Podcast Episode #17: Interview Tips for Video Production

Ryan Spanger's interview tips for video


On today’s episode of the Web Video Marketing Show podcast, Ryan and Nick discuss:

  • Our seven tips for a successful video interview. Find out the philosophies of interviewing, and the simple steps you can follow to have a more engaging interview – and a better finished product!
  • We also discuss how we’ve been making our videos more dynamic by using our glidecam, and what benefits it can have on the quality of your video.
  • And our tech tip for this week, the “low-hanging fruit” of web video: using makeup to increase the quality of your videos.

You can download this podcast directly from this link, or find The Web Video Marketing Show podcast on iTunes.

Episode Notes:

– For examples of glidecam use in our videos, watch our Australian Synchrotron video, or view our City in Transition project.


Ryan:  Hi, this is Ryan Spanger. About twelve years ago, I started a video production company in Melbourne, Australia, called Dream Engine. Making videos is a huge passion for me, and in this podcast, I’ll be sharing with you a lot of the ideas and techniques that I use in my video production business. I hope you enjoy the show, and it gives you clear, actionable ideas that you can implement in your business right now to improve your web video marketing and build a stronger connection with your audience.

Hi, it’s Ryan. Welcome to episode 17 of the web video marketing show. I’m sitting here with Nicko; how are you doing, Nicko?

Nicko: I’m good, Ryan. What about yourself?

Ryan:  Yes, really good. Let’s talk a bit about what’s been happening at Dream Engine this week. We made a pretty exciting purchase, which is a Glidecam, which we’ve been learning how to use. Can you, for people who are not familiar with it, tell everyone what a Glidecam is and how it works?

Nicko: Firstly, I’ll preface this with there are easier hobbies to take up than using a Glidecam, to be honest. A Glidecam is a camera device, which allows you to mount a DSLR camera on top of it and move [the camera] in a free-flowing kind of motion. It’s got a stabilization system, which means the camera more or less floats along the air as you direct it.

Ryan:  We have this really cool vest with an arm attached to it, and Nicko looks a little like a cyborg as he’s going around filming stuff, but it’s not that easy to use, is it?

Nicko: No, it’s not that easy to use; or more so, it’s easy to pick up and use. I’ve watched a lot of tutorials, Ryan, that’s been my number one way to learn how to use this Glidecam better. I find that the curve of experience and ability is pretty sharp. I can start at the same regular level through some basic counter-balancing and weight adjustment, and so on and so forth, but to take it to that next level is something that only a select few people can do, or that I’ve seen them do anyway. I suppose it’s just like anything else, but it’s been interesting to view everyone else’s work on video and work out which ones are doing it right and what they’re doing differently to make them do it right.

Ryan:  It’s all about getting a smooth floating feel with the camera, but what you don’t want it to look like is like you’re on a boat, rocking back and forth, which is easy to happen. What’s the point of using something like a Glidecam? Why not just put the camera on a tripod or hand-hold it?

Nicko: For us, Ryan, we try to … the first time that we’ve used it in a shoot we’ve done recently has been to capture some fairly dynamic content in a dynamic kind of way; in a moving kind of way. We did that by shooting with two cameras and having one that was more static and more reserved and picking up whatever was happening as we needed it, and then of course that can be cut in with a Glidecam, which is slightly more visually exciting. It’s a little bit different, it’s really sort of “wow” imagery.

Ryan:  We shot these firefighters training, putting out fires, so it’s quite an exciting, action-packed thing. Having the Glidecam moving around, floating around them, it really added to the excitement and dynamism of the whole thing. There might be other things where you really don’t need that level of movement, but to me, when you get the camera off the tripod and start moving it around, it just raises the energy levels of the video, and that’s why I like it. It’s a long-term thing; it takes a while to learn, but the results really look awesome. How about we put a link to a video, and example of some of the Glidecam stuff that we’ve done in the past?

Nicko: Absolutely, it sounds great.

Ryan:  Check out the ‘Show Notes’ and you will see some of our other Glidecam work. Let’s get into it; we’re going to be talking about interview techniques and how to interview someone on video.

Nicko: Ryan, I understand that when you interview someone on video, there’s a number of steps that you like to tick off … cross all the T’s and dot the I’s and make sure the interview’s as fantastic as it can be. You said that one of the most important things in regards to interviewing someone on camera is to build a rapport with them.

