30. 06. 2022 Charles Callaway Development

Making Your Own Video Tutorials, Part 9: Interviewing an Expert

Welcome back to our ongoing series of how to improve the video tutorials you make, especially when you’re on a tight budget, and by that I mean both money and time.

Today let’s look at conducting a live, one-on-one in-person interview. Note that online interviews and documentary-style off-screen interviews are their own full, separate topics).

And of course in a tutorial context, that usually means you’re going to interview a content expert on the topic they’re an expert in, while they’re next to you on camera. And let’s not mention that being on a budget means not just managing everything you’re already used to during filming, but managing your interviewee in addition.

But let’s get started. Where to start? How about with…

Your interviewee

Nothing is worse than trying to interview an asocial SME (subject matter expert). So hopefully your expert is (a) willing to be interviewed, (b) is naturally a talkative and engaging person, and can either talk clearly or can read a Teleprompter.

I’m going to assume that you’ve already ensured that this person is, in fact, a real expert. But your audience doesn’t know that, so be sure to introduce the interviewee properly at the beginning. You can either tell the audience yourself as if you were the host at an awards show, or ask them to introduce themselves.

It helps if your SME already knows the basic of shooting videos, like how to look at the camera while talking, how to look at you while talking, not to do anything excessive with their posture or hands, etc. You know, the rules that you already know at this point in this series.

So your final task is to make sure that your interviewee is comfortable and relaxed. Nervousness and worry definitely come across on camera, so be sure the SME knows where to sit, where to look, and what you’re doing (at a high level) right before you do it. For instance, that you’re about to start filming.

Before you start: planning!!

Of course you know you need to plan things out and probably write a script. You don’t want the interview to wander randomly or take much too long. Remember, wasting time during filming means wasting a lot more time during editing.

You probably already have a standard way of doing things if you’ve done enough tutorials already. You have your logo/animation in the opening screen, and you have almost a template of how things typically go so that you can tell the audience what the need to know without wasting their time.

So you need to work the interview into your existing video flow (unless of course you like wasting your own time as well). And if you’re doing interviews about technical IT issues, then you’ll probably want to be mixing video of the interview with screenshots or video of computer screens.

That means sometimes the audio of the interview will overlap the screencasts, with interview video in between. You get to decide how to edit that, such as when to show the screen and when to show people. Using that power wisely will both greatly improve your video as well as make your life easier when you can just switch to the screencast when something unwanted occurs visually.

Set the stage

Part of planning is deciding on a space to use and setting up for its physical layout. You’ll want a larger room than you usually use because there will be more people to fit into the camera angle(s). You don’t want to be right in front of a blank wall if at all possible so you can have some depth in your shot.

I’m still learning myself about lighting, but there are a ton of YouTube tutorials on where to place people and cameras, using uneven frontal lighting for shadow management, basics on color temperatures (e.g., don’t mix unequal types), and even light-based shot framing (e.g., minimize empty, bright spaces above people’s heads). This can become a never-ending rabbit hole of technical detail, so don’t say I didn’t warn you to just use the information that’s useful NOW.

This article will get extremely long if I go into much detail, so let’s look at the most important things you’ll need to worry about. These can be divided into 1) your technical gear, and 2) managing the interview :

