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Interviewing Couples

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Kevin Herrin
Interviewing Couples
on Dec 31, 2008 at 2:36:09 am

Hi all,
I've shot a bunch of interview shots in the last couple of years, but most of those were single shots. I have shot a couple of interviews with couples that didn't turn out that well. Namely I left the camera on the two shot. I have a shoot coming up that I will be shooting all couples. How do you all handle shooting couples? Is is best to shoot them with two cameras?
thanks,


Kevin Herrin
Digital Dynamics Media
Raleigh, NC


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Dan Brockett
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Dec 31, 2008 at 6:39:32 pm

Hi Kevin:

I shot a video for a solar project where we interviewed a couple in their kitchen and a different couple in their living room, holding their baby. I was on location in Northern California (I live in SoCal) and didn't have a second camera setup with me. My opinion is, as long as you are shooting 16:9 and have lit the interview well, it can look pretty good. I switched my key source to straight on, so that both of the people were receiving a soft wrap from straight on, rather than one looking well lit and the other looking underlit if the key was on one side.

Depending on how loose or how structured the interview was, you could consider shooting the entire interview in a two shot, then having the interviewer ask them the selected questions a second time, getting singles and CUs. A lot of time with non-pro talent, the second time responses could be better anyway. And make sure that you also stage some reaction CUs of each, looking at their spouse, smiling, nodding, etc.

The ideal situation is two cameras, but if you don't have a second camera, you can fake it pretty well, given enough time and cooperation from the talent.

Dan

Providing value added material to all of your favorite DVDs


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Rick Wise
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Dec 31, 2008 at 7:24:07 pm

Actually, if you have at least a couple of nets, say a single and a double, plus a c-stand, there's no need to shoot the couple with the key light head-on. Place the key at the usual side angle (roughly 45º off center and 45º above horizontal to the talent) and net down the person closest to the light. Depending on how close your key is to the talent, you may need a single, or a double, or a triple.

You can also do that with a split wire scrim in the key, placing the wire side so it cuts down intensity of light on the nearest person. However, this is harder to finesse if your key is a soft light.

A third method would be to fly another piece of diffusion so that it only softens the light on the closest person. If you have the right density of diffusion, you can also balance out the light falling on both people. However, using diffusion to cut light is not the best solution -- you will get a decidedly softer key on the nearest person in comparison to the person more distant from the key.

A fourth method is to make your own "net" with some screen mesh you buy at Home Depot. Again, fly it so it cuts light to the closest person, and leaves the other person in the clear. This is easiest to do if you have at least one C-stand for the job, but you can rig something else with clamps and a dowel -- either suspended from the ceiling or cantilevered out from a light stand.

To make your job a little easier, it usually works best to place the darker-skinned and/or darker clothed person closest to the key.

Rick Wise
director of photography
Oakland, CA
http://www.RickWiseDP.com
email: Rick@RickWiseDP.com


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Dan Brockett
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Dec 31, 2008 at 7:42:54 pm

Hi Rick:

All good solutions unless you show up to shoot singles after flying with your limited gear and have no C-stands, nets, etc. although I did have split scrims so I guess I could have made that work.

Dan

Providing value added material to all of your favorite DVDs


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Kevin Herrin
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Dec 31, 2008 at 8:49:59 pm

Great suggestions guys, actually I was just thinking about how to shoot the two people. I haven't even thought about lighting them. Thanks a bunch. I like the ideas of using singles or doubles for the key to get them both with the same light.

How would you handle a back light? I'm thinking that I could use 2 lights and barn door them so there isn't spill on the other person.

Speaking of back lights, what are you thoughts on their usage? It seems more like today I see the golden halo, light at the crown of the head. I prefer the light to be on the head and fall on the shoulders a bit.
thanks again,
Kevin

Kevin Herrin
Digital Dynamics Media
Raleigh, NC


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Todd Terry
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Dec 31, 2008 at 9:03:11 pm

Lighting of course is a big part of the issue.....

But largely here we are also dealing with just the aesthetics of blocking the shot.

When you have a two-shot interview situation, that's ok if the conversation is lively and keeps bouncing back and forth between your two subjects. What happens frequently, though, is that one person tends to dominate the conversation... leaving the other subject sitting on screen with nothing to do, like a "bump on a log," as my dad used to say.

Ergo, it's probably advantageous in most situations to be able to do single shots if possible.

