The Inside Story: Ten Tips for a Better Interview
Posted Jul 21, 2005

In earlier columns I discussed how valuable interviews with a bride and groom—before the wedding day and after—can be when you're developing a Storyteller Wedding Biography. But there's more to the interview than simply asking the right questions and editing the answers. Having the right kind of interview skills is key, and here we'll look at 10 things you can do to ensure a fruitful interview.

1. Be prepared. The biggest mistake I see most videographers make the first time they try to produce a Storyteller Wedding Biography is that they don't prepare correctly for the interviews. You should always review what you shot from the wedding day, in as much detail as you can; your preparedness will make it easier for the couple to recall the day as well.

You may even find it helpful, at least the first few times, to make notes about how everyone acted during the pre-ceremony (nervous, anxious, confident, happy, etc.); the prevailing emotions from the ceremony itself; the tone of the reception; who gave toasts and what was said; what songs were played during special dances; and if there was a bouquet or garter toss (it's not good to ask about it if it didn't happen).

2. Set the rules of the interview right up front. Make sure the bride and groom understand you're not doing an investigative piece for 60 Minutes. You want the interview to be an enjoyable experience. Let them see the questions and review them as they're getting situated and you're powering things up. Remind them to always look at you during the interview and not the camera. Also, it's a good idea to tell them to try to use the phrasing of the question itself in their answer (Q: "How did you meet?" A: "We met . . .").

3. Be ready on time. The worst thing you can do is make the bride and groom wait while you get things ready. Have lights checked, batteries changed, and tapes loaded before they arrive. The longer they have to wait, the more nervous they'll be.

4. Listen. Don't just ask a question and tune out until the next one. Look into their eyes and really listen to what they're saying. It will make it easier for them to talk to you, and you just might get responses that will lead you in a different and more enlightening direction. It can also help you know when you've got the whole answer, or if you need to ask follow-ups to get the sound bite you need.

5. Be polite. Don't rush the bride or groom to answer questions. It's important to establish a rapport with them. Make sure they know where the restroom is, so they can freshen up. Offer them some water or a soda. And don't forget to have tissues handy for those emotional responses you're looking for.

6. Don't interrupt. Let the bride and groom answer each question in their own way. Sometimes the sweetest responses come after someone has had time to fully explore the depths of what they remember. Interrupting them or rushing them on to the next question can make them lose their train of thought, and often it will encourage them to cut their answer short, perhaps leaving out something fascinating that may have come had they felt comfortable to keep on talking.

7. Silence is golden. It's only human nature to respond to someone when they're talking to you with a verbal response such as "uh-huh" or "hmm," or even laughter. But keep in mind that you'll have to edit out these noises in post; better to nod your head or smile.

8. Always maintain eye contact. If you spend most of the interview bent over looking at your questions, you're going to make the bride or groom think you don't care about what they're saying. Always maintain as much eye contact as possible. You want them to feel you're focused on them and their story, which in turn will make the interview feel more like a conversation, enabling everyone to be more relaxed.

9. Before they leave . . . Double-check that you've gotten all the responses you're going to need to tell the story. You can ask the bride or groom if there is anything that you might have forgotten to ask them. Perhaps they're burning to tell you about a special moment you didn't think to ask about. Finally, make sure you thank the bride or groom for making the time to come in a talk with you. Assure them that what you've got is great and will help you tell their story.

10. Review your tape right after the interview. When you first start doing Storyteller biographies, reviewing your tape immediately will be the best way to find and log the sound bites you'll need later. The responses and the wedding day will still be fresh in your mind. It should only take a little while, but it will save you hours and hours of editing time.

Next time in The Inside Story: when and how to use your sound bites.