Choosing the background for a lengthy interview is an important decision. An interview may become most of the film so it must look good. You want a room that is large enough, quiet enough and one where you can control the light – a controlled environment to shoot in.
This eliminates shooting outside because the noises and lighting will change and could ruin the interview. Short interviews are filmed outside everyday, but a long interview like a history or biography must be filmed in a more controlled location which generally means inside.
Look for a quiet room. Listen carefully in the room. Do you hear noise from heat or air vents, airplanes, traffic, construction? Ask about what sounds one might typically hear in the room. If there is a lawnmower going right next to the house, sometimes you can ask if he or she could do it another time, but often you will just have to wait. Loud traffic noise or being in the flight path of an airport are real problems you must avoid. In some interviews you can just wait for the noise to stop, but when you’re recording a life story, you don’t want that kind of distraction.
You want a large room rather than a small room. You want plenty of space between the camera and subject and even more space between the subject and the background. This helps keep the background out of focus. An interesting background is helpful, except for windows, Keep windows out of your frame. The outdoor light from a window will certainly change while you are shooting and this creates problems. So it’s usually best to close the curtains or pull the blinds and keep all window light out of the shot. A darker room is better than a lighter room because you can more easily control the light in a darker room.
Placing Camera and Subject In The Room
It’s best to shoot diagonally from corner to corner in a room and to put the camera close to a corner. This maximizes the distance from camera to subject and from subject to background. Longer distances help throw the background out of focus. Try to set the camera to subject distance twice as far as the subject to background distance. This helps keep a shallow depth of field so the background is out of focus. A darker background also helps keep the attention on the face.
Try to avoid ever placing the subject right in front of the wall, especially a white wall.
Look for three shots – wide, medium and CU.
You may not have an ideal shooting situation, but do whatever you can to make it look great. When you have a camera position, find a low profile chair for yourself that doesn’t make noise.
Don’t think you have to keep the furniture where it is. You can always move a chair so you have a better shot. If you do move furniture, remember to return it to where it was and always leave the room just as you found it. Be very careful not to break anything when moving furniture.
The Subject’s Chair
The wrong chair for your subject can cause lots of problems. Never use a swivel chair, rocking chair, or anything moves or makes noise. It should have a low back with comfortable arm rests. You don’t want to see the back of the chair or even the arm rests. You do want the person to be comfortable. The problem with couches is that they can dominate the frame and they tend to be placed right against walls. So avoid couches unless you have no choice.
After you place the chair, look at the frame you’ve created. Consider moving things in the background to make a more pleasing shot. A special photograph in the background can be a nice touch.
Green Screen Is Not Always The Answer
Green Screen may seem like the perfect background solution and in some cases it is.
But it requires more work to evenly light and you cannot zoom to change your shot size unless you have a 3-D green screen which is more complicated and expensive such as the virtual sets from a company like Virtual Set Works
A portable background is a great thing to carry with you if the room does not give you a good background.
Take a look at the backgrounds from:
You will need two light stands and heavy clips to hang most backgrounds. Some backgrounds will work with just one stand. Choose a darker, mottled color. Brown or dark blue with a random pattern are good choices. Backgrounds can be expensive but once again, you can always resell a good background and this kind of equipment keeps its value much longer than cameras.
Backdrops for video are different from backdrops for photo shoots. Think about the width of the HD video frame which a portable background must cover. The ideal backdrop for video is dark with a random pattern that looks like it’s out of focus to the naked eye.
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