The best-looking way to do this is of course with two cameras. Keep one on the two shot, and the other on the CU, panning between the subjects. There may be times when you can just float the closeup camera from one to the other and it may be a nice move that you want to see on screen. Other times, it will be better to just whip pan from one to the other, and you'll use the 2-shot to cover the move.

Another option is zooming.... which I hate, but it works. Start with a 2-shot, float in to whomever is speaking, float back out as needed, pan as needed. Personally I dislike zooms, they are unnatural and artificial (a zoom is the only camera move the human eye cannot reproduce), but lots of people use them and it is one option.

If your project just happens to be standard-def, you can always shoot the 2-shot in HD and crop down single shots out of it. We've done this before, but visually I don't think it is ideal because there is no perspective change when going from the 2-shot to the closeup... people are used to seeing at least a little bit of perspective change, as in multi-camera shoots.

A good thing to do after the shoot is shoot single closeups of each subject not talking... just sitting there, listening, sometimes looking at the other subject, sometimes not. That will give you a lot of editing flexibility no matter which shooting method you choose.




T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Rick Wise
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Dec 31, 2008 at 9:06:32 pm

Backlights (like all lighting) are a matter of taste. My preference is to set them so the intensity is just barely visible. Note that bald or balding people tend to have shiny heads that the backlight can make look pretty bad. In general, you might want to set a single backlight for both people, diffuse it, and scrim it down to taste. Sometimes a little color gel helps -- a blonde or read-head's hair will look better with a slight warming gel, while a regal senior with silver hair might benefit for a pinch of blue.

A lot depends on the color the hair. Really dark hair may call for a stronger backlight, while light hair will call for less.

One advantage of hard light(s) is that you can use a split scrim to reduce the light on the hair, but leave it stronger on the shoulders if the suit is really dark. Equally you can reverse that, with more hair on the head and less on the shoulders. Etc.

Rick Wise
director of photography
Oakland, CA
http://www.RickWiseDP.com
email: Rick@RickWiseDP.com


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Todd Terry
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Dec 31, 2008 at 9:09:28 pm

[Kevin Herrin] "Speaking of back lights, what are you thoughts on their usage... I prefer the light to be on the head and fall on the shoulders a bit."


I forgot to add this to my previous post.

A lot of the backlighting will be determined by your subjects, who they are and what they look like. A bald man or a very blond woman will have to be backlit differently than, say, a person with black hair.

You may be able to get away with just one backlight for both subjects if their hair is of similar color and their clothing isn't drastically different from each other... if you can place the backlight high and far back enough that you get a desirable angle on both subjects from the same instrument. Otherwise, it will probably be best to go with one of each.

Personally, I like to see a little on the hair, and some spill on the shoulders. Even though the backlight is sometimes a very bright instrument, it should be used so that the effect isn't overpowering. You're just looking for it to cut the subject out of the background, and usually not much more than that.



T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Mike Cohen
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Dec 31, 2008 at 10:21:01 pm

I recently shot an interview with two people. However the usual interview setup with the subject looking off camera is not as easy with two people. We were in tight quarters, so I had them stand next to each other, but with one camera it was as described by others - wide shot, drift in to the speaker then pan and zoom out. It would have been ok if they kept their responses concise, but it was the opposite. When we were done I interviewed each guy separately, asking the same questions, and got better results.
I am usually in a tight space (offices) and neither have the room or the amperage for a backlight. In proper interview situations a backlight is nice.

Mike Cohen


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Mark Suszko
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Jan 1, 2009 at 8:36:57 pm

I used to use a lot more backlighting in the 80's to help separate people from the background, it was the style and how I was trained, to always use 3-point in just such and such a manner. And that certainly has it's place.

These days though, I tend to minimize their usage because in the real world, not every darn thing is back-lit like that in every direction you look, its unnatural. I like it to be subtle if I'm using it. The separation I used to generate from the stronger backlighting back then, I now tend to try to instead get that separation with depth of field control and selective focus, or just overall differences in contrast ratios. I don't want my shots to "look" lit.

As far as shot blocking, well, a LOT of this depends on what kind of look and results you're trying for, and of course budget and time. Ask yourself what you're trying to capture out of the couple, for me, it is usually the dynamic of how they are together, so I would tend to dwell much more on the 2-shot and let your eyes decide to follow the speaker or the listener reacting, as the situation warrants. Not every video needs to have a cut happen every seven seconds, you know:-) If you force the eye with a lot of cutting to and from doubles and singles, you can force or telegraph the action and timing down a path you want, or you can just let a moment unfold more organically in front of the camera as it happens. Either is valid, they depend on what you're trying to say with this footage.

