Interviewing is an efficient way of learning from experts. When producing a handicraft related video, well-conducted structured conversation provides you a lot of background information that would be hard to gather otherwise: a unique personal perspective to the topic, broader background information about tradition and its local formations, and explanations and tips about why things are made certain ways or how to avoid mistakes. A successful interview requires close collaboration and dialogue between filmmakers and artisans.
Your job is to put the narrator at ease, listen carefully and keep the conversation on the topic. These tips below could help you gain more valuable information from the informants and help them appear natural in front of the camera.
How to conduct an interview: Good communication
Do your homework in advance: think about the focus and topics, prepare your questions and do some background research. It is good idea to send the questions in advance. Time to think about the topic usually results in a richer and more detailed interview.
Good communication starts with an appropriate introduction. Think about how you introduce yourself and the institution you represent. It is useful to situate yourself and the master artisans working together on the project as equals. It reinforces that this is a mutually rewarding project for the both of you.
Before the interview begins, explain to the informant how you plan to use the information and make sure to ask for their approval.
Talk informally before the interview – it helps both you and the informant relax. Start with easy questions to warm up and win their trust. Let them know that you do not expect them to be overall experts, but you appreciate their willingness to share their personal perspective and knowledge. Respect diversity in folk groups: not everybody will agree about a certain tradition, nor will they practice it identically.
Preparing a list of questions helps you to stay focussed. Avoid asking one question after another. Listen carefully to the answers – you might come up with follow-up questions that elicit rich detail. Keeping the conversation on topic respects both their time and yours. If the informant moves on to subjects not relevant to your topic, politely guide them back to the topic with a new question.
In a group interview, try to interact casually. Encourage the informants to speak and communicate with each other. Stay respectful; let people speak if they want to exchange experiences, but make sure that your questions don’t leave an impression of interrogation.
When you have finished, ask whether your informant would like to add anything.
How to use interviews in a handicraft-related video
Interviewing with the aim to produce a video requires complex fieldwork. The first interview with a folk artisan may be conducted before shooting or even before completing the storyline. This is especially recommended if you are not an expert on the subject. You might also consider asking interview questions during filming to save time and/or after the filming session to clarify confusing aspects. You might want to speak to your key informant on more than one occasion. Some recordings may appear in the final product, while some might function as background information.
Interviewing during shooting can be a quick and efficient way of working – you can record activities and comments at same time and avoid the sound editing process later. In some cases, the natural soundscape is the best solution. For instance, the sounds of tools being used are an important part of the sensory experience. If you choose to conduct an interview during the working process, keep in mind that dialogue and narration need a quiet environment so that the voices can be clearly heard. You may also discover that many people cannot divide their attention between talking and working at the same time. If you ask complicated questions, people might need more time to find suitable answers or they might need to take a break from their work. You don’t need to be afraid of silence during an interview, but too long of a pause may distract the viewer’s attention.
It is also challenging for a filmmaker to concentrate on both technical recording and guiding the conversation. Your attention is an important source of feedback for your informant. If your eyes are fixed on the camera screen, this could be perceived as a lack of interest and the informant could start to give very general and short answers. These are the reasons why voice-over commentaries are commonly used in documentaries. Consider conducting a separate audio interview to accompany your visual material for the best results! Sound design is an important aspect of a video, as the soundscape can have great emotional impact. The alternation of music, silence and narration are powerful story-telling tools. Remember: your chosen solution has to fit with the overall presentation.
Even if you wish to follow a fixed plan, it is only natural that during the working process you become more aware of the nuances and emotional tone of your video and may choose to change direction. It is not always possible to set and reach one specific target – don’t be too demanding with yourself! Making yourself aware of the possible problems that can present themselves will increase your success. You will be prepared to pay special attention to your inquiry skills, attentive listening, and audio-visual equipment use.