specifically looking for a gem out of [my subject’s]
mouth and I don’t stop asking questions until I get
it,” Lavine says.
In fact, a good interview should produce clues
for visuals that will support the story, Gruber says.
“Photographers, whether they know it or not, are
searching for clues and the interview can tip you off.”
An interview is not simply camera fodder, but a piece
of the story-building process. The resulting footage
can stand on its own, particularly if it’s emotionally
powerful, or can be used over other visuals. “We’re always collecting ambient sounds too, since those can
be used to reinforce your visuals,” Gruber adds.
“I’m constantly editing in my head” while listening to
her subjects talk, Crow says. In this way, she can begin
to think about which audio clips work, and which ones
should go with certain visuals. Before the editing process begins, Crow will transcribe all her recorded interviews. “I try to remember a lot of the key points in what
was said, but you can miss a lot. By transcribing it, I can
build out a structure of the interview and then know the
audio I’m going to use before I even open Final Cut.”
Few people outside the glare of the public eye are comfortable giving on-camera interviews. It’s up to the vid-eographer to create a relaxed environment. Doing so
is often a matter of establishing personal rapport and
being charming, Kashi observes.
For Crow, it means conducting a short pre-interview
before the cameras are even rolling to get the subject
in the rhythm of fielding questions. The pre-interview
serves a secondary purpose as well, she says: It can
deliver new insights that can be explored on camera.
Crow always reminds her subjects that they are run-
ning the interview. “[If] at any point they feel upset or
want to stop, I tell them it’s OK. I find people appreci-
ate that sense of control.”
There are also a few subtle conversational tricks
to coaxing out usable sound bites. “I literally pause
slightly while I’m talking,” Lavine says. “If you just have
a conversation, you’ll talk over a person and that’s im-
possible to edit out. So without being obvious about it,
you pause and you give your subject time to talk and
you hold your own response for a couple of seconds.”
Gruber agrees. “People instinctively want to fill si-
lence, but the idea of silence is OK. We let the subject
linger on what they said, let it simmer. Often after a
pause, they’ll come back with something even better.”
Silence also provides needed breaks in the audio
track for editing, Lavine adds. “Without some kind of
natural break in the conversation, it’s very hard to edit.”
For the interviewer, giving non-vocal feedback—
head nods, thumbs up, etc.—is a useful way to keep
the talk rolling without verbally trampling over your
subject, Gruber notes.
both photos © michael lavine
Above: Michael Lavine interviews actor Kevin Bacon on
video after a still shoot. Below: Gruber prepares to interview
a beauty pageant contestant.
three-way discussion, he decided to give a rough outline of what he was looking for to his interpreter “and
told him to have a conversation.” The result, he says,
was “magical,” with the subject opening up and bringing everyone, Kashi included, to tears.
In many ways, the art of crafting a compelling on-
screen interview is a lot like being a good photographer,
Gruber notes. “You have to show that you’re curious
about people, that you’re sincere and that you want to
learn about their story.”
If all else fails, Gruber says, he reassures his subjects.
“We always remind them: Hey, if you screw up, we can
always do it over.’”