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what's best way to cut live interview?

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what's best way to cut live interview?
on Oct 15, 2007 at 12:12:18 am

i have read some books and learned the techniques of film editing. going from the master wide shot, to the MCU, to back and forth CU of actors that are in dialogue. Then back to Master shot to end the scene.

Is this important to use on live interviews as well? I am thinking it will help my company's interviews be better than random switching of cameras that make no sense.

Here is my theory below. Am i correct on this? Any tips would be helpful from some veterans of doing interviews live or post-production.

-we do interviews in a studio.
-we use 3 cameras. Cam1 is on left, Cam2 center, Cam3 on right
-Cam1 gets the anchor, Cam2 is static 2 shot, Cam3 gets the quest.
-Cam1 and Cam3 do over the shoulder shots (OTS) and CU of each person.
-We have not set timing for going from the OTS to the CU and back and forth. Which i think is wrong.

HERE IS MY THEORY OF SWITCHING LIVE CORRECTLY. Please comment and tell me if i am wrong or need improvements.

-Cam1 CU of anchor saying "Welcome to the we have Jim Smith..."
-cut to Cam3 CU of guest smiling. CG their title as anchor tells us who this person is.
-cut to Cam2 static 2 shot to establish location on set and Anchor asks first question.
-cut to Cam3 OTS of Anchor to see Guest. Guest starts to answer question.
-cut to Cam1 OTS of Guest to see Anchor for reaction shot.
-cut to Cam3 CU of Guest still talking.
-cut to Cam1 CU of anchor when a reaction shot seems necessary.
-cut back and forth CU's of each person.
-when next question is to be asked. cut to Cam 1 OTS of Guest to see anchor ask question.
-cut to Cam3 OTS of anchor to see Guest answering question.
-cut to Cam1 CU of anchor reaction.
-cut to Cam3 CU of Guest still answering question.
repeat back and forth CU's of each person.
repeat this structure of OTS of each person, then CU of each person back and forth until end of interview. At that point cut to the wide shot.

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Todd at Fantastic Plastic
Re: what's best way to cut live interview?
on Oct 15, 2007 at 2:38:34 pm

Yep, that is basically the way an interview situation like that is cut.

I would only say you don't want it to get too "rhythmic" and predictible, especially if there are realtively short answers and questions. Then the cutting would begin to look a bit "robotic."

I'd say take just a little time and watch the guys who do it right and play close attention to their shots and cuts. Watch Letterman or Leno interview a guest (you'll find the switching a lot looser there than what you outlined). Or watch a little bit of any of the Sunday morning news interview shows ("Meet the Press," etc.).

There are no hard and fast rules for most of this. Do what looks good, feels right, tells the "story" well, and shows both your talent and your guest in the best light. You say "We have not set timing for going from the OTS to the CU and back and forth." I think this is one of those cases where you can't "set the timing," you just have to go with the flow and do what feels right.

A good director can call these shots on the fly and make it feel very fluid and organic. One of the most amazing things I ever saw was the acceptance speech at the 2006 Emmy awards from the guy who won the live directing Emmy for the previous year's Academy Awards show... I wish I knew his name, but I don't. The thing is, he was also DIRECTING the Emmy show. He accepted the award from the booth, where he continued calling the show as he gave his speech! It was like, "I want to thank all those Chryron in please who made this possible Chryon out and I especially want to thank take cam three please Gil Cates who produced that show back to cam 14 please and my wife and kids watching at home orchestra get ready to play me off and of course I want to thank members of the academy ok i'm getting long, orchestra play me off ..." It was hilarious, and amazing and fluid and dynamic. There are no hard and fast rules.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Mark Suszko
Re: what's best way to cut live interview?
on Oct 15, 2007 at 3:03:16 pm

What I tell people is, I don't listen very hard to the actual dialog, just enough not to get caught short or miss a cue for a super or a commercial break or things like that, but really, what you want to do is watch the preview image of the reaction shot, and listen to the meter and pace and pitch of what's being said, while watching for the facial cues of the guy that's not on program, for the moment he is about to respond.

Then is when I cut in the reaction, a beat ahead of the speaking. Seems like mindreading, but it's just face-reading, watching for the intake of breath and partially-open mouth and slight nod of the head that signals a person is about to reply.

