6 Common Video Questions to Answer Before Your Next Shoot

September 10, 2016


Producing a video that has a documentary feel is not easy. It requires some experience, patience, and a keen sense for the desired sound bite you’re trying to elicit. What makes it so difficult? Well, a documentary-style video has little or no narration. The characters in the story carry the message and they are the real storytellers of the piece. So, if the producer isn’t prepared, the piece will fall short. Since you may not be an experienced video producer, here are some tips to get the most out of your video questions.

What are my key messages?

Great questions start with some research and understanding of what you’re trying to communicate. It’s like writing a paper for school or a blog for a company — determine what it is you’re really trying to say. Then, figure out the salient aspects of the message that must be communicated to successfully pass on the information. Sounds simple, but so often people get lost in the form and then forget the real purpose of a piece. So, on a basic level, come up with three key messages. For example, if you’re producing a company overview video, determine what three aspects of the business you’d like to communicate — we’re the industry leader, our culture is dynamic, and we’re culturally diverse. Once you know these messages you’re ready to go.

Who are my messengers?

Now that you have your messages, next figure out who are the best messengers. Too often, people default to “the boss” for the wrong reason — ego. Yep, I said it. The thinking goes like this, “Well, we should have Gary because he’s the owner.” And to that, our response would be, “maybe.” Of course, if Gary is the best person to deliver that message, then my gosh, have Gary in the piece. But if you need someone to carry the message of how diverse your company is and Gary is a middle-aged white dude, then maybe Gary isn’t the right guy. It could be a long term team member who more accurately represents that message. Align your messages with the right messenger, regardless of their title or position in the company. Remember, you want a video that people will care about and inspire action!

What questions should I ask the interview subjects?

An important part of the planning process is creating the questions. Take time and thoughtfully craft a handful of questions for your subject. Don’t create a list of 20 questions, because realistically you don’t need that much from that person. Come up with five, sharp, open-ended questions for your subject. By all means, avoid closed ended questions and listen for opportunities to ask follow-up questions. In fact, you’ll find that some of your best answers may come from the follow-up questions. Here’s a piece I wrote a couple years ago that still holds up and talks about questions producers should ask.

Should I script the answers to the questions?

Once you have your questions, share them with the interview subjects. Ask them to consider answers, and to not memorize them. You want to encourage a thoughtful answer, not a memorized and robotic answer. We have learned through the years that people not only provide more thoughtful answers when seeing questions in advance, but they are also less likely to leave out critical pieces of information! Since you don’t know how they’ll respond to your scripted questions, follow-up questions provide an opportunity to get reactions from the subject that you wouldn’t get if they had seen those questions in advance.

What happens if they don’t get the answer right the first time?

You’re not producing an actual documentary, or daily news piece for that matter, so if the interview subject misspeaks or stumbles, always provide them the opportunity to try again. Often it’s useful to ask the question again so the subject can respond to the answer naturally. Keep in mind, the main objective is to make your business look good, and having a key interview subject stumble, stutter, and stammer through an answer doesn’t make anyone look good.

Should I correct someone if they say the wrong thing?

Once you’ve asked the question, keep your mouth shut and let the subject answer the question. Amateur producers are sometimes too quick to jump in during the response and step on the sound bite. As a producer, you can nod in affirmation, look surprised or sad, without saying a word. It’s only natural to react to the words we hear, and that’s terrific — even preferred — just try really hard to not speak! After the interviewer has finished the question, then feel free to talk about what you’d like them to do differently and then try another take.

As producers, we all have our own tricks for getting the most out of our video questions. What have you done that you found effective? Our tricks are tried and true over decades of experience and yet we’re always anxious to learn more!

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