Nine Mistakes You Should Avoid When Shooting Documentary Interviews


When it comes to shooting a documentary interview, professionalism must be made. However, it can be a bit overwhelming to shoot one especially when you’re on a tight schedule. That’s why mistakes are sometimes made while doing one. But with proper preparation, you can avoid these nine common documentary interview mistakes listed down below.

  1. Interviewees in Moving Chairs

  • Keeping your subject still into place is the key to a perfect documentary interview. Don’t let them sit in moving chairs such as swivel chairs, rocking chairs, and rolling office chairs. It will be incredibly hard to edit when you see your subject bouncing or turning around an inch every second. Let them sit on a solid chair to avoid this mistake.
  1. Yes or No Questions

  • Before you make the interview, you should’ve already prepared the questions you have to ask the interviewee. And while making one, avoid questions that require a Yes or No for an answer. Make it more professional and conversational so the interviewee will give his/her opinion about that matter.
  1. Jotting Down Notes During an Interview

  • Eye-to-eye contact is crucial when it comes to interviews, so avoid writing down notes about their opinions or answers while conversing them. If you do, they’ll be distracted on your pen and paper, losing the immersion of the interview. The worst part is that they’ll tend to slow down when speaking so you’ll be able to keep up while writing. Giving the impression that you’re just interested in your notes and not in their opinion about the matter.
  1. Rushing Things

  • Don’t be afraid to allow short pauses and silences during an interview. It can be a little awkward at first but rushing to the next question after the next one can cause you to talk over the subject. Create short breakpoints for at least 2 to 3 seconds. It’s also ideal to pause a little longer to create additional room tone that will come in handy in the editing process.
  1. Interviewees Getting Out of Topic

  • Make your interviewee comfortable of what they want to say, but don’t let them ramble off topic that’s miles away from the original one. If they do, don’t cut them off directly as this may startle them, find a respectful way to get them back on topic.
  1. Not Checking Your Camera Settings

  • Before the interview begins, be sure to check your camera settings first especially when you’re doing multiple camera shots. Match the video settings of all your cameras so that the video editor won’t run into syncing issues during the editing process.
  1. Bad Lighting

  • Not properly lighting your subject is definitely one thing that you should avoid when shooting interviews. This will depend on the location you are in. If you’re only using one light to light your subject, you’ll probably get harsh shadows in the background. Try to shoot the interview away from walls or backdrops and use some uplight to get that beautiful backlighting effect. If you’re doing an interview in an office, desk lights or lamps will come in useful to balance your lighting.
  1. No Audio Recorder

  • Cameras may have a built-in audio recorder, but not all of them can record good quality sound. However, if you’re using a camera with an XLR port in it, then you’re good to go. If you don’t have one, then now is the time to invest in getting a good audio recorder. DSLRs or Mirrorless Cameras don’t have true dedicated audio ports as they only come with built-in audio recorders that record terrible sound quality.
  1. Not Checking Audio Levels

  • When filming, whether a documentary or a short video project, audio is just as important as video. If you bought an audio recorder to aid you during recording sound, don’t forget to check the audio levels while shooting the interview. This ensures you that every sound coming from you and the interviewee can be heard.

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