Hints for Making Better Family Interview Videos


Family interview videos are often the most valuable of all recordings.  Many hours are spent preparing for and copying videos.  The recording becomes more valuable as time goes by.  It is therefore worth doing a good job preparing for a good recording.  The most important effort is the original recording.  Here are some guidelines for recording.


1.      Choose a good camera, good recording medium, good microphone (if possible) and good tripod.  Digital HD cameras with a hard disk drive can be pricey, but they are worth it.  Avoid still cameras with a video feature, unless you can connect an external microphone. HOWEVER, many new smartphones, such as the iPhone 4 have both excellent video and audio capabilities, needing only a sturdy mount and close positioning to make good recordings.



2.      Video is a close-up medium!  Place the camera on a tripod as close as practical to the interviewee--(especially if there is no external microphone) and frame the shot on the speaker so only the torso and head show with the head or at least the eyes at the top third of the frame.  Set the camera height with the lens level with the interviewee’s nose.  If you are to ask the questions of the interviewee, sit on a chair to one side of the camera (about the same height as the camera and about the same distance from the camera as the interviewee so sound is at a similar level) and have the interviewee look at you and not at or above the camera).  Have the interviewee sit up straight on a chair.  A desk chair with arms is an excellent choice.  There is seldom cropping or enlarging in video.  You get what you see.



3.      Choose a plain dark background if possible and use lighting from behind the camera.  Be careful about mixing natural light and artificial light.  Color correction can be very difficult.  Backlit scenes cause auto exposure to ruin the foreground if there are extraneous lights or a light background, such as from a window behind the interviewee.  Ceiling lights cause unflattering shadows.



4.      Sound is the most important aspect of any video.  If at all possible, use a microphone placed right in front of or on the interviewee.  However, in a quiet environment, camera microphones can be used, where the interviewer and interviewee are close to the camera.  It is better to use two microphones with each on a stand.  The microphones may need to be connected through a mixer to the microphone input of the camera.  Use an earphone to check that the sound level is neither too soft nor too loud.  If you are making an audio recording only, a smartphone used as a microphone can record with reasonably good quality.  It can even be used as a remote microphone for video if you can add an audio track to the video recording during editing.



5.      Use a tripod!  Nothing ruins a video like a jerky camera.  Handheld camera shots are for style, athletic events and professionals.  (Any tripod will work if it is not to be panned, but good video tripods that can perform smooth pans and tilts while recording can cost as much as a good camera.)  If the camera is to be zoomed or panned, make sure adjustments of the tripod tension are done before the program begins and test all movements for smoothness.  Use the handle to move the tripod, and hold or weight the tripod down to avoid bumpy movements.  Avoid touching the camera unnecessarily.  In fact, minimize touching the camera at all during shooting.  When touching the camera, do so very lightly.  Every movement shows!



6.      Only use auto-focus carefully, unless the lighting is very good and the auto-focus doesn’t “pump.”  (Auto-focus often “pumps” and ruins the picture.)  If the interviewee is not going to move, it is better to manually focus the lens at a close-up zoom setting, then zoom out to the desired framing.  Granted, some video cameras such as a smartphone do not have manual focus options.



7.      Avoid excessive zoom movement.  If needed, zooming should be as slow as possible and preferably during panning to hide starting and stopping.  Do not zoom in and then out immediately.  Do not pan back and forth excessively.  These movements show that the camera operator was not planning ahead for the next shot!



8.      When showing text, remember that more than six words of text in a line cannot be read easily on a standard screen.  Frame the screen tightly within a safe margin.  Focus carefully and slowly.  (Preset the focus if possible.)



9.      If you are recording to tape, record at least two minutes of dead time at the beginning and one minute of dead time at the end of each program.  (This allows addition of titles to the original tape using the camera’s frame synchronization and can save a generation of editing.)  To do so, simply run the camera in record mode with the lens cap on and if possible with the sound off.  (To record without the sound, stick an earphone plug in the microphone jack.)



10.  You can use fade in at the beginning of a program and fade out at the end of a program.  Start recording at least six seconds before the speaker begins (three seconds for the camera to start and three seconds for fade-in.  Continue recording after the program has ended, and tell the interviewee to sit still for 10 seconds after the end of the interview to allow the recording to run.  Remember, you can’t add anything—you can only delete—and then often with difficulty.



11.  If the camera must be stopped during a program, wait at least two seconds after the end of the take to avoid loss of material.  (At the beginning of the next take, some cameras automatically rewind and erase the previously-recorded two seconds.)  Remember to account for the three-second lead-in to start the next take.



12.  If you cue the speaker (e.g., to start speaking after lead-in), remind the speaker not to show acknowledgement of the cue on camera.



13.  If you have a chance, review your work and learn from your mistakes.  Watch television (occasionally) to see how cameras are used on news and talk programs to present their speakers.



14.  ALWAYS USE A NEW, HIGHEST GRADE TAPE OR RECORDING MEDIUM!  DO NOT RECORD ON A PREVIOUSLY RECORDED MEDIUM.  You cannot make the program better than the medium permits.  You only get one chance to record a program.



©Ken Allen (www.kenallen.tv) ken@kenallen.tv