Interviews

Before shooting, look at films that contain interviews and decide what you like or don't like about an approach and what you want to do in your own film. Do you plan to appear on camera along with your interviewees, as Judith Helfand did in Blue Vinyl? Do you want your interviewees to appear to be addressing the audience directly? Do you want to take a less formal approach to interviewing, asking your subjects questions as they go about their lives or filming them as they discuss specific subjects with each other?

Your answers to these questions will affect how you conduct and shoot your interviews. If you're not going to appear on camera, and your questions won't be heard as voice-over, you'll need to frame the question in a way that elicits a full answer, not just, "Yes. Sure. Oh, yes, I agree with that." You might want to ask the person being interviewed to incorporate part of your question in his or her answer, as in, "When did you know there was trouble?" Answer: "I knew there was trouble when..." In any case, you'll need to listen carefully as the interview is under way to make sure that you're getting something that will work as the beginning of a sentence, thought, or paragraph. If necessary, ask the question again, maybe in a different way.

Go into the interview knowing the handful of specific story points the interview needs to cover, and then include other material that would be nice to have or questions that are essentially fishing—you're not sure what you're going to get, but the answers could be interesting. Note that if you've cast the person you're interviewing in advance, you probably already know what ground the interviewee can best cover. It's rarely productive to ask everyone in a film the same 20 questions.

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