If you’re conducting a video interview, choosing the best location for your shoot is one of the most important decisions you will make. A good choice of location can help you to avoid a host of practical problems, add context to your interview, and provide a complementary visual backdrop for your talent. Its all too easy to leave the location for your interview shoot as an afterthought, taking a ‘wing it’ approach to finding the right place to film; after all there’s a lot more to think about, right? The truth is that putting a little up-front time and thought into a your choice of location will inevitably pay dividends, both in terms of headache reduction while filming and in the quality of your finished video production. Let’s take a look at some of the things to consider when choosing the location for your video interview.
Can I film here and is it safe to film here?
It’s very easy to assume that you can simply walk into any location with a camera and start filming or photographing. The fact is that there are any number of places in the UK where you most definitely can’t! True public spaces, such as streets, parks or town squares are the exceptions, but private property of any kind will inevitably require permission. Failing to get permission prior to filming is a fairly sure way to land yourself in trouble and, even if you manage to escape notice at the time of your shoot, could mean you end up with a useless product that can never be published legally – try explaining that to your client! In many cases, getting permission to film can be as easy as writing an email, making a phone call or knocking on someone’s door, and the worst case scenario is that the property owner/manager refuses and you find another place to shoot.
Another important consideration is the safety of those involved and the very expensive equipment you’re using to record your interview, particularly in certain public spaces at certain times of day. Shooting your interview in a local park may be a great idea during the day, for example, but later in the evening public spaces like this often become the territory of all kinds of wayward individuals, who may at best choose to make filming difficult, or at worst pose a real physical threat to the safety of those involved in the shoot.
Distracting visual or audio elements
Assuming you’ve found a location in which you’re both welcome and safe, it’s important to ensure that anyone viewing your video interview can engage with your content without distraction. While you may want to include things that help provide contextual information, such as the bustle of busy shoppers behind your interview of the CEO of a new shopping complex; distracting extraneous elements should be avoided. I always check around the edges of my frame for intrusions that might be distracting just before I hit record, and I’m often surprised at what I hadn’t noticed prior to doing this.
Another important but sometimes neglected environmental concern is unwanted sound in the filming location. Traffic noise, machinery, even conversation can be very intrusive and distracting if not managed appropriately. Again, if contextually beneficial, you may wish to have a little environmental noise in the background: a piece about congested roads would probably benefit from the sound of traffic, for example. However, if you don’t want ambient sounds encroaching on your audio, its important to take steps to reduce their intrusion: schedule your shoot during quiet hours, close the windows, ask other workers in the office space to be quiet. In the same way that I always check around the edges of my frame, I always stop for a moment to listen for things like buzzing lights, whining projector fans and the like. Again, its amazing what you hear when you stop and listen!
Pretty much compulsory to reducing the impact of environmental noise is to use an external mic, which is placed close to your talent. When filming outside its always best to use either a lavalier or shotgun mic to record your audio as both of these types of mic can help to manage the balance between wanted and unwanted sound.
Relevance to your subject
I’ve already spoken about how environmental elements can actually help provide context to an interview, and indeed the setting of your video interview in a subject related environment might become a major consideration. For example, interviewing a concert pianist, sat at a Steinway, on the stage of a concert hall adds bags of contextual information that enhances your story massively, so scheduling your interview into that location, at an appropriate time, should be very high on your agenda. Alternatively, you might consider dressing a plain environment with suitable props: a trophy on a table instantly provides visual cues when interviewing an athlete, for instance, no matter what the location.
Light things up a little.
If you have to shoot against a plain background such as a brickwork or painted wall, try using light to help lift your subject away from that background and to provide a little layering to your image. A simple pool of light projected on the wall behind your talent’s head can work wonders, add a backlight or hair-light and the effect is amplified further. Alternatively try adding a beam of light shaped with barn doors or even a gobo, splashing onto the background on the long side of your frame. Adding a coloured gel to either your background light or backlight/hair-light can also help add contrast between your subject and their surroundings. As with anything in the frame other than your interview subject, use light subtly, so as not to create too much distraction from the main feature.
