The Other Side Speaks: Being a Great Interviewer

Posted on by Larry

The ink was barely dry in the web browser of my post on being a great interview guest, when Michael Cox wrote a reply on how to be a great interviewer. While I don’t agree with all his suggestions – and I’ll let you know my concerns at the end – this is a good list that I wanted to share with you.

By the way, my notes were made for an audio interview and Michael’s list assumes you are shooting video.

Dear Larry,

I couldn’t agree with you more about interviewing. Now, while I am not talking to people who are pushing a particular product (they are artists or curators for [my] project) I think your ten rules are worth printing and posting in lots of offices. I always prepare my subjects by telling them “this will be a conversation, just me, my camera, and you” and that if they say anything that they feel was inappropriate or clumsy, we can just retake it. I’m not out to crucify anyone–in fact, I have used your exact line of it “not being 60 Minutes”!

I believe, on the flip side, that there are some rules or tips on being a great INTERVIEWER, and if you’d like to post them, please do so with my blessing. (If you do, would you please include a link to the vimeo link below?)

Larry adds: In spite of the temptation of simplicity of shooting and interviewing as a one-man-band, the content of your interviews will ALWAYS be better if one person concentrates on asking questions, while another concentrates on the tech. Every time. Always.

Larry adds: This is the reason for my earlier note.

Larry adds: While true, this is not an option for live interviews.

Larry adds: Nothing beats planning! Writing questions to structure your thoughts is a GREAT idea.

Larry adds: This is the only point that I strongly disagree with. My experience is that almost all guests – given the opportunity – will try to memorize their answers and totally fail. This creates stiff, unreal, awkward answers. I often share the general area of my questions, but I never share questions in advance. And, if I don’t like an answer, I’ll ask the same question but in a different way – spontaneity is ALWAYS better then perfection.

2 Responses to The Other Side Speaks: Being a Great Interviewer

  1. John says:

    Yes, absolutely agree regarding that last tip about supplying questions in advance. My documentary students will sometimes be asked to do this by their subjects when they arrange the interview in advance. In some cases, the result has been disastrous. My advice is for them to offer a list of topics they plan to cover. They still should carefully craft questions in advance–just never send those out to anyone. I do agree with the suggestion to keep interviews under an hour. In fact, the interview itself is best kept under 30 minutes for most people. Beyond that they often get fatigued, sweaty from lights, etc. and responses start lacking energy and dynamism.

  2. In my situation, nine times out of ten I have to do a “one-man” interview shoot because I’m the only videographer at my job. So yes, I have to be cameraman, light gaffer, sound guy and interviewer all at once. I luck out in that none of my interviews are live shoots.

    Essential to my interviews are maintaining eye-contact, and listening with visual cues, ie, keeping an open face and nodding in assent. Another key is keeping up the patter before the interview. Establishing a “friendship,” helps my subjects trust me to ask questions.

    As for prepping my subject beforehand, I completely agree with you, Larry. I will give my subject a heads up on what we will cover in the interview, but I never give them specific questions. If I have the time, I will have my subjects do a few different takes answering the same question, either to help them speak with greater ease or to help keep them from rambling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Larry Recommends:

FCPX 10.5 Complete

NEW & Updated!

Edit smarter with Larry’s latest training, all available in our store.

Access over 1,900 on-demand video editing courses. Become a member of our Video Training Library today!


Subscribe to Larry's FREE weekly newsletter and save 10%
on your first purchase.