Ryan:  Yes, absolutely. It’s really important to solidify your relationship, because interviewing someone is like an extension of any sort of relationship. It has a level of intimacy; people are sharing personal details, and they’re going to be a lot more comfortable doing that. The energy and the flow between the two is going to be much better if you sort of know each other a little bit.

Building rapport starts at the planning stages.. If you’re going to interview someone, if you can have a meeting before, even over the phone or on Skype, exchanging emails, exchanging ideas, you’ve got the basis for a relationship by the time that you actually sit down. It’s a lot harder to interview someone cold; walking in and asking you questions, because they don’t know really who you are, where you’re coming from, what the point is, all that sort of stuff. The more you can develop that relationship, the more they’re going to trust you, so the more they will reveal, which means a better interview it’s going to be.

Nicko: I’ve never thought of that warming up the interviews before, but you really kind of opened my eyes to that entire practice.

Ryan:  Yes. The other thing you can do is actually the first few questions that you have in the interview, don’t even have to be part of the content that you’re looking for. That can be, like you say, warm-up questions, like warming up for a game of tennis, or whatever. It takes you a while to get up to speed, so just to get things moving and get the two of you on the same level.

Nicko: I remember you telling me recently about the philosophy of having a conversation rather than asking set questions. When did you discover that is an important part of the interview process?

Ryan:  What I found is that people who aren’t experienced at interviewing will work through an interview like a laundry list of questions, which they’ll have written down and work through them one by one. By having more of a conversation, you’re going to take the conversation and interview to a deeper level, and it becomes more an experience of sharing and more an organic process, and you’re going to be responding more to what the person is saying. For instance, the way that I see interviews work is that people, by their nature, like to reveal themselves. They like to share their story. I think that’s the way people just naturally are.

On the other hand, people are cautious to not make themselves too vulnerable in case they’re going to feel embarrassment or feel like they’ve exposed themselves too much. What I find often happens in an interview is your interviewee will leave clues for you that you can pick up on, and take the conversation to a deeper level. What you need to do is listen out for those clues. You might be having a conversation, and they might just mention something a little off-hand. If you notice that and respond to it, the interviewee, in their mind, is going to say, “Ah, this person’s really listening to what I’m saying, because they’re actually responding to what I’m saying, so I’m going to invest more in this and I’m going to trust you more because I can hear that you’re really hearing me,” as opposed to just ticking off a list of questions.

It’s good to make the interview like a conversation and for it to have some kind of organic quality. At the same time, it’s really important that you cover the information that you want to and you cover the questions that you want to. It’s really useful to have a list of questions as a safety net that you can return to if you need to, or at least in your mind, tick off the points that are being covered so you know you’ve got material that you want to. It’s all about finding a balance between letting it unfold organically and having that structure.

Nicko: The next point we’d like to touch on, Ryan, building on that, is the philosophy of being the shepherd.

Ryan:  Be the shepherd, yes. Basically, what that means to me, is in video production and journalism, there’s this concept of journalistic impartiality. It’s this idealized idea that it’s not up to you to define how the story goes. You are really there just to gather the information. In reality, there’s no such thing as journalistic impartiality. It’s basically an illusion. A good documentary maker or storyteller goes in with the idea of what their story’s going to actually going to look like before they conduct the interviews. There might be surprises, and there might be new information that they gather, but essentially, it’s important to go in with a plan of what content you intend to get from your interviewee. This is not about putting words into people’s mouths or telling them what to say; it’s actually about doing your research and understanding their background and their point of view. By doing that, you are essentially soliciting the right content by asking the right questions. Do you know what I mean?

Nicko: Absolutely; I think that’s a really good tip. I suppose nobody goes into an interview situation, or shouldn’t go into an interview situation, where they don’t know what the end product they’re working towards.

Ryan:  Yes. Basically, you are the shepherd, gently guiding your interviewees like lambs to slaughter … No, not at all. You’re gently guiding them towards eliciting the content that you’re looking for, but you’re doing it in a helpful way, because you already know what their ideas are. You already know what their points of view are, and you’re helping them clarify and articulate that. When you’re asking questions, you’re always thinking to yourself, “How is this fitting into the greater story of what I’m doing? How is this part of the bigger picture?”