  • Cameras: Wow, there are even more online tutorials about video cameras than there are about lighting!
    • Use multiple cameras to allow for multiple types of shots (e.g., panoramic vs. a tight, focused shot) and to let you cut between shot types later during editing.
    • Use different zoom levels on those different cameras.
    • Make sure cameras are at the eye height of people onscreen, even offscreen during zoomed shots, so that people are always looking at the height of the camera, not up or down.
    • For our budget considerations, think about using a single high resolution (4K) camera so that instead of switching camera shots, you can switch zoom levels just by reducing resolution for the panoramic shot and selecting a subset of the video for a tight shot.
    • Invest in a good, sturdy camera stand so your video camera won’t fall over if you add attachments (yes, this has happened to me).
  • Microphones and audio: I’ve already written about this before, so here are a few things specific to an interview:
    • Consider using a second, omnidirectional microphone that is always recording as a backup. If something happens to the original audio, it will be impossible to recover without redoing the entire interview, including getting your guest back in. Having backup and doing some audio editing on it is a lot, lot easier.
    • Whatever you do, don’t change the position and orientation of your microphone once you start. You can get away with it sometimes when there is only one person, but with two people, at least one of them will have noticeable differences in their spoken audio due to microphone amplification patterns.
    • Try having all participants wear headphones (in the style of radio DJ or podcast interviews) and use a single high quality, very close microphone instead of lapel microphones. Headphones can also take the place of a Teleprompter.
    • Beware of ambient sound and noise. Not just obvious things like dogs, airplanes and people in the next room over. Also low-level background noise like air conditioning that the microphone will pick up on and amplify in the intervals between people talking.
  • Light sources: (I’ve mentioned this before in the context of green screening, but I’ll treat it in more detail in an upcoming post, or you can see the first YouTube link above)
  • The participants: I assume you’ll expect a certain level of professionalism, but
    if the expert you’re interviewing is your colleague, you both likely have common expectations. So make sure nobody is wearing distracting or conflicting clothing styles or colors. A good rule of thumb is to wear what you’re required to wear in the office or whatever your workplace is. Remember that appearance backs up the expert, which is why doctors in hospitals wear white coats even when they know they aren’t doing surgeries or rounds.
  • The technical content: I hope you’ve already discussed ahead of time with your expert so you know what they will say. And because tutorial videos also often double as promotional materials, you’ll want to be sure the program manager is on board as well.
    • Let your expert say the content. As an interviewer with an expert, your job is not to be the expert. The more engaging they are the less work you will have to do, but it’s always your job to make sure the conversation moves in the right direction.
    • But don’t go too far in that direction either. It’s got to be a real conversation (taking turns talking), or else you don’t really need to be going to the time and effort to conduct an interview. Balance and moderation are the keys. If you have time, do a full practice run, look at the result after all editing is done, understand your mistakes, and then do a second take a week later to fix them.

Video Editing

Your main new task during video editing will be deciding how and when to use video of (you and) the interviewer instead of just video of you. During the live video scenes this usually means deciding when to zoom in or out, when to cut, and when to switch cameras (if you’re using multiple cameras).

Remember that just because your expert is speaking doesn’t mean he or she has to be onscreen while speaking. Often it’s great to show them at the beginning of their answer, and then transition to the screencast as they start to describe particular details.

You may find that full screen transitions can help the audience subconsciously anticipate what’s coming next. For instance if you always use a certain transition type or direction when going from the screencast to the interview video, but use a different type or direction when going the opposite direction.

Don’t spend most of your time on the live video of the interview, unless you have a particularly animated expert. Liven things up by switching back and forth when appropriate.

Finally, remember that our low budget means we won’t be able to buy multiple good-quality cameras which would allow us to make even more editing decisions. But even if we did, we would soon run into the time-consuming problem of synchronizing audio to the video for each camera. Remember the old adage that time is money, and you don’t have infinite time for video editing.

Conclusion

I don’t think you can expect to have a perfect interview the very first time you try, even with all the tips above. As usual during creative processes, it’s a learning experience where you get better the first 10 times you do it, then you plateau as you learn additional techniques more slowly. But boy those first interviews can be stinkers.

So in addition to the tips above, my best advice is for everyone to try to be as relaxed as possible. Especially you, the low budget videographer, since you’re already doing every task imaginable all by yourself, and the interview is just an added thing to think about. And it’s not just you, you’re also using someone else’s valuable time, and since every interview is with someone different, your technical expert will never be a video interview expert.

Take your time, stay relaxed, and do everything in your power to avoid the dreaded second callback session where you’ll be even more nervous. Good luck!

Charles Callaway

Charles Callaway

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Charles Callaway

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