On-Camera Interviews with Amateurs 101

Video Creative Director
Published 4/24/14
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Five Tips for Getting the Most Out of On-Camera Interviews with Amateurs

Here at Miles, there is no such thing as one-size videos for all. We have created some incredibly unique video programs to suit our clients’ needs. From utilizing professional on-camera talent to trolling destinations for candid “Man-On-the-Street” interviews with locals and visitors, we’ve captured it all.

During the last set of videos we produced for LouisianaTravel.com, we were tasked with creating video content that told the unique story of each region within the magnificent tableau of cultures that make up Louisiana. From Cajun Country in the south to Sportsman’s Paradise in the north, we covered some major ground in our two-week tour.

Taking into consideration Louisiana’s distinct, homegrown point of view, our videos sought to tell the story from the local’s point of view. No scripts. No pros. Only homegrown “talent” would do in capturing the essence of this incredible state.

Now, I’ve filmed everywhere from five-star resorts to burger shacks in the middle of nowhere, but this shoot presented me with a serious first when it came to capturing content for tourism. Naturally, I’m game for just about anything, but documenting boudin, more notably Louisiana’s Boudin Trail, was something of a novelty in my career, both in terms of subject matter and the subjects we were featuring on camera.

Boudin is a traditional Louisiana culinary delight—nay, experience. A meal unto itself, it’s created much in the same way as one would make sausage, except there are some added ingredients that make this a truly unique gastronomic experience. While no boudin maker will ever divulge his full recipe, boudin is roughly comprised of meat (pork, liver, beef, sometimes fish), spices, veggies (onions, peppers) and rice all neatly packaged in a casing.

Louisiana takes its boudin VERY seriously. From butcher shops to gas stations and little roadside stops, boudin can be found virtually everywhere in Louisiana, but is especially common in Cajun Country, the region in the southwest corner of the state. That’s where we set out to discover for ourselves what this pseudo-sausage is all about.

While perhaps not as compelling visually as a scenic vista or a lively city, our video about boudin definitely captures the character of Louisiana. Sometimes you can’t rely on the visuals even in a visual media like video; you have to shape it around the character. Truthfully, this kind of video is my absolute favorite to shoot.

Sometimes you can’t rely on the visuals even in a visual media like video; you have to shape it around the character.

As producer, I always do some research and gather a rough outline of the tone of the video, the locations being featured and an idea of the content I hope to capture. However, even with our fully scripted videos, I still don’t want to marry myself too much to one particular idea and instead prefer to allow the magic of happenstance, improvisation and the presence of the destination to lead me towards the final goal.

We don’t scout prior to a shoot, so every time I’m on set I’m seeing it for the first time (unless, by chance, I happen to have been to that destination before). The goal, in case I’ve lost you at this point, is to create a compelling enough story in 2.5 minutes that will make people want to visit. In this case, a compelling enough story about boudin that will make you consider planning a vacation to taste it for yourself.

One of the more challenging situations with this kind of video is utilizing “found” talent to speak on camera. For this video, we were interviewing three different boudin makers in the region. Some were more comfortable on camera than others, but regardless of on-camera presence, figuring out a way to ask the right questions in order to get your on-camera interview to provide enough content to make a video is more challenging than it seems.

Five Tips for Getting the Most Out of On-Camera Interviews with Amateurs:

  1. Make friends immediately. The sooner you get comfortable and friendly, the sooner your on-camera subject will relax and express from the heart (rather than a memorized regurgitation of whatever it is they do). These aren’t commercials so I’m less interested in the “sell” than I am in the “story.”
  2. Since I’m not on camera with them, another silly but key point is to make sure the subject is talking in complete sentences. When I ask: “What can you tell me about this restaurant?” and someone responds back: “It’s great!” ...I've got nothing. No one’s going to hear my question in the final edit, so incomplete responses will feel out of context and won’t provide good content to talk about the establishment. Instead, especially for inexperienced interviewees, you have to remind them to repeat the question back as part of their answer. For example, if I ask: “What can you tell me about this restaurant?” “The ___ is a great restaurant that appeals to the whole family!” …while basic, is a lot more usable and can hopefully be expanded upon with future questions.
  3. Remind your subject that it’s OK if they mess up; editing is a wonderful thing. The key is getting a clean audio clip, so if you stumble, then stop, compose, start the sentence over again and all will be well.
  4. Think of questions that will help them speak from experience, or generate more of a conversation. If you get stuck, think of questions that will allow the subject to speak about his own opinions (“What’s your favorite part about working here?” “Do you have any insider tips for visitors?”). Or, if they mention something during a previous question that you think could lead to more interesting content, go off the cuff and ask about it (“You mentioned that your recipe is a family secret, so who knows the secret?”).
  5. If you have someone who’s especially nervous on camera, keep the camera rolling but instead encourage the subject to talk to you as if you’re just having a conversation. They won’t be looking into the camera, but you may be more successful in capturing a moment rather than their nerves.

Were we successful? Have a look for yourself!