This is part of our blog series highlighting a new set of Video For Change Best Practices, also available in Arabic. Please share these with your networks and help make them better by leaving comments below or tweeting to @WitnessChris or @RajaAlthaibani. Thanks!
At the heart of any human rights video is personal stories and the potential they have to inform, engage and motivate viewers to take action. In order to get those powerful stories, you need to interview people who can share them. Follow these tips to prepare and conduct your interviews. Before you begin filming your interview, make sure that you have reviewed WITNESS’ informed consent resources and developed your own safety, security and consent planning protocol.
Obtaining consent from a subject to use footage of them in a film is a standard part of filmmaking. In a human rights context, securing informed consent takes on special importance. Four elements we highlight in our resources – disclosure, voluntariness, comprehension and competence – are discussed in more depth here.
1. ASSESS RISK Evaluate the safety and security concerns of you and your interviewee, as well as the communities you are part of. Assess the risk with the interviewee and consider exploring solutions, such as choosing a location where the interviewee will feel safe and comfortable. Will you need need to take steps to conceal his or her identity while filming or when editing? If you were to share the interview, are you putting the person you are filming in direct danger? Remember, it is your responsibility to protect the people you are filming.
2. PREPARE YOUR QUESTIONS IN ADVANCE Research your interviewee and prepare your questions and have them in the order you wish to ask them. Make sure your questions are open-ended – often they will begin with “why,” “how” or “tell me”. Avoid questions that can be answered “Yes” or “No”.
3. CHOOSE THE RIGHT LOCATION Film the interview where your interviewee will feel comfortable and safe. Make sure it is as quiet as possible where you will not be interrupted. Be particularly mindful of the objects behind your subject – remove items or adjust camera angle to make sure nothing will distract the viewer.
4. OBTAIN INFORMED CONSENT Before you press record, make certain the interviewee understands the purpose of the video, how it will be used and who may potentially see it. Make clear what your intentions are. The interviewee must understand and accept the risk of being on video. This way, if risk is too high, the interviewee can either choose to not participate or you can take appropriate measures to conceal and protect their identity. It is important to record your interviewee providing consent.
5. HAVE YOUR INTERVIEWEE INTRODUCE THEMSELVES Unless there are security risks, record your interviewee say and spell their name and affiliation as they want to be identified in your video. This should be the first question you ask if it will not put them at risk. If the interviewee cannot share their name you may use a pseudonym. Ask them to share the purpose of the video in their own words.
6. GET GOOD LIGHTING AND SOUND What you hear is not necessarily what your camera is recording. Do all you can to get the best sound possible, such as using an external microphone and recording in a quiet place. Use headphones to listen to what your camera is recording, and turn off background noises that you can control – like fans or electronics. For good lighting, the source light should always be behind you when looking at your interviewee. Set-up to avoid shadows on your interviewee and be mindful of cloud and sun patterns when filming outdoors.
7. HAVE YOUR CAMERA FULLY STABLE Use a tripod or at least steady your camera on a flat surface. This will really make a difference! Don’t move the camera or zoom unless absolutely necessary. Set up your interview so that the camera is at eye level. Film your subject from the waste or chest to the top of his/her head. Keep your subject in a medium-to-medium close-up shot and leave space in the frame in case they move while talking.
8. USE THE “RULE OF THIRDS’ WHEN FILMING Don’t place subjects right in the middle of the frame simply because they are important. It’s far better to have the horizon either two thirds from the top of the frame or two-thirds from the bottom. And if you are filming someone standing in front of a wider scene it’s good to have them standing slightly to the left or to the right of the frame.
9. SUPPORT YOUR INTERVIEWEE Explain to your interviewee how to incorporate your questions into their answers. Explain that this is important for the editing process. For example: Question—How long have you worked at this center? Answer—I have worked at this center for over five years. Do not interrupt your interviewee unless it is absolutely essential. Remain silent when they are speaking; avoid saying “Yes” and making sounds like “Aha”. Use nonverbal cues to help your interviewee stay engaged and keep their attention, such as nodding your head. Allow space between questions and answers. A long pause after your interviewee has finished speaking will help when editing.
10. INVITE YOUR INTERVIEWEE TO HAVE THE LAST WORD Allow your interviewee to add any additional points or thoughts that they wish to be recorded.
When you have finished your interview, make sure you safely save and log your tapes, noting the date, time and location of the interview, who it was with and any important details you want to capture. These steps will keep your footage organized, secure and also save you a lot of time when editing.
LAST WORD – SAFETY AND SECURITY FIRST: If the person being interviewed is at risk of arrest or violence, record only their hands, film them out of focus so their faces are blurred, film them as a silhouette by having the source light behind them , have them conceal their face with a scarf, or blur their face with an editing tool. Make certain that there is nothing in the video that can give away their location. The interviewee should also avoid wearing any distinctive item of clothing. Consider showing them what they look like when on camera so they can feel more comfortable and safe.
This video summarizes some of the above tips on conducting effective and safe interviews: