Here at GoodPractice we do more than our fair share of filming, whether that’s interviewing subject matter experts for our online toolkits, bespoke client work or shooting footage for our excellent e-learning work.

With a few years (and a fair bit of international travel under our belt) I thought I’d share some of the issues and challenges we’ve encountered and how to overcome them, should you be tasked with doing some filming work of your own. Let’s get started!

Getting ready

You can never over-prepare for a shoot.

camera kit

Common pitfalls to be aware of include:

  • forgetting essential bits of kit
  • not being allowed to travel with essential bits of kit
  • kit that becomes lost luggage
  • finding bits of your kit are incompatible when travelling abroad
  • having to film in an unsuitable location
  • last minute changes to your filming location

Keep a list of what filming equipment you’ve got, its size and weight to make booking travel as pain free as possible. When flying, check the luggage requirements and restrictions thoroughly, and if there’s anything you’re not clear about, give the airline a call before you book.

If your kit is arriving independent of you, make sure you factor in plenty of contingency time. Check out where you could hire replacement stuff at short notice, should you make a travel connection but your luggage doesn’t. And keep your camera(s) on you, rather than checking them in as hold luggage, if you possibly can.

When packing at either end, use your kit checklist religiously. Make sure you have enough battery packs, spare batteries, memory cards, an extension cable and power adapters if you need them. Also ensure you’ve got a laptop or hard drive for backing up your footage at the end of your shoot.

When you’re filming on location, get in touch as early as possible with the venue. If you have a choice of where to film, ask for:

  • a quiet room with natural daylight, and where you can control the air con from within the room
  • pictures, or even better, 360 video of the room so you can see the layout, and where the windows are
  • a room with plenty of power sockets
  • details of movable/flexible features within the room (e.g. blinds, partition walls)
  • when you can get access to the room for setup and break down and if you can store your equipment securely when you’re not there

It may sound obvious, but make sure you’ve also got mobile details for your interviewee(s). If there are any last minute changes, e.g. to location, you need to be able to get in touch with people, fast.

Interview issues

First up, explain the format the interview will take well in advance to your talent. Find out what experience, if any, they have of speaking on camera, to help you judge how much guidance they’re likely to need.

Wardrobe warning!

Give your talent advice about what (not!) to wear, where practically possible.

colourful clothes

Shirts with narrow stripes and tops with busy patterns don’t tend to work well on screen. Chunky or jangly jewellery can cause sound issues, so ask interviewees not to wear it, or gently ask them to remove it for filming. Ditto with spectacles. I’ve seen footage with myself reflected in miniature in the interviewee’s glasses. Just too weird. Ask the talent if they can manage without their specs and if not, then try to angle them in such a way that any reflection is minimised.

Common conundrums

There’s a very good reason why I prefer to stay behind the camera. Speaking ‘on tape’ isn’t easy and I have the utmost respect for anyone who volunteers to do it! Even the most experienced and erudite public speaker can be reduced to a quivering wreck as soon as that little red record light comes on. Here are some common behaviours we’ve experienced, and some advice about what you can do to help the person in the hot seat give their best performance.

Unravelling

This is common in video interviews. The person starts off well. They’re clear in their mind what they want to say. But if you interrupt their flow for whatever reason, they find it hard to get back on track. It then becomes the law of diminishing returns, as they get increasingly nervous and flustered.

What to do: Break the cycle. Tell them you need to fix the lighting. Ask to adjust their microphone. Offer them a glass of water. Or simply say ‘You’re doing great. But do you want a couple of minutes to look over your notes?’. Try to keep further interruptions to a minimum when you spot unravelling in action to stop it getting any worse. Even if the interviewee doesn’t manage to answer a question with a clear run, you may be able to splice the best bits of the takes together in the edit.

Note glancing

Interviewees often bring notes in with them. For many they’re like a security blanket. They don’t really need them, it’s just the comfort of knowing they’re there. Therein lies the problem though. The notes seem to have a magnetic quality, drawing the eyes downwards.  Your interviewee thinks no one will notice them taking a sneaky peak. But every second of that footage will scream out ‘THEY’RE LOOKING AT THEIR NOTES!’

What to say: ‘I’m very happy for you to refer to your notes between takes if you need to, but can we move them out of sight for now?’ You might then need to give the interviewee a few moments for one last glance back through them, and to recover from the inevitable separation anxiety.

Jazz hands

Expressive talkers can be great on camera, but beware the problem of flapping hands.

jazz hands

You’ll need to make a judgement call on this. You can simply ask them not to do it. But it can be hard if it’s part of their character, or if the mental effort of not doing it affects the quality of their interview. We’ve been known in the past to ask the worst culprits to sit on their hands, but that feels a bit draconian, and doesn’t make for a comfortable experience for either party!

It might be possible to reframe with a tighter shot, so that hand movements don’t come into view. But it may be better still to just go with the flow, widening the shot and showing the person in all their expressive glory.

Seat shifting

People who tend to shift around a lot in their seat can be a little trickier, particularly if their movements take them in and out of shot. Repositioning the chair can help.  If they move back and forward in their seat it can feel like a roller coaster ride for the viewer.  So best to regularly remind the talent that you need them to sit relatively still. NB Chairs on wheels, or ones that swivel are bad, bad, bad for any interview.

One foot in the past

People will often refer back to what they have previously said, ‘As I said earlier’, being the phrase to watch out for. This can make footage hard to edit if what they did say earlier doesn’t make the cut.

What to do: Ask all interviewees up front not to do it. You might also need to ask them to avoid references that will date the footage. Numbering their answers, e.g. ‘The first thing I would do is ...’ and using numbered lists, e.g. ‘Five things spring to mind .’ can also be an issue, particularly if you are mixing in their footage with others.

So …

So we all have our favourite expressions. So it’s a common way for us to answer interview  questions. So you’ve probably gathered that ‘So’ is a common way to start a sentence. So politely ask interviewees to avoid doing it. And keep an ear out for any other expressions they tend to overuse as part of their day to day speech. Variety, as they say, is spice for the listener.

And finally …

No matter how well prepared you are, be sure to expect the unexpected.

OMG!

Here’s just a few things that, despite our best laid plans, have taken us by surprise over the years:

  • Equipment that made it out to Malaysia a whole day later than we did (that’s the type of situation they coined the term ‘film sweats’ for ...).
  • In Chicago, discovering our equipment was picking up a pirate radio station, 20 minutes before a full day of filming was due to start.  Double film sweats!
  • Being stopped and searched by customs going into Mexico (let’s face it, more people must get stopped going out ...) Triple film sweats!
  • Discovering the ‘quiet interview room’ we requested was exactly that, until a pool party kicked off close by at an indecently early 10 am. I’ll never forget our interviewee breaking off to join in with ‘BBBBBadd to the Bone ….’

These incidents make great stories when you’ve made it through them. The best thing you can do is plan as best you can when going on a shoot, keep your cool, think fast, and make sure you’ve invested in a hard working deodorant. Good luck!


  • Camera kit image credit: Flickr (accessed 30 May 2016)
  • Colourful clothes image credit: Flickr (accessed 30 May 2016)
  • Baby jazz hands image credit: Flickr (accessed 30 May 2016)
  • OMG image credit: Flickr (accessed 30 May 2016)