If you count on a shot list, you're always going to be behind on the switch. It's all about the anticipation. The really bad-looking talk shows on student-run access always feel like they are switched using an egg timer, in that the choice of when to cut seems regularly timed but randomly applied. Or they always wait until one party completely finishes talking before cutting to the next shot. Good practice trick is to watch any of the evening talk shows with the sound off and try to call the camera cuts out loud just by watching faces. Soon, you discover the rythm.

We do 3-camera live-to-tape public affairs talk shows weekly here so I keep in practice. I open, close, and bump in and out of breaks with a wide establishing shot to orient the viewers, then cut to a tight shot of the host as he or she sets up the conversation. While they are introducing the guest or guests, I'll often cut to a silent single shot of the guest for just a beat or two, but that's optional, as the wide shot works for this too. My choice there depends on how dynamic the guest looks. If he's alert and active, I'll use the tight shot to show him nodding for a beat.

What I also like to do is use shot choice as nonverbal punctuation.

What I mean is, people on talk shows generally talk in paragraphs, with an opening statement, then more detail, and a sort of summation or conclusion statement for that thought. I like to pop to the wide shot as that "paragraph" is finishing, then the host starts a new question.

If the question is involved and sounds like it will be several sentences by itself, I'll pop into a tighter shot for the second half of that question, on the beat of a verbal comma or breath, then I'll have the guest's matching medium or tight reaction shot ready on one camera and the covering wide 2-shot as backup.

If it looks like the dialog is going to ping-pong rapidly for a bit and thus be too kinetic, I'll take it to the 2-shot, with a tighter single of the guest I can go to as punctuation or emphasis for a particular point if he takes a breath. Again, the key to that is to watch the faces and body language more than listening to the dialog. When you can't tell if the dialog is about to wind down, the 2-shot is safe cover.

I save OTS shots as a spice, best used sparingly, and used when one side is monopolizing the conversation and I want my other guy to get soem more screen time. The other time I use OTS is when the guest is talking at length about something very emotional or dramatic; then I'll use it for the sense of "evesdropping" it gives the audience. The OTS has a particular kind of conspiratorial and confessional emotional subtext to it, and I pick shots for reasons of semiotics as much as anything.

Of course it really helps to have experienced camera operators, because they anticipate what I want and how the show is going, and they know innately when to change up a shot or suggest or "sell" me a shot like an OTS when they are not online. A good director takes such suggestions gratefully. Sometimes I say "yes, 2, good call, steady that up and we'll take it next, leave room for a lower third" or "Sorry one, two already has a similar shot, I need you to stay tighter on so-and-so until the bumper".

It's funny, sometimes the host and guests will ask us after the show how we liked it, and sometimes our honest answer is:

"Frankly, I was too busy watching it to pay attention to it, but it seemd really great". That's how I know we did a pretty good show. If I can remember every word said on camera, the show was too boring and I switched it in my sleep.

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Mark Suszko
Re: what's best way to cut live interview?
on Oct 15, 2007 at 3:19:16 pm

BTW, forgot to mention, we're a small shop so I direct, TD, and run the graphics by myself, with an engineer running the audio board and pre-rolling tape playbacks. Two and sometimes one camera ops run the studio, one of them doubles as floor director.

I mostly punch shots direct on the program bus, leaving the wide shot on preview and often not bothering to set each shot on the preview bus before we take it, unless it's a dissolve or fade. The conversations we're taping run so fast, I would miss too many reactions if I preset every shot before taking it.

My old TV teacher would probably cringe at that, but the pace of live switched shows has picked up tempo in the modern world. Go watch some old Ed Murrow interview clips on YouTube to see what I mean. The pace of the cuts seems positively glacial, compared to today.

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Charlie King
Re: what's best way to cut live interview?
on Oct 22, 2007 at 9:06:38 pm

Todd and Mark have the right ideas.
I tend to occassionally stick with the guest while a question is asked, that's where you get the eye movements and you can literally see what the guest is thinking. I love reading their minds that way.
Don't over cut, so that the viewer can pay more attention to what is said than to what they see, other than the eyes. they are the picture to the soul as they say.
As Mark said, don't have a set pattern, every interview is different so you have to feel the pace and let it flow.


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