Nov 16, 2017

Framing Up A New Style of Interview

The most watched interview of all time happened when Oprah Winfrey sat Michael Jackson down for a little chat. It beat out the Barbara Walters and Monica Lewinsky interview. It beat out Nixon and David Frost.

Aside from the content of their discussion – which was spellbinding – it’s interesting to watch and consider how interview videography techniques have changed since the show aired in 1993.

Many things remain the same; it was shot with tripod cameras, angled just so to catch both Oprah and Michael volleying back and forth. But there are some stark differences too. The backdrop is a room in Michael’s Neverland Valley Ranch estate, and everything—including Oprah and Michael—has been softened to the point of putty.

The way video interviews are filmed nowadays depends very much on the story being told. Though tripod cameras are as popular as ever, technology and methodology has changed. From shot angles and 4K resolution, to white backgrounds and green screens. Pixl producers know it all because they’ve done it all, and they’ve got plenty of wisdom to share.

For instance, Apple made stark white backgrounds popular in the corporate interview scene over ten years ago, and it became so widely used that now it’s almost cliché. The video team at Pixl, led by David Hamilton, Pixl’s senior video producer, still utilize the technique when it’s called for, but he’s partial to marrying the tried and true with the latest and greatest. It’s his mission to make sure Pixl productions are at the bleeding edge of the “talking head” video scene.

Take, for instance, the depth of field used when filming interviews. David currently prefers a shallow depth of field as a way to bring an interviewee to the forefront, while still adding interest in the background. It keeps the subject’s face bright and sharp, unlike that overall washout that’s noticeable on the Oprah/Jackson interview.

If called for, David suggests introducing some movement to the camera by ditching the stationary tripod and replacing it with a slider. This allows for lateral camera movement, and when done correctly, adds a dynamic view without being distracting.

If you have the ability to shoot with two cameras, he suggests the main camera take the straight shot, while the second tightens in on the subject at a 45 degree angle. There’s a catch though: during the editing process, don’t be too overzealous when jumping between shots. It can make things choppy.

When it comes to working as a one-man, one-camera crew, David suggests motorized sliders—which came onto the market within the last few years. They move in an arc, giving a circular look at the subject, and giving the impression of a bigger team and budget.

For a more documentary look, David opts for a handheld camera, though he advises videographers to take a seat and avoid the Blair Witch effect, which can be downright nauseating to a viewer.

Beyond the camera, there’s so much more to consider. Placement of the subject should be purposeful, either centered or not. Natural light should not be relied on because it changes so often. Be careful of windows and mirrors. Decide if the speaker should be looking off-screen or directly into the camera.

There’s a lot of nuance, David says, and it can make or break an interview shoot. But no matter what, Michael Jackson said it best: don’t stop until you get enough…footage. And then you’re ready to put together a corporate video that will blow Oprah’s out of the water.