Chicago Film Video Production and Post Production Company
Chapter 3 - Conducting the Interview

A few years ago we were asked to produce a pair of national TV commercials for a big ad agency. Jim and I have done lots, LOTS of household product spots. In fact we joke that if it cleans you or your house we have probably shot it. For a while one of our biggest clients was SC Johnson. We had good relationships with some key agency people and even ended up producing spots for them at different ad agencies.

This time we were asked to shoot real women, documentary style, talking about a new SC Johnson product, which could clean your house without leaving any odors or residue. For two days we shot 20 women who had been using the product and asked them about their experiences. The goal of course is to get that gem of a sound bite, “If you don’t believe me come to my house and see for yourself,” or something like that. Getting that gem is much easier said than done. You need to shoot a lot of film to make it sound natural. Also, and this is really critical in any interview situation, you need to take the time to make the subject feel comfortable, at ease, and to create an environment where they can speak freely and not feel judged.

For this job we rented and completely dressed two model homes in a suburb of Chicago. The first home was where our talent signed in, relaxed and got into make-up. Think of it as a 4000 square foot green room with all the amenities of home. The other model home was our shooting set. We dressed and lit several different areas of the house so it would not look as if we were shooting in one location. In fact in the final edit it seems like we shot in 4 or 5 different houses and that we went to the interviewees home, rather than have them come to our set.

When the talent was ready we would bring them over to the shooting house. All unessential crew members went to the basement. The agency and clients were sent to the master bedroom where we created a video village where they could watch and listen to what we were filming. We had a wireless mini earphone plugged in my ear so they could communicate with me via an intercom. They would give me such great tips as, “Try to make them say how much they loved it,” and “Can they be more animated?”

By the time we were ready to shoot all who were left in the room was me, Jim, the talent and a soundman who once he set his mic, left and monitored it from an adjacent room. Considering there were probably 30 people hidden throughout this house, the environment surprisingly felt less like a film set and much more like a person’s home. I would begin the session- which usually took 20-25 minutes- by introducing the subject to Jim and me and by making some small joke such as, “This (pointing at the lights and camera) is pretty much how your living room looks too, I bet, “ and just talking to them trying to get them as comfortable as possible. I would tell them not to worry, just talk naturally as if we were having a conversation.

Since my voice would not be heard in the finished spots, I had to frame questions so their answers would provide context. I could not ask, “Do you think the product worked well,” because their answer would be “Yes,” which gets us nowhere. So I had to ask questions like, “Tell me what you liked most about the product.” To prepare them for this style of Q & A I told them what I always say, “If I ask what your favorite ice cream is, don’t say, ‘chocolate,’ say, I LOVE chocolate ice cream”. That simple example is usually all it takes, then we start the interview with the “easy” ones- what’s your name, where are you from, etc…. This allows camera and sound to make any final adjustments and we can begin the interview in earnest.

(continued on page 8)

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