Tips for Creating Great Video Interviews

Kids.gov staff interviews a Zoo Keeper for its STEM Careers Spotlight series

At Kids.gov, we noticed a lot of our search terms were for different jobs: veterinarian, teacher, police officer. We offer links to these areas, but thought it would be great if we met and interviewed government employees in the DC area. We started doing videos in 2010 that highlight cool government careers. Some people we’ve interviewed: a White House chef, a zoo keeper and a prosthetist from Walter Reed.

A video is a great way to show kids (in 3 minutes or less) a typical day in the office and get advice on how to get into a particular field. Kids can see what it’s really like to be a scientist, currency designer, or physical therapist. We hope it’s a great way to show kids that public service is not all politics; there’s some amazing career fields out there.

Here are some tips we’ve learned along the way:

  1. Set up the interview. Contact the media/outreach department and make sure you get all the necessary approvals. Set up a date and time allowing 15-20 minutes for setting up the video equipment. Make a list of questions to ask in advance.
  2. Prepare video equipment. Charge the video cameras and bring extra batteries to the shoot. It’s a good idea to do some test runs at the office beforehand: Know how to record, play and stop; how to connect the audio to the video; how to transfer the video footage to your computer for editing. The equipment we use: 2 cameras, 2 tripods, wireless mic and headphones.
  3. Kids.gov staff interviews a Zoo Keeper for its STEM Careers Spotlight series
    Find a good space for the interview. When you arrive for the video shoot, look around and see where you can film (inside or outside; conference room or office). Look for the light—it should be facing or on the side of the interviewee, not behind. Look at the background—imagine what you see on the camera will be blown up to a 60″ HDTV screen. Is there there any clutter or distractions? I also like to ask the interviewee to remove their lanyard and government ID; it usually gets in the way of the mic. Don’t be shy about positioning the interviewee in the best light. Tell them if he or she is rocking in their seat, tapping their feet, or need to re-state an answer.
  4. Start the interview and begin filming. Test the mic before shooting. Talk to the interviewee and try to make them feel comfortable. Remind him/her that they can always re-state the answer and since we’re filming for kids, if they use big words, we ask they define that. IMPORTANT: Make sure the camera says [REC] and the timer is counting! Have someone stay with the cameras and make sure the battery doesn’t run out, or stop for some reason. Remember when you have a normal conversation, you usually reply with “yes” and “you’re right!” but for filming, the audio needs to only have the interviewee speaking. So the interviewer should stay silent, smile and nod; it makes it easier for editing later. We found it best to have the interviewee look at the interviewer, not the camera, since the camera may make some people nervous.
  5. Film b-roll. After the interview is completed, film the b-roll. We usually walk around and incorporate what the interviewee talked about. For example, if we interview a scientist, we film the scientist in the lab looking at a microscope. Keep the mic on the interviewee and have him/her explain what they’re doing or a current project he/she is working on.
  6. Edit the video. We would like to keep our videos about 2-3 minutes long, but with people’s attention spans these days, it’s good to keep it to 60-90 seconds.
  7. Get necessary approvals before posting. Remember that all videos need to be 508-compliant. Find out if you need to get approvals from your agency’s communications office.
  8. Post and promote videos. We post the videos on our site and YouTube Channel. We have 294,000 views on our YouTube channel.

One last tip: One thing that helps me is to watch news segments or reality shows and see how they film interviews: how they cut to b-roll, are there panning shots, how do they shoot the interviewee (from the chest up or full body).

Spoiler alert: Our next video we’ll meet a marine biologist doing a study in French Polynesia. And no we’re not going to paradise, just to the Museum of Natural History.

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