I count myself relatively lucky in that even from school days, I always knew which field of work I wanted to get into: production. I have been a producer now for 15 years but the kind of production I find myself doing now is very different to how it all started… After university and an unexpected 4-year stint in Italy pursuing my other passions of that time – Italian boys and bartending – I returned to London and spent several years in broadcast travel documentary making. My role in that environment involved researching stories, writing scripts, a lot of organizing, and being away from home for often months at a time. The crew when we went away on shoots would comprise of (at the very least) a producer, cameraperson, sound recordist, director and presenter.
Cut to several years later when I fell into corporate production… I still remember attending meetings in those early days and not knowing what anyone was talking about – business speak & corporate jargon were not languages I was familiar with. I genuinely did not know my ‘alignment’ from my elbow. But I took those learnings on board and pretty soon I was reaching out for that low hanging fruit, leveraging and robustly executing like a pro.
One thing I had never had to do in my previous life though was to conduct an interview. Having always worked with presenters, this was something that hadn’t previously fallen within my remit. There’s a lot to remember from a purely technical perspective – make sure you hold the interviewee’s eye line as it looks very odd on camera if their eyes are straying from yours; ensure their answers can be understood without the question; don’t let any of your talking overlap with theirs as it then becomes unusable in the edit; no thin striped or checked shirts to be worn as it sends the cameras bananas; try and get them to give short & succinct answers; etc etc.
These things soon become second nature to the point where you no longer even have to think about them. However there is a whole other, more refined layer of detail to learn – as the technical aspects become routine, it frees your brain to concentrate on the editorial side of the interview. You begin to edit in your head so by the end of an interview you know if you’re missing a phrase that will bridge a gap; you know whether a mistake in someone’s answer is unusable or whether you can “stitch together” what you have in order to ensure it makes sense; you listen carefully to intonation so that you know whether you have something that can work as a strong opening or conclusion.
However out of all of these things, the most important point is that your subject feels comfortable and at ease. Not everyone that we speak to is a high profile celebrity, au fait with the interview situation. Many times, we are speaking to people who have never been sat in front of the huge amount of equipment that film crews come with – it can be a daunting experience for them. A nervous subject is one more likely to make mistakes and give a poor performance, therefore an ability to empathise, make an interviewee laugh and feel calm is paramount. Everything else most of the time, to coin a production jargon phrase of our very own, can be sorted out in post.