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Wrapping up the video production tips and tricks, this post addresses interviewing and capturing an audio feed.

One tip: You can subtly rephrase a question to get the most pithy and clear quote for a final edit — although covering the same material again may seem repetitive for someone who is used to interviewing for print. Along the same lines, when taping a video package, I’ve been advised to gather about 10 times the amount of the final product – including background visuals and cutaways, such as the reaction shots of a listener or audience to splice between quotes.

Approaching the interview

I liked producer Chris Bauer’s advice over at KQED’s QUEST. He sometimes tells subjects, “Your goal is not to impress people, it’s to communicate with people.”

Even kids may feel pressure and clam up, so it is best to spend extra time with them. Interviews may flow better if you take someone aside to a quiet, neutral setting. Away from peers and reminders of the daily routine, a person is more likely to be relaxed and speak in clear, jargon-free terms.

Interviewees can be prepped by reminding them the interview will be like listening to one side of a phone conversation, so it is important to speak in full sentences. To check sound levels while easing into the heart of the interview, a producer may chat a bit, or ask the subject to say and spell his or her name so that detail is captured right on the footage.

Attending to audio

Recordings pick up hum and undertones known as “room tone”. So it’s important to tape 20 – 30 seconds of silence that can be used underneath edits for a consistent transition.

Sound becomes another flavor to mix into the final edit. Natural sound provides ambience, while specific noises become sweeteners or punctuation. In the field, you might tape your own feet crunching in gravel, or a door shutting, and so forth.

Indoors, being conscious of the sound environment includes remembering to take phones off the hook, posting signs to keep visitors from bursting in, and otherwise avoiding noisy interruptions.

Equipment

QUEST’s Craig Rosa recommends a few options for external mics, which are far preferable to on-camera mics for capturing usable audio tracks:

  1. Lavalier mics clip on and can be hidden on a lapel; the versions with 12-foot wires provide scope and capture sound that is less echo-y than wireless.
  2. Shotgun mics can grab sounds from the environment – if it’s windy, use a fluffy, slip-on windsock to muffle the loud whoosh of strong gusts rushing past the mic.

Dual inputs capture audio from these mics on separate tracks, which is helpful when editing.

Rosa recommends plugging an XLR adapter into the camera for better sound. The sound level should be as loud as possible without having the indicator needle hover past the red or zero line. (See more on XLR here: http://videoproductiontips.com/video-equipment/audio-for-video-how-to-use-pro-audio-equipment-without-having-a-pro-camera/, http://www.videouniversity.com/shop/xlr-adapter-and-a-dual-channel-mixer).

Altogether, he estimates that assembling a decent video kit may take about $4,000, although borrowing equipment may also be an option.

The interview

Bauer frequently starts by asking, “Where are we today, and what are we going to see?”

Producers sometimes will forewarn interviewees ahead of time that they may be asked to restate something. Or they may simply ask during the flow of the interview, “That was really good – can you repeat that?”

To obtain an easy-to-comprehend response, Bauer suggests asking the subject to summarize a topic in a couple of sentences, as if talking to a person on the street or to a fourth-grader.

To learn the upshot of a topic, he may ask, “What does it mean to the future?” He also likes to ask researchers, “What’s your most favorite thing about what you do?”

A response delivered with some fire in the belly projects really well on the screen. I once interviewed a mild-mannered scientist who did not have expansive gestures but had quiet zeal. I noticed that glint in his eye seemed magnified on the screen.

Meanwhile, for my friends who decry the state of science literacy, I will add a link to a YouTube piece from earlier in the year that presents concepts in an engaging way, all while keeping minimal, “prosumer”-oriented production values: http://bit.ly/YouTube_EcoServices.

It’s by Hank Green, speaking to his brother, John Green. Together, they formed the so-called Vlog Brothers and committed to a year of non-textual communication – leading, this summer, to organizing the first conference for what they described as smart YouTube content, VidCon.

Finally, a vision of the future – highly portable video kits, with lights and external mics – were featured at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show: http://gizmodo.com/5443853//gallery/gallery/1

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