from academia (Ph.Ds/professors). Of course, I’d like dynamic individuals that will help propel and pace the film. Also, I will need them so speak at a level so that the film can be understood by everyone.

So how do I choose? It’ll cost me a lot to drive or fly to whatever city so I can’t really afford to “waste” an interview. Is that unrealistic or should I just assume that some interviews are going to be wasted and keep trying (spending) until I get what I need. I expect that I can get a sense of how they will film by doing a phone pre-interview but it still doesn’t guarantee I’ll get what I need. What criteria do other doc filmmakers use when choosing?

10-09-2004, 03:26 AM
Moe. My criteria is somewhere between budget, gut instinct, research and importance to the film.... I think the phone is the first insight to someone, but then people have a "phone manner" and can be quite different face to face.... then their work itself, I know its academic writing so its not the best indicator, but there must be clues to their personality in the writing.... find other people who know them and try and get some indication from that... how important is each one to the project? does each have a specific area that they will talk about?..... How much cash have you got for the film? Ultimately this maybe the decider..... And finally don't assume that any interview is a "waste" It may offer another dimension in the edit, and at the very least it helps you become a better filmaker, learning how to work with people who maybe un-charismatic, quiet, somber, monosyllabic etc etc,

Hope it helps.

10-09-2004, 07:49 AM
And finally don't assume that any interview is a "waste" It may offer another dimension in the edit

Thanks that did help. I read a bunch of interviews with doc makers after the original post that confirmed your quote. I have so much to do with pre and then prod that I hadn't even considered the edit. I've learned that the edit is so much different than in narrative. There are so many unknowns in docs that scare me but I think it's probably best to just embrace the unknowns.


10-11-2004, 03:07 PM
The other option would be to catch a bunch of them in one go at a conference or something. Get a room at their hotel, and a conference room and go shoot as many people as you can. I've had great luck with this technique in the past. You'll end up with a lot more than you need (good IMHO).

I've also found that asking "experts" if they'll be at a certain conference can sometimes actually get them to go to it, so if there's someone you REALLY want, just ask em to meet you at that conference.

10-15-2004, 02:00 PM
Great suggestion Huslage. thanks.

12-11-2004, 08:01 PM
ask them if they are videotaped that often. ask them what was the last film they saw. ask them why. ask them if they would rather see themselves in b/w or color. ask them if they would mind if you played music in the background when you tape. ask them who they would like to listen to. after a point, yuo will begin to see more of what they are, and they will see what you want- you are part artist- are they bothered by that? then filter.

12-13-2004, 01:45 PM
I'm not sure about playing music in the background while you tape though. Correct me if I'm wrong but wouldn't you have to clear the music with the publisher?

12-14-2004, 07:03 AM
playing music while you set up may be fine, but keep your audio clean so you can cut on it. the music will show a cut - on top of being a legal issue.

definately tape more people than you neeed. it never hurts to have too much footage. i did interviews at a college last year and met a large group first and narrowed them down after doing some test footage.

for your topic, you may want people who have spoken about specific isssues in the past - who will best tell your story and represent the group as a whole.

good luck!

01-02-2005, 02:11 AM
Are you planning on going for any grant money for your doc? If so, I would also suggest contacting the different grant foundations you may apply to and asking them which expert/consultant they think would be of the most help to you. I did this on the documentary we are working on and the person I spoke to at the grant foundation actually gave me a few names to contact. It turned out to be an excellent source for our project.

01-02-2005, 03:27 PM
Thanks Moonwind: I'll be looking for finishing funds that would pay for much of the expert interviews so your suggestion is helpful.

01-02-2005, 06:26 PM

I have produced and edited A&E Biography and I am currently producing content for DVD featurettes for 5 vintage classic films including Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden. We have interviewed MANY people on both of these projects.

Nobody here has mentioned the most important component of getting good interviews - YOU! Do your research, do phone pre-interviews, take notes and KNOW as much as you can about each subject and how their personality, actions and artistry have contributed to whatever your subject is.

I have interviewed some not great subjects. On my last Biography, the key person I was interviewing showed up to the set telling me that their best friend was going to die of cancer, probably that day and that if they received a call during the interview, they would have to leave immediately. Needless to say, it is tough to have a great, warm and interesting interview when the subject is thinking that their best friend is dying at any minute.

We made it through the interview and while it was not the best one I have done, I was able to acknowledge the interviewees feeling and mood and then was able to get some quite good material, even under much less than ideal circumstances. It was also really cold and raining out, we did not have enough setup time and I was operating the A camera as well as doing the interview.

Interviews are a numbers game as well. I would say a typical ratio of GREAT interviews versus filler or only one or two good sound bites is about 60-40 or 70-30. Out the thousands of people I have interviewed over the years, I have only had one that we ended up with totally unusable footage and that person was 85, almost totally deaf and blind and the poor guy was just very hard to communicate with.

IMHO, good interviews are dependent on your skills more than the subjects. I can get something at least usable, if not really compelling from almost anyone. I recall a CFO of a corporation who DID not want to be interviewed but her boss made her be interviewed. She told me that she had to leave in 5 minutes. 35 minutes later, she left the set smiling and we were able to get some pretty good stuff from her, it just took some finessing and basic psychology, you need to convince them that they should trust you that you will draw some good information from them, that's it. Just "have a chat" as the camera rolls, don't make a big deal about it and cut and start a lot. If you have any rapport with people, it's not that hard but you do need to think on your feet, at least two steps ahead of where your actuall conversation with the subject is and you need to be nice.

If a question doesn't give you a good answer, be tactful enough to moove on to something else, then coome back to it later. I can't tell you how many bad interviewers I have heard in action as a producer, DP and sound person when I am not the director/interviewer. Be considerate of your subject and they will usually give you something good. Think on your feet and don't be afraid to deviate from your written questions if necessary.

All the best,

Dan B

01-04-2005, 05:30 PM
Thanks Pure. The anecdotal info was especially helpful.

01-06-2005, 06:08 AM
Done some interviews over 30 years as a broadcast journalist.
Let them talk.
Resist filling the silence with questions. Those times of "dead air" often lead to a revelation from the subject you otherwise would not get.
One more bit of advice.
Let the interview unfold naturally, like a conversation.
Your subject will relax and BE natrual.
That's what your want.
And for goodness sake don't ask questions that are longer than the answers.
It about the subject, not how clever the interviewer is!