Video interview: I forgot to check!

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Suicidal manLet’s confess;  I behaved like a total fool when interviewing a sound designer in London.  The interview went well when, after 10 minutes, I discovered that the connector of the external microphone was not plugged into the camcorder.
Because I had set the audio on the camcorder to external, I had no audio at all.  Very embarrassing, because I had to ask the poor guy to redo that part all over again.

Now, luckily, that someone was my brother in law, who was talking about his days as a sound designer. He didn’t make a fuss about my stupidity, although it was obvious that redoing that part was not his idea of having fun.  As it turned out, the second take was actually better then the first one, but that was pure luck.

If an interview is running like a train and you suddenly have to say that it has to be redone, chances are that the end result will be very disappointing, because:

  • your interviewee might get tense and behave studied because the atmosphere is broken, or
  • the interviewee gets angry at your amateurism, which can spoil the mood considerably, or
  • the interviewee walks away, and doesn’t look back.

Check your audio every time you start a new Take

Long interviews are often done is small junks, so that the interviewee doesn’t get too tired. My mistake happened at Take 3.  I was confident all was fine without checking, while I had been fiddling with the camcorder during the pause.  The Law of Murphy says, that if you do not check something, it will go wrong and that was exactly what happened.  Therefore, every time you begin your next session, check with a pair of small ear phones if all is well with the audio.  The connector might be plugged in, but for some reason it might give a false contact, or the sound level isn’t right anymore, there are many things that can go wrong when you pause an interview.

If you don’t have the option to listen to the audio on your camcorder with ear phones, you will need to do a small test and replay it.  Don’t be afraid to involve your interviewee in this, especially at the beginning, because his/her voice has to sound good.  Interviewees generally understand this sort of thing and probably feel more comfortable because you care about the quality of the interview.  However, if the interviewee is someone with a busy schedule, you best do your checking upfront in order not to waste their time.

What about the video footage itself?

This is more tricky, because it is not easy to judge from a small LCD display to see if the footage is focused and the colors are right.  If you have a lot of experience, you can manage, but if you work with a new camcorder or you are not a seasoned videographer, you need to resort to other tricks since the LCD display always lies. Use a laptop to do some tests on the spot if you get the chance.
While you are connected to your laptop with the camcorder, you get a bigger display to judge your footage and it is easier to check for problems with sharpness and saturation. Saturation is the intensity of the color.
Too much saturation can give unnatural pure colors while too little saturation results in greyish footage with little color.

It is not always practical, but a test with a laptop is invaluable.  You can run tests before the interviewee is present if you like.  Go sit or stand where he is supposed to be, film a couple of seconds while you say something and then replay it on the computer.
you would be surprised how the footage improves if you have the change to tweak the settings of your camcorder while checking with the laptop.  However, watch it that you do not get absorbed by technicalities while the interviewee is waiting for the interview to proceed.

For instance, if there is little time or you have to do a an inteview in a room full of people, forget about the laptop.   There are many circumstances where you cannot use your laptop, but checking with ear phones is always possible.  Therefore, check your audio before you proceed.  Don’t be a dork like me 🙂

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