Category Archives: Writing and Storyteling

Storytelling and Interviewing Techniques and Tips

Recording and taking notes.

After the introductory formalities and before the interview starts, ask permission if you can use their real name and record the interview. Then produce it and get started on the interview. Few people object to being recorded but if they do, just use your notebook. Never thrust the recorder in a person’s face as they will feel self-conscious, causing them to become tongue-tied. Use your notebook for the accurate spelling of names (companies, locations etc), jotting down a few main points and perhaps some question reminders for later.
Be careful when recording that you don’t lose concentration as this will tend to “deaden” an interview.

Listen carefully to what is being said and be sure to understand the answers otherwise it will be difficult to write clearly enough for your readers.  If you don’t understand something ask! “Can you put it into simpler language?” or “Can you clarify that a little more”.  If someone gives “off the record information” turn the recorder off. Always guide the interview, but don’t dominate it. If the person strays too far from the subject, then quickly guide the person back. Don’t forget to turn the recorder back on when the interview proceeds again.

Photographs with the interview

Photos that will be taken need to have a resolution of at least 300 dpi.  Since you don’t know how large others will want to print it, keep the size around (or above) 5 x 6 inches at 300 dpi.  Format: JPEG files (.jpg). Normally files straight from your camera are fine. .tiff and .eps are also good file formats.

Tip: If you take photographs, always get a signed agreement before taking them and as a safeguard for yourself have them sign a Model Release Form (see below). Take any photos you require at the end of an interview when the person is relaxed.

If possible have the person do something that is relevant to the interview rather than just standing or sitting. Alternatively photograph the person in surroundings that have meaning to the theme of the interview.  If this is not possible then just take a mug shot (a facial close up) that you can use.
Note: People will sometimes cross out the word electronic on a consent form if they do not want their picture to appear on the internet and only permit their photo to be used in a print publication. Always respect their request if this is the case.

Video Interview Techniques
An interview should be guided to serve a particular purpose within a story. To enable you to do this well you need to gain the interviewees trust, so they will share with you their most personal thoughts and feelings. You want to elicit not only the predictable but the unpredictable. Remember interviews are for requiring feelings and opinions, not facts.

Choosing Your Talent

As much as possible you should have met your talent before filming them, in order to know what they are going to say and in order to find the right talent. You want someone who is going to light up the screen with their lively and articulate manner of delivery. Don’t automatically rule out shy people as sometimes they can come alive on-screen, just as charismatic people can ‘clam up’. Make sure your talent is not acting or performing to the camera, otherwise they will not seem genuine or authentic.

More specific characteristics maybe required depending on the purpose of your video i.e. a knowledgeable person is needed for an informative documentary, a person using accessible language is needed for a ‘Jo public’ target audience.

The Interview

Get consent from the talent, either verbal consent recorded on camera or written consent. You will need to get parental consent if filming someone under the age of 18, in Europe. Know what you want the talent to say before you record the interview, often this requires a preliminary interview in the pre-production stage. Never ask the critical question (the one that will trigger a gush of tears) during the research stage, save it for the camera.  Prepare questions that will direct you to get the information you want. But be flexible, as the interview progresses you may need to alter your line of questioning. Interrupt the interview if you feel it is going ‘off track’ or the talent is entering into too much irrelevant detail.

When you acquire your answers get the talent to include the subject of the question at the start of their answer. Asking them to begin their answer incorporating the question means the talent will answer in full. This then allows the program to be cut without the interviewer in it. If the interviewer should be included in the final piece then remember to film the questions being asked and reactions (i.e. noddies), at the end of the interview. Make sure you match the shot sizes and eye height of the interviewer with the interviewee, and give the looking room different sides (so when the shots are cut together they look like they are talking to each other).

Never give the questions out prior to the interview (just give guidance about the subject and angle) this is important to gain spontaneous answers.  After the interview get plenty of ‘B-roll shots’ (shots that go over the dialogue) related to what the talent is talking about. Get shots of the talent interacting with other people.

