documentary interview questions

When it comes to creating a compelling documentary, it’s essential to find the right people to provide insight and share their story. Interviews are a powerful tool used by filmmakers to capture important information and create an engaging narrative. When you are interviewing the subjects of your documentary, it’s important to have well-crafted questions that will get you the answers you need. In this blog post, we will be discussing some of the essential documentary interview questions you should be asking in order to create an engaging and informative documentary. From the types of questions to ask, to the best practices for conducting an interview, this post will help you craft the perfect questions to capture the most vital information for your documentary.

Asking The Right Questions: Documentary Interview Tips | Part 2

How To Interview Someone for a Documentary

  • Prepare your questions Think ahead about the type of questions you want to ask your interviewee. What kind of information are you looking for from this particular person and what are the type of questions that will best get them to give you the information you’re looking for? No need to go crazy. 5-10 questions is usually enough.
  • Avoid “yes” or “no” answers Your questions should be asked in such a way that you won’t get “yes” or “no” answers. You need your documentary interviewees to give you substantive answers that you can use in your video edits. Instead of “Are you happy with the outcome of the court case?” Ask, “What is your response to the outcome of today’s court case?”
  • Prepare, but be spontaneousEven though you have prepared questions in advance, allow yourself to veer off from questions if the interviewee says something interesting or unexpected that you’d like to explore further. Sometimes the unplanned “spontaneous” questions & answers create the best moments.
  • Get the interviewee comfortableWhen the video camera rolls, ask easy questions to warm them up. Ask them what they had for breakfast, where they are from, how many kids in their family.. anything to get them talking and comfortable. This is a key interviewing tip!
  • Don’t give out specific questions in advanceI cannot stress this point strongly enough. It’s perfectly acceptable to give someone a general idea of what the interview will be about, but do not give them your list of questions. If you do, they will try to memorize their answers in advance and you will lose spontaneity and freshness. Your interview will end up feeling stale, unauthentic and rehearsed.
  • Have them repeat your questionThis is a great idea, especially if you plan to have no narration for your documentary. Get the person to repeat back your question in their answer. This will help you with the video editing and storytelling later during the editing process. For example, you ask, “How are you feeling?” The interviewee says, “How am I feeling? I’m feeling excited!”
  • Proper positioning of intervieweeIf you are the person both shooting AND interviewing, the person may end up looking into the video camera, which gives the feeling of a personal and direct connection with the person talking. However, the off-camera approach is most common. The interviewer sits or stands right next to the camera so that the interviewee is looking just off camera. You get your best results if the interviewer (you) is standing right next to the camera, that way you can see the full face of the person you’re interviewing and not a profile, which can be unattractive and distracting to the viewer because you can’t see their eyes and facial expressions very well.
  • Keep your mouth shutStay quiet when the other person is talking. You don’t want to hear yourself in the background. (Watch out for the “hmmmm”, “Oh right..”) Just ask the question and then keep quiet. It’s good to nod, and make gentle facial expressions, just no sound. Unless of course, YOU are part of the story and the camera has both of you in the shot.
  • Ask for final commentHeres a great video interviewing tip: at the end of the interview, always ask the person if they have any final thoughts. Ask them if there was anything you missed. This can sometimes bring out some great information you hadn’t thought to ask about.
  • Don’t stop filming when the interview is “over”Especially when you have someone who is nervous and never got quite comfortable with the interview. When you’re done with your official questions, say “OK, that’s the end of the interview.” Make sure the camera continues to roll at this point because often the conversation will continue. Psychologically, the person no longer feels the “pressure” of the interview and will loosen up. This is the time I have often gotten the best quotes of the interview!
  • You’ll be well on your way to producing excellent documentaries if you use these straightforward interviewing tips!

    If you have any advice or lessons of your own, please comment below!


    How do you prepare for a documentary interview?

    The backbone of a documentary film are effective documentary interviews. Having the right subjects and engaging answers are what makes a great documentary film.
    1. Conduct a Pre-Interview. …
    2. Prepare Complex Questions. …
    3. Consider the Backdrop of the Documentary Interview. …
    4. Begin Open-Ended. …
    5. Lead Into More Specific Questions.

    What questions should I ask a documentary?

    20 Questions to Ignite Your Documentary’s Development
    • Who or what is your subject? …
    • Do you have access? …
    • Do your subject(s) do as they preach? …
    • What or who is the opposing force in the story? .
    • What transforms as your documentary moves along? …
    • What is the internal timeline of the story? …
    • How is your subject like or unlike you?

    What are the 5 elements of a documentary?

    5 Elements That Make an Impactful Documentary
    • Subject. Although it may seem obvious, it’s crucial to keep in mind that documentary movies are primarily about stories.
    • Purpose. …
    • Form. …
    • Production Techniques. …
    • Audience Experience.

    How do you write a documentary interview questions?

    4 Ways to Ask the Best Documentary Interview Questions
    1. Begin Generally. In an effort to elicit more thoughtful responses from their subjects, documentary filmmakers frequently begin with broad, open-ended questions.
    2. Remain flexible. …
    3. Avoid yes-or-no questions. …
    4. Let go of preconceptions.

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