One of the most common jobs we receive is filming interviews.These can be anything from CEO end-of-year messages, to top BMW salesman testimonials, to Jersey Shore cast reunions, to swimsuit models talking Heidi Klein, and J Crew. You see these kinds of interviews all the time, on the internet and on television, in documentaries and features, and while they may not look like much to the casual viewer, this itself is part of the magic. So, how do you do that? Well first you call Accord Productions of course, but I think every Cinematographer has their own style and way of doing business. This is just my way of getting the job done.
It’s All About the Setup
There’s a saying that goes, “If you do things right, people won’t think you’ve done anything at all.” This is the key to a great interview set-up. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It draws attention to the subject in the best kind of ways, with lighting that compliments their features, highlighting the hair and the eyes and sculpting the chin and the cheekbones while de-emphasizing any negatives. A great set-up fills the background without looking forced, it draws lines of attention from corners of the frame to the subject, it’s a matter of color and right-sized objects placed at particular points at particular angles at just the right distances from the subject and the camera – all of it dialed in and precisely determined by the cinematographer, then left to live on its own as the producer asks questions – sound and sure, doing its job in silence. It can be a thing of beauty and I’m grateful to have learned from some of the best. Steve Jobs famously said: “Most people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” This is especially true in the business of shooting an interview for a corporate client. Because honestly, a lot of clients don’t think about these things. They want something to take home with them to impress their bosses and that’s about as far as they’ve thought about it. So it’s always best to come prepared.
Walking into our equipment room reminds of the beginning of Joel Schumaucher’s Batman movies from the late 90s. There’s always the scene where he’s suiting up and grabbing equipment from tables: a couple batarangs, a smoke bomb, a grappling hook, ice-skating boots. You’ve gotta be prepared for anything. First, we grab the camera we need – these days it’s a Sony FS7 MkII or a Canon C300. My favorite way to shoot is with the Sony FS7 MkII with a Metabones Canon EF/EF-S Lens to Sony E Mount Smart Adapter and a couple of Canon lenses – the L-Series 24-70mm and 16-35mm f/2.8 are my go-to lenses, offering the right focal lengths to achieve a nice look out of most practical set-ups. I’m a fan of the versatility of Sony’s PZ G OSS E-Mount lenses, but at an f/4 I can’t always get exactly what I want out of them and prefer the f/2.8 on the Canon lenses which gives me the ability to roll all the way open and get that nice shallow depth-of-field most clients are looking for. I’m a huge fan of the Sony FS7 MkII. There are lots of reasons to love this camera, but my main two reasons are S-Log-3 and the variable ND filter. Sometimes clients want you to shoot with the subject’s back to a window and S-Log-3 has proven to be a very forgiving gamma profile in those types of scenarios. Of course, you’ll still need a ton of light, but usually you can get a feel for what’s outside the window. And the variable ND filter really allows you to control the depth of field so you can stick to an f/2.8 and dial in the ND, shutter and lighting instruments around that setting.
Geared for the Elements
The one question I always try to get answered before a shoot is: are we inside or outside? That’s a huge, game-changing question. If it’s outside I’m bringing bounce boards, reflectors, silks and C-Stands and that’s pretty much it. God will light the shot with his big shiny HMI. If it’s inside, I’m bringing a lighting package. This usually consists of a couple Kino Flo Diva Lite 401’s, a set of small ARRI lights (650’s and 300’s), a panel light or two, a roll of various diffusions for color temperature and lighting intensity changes and a grip bag containing everything from C-47’s and Mafer clamps to dimmer switches and zip-ties. I bring C-Stands and baby stands to hold the lights and sandbags to secure them, and sometimes finish off with a silk or a flag in case we run into flares or need to cut light from an annoying window. I’ll almost always bring a large piece of heavy fabric to cover an annoying window that might try to throw a wrench into my plans. This has saved me numerous times. My favorite tripod is a Sachtler Hot-Pod 10 with a Video 20 head. The Tripod itself is rugged and can take a beating, but I especially love it for the pneumatic column which allows you to quickly extend the height of the tripod. Nothing more embarrassing than adjusting tripod legs and re-bubbling when the CEO of a Fortune 500 company is staring you down.
“Just one more minute sir.”
A lot of times you don’t know what the room is going to look like before you get there. So, when you arrive this is the first thing you do: you observe and think about the camera and the lens. You look for dissecting lines and leading lines. You look for areas without power plugs and reflective windows and bad paint. You look for colors that will work to break up the background, and you think about where the subject will sit in relation to those things. It also helps to find out the subject matter beforehand. Is it heavy and serious or light-hearted and whimsical? Are we talking to doctors or comedians? Mental patients or children? Dog-trainers or bounty hunters? This determines how we light the shot and how we compose the image.
Once the spot is selected, the Kino Flo’s are used for the key and fill and I use the panel light for the back light because it gives a nice soft spread that covers the hair and shoulders. If we’re going for something dramatic, I’ll light heavier from one side and use black cards for negative fill on the other side to add contrast. Once the subject is lit, you start arranging and painting the background. This is where the ARRI’s come in handy. You paint up walls that need light, you install overhead, downward-facing circular cuts over plants and glass objects, you cover barn doors with black wrap and slice cuts and holes in them to speckle a bland wall, you steady 300’s on sandbags and aim them at dark columns. And you do your best to keep it all subtle, keep it natural, and do what it’s supposed to do – emphasize the character in the foreground without drawing attention to itself in the background.
All of the previously mentioned tools come into play here. Sometimes there’s no room for your C-Stand, so you hang your backlight from the ceiling with a scissor-clamp. Sometimes that window in the corner that didn’t seem like a problem has cars passing outside it – cars with shiny, reflective bumpers that are sending ugly silver streaks across your subject’s forehead – and then you’re thanking God you remembered to bring that black backdrop you didn’t think you’d use. You climb up and unscrew lightbulbs that are the wrong color temperature and won’t turn off (“They’re always on, nothing we can do about it,” said the officer manager) and you move desks and tables and chairs and potted plants and books and computers and Manager of the Year plaques and mugs and toys. You tape down cables and smooth out window shades and clip them to the upper window rail if they just won’t stay straight. And you look at the monitor and you study. Not just the light on the subject. But everything. Every corner of the frame, looking for imperfections, looking for that one detail that will drive your client crazy in post. Or maybe it’ll just drive you crazy in post. Either way, you find it and you kill it. And then you wait.
Is it always perfect? Absolutely not. Sometimes you get dealt a bad hand, like a storage room filled with old tables and chairs, or a cramped conference room with an unmovable table and a client who wants it to feel like a beautiful NBC studio. So, you do your best work to make things as clean and neat and sharp as you can, down to the last minute, down to the moment when the client walks in and looks around and says, “Wow, you guys sure bring a lot of stuff.”
Yes. Yes, we do.
Now take a seat over there so Joe can mic you.
If you’re looking to book a crew to film an interview, drop us a line or reach out at 305.856.1245
You can also take a look at some of our past project