Nicko: Good storytelling, and good filmmaking as well. Ryan, this next point that we’re going to cover is quite close to me. It’s a really, really simple thing that people can do to improve their interviews, especially on camera, but also written and so on and so forth, it’s about asking short, open-ended questions. Can you give us an example of what a closed question would be?

Ryan:  A closed question would be if you’re asking someone, “How old are you?” They’ll just give you a number; there’s nowhere really to go with that. That’s the sort of question that’s going to put out the fire. It’s a contracting question, it’s not an expansive question.

When you compare that to an open question, it might be, “Tell me how you feel about …” or it’s a question that’s going to open things up. It might be a follow-up question, like you might say, “How old were you when you first noticed …” and then, “What was that like? Tell me more about that.” That’s an invitation. Like I was saying before, people like to reveal their story, but they like some encouragements, and open-ended questions will help them to do that because essentially, you’re saying to them, “I’m here with you, going on the journey, and I’m really interested,” and there’s that reassurance there.

Nicko: I always find that the number one tip for interviews, for me personally; I think if you do ask an open-ended question, you really do open that interview up, as opposed to giving the interviewee … who’s at the end of the camera, remember, the camera’s pointing at their face, and they’re giving their answers. Most of them will take the opportunity to keep those answers short, to the point of being too short, if you ask them those simple, closed questions.

Ryan:  Yes, and keeping your questions short is a classic rookie mistake that people will ask really long, convoluted questions, which takes the attention off the interviewee, and makes it all about the interviewer, which is really not what it’s about at all. The interview is not a platform for you to share your ideas; it’s a way of you gathering information from your interviewee.

The mistake that I  see people making all the time is spending way too long actually articulating their question. The other thing you find, is when you’re direct, you’re going to get a much more direct response. Let’s give an example in two ways. I could say, “When you were using the Glidecam, and you were getting used to it, there were a number of challenges that  you found when you were working with it. Can you tell me about some of these challenges that you experienced?” That’s the long way around. It’s convoluted and it’s sort of vague. I could say, “What challenges did you find with the Glidecam?”  You’re going to get a much better response from that second one; it’s direct, and your directness will more likely to be mirrored in a response.

Nicko: Remember that your interviewee is responding to you in real time. The longer the question, the more that they think they will have to think about the question, and the more uncomfortable they will become.

Ryan:  Yes. I agree with that, absolutely.

Nicko: Ryan, what’s at stake?

Ryan:  What’s at stake? This is a classic question that filmmakers need to ask when they’re making a film. This really should guide your investigation. What are the biggest issues for your interviewee? What do they stand to gain or lose? What does this topic really mean to them? What are the implications of them succeeding or not succeeding, by gaining the things that they’re aiming for, or not, so think of it on this big picture level. Let’s say you’re interviewing someone who’s been training for a marathon. You might ask them something like, “What will it mean to you personally to complete this marathon?” That’s a question that’s going to expose what’s at stake for them. That’s getting to the heart of the matter.

Nicko: In terms of coming toward the end of an interview, I’ve always found that one of the key aspects of the interviewing process is finishing with a question such as, “What should I ask you that I haven’t?”

Ryan:  Yes, that’s a classic question to ask at the end, because no matter how much you think about it and research, and how good your questions are, a lot of the time you’re going to get the best material by asking that question. There’s going to be things on the mind of your interviewee that they’d like to share, that you just haven’t thought of. As a manner, of course, I’ll always ask this question at the end of an interview, and I’ll be really pleasantly surprised a lot of the time by material I get from that.

Nicko: I think you’ve got to adopt a philosophy of, “This won’t make my interview any worse; it could add a little bit of insight or a little bit extra into the interview.” As a matter of fact, I can remember you asking that question when we interviewed Sir Gus Nossal for a video we produced through the Australian Synchrotron. Because Gus was such an authority in his field, and because he’s such an educated, intelligent gentleman, when you ask that question, “Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that I feel I should have?”, you could see the cogs in his brain working out what was important to say about the Synchrotron; what he hadn’t said that is important to the Australian public and how best to convey that information in the interview.

Ryan:  Yes, we ended up using that quote … and I think what it does is it lets the interviewee frame it in their own minds. With the other questions, we’re actually preframing it for them and asking them to frame to answer it within those parameters. This just gives them freedom to say whatever they want to, from their perspective.

Nicko: Ryan, the last of your interviewing philosophies is one that you’ve brought to my attention recently, and quite simply, it’s called, “let it run.” Can you explain that philosophy?