Technical Considerations

Record the interview in a setting that is quiet with good lighting. Make sure the background has depth and is interesting, but not distracting. It should relate to the talent and interview. If it is a short interview you can have the talent standing (they usually look more engaged standing) otherwise you should give them a chair. It is important to put them in a chair that sits them ‘up right’ and not sloughing, this way they will appear more engaged with the audience.
Avoid interviewing two people in the one shot (the audience will automatically be drawn to the person not speaking). If the talent is wearing glasses check that the glass isn’t reflecting the light or images. The interviewer needs to be sitting at the level of the camera lens and right beside the camera.

Although not considered necessary in many cases, as a legal safeguard for yourself, get a signed agreement before taking any photos of people you are interviewing and have the subject of your photo sign a Model Release Consent Form. A large percentage of the time as a freelance photographer you do not pay remuneration for photos but as a safeguard against claims if the photo should later be used extensively and the subject of the photo should decide to sue for modeling fees have the person sign an Unpaid Model Release Form.
The unpaid model release form provides basic protection for you as the photographer.

UNPAID MODEL RELEASE
(A:) In consideration of $.0.., (amount or nil) receipt is acknowledged,
I,……………………………………………………… (the models name)
do hereby give,……………………………………… (photographers name)
and his/her assigns, licensees and legal representatives the irrevocable right to use my picture, portrait or photograph in all forms of media and in all manner, including electronic media and/or composite representations, for advertising, trade, or any lawful purposes and I waive any right to inspect or approve the finished product, including written copy that may be created in connection therewith. I am of full age*. I have read this release and are fully familiar with its contents. *Delete this sentence if the subject is a minor. (The parent or guardian must sign the Consent form below)
Signed: …………………………… Witnessed: ………………………
Address: ………………………….. Address ………………………….
……………………………………… ……………………………………
Date: ………………………………. Date: …………………………….
(*B) MINOR CONSENT (if applicable for minor)
I am the parent or guardian of the minor named above and have the legal authority to execute the above release. I approve the foregoing and waive any rights in the photographs.
Signed:………………………. Witnessed: …………………………
Address:…………………….. Address………………………………
……………………………….. ……………………………………….
Date: ………………………… Date: ………………………………..

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Simple Guidelines for Interviewing and Writing Effective Stories.

Any company or organization that seeks to raise its profile needs to be able to tell its story well to their audience. The best stories are those which show that someone’s life or a community has been radically changed. Below are some guidelines when writing stories and doing interviews.

How to do an interview

Prepare your list of questions in advance. List the questions and points you want to ask in brief heading form. Maintain eye contact with the person you are interviewing as much as possible. Listen carefully and establish a relaxed style of questioning. Allow the questions to flow according to the context, glancing at your list only to refresh your memory or fill a long pause in the conversation. If a pause should occur wait for the person being interviewed to continue the conversation. Never direct how the interview proceeds or you may miss the opportunity for obtaining other relevant information outside of your line of questioning. Be open to new questions and new points raised during the interview. Flexibility in your interviewing will allow you to pursue interesting or relevant sidelines as they come up. These may be areas of activity that you are unaware of despite your research. Don’t worry about ending up with more information than you require. Use what you need and put the rest in your files to be used at another time. Ask open-ended questions instead of questions that invite a “yes” or “no” answer will give more interesting responses. These questions usually begin with who, what, when, where and how, and cannot be answered with a straight yes or not.

Example: “How did you get into writing?” “what made you decide on this particular area of writing”? etc.

This type of questioning sets the framework of the interview and is a useful tool when digging for significant information.

Possible Interview Questions for Use with Changed Life Stories:
1.    Tell me about your background – Where were you born and raised? Tell me about your family?
2.    What role did _______ have in your life growing up?
3.    When was the first time you learned about ___________?
4.    What was your first reaction to ___________? What was your family’s reaction?
5.    What’s been the biggest challenge since _________________?
6.    What’s the biggest change you’ve experienced to date?
7.    How has your life changed?
8.    What would you say to those people who have helped you?

Read more in the next post soon to follow entitled:  Storytelling and Interviewing Techniques and Tips