Goal (Time & Space)
Let’s face it, no one has the energy for three or four hour one-man shoots, especially on a low/no-budget. Plus, many people may not want to take so much time from their day—which means we need to be as efficient as possible when we shoot. The mission is to condense a shoot into about forty-five minutes so the whole ordeal can take no longer than an hour and a half.
You are not simply a camera operator, you are an interviewer, documentarian, and director. Be a human with your subject. Be their friend, ask them questions. Warm up the air in a friendly way as you set up your equipment (if applicable). They understand that you are here to interview them and perhaps learn a bit about their life; but do your best not to intimidate.
Warming up, ask your subject to please:
- Answer all questions in a complete sentence (ex. If the question is “Do you like apples?” The answer would be “I like apples” instead of “yes I do.”)
- “Look at me, not the camera lens” (or the opposite, if you prefer—just keep it uniform!)
- “Feel free to go off on a tangent of a story if you think its relevant.” just be him/herself
Note that even before you’ve officially started your shoot with a person, there may be valuable B-roll shots for capturing. This could be people interacting in the establishment, action shots, or it could be something on the wall. Never hesitate to begin capturing a shot in the moment. It might not come back again!
Remember that you can ask your subject character to repeat something, but you may not be able to re-enact or replicate a genuine piece of footage that is taking place and relevant to the story at hand.
Capturing a Subject
Focus on keeping your subject comfortable. There are no awkward moments, and assume everything that happens is the norm. Keep the camera rolling even when they think it’s off, you’d be surprised how much great authentic footage can be captured in this way.
Do not focus on being perfect as a filmmaker, instead concentrate on the content you are capturing as efficiently as possible: what visual/audible elements will add to its presentation? Which elements are nice but perhaps not necessary at all? When in doubt, capture it!
- Starting out, follow them on a tour of their scene (house, business, office, etc)
- This warms up the subject to be comfortable and gives you an idea of the space and what you might want to explore more later.
- Over the shoulder shots—what do they see?
- Walking/action shots—a timelapse is a great idea, just be responsible with time management
- Pan (move) the camera in and out of what they’re describing
- If necessary, capture the audio (to use as voice over) simultaneously as b-roll
- Ask questions!
- Don’t stop recording! Even when they think it’s off.
- If you see something interesting, or are curious about something your subject character said, ask them to repeat it and share more of the story behind it.
- Sometimes subjects don’t think certain things are very interesting, when in reality those could be the best bits!
- REMEMBER: B-roll/establishing shots all the time!
- Add movement to your B-roll: pans, drop focus, etc.
- Mix up between close-ups and wider shots (but don’t forget your microphone situation and the quality of your audio!)
- Ask open-ended questions so they have room to talk and run on
- Getting a few lines about their “philosophy” is perfect to close a clip with.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your subject to repeat quotes for the camera
- “Why do you do it?”
- FINISH UP: Get an intro of them introducing themselves (e.g. “Hi, my name is ___ and I ____ because I ___.”).
- This is important to do at the end because the focus and subject matter of your video clip should be fairly obvious to you and those you are working with.