Ryan:  Yes, it’s just amazing how often you do an interview, and then you finish it, switch off the camera, and then people will just come up with the best stuff. Maybe it’s because they can relax now; they’re not on show anymore, they don’t have to perform. It’s incredible how often that happens, so when the interview comes to an end, I’m not saying that you should surreptitiously record and have people feel as if you’re not actually recording, but just let things wind down and have a bit of a post-mortem chat. Let the camera roll, and don’t hide that from the interviewee, and again, it’s amazing how often you’ll find absolute gold will come out from that after chat.

Nicko: There you go; seven really effective tips to recording fantastic interviews. Of course, they’ll be in the Show Note. Ryan, it’s time to move on to this episode’s Tech Tip.

Ryan:  We’ve got a pretty good one today, unexpected, actually, if you think of Tech Tips, you think of technology and all that sort of thing, but this is a really easy win. Our Tech Tip for this week is makeup. I’m amazed how often I notice on TV, news and current affairs, and even drama a lot of the time, how they’re not actually using makeup on the people on the video. The reason why you use makeup is because most of the time, we’re putting some quite bright lights on people. The light is shining off their skin and bouncing off, and it’s making their skin shine. It makes the picture look not as good as it could be, so something like makeup is such an easy win to get your video looking better.

Nicko: Yes, agreed, Ryan. Since you’ve introduced me to matte makeup, not the shiny, kind of glossy-glam makeup that women wear at the clubs when they want to dress to impress, but the matte makeup; the stuff that actually decreases the shine and makes your skin more skin-colored, as ridiculous as that is to say out loud. It really does help, especially, for instance, bald gentlemen or people we’re recording in a contained environment where the lights are quite close. It just takes the shine off their face.

Ryan:  Yes, often on their forehead or on their nose, and you can get something like a matte foundation powder, which you just use sparingly. The key is that in the video, people can’t tell whether you’re using makeup or not; it’s just a bit of powder on those shiny areas. It makes it look a hell of a lot more professional.

Nicko: It’s also another aspect of video production that is particularly not obvious to people who haven’t been behind the camera before, or haven’t been in the edit suite. For instance, when people, say, they’ve entered a shoot late and have seen someone being recorded, they get into the same position to record their bit, and we offer to put makeup on them. They’ll say, “Did the person before me have makeup? Do I need makeup, because he looked fine.” You say, “Well, if we don’t put it on, there are things that you will see once we play this footage back to you that may not be obvious to you at the time.” Although part of this entire makeup approach is one of my favorite parts of the video production process, alarming men by offering to put makeup on them and their thoughts that they get the nice pink makeup, or maybe a little bit of mascara.

Ryan:  Yes, it’s not like the thick pancake style of makeup; it’s really just a judicious use of it to take that shine away. For some of our projects like corporate videos, we’ll actually use a professional makeup artist who will come in and spend a half an hour or an hour with someone and get them looking just right. Other times, we’ll just have a container of matte powder, like it’s part of the film production kit, and in a few minutes you can just add a bit of powder to someone. The thing is, people are vain, and everyone wants to look good. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve only ever come across one person who refused to have makeup. Every other person was more than happy once you explained that it’s going to make them look less shiny on video. There you go, it’s a quick easy win; it doesn’t take long, it’s not expensive. It’s part of the low-hanging fruit of making a video production look better.

Nicko: That’s our web video marketing show Tech Tip for this week. Ryan, it brings us to the end of another episode of the Web Video Marketing, Show 17.

Ryan:  Yes. We’re moving through them at a rate of knots. I hope you guys are enjoying what we’re sharing here and you’re getting value from it. We’d love to know what you think about the new format as well, so get in touch. Head over to dreamengine.com.au and check out the other resources that we have there. If you have any questions or comments about the show, send us an email; we’d love to hear from you.

Nicko: Thanks for listening to the Web Video Marketing Show this week. We have a mailing list and some free video production resources at dreamengine.com.au. Remember to sign up for our weekly video news updates. That’s all for today, see you in a fortnight’s time!



 Ryan Spanger


Ryan Spanger is one of Melbourne’s most respected and sought-after video production professionals. Ryan founded Dream Engine in 2001, and specializes in helping medium to large corporates, government departments, and the non-profit sector to connect with their audience by using video.

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