Just my own opinion, but, If you watch a lot of the "semi-scripted" i.e. partly ad-libbed comedies like Larry David's show or RENO 911 or to a lesser extent, The Office, see that the coverage and direction is a little wider and more open, the cutting then tightens up what is an organic, ensemble performance, not a line of boxcars of individual performances, all compartmentalized and assembled in order. The singles there are used more as punctuation, and as cover to tighten-up the performances and link between scenes, but not generally as a rule to drive the major action. One of the things you notice about Orson Welles' way of framing shots is that he uses his theatrical stage background a lot; instead of the camera driving where you look, he leaves a wider frame and has action, lighting, movement or cessation of movement, actors changing who is upstage, and audio cues all drive your attention around the frame where he wants you to put it. Could have forced that with camera moves and cutting, but one nice thing about this other way of doing it is you don't get tired of watching it repeatedly, because you can find something else to look at each time you run it thru. I think you get this a bit with Altman films as well.

But enough cineaste' talk. On to practical suggestions, maybe.

You can use single camera on a two shot the first time thru, and just plan to re-ask every question and pick a different shot than the first time. This doubles the shooting time, and tape stock used, which is okay if that's not an issue. But the questions coming the second time do not ever elicit the same honest and immediate response as they did the first time. Again, depending on the needs of the program, this may or may not be an issue, but know that the second time they answer, that answer is now coming from the head, not the heart, it is at least partly rehearsed and not as genuine.

Something I would suggest you try if stuck with one camera is to not be afraid to pause between asking questions to re-frame, then tighten up/clean up in editing. One technique that could help is to direct one question to one person, then pause, re-frame on the second, and don't ask them the same thing, but ask them to rate the other's initial response and correct anything in it that's not right. Have them alternate this.
What this is doing is giving you control over where in the narrative one person interrupts the other: ultimately your edit controls that, instead of just reacting to a live situation and hoping for the best.


Or if you want to cover it live, unlock the servo zoom, or set it to ultra-fast, and then manually pop between singles, tighter singles, and 2-shots with whip pans and snap-zooms during a breath or natural pause, If my camera is little further back, I generally can pull this off in one second or less if my focus has been pre-set, then the edit later cleans it up. You might lose one sentence or part of one, and this can usually be cut around in post without losing the sense of the comments.

I have done the trick of shooting an HD frame 2-shot and zooming to single in post for an SD finish edit. While doable, I think I can still see a little drop in rez, not bad, but there. On the plus side, that's a great trick because you always get perfect matching action between the wide and the single, since they came off the same take. 2-cam is great when your talent is not pro and can't be counted on to be consistent take after take. I think it saves more money than it costs, in those situations.

It always bothers me when I'm looking at, for example, an interview from the bonus section of a DVD, and it is entirely one locked medium single shot the entire 20 minutes or more. The editor then has to do a lot of unnecessary and distracting trick moves or bumps to title cards to cover his edits between each question when all that had to happen was to bump into a wider or tighter zoom during a breath or pause. If you ask leading questions, it should be easy to cut out the questions and turn the whole thing into a natural self-narrative, no fake transitions needed except cutting between different focal lengths. I think tromboning zooms in and out of a single cam shot are way more home-movie-like and distracting than anything else, no matter how slow and smooth you can do them (and I can make them that smooth and slow, I just hate doing it too much)

I am doing a bunch of interviews lately for some great oral history recording sessions, mostly of single subjects but occasionally couples, and we decided it was worth the bother to shoot 2-camera with a locked medium shot on one and a hand-aimed tight shot on the other, both cameras so close together the lenses almost touch each other, (No fancy double mount needed, the legs of the tripods interdigitate between each other) which gives any future editor some creative freedom plus matching action in post.


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Richard Herd
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Jan 2, 2009 at 11:28:08 pm

Unless you're going for that Charlie Rose look, don't forget about the background walls, which, in my opinion, look best at diagonals to the subject with plenty of distance between the wall and the subject to avoid shooting mug shots.



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Dan Brockett
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Jan 3, 2009 at 1:03:25 am

Some of the posters bring up a good point here and that is, "does it work to have more than one person at a time on camera?". I find that a lot of the time, my clients or sometimes a producer will decide that we should interview x and y together. Unless there is going to be some interaction between the two talent or if they visually need to go together, you will usually end up with a more solid looking interview if they are shot separately.