When it comes to lighting your talent, unless you’re forced to work with available light, try to ensure that your talent is maybe a stop lighter than your background – if necessary move them closer to a window or an artificial light source within the room. Where possible try to light your subject with either key and fill lights to give their face some shape, or at worst with a key light and some sort of reflector (a simple £20 pop-up reflector from Amazon will do the trick) to help manage facial shadows. Try to avoid on-camera lighting if you can, as this has the effect of flattening your subject, particularly if there’s nothing separating them from the background. Even a small battery operated light panel off to one side of the camera and slightly above your talent can work wonders, giving your subject’s face a little shape and visual interest. Even on run-and-gun shoots, I carry a small battery powered LED light, which I mount on a gooseneck for just this purpose, if the available light needs a little help.
The excellent video below, from Indy Mogul, takes you though a complete setup for an interview session and shows how even a spartan industrial unit can become a great interview location with a little creative thought and careful deployment of equipment.
Make sure there’s enough space to set up and work in
The equipment involved in a shoot can take up a lot of space, and that’s before you even begin to consider things like camera angles, proximity of your talent to the background, etc. Trying to work in a confined space can be both frustrating and unnecessarily time consuming, as you wrestle with all the elements of your production in order to shoehorn a size 11 foot into a size 8 boot. There’s also an increased likelihood of accidents, potentially leading to either equipment failure or injury, neither of which are things you want to deal with on a shoot. Apart from these simple practicalities, the more space you have when filming, the more scope you have for aesthetic niceties such as as using a longer lens to prevent facial distortions, being able to throw your background out of focus, managing shadows cast by your talent, having the potential to add a second or even third camera for variety of shot.
It goes without saying that, if possible, you should try to avoid spaces occupied with lots of furniture. Even if the contents of a room are easily movable, you can waste a lot of time having to clear a suitable working space prior to your shoot and then having to replace everything afterwards.
If you’re working outdoors its very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that brilliant sunshine provides ideal filming conditions, this is, however, rarely the case! When I did wedding photography regularly, one of my dreads was a cloudless sky, particularly in winter months, as this would mean either harsh shadows, squinting eyes, or a combination of both, if I wasn’t very careful about where and how I shot. A lot of people are very surprised that many photographers, including myself, are more likely to use flash outside than indoors, which is done in order to balance out the brightness of the sun. In a video interview scenario, the same issues can apply, either with your talent’s face beset by deep shadows, your talent well exposed but with a badly overexposed background, or your talent struggling to avoid having their retinas burned out by bright sunlight shining right in their faces. The best way to manage bright sunny conditions is to work in the open shade of a tree or similar, or if this isn’t available, consider shooting slightly into the light with reflectors or artificial light to front-fill your talent’s face. A more extravagant alternative is a large diffuser, of the kind frequently used in Hollywood productions or on more lavish fashion shoots in exotic locations, but, depending on the size of your operation and therefore your crew, this might prove a little unrealistic. Better still, if the sun is doing its worst and you have some flexibility, try re-scheduling for a more overcast day.
In the same way that working outdoors can be a complete pain from a lighting point of view, unwanted noise can also be far less predictable or manageable outdoors than when inside. I’ve had more than one good take destroyed by a helicopter flying low overhead or by someone opening up the throttle of a motorbike nearby, and there’s little or nothing that you can do to guard against these issues except being prepared to re-take. Using lapel or shotgun mics will help with managing general environmental noise, but even they can’t reject unusually loud sounds. I guess the key to survival in these circumstances is to ensure you have appropriate contingency time at your disposal.
A Final Thought: Preparation is everything
As with every other circumstance in the world of video production, making sure that you’re well prepared is the key to success. From taking the time to scout out a suitable location and ensuring you have permission to shoot there, to considering how you can deploy appropriate lighting and doing a simple risk assessment, the more thought and time you put into planning your interview shoot, the more relaxed, business-like and, in all likelihood, successful your production is going to be.
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