Interviews for Stories

Skills needed to get good Sound Bites

Getting good Sound Bites (or what is called as a quotes in Print) is the aim behind Interviews for stories. Hence, the interviewer has to concentrate on the answers to know whether he is getting the Sound Bite he is looking for.  Ideally, the quote should be complete in itself i.e. it should make sense without the use of interviewer’s questions.  If the focus of the story is clear, a Reporter would know what quote is expected out of an interviewee.  The question should be phrased to elicit the right response.  A vague question would get a vague answer.



Wrong: Q.: Would your party align with any other party to fight this election?

Answer: We may align if need be.

Right: Q: Would your party have an electoral alliance with Congress? If yes why?

Answer: We would align with the Congress because…..

An Open ended question discussed in the last chapter, helps in getting the right Sound Bite.


Question List:

Once you’ve planned your story and know the various answers required for your story, create a list of questions.  Keep these questions short and to the point. Ask yourself these questions and ensure that you will get the right answer, if not change the question.  Keep the important questions at the beginning of the interview. But if the important question is going to make your interviewee unhappy – start with soft questions and lead to the tough ones.


Cross Questions:

When you realise an interviewee may not answer your question directly, keep cross-questions ready so that you can get the desired answer.


Camera framing for Quotes:

If you are working with a good Cameraman you should give him the opportunity to choose the background and shot framing.  This I believe involves him and visuals being his sole concerns, can many times give you better results.   But you should on and off peep into the Viewfinder to know the framing.  This has to be done very carefully as Cameramen don’t like it.

Looking Space:

While interviewing for stories, the interviewee should look at the interviewer and talk.  If the person is turning right to look at the interviewer, he should be kept at the right side of the frame and vice-versa. Ideally the subject should cover 2/3rd of the picture (horizontally) and the one third picture left is called the looking space.   If the interviewer is looking left the looking space should be given on the left side..



Choose a background that goes with the topic.  If you are interviewing a person who has something to tell about computers, use that as the background. If it is an official who is being interviewed, it helps to do the interview in his office – an actor in the sets of a film or theatre.  Even the green room is an ideal place in such a case. But if you want to put a person on the defensive take him to a background, which he is not, used to.


Shot framing:

While interviewing for stories the Close Up shot is the most used one.  This frame helps to show the facial features & emotions of the persons and at the same time gives enough space to super the person’s name.   However, if the interviewee shows lot of emotions (say crying) there is nothing wrong in going for a Very Close Up or the Big Close Up shot (just the face).


Framing for opposite views:

If the story you are covering has conflicting viewpoints, keep the two interviewees on different sides when you film .i.e. if you are keeping the person who is talking for a subject on the left side keep the person talking against it on the right side. In a case where there are no clear sides alternate the sides of the interviewees as you go along filming the story.



Besides the interview, take shots of the interviewee doing other things as well.  Such shots are called cutaways. These shots are required to introduce the person or an organisation.   The commonly used cutaway shots include talking on the telephone, reading a book, walking on the garden, walking in to sit on the interview chair etc.   Instead of using the traditional ones new ideas can be utilised.



Cut-ins are close up shots of the hands etc. of the interviewee.   These can be used to stich together two separate Sound Bites.   But I have found using the close up of hands to put two different sound bite together very jerky.  Instead the second part of the quote can be hidden behind relevant visuals.


OSS Shots:

OSS or Over the Shoulder Shots are needed in situations when the interviewer wants to show that he was there interviewing the subject. When using both original framing and OSS – the OSS shot should look like a zoom out from the original frame.



These shots are also used to show that the interviewer was there (doing the interview). Noddies are taken after the interview.  In these shots one can see the interviewer nodding, even as the interviewee talks.  This could be inserted (while editing) in between a soundbite.  Noddies could also be shot as an OSS, this time over the shoulder of the interviewee.



In an ENG (Electronic News Gathering) situation, the Reporter does not have access to the best of lights.  The portable lights used may not give the best results.  However, efforts should be made to at least have a key light and a backlight during the interview.   The Key light will be the main one to light the subject whereas the backlight will light the background and give depth.  Interviewing in sunlight, utilising the window light etc. are some of the methods used by good Cameramen to get the best in an ENG situation.