Earlier this month, I shot groups of animators being sort of interviewed and discussing different subjects with each other for a popular Fox show. Three talent, two cameras, all lit and shot by myself. I put them at the end of a curved conference table, facing at 3/4 angles to each other. They would look over at the interviewer to answer her questions but some of the best stuff we shot was with the animators, character designer and director all riffing off of each other. I had my hands full but it turned out great, great sound, good lighting. The table was made of polished cherrywood so I not only had all three on camera in the master, I was able to arrange the talent and the camera so that I had a nice "iTunes/iPhoto" matching reflection of each of the talent in the gloss of the tabletop.

This was a case of it being the best decision to shoot the groups all together.

But for the same project, I interviewed the EP alone with the same black BG. They all intercut beautifully. I liked having the EP/creator alone because he was of a higher level in the hierarchy of the show so it made sense.

But the best observation is that when you interview two or three people at once, often one person dominates the answers and often the other talent in the shot looks bored or their eyes glaze over. Then, when everyone sees that shot sequence, master to CU of the talker, then cutaways of reactions, the viewer is usually thinking, "why interview these people together?" IMHO, I will only usually do it if there is rapport, interplay and good conversation on-camera. If there isn't, you are wasting your efforts because multiple talent and cameras is a lot more work and hassle.

So my vote is no interviewing couples or triples unless it is going to work emotionally and with dialogue between them. If not, why do it?

Dan

Providing value added material to all of your favorite DVDs


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Kevin Herrin
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Jan 3, 2009 at 4:46:32 am

Great discussion. It's helped me think through what I'm going to do.

I can see that in most situations you wouldn't want to shoot doubles. My project is a geared towards people who have a marriage on the rocks. So I'll have several couples that have walked through similar situations and have recovered using the presented techniques. So it makes sense to have the couple together. Actually I'm thinking that I'll interview the couple separate for the beginning of the session where they would talk about how bad their situation was and then towards the end when the host presents solutions to the problem go to the couple on a double talking about their results. I'm going to shoot with two cameras, as it turns out I have access to two of the same, so they will cut nicely.

I like the tip on the wall angles, that makes a lot of sense. That's one of those things that adds a subtle difference.

thanks again,

Kevin Herrin
Digital Dynamics Media
Raleigh, NC


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todd mcmullen
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Jan 5, 2009 at 4:49:43 am

kevin, fwiw, sometimes it is not what the subject is saying, but what they are doing. You mentioned most of your interviews are couples with, issues?. You might give it a more documentary approach and focus on what these people are doing as they speak or what the other person is doing. ie, fidgety hands, raised eyebrows, facial denial. you get the point. I shoot a tv show for nbc called friday night lights and I have my operators looking for this type of story telling in every scene. it is very powerful and takes you away from the normal talking head.

As far as lighting goes. I like to use a cross key backlight with two people. especially if they are looking at each other a lot. when they face each other you get a very nice backlight. of course i have as oft front key when they are looking at camera.

good luck

Todd McMullen
Flip Flop Films
Austin
http://www.toddmcmullen.com


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Richard Herd
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Jan 5, 2009 at 11:20:36 pm

"Cross key backlight," can you explain that? It probably makes sense from its name, but just to be clear...thanks!



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todd mcmullen
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Jan 6, 2009 at 2:58:59 pm

Sure.
Let's say 2 people are talking to each other, somewhat face to face. and camera is holding a 2 shot from the front of the subjects. I will have a 1k baby with diffusion and color if necessary, behind the person on the left side of frame, out of the shot, pointing to the face of the person on the right. And another baby on the other side of the subject on the right, lighting the person on the left. keying the subject from behind and acting as a back light. depending on mood of scene I will sometimes use a soft bounce fill from the front. Hope this helps. here is a still of the close up of that example.




Todd McMullen
Flip Flop Films
Austin
http://www.toddmcmullen.com


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Richard Herd
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Jan 6, 2009 at 5:22:42 pm

That's what I thought. Thanks for clarifying.

'Nother quick question: How are you lighting the background?
Thanks again!



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todd mcmullen
Re: Interviewing Couples
on Jan 7, 2009 at 3:06:08 am

basicly what ever makes sense at the time. Is it morning/night/mid day?
can be a hard light through a window can be a practical lamp
i hope I am addressing the question
cheers

Todd McMullen
Flip Flop Films
Austin
http://www.toddmcmullen.com


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