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7 Things Every Editor Wants Out of an Interview

I’ve been cutting interview-based videos for a decade now. In addition, I have spent hours behind the camera, conducting interviews and filming them. Invariably, whether I shoot it myself or I receive a hard drive full of footage, there’s always a few things I wish I could have:

1). Break it Up

Scrubbing through a 25-minute long chunk of footage is tedious. I mean, sure, I do it often, but it takes so much time marking each question, logging timecode of where things are located, and then relocating those same sound bytes later in the edit. Having the interview broken up into smaller chunks to start makes a faster edit process.

2). Identify “It”

You know what I mean. You’re listening to an interview and the interviewer asks, “So tell me how the Harper Feeding Program helped your family?” The subject then responds, “Well, it helped me feed my family good meals.”

“It?” What, it? Yes, their statement makes sense conversationally. We don’t repeat proper names of places and things in conversation, especially when the previous person just said the name. But when cutting the interview into a new video, I have no clue what “it” means. “It” could refer to anything at all. The audience watching the final video will be confused too. Please be sure “it” is be properly named by the subject at some point, especially when they’re describing “it” or what they do with “it”.

3). Quiet Please

Regardless of who the audio magician is, it is extremely difficult to remove background noise from an interview’s dialogue. Especially when the subject is talking! We can clean up, we can compress, limit, filter, but we’ll never be able to completely remove a sound and still have the subject sound like a normal human being.

As much as possible, avoid shooting in places in line with traffic, airplane flight paths, HVAC units, telephones, keypad entries, or children playing. Or industrial refrigerators. (That last one happened during one of my projects at my first job. We shot near a kitchen…the hum in the background of the video was impossible to remove!)

4). Keep it Organized

I’ve been handed everything from raw SD cards filled with footage to DV tapes to hard drives. Sometimes things come nicely organized by the day of the shoot and further organized down into which footage came from which camera. Glorious!

It’s the projects where everything is dumped helter-skelter, or worse, straight pulled from the recording format in whatever file structure designated by the camera, that take extra hours of sorting, organizing, and preparing. If you’re moving the footage over anyway, do your editor a favor and at least keep things organized by day of shoot and which camera.

Seriously. No editor likes a disorganized shooter. Well, unless you like paying for our time spent cleaning up and organizing your footage.

5). Keep Everything The Same

This should go without saying: if you’re shooting with multiple cameras, match the white balance and the frame rates between all the cameras. After all, if you’re a pro at this, you know to white balance. And matching frame rate should be obvious. But I bring this up because yes, it’s happened.

I will never be able to color correct to an exact match on unequally balanced footage. And mixing frame rates will cause all sorts of interesting problems. The best I’ll be able to do in both situations is come up with what I hope is a pleasing solution using effects and color.

6). Give me tails!

Some shooters will clip an answer to a question short. Or they’ll turn the camera on late. Work with your subject and interviewer so that everyone knows when the camera is on, and when you’ve turned it off. A moment or two before the subject’s answer starts and ends gives me more audio to work with in the cut. We also can see emotions play out on the subject’s face. These are valuable pieces to have when cutting the interview.

7). The Sound of Silence

Every room has a tone. It’s made up of all sorts of little things, from the hum of your video equipment, to the presence of the people in the room, to the way the plumbing is routed through the walls and where the chairs are placed. And it’s different every single day.

Invariably, in the edit I will need to cover a gap of pure silence with that room tone. And it’s a pain in the ass when I don’t have it to fill in. I’ve got to pull it, from spaces between questions, between moments when there’s nothing happening on camera. And that’s if I’m lucky enough to have an interview where there was gaps.

Please do me a favor and record room tone. You must do it while everything is set up and everyone is present. Yes, it’s a boring minute. Yes, it’s at the bottom of your to-do list. But I will love you forever if you get me room tone.


How about you? What are things you wish you had when you’re cutting together interviews?

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