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The Lone Wolf Filmmaker

Lesson 12 of 15

Interview Techniques

Bill Megalos

The Lone Wolf Filmmaker

Bill Megalos

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Lesson Info

12. Interview Techniques

Lesson Info

Interview Techniques

This is how you interview people. You make a long list of questions for your own preparation, let's make believe that I was important part of the vietnam war or something. So you would do a lot of research on me and you, and you don't know what you really need for your film yet, but you would want to know, you know, what was it like at the time that I did? I was I drafted or was I did I enlist? What was it like in the country at the time? Did I always want to be a soldier? How did I feel about going there? How did the experience change me? All these kind of questions you're going, you're going to prepare that list of questions so that you really know what you're doing. You don't want to be looking at at questions while you're interviewing somebody. You really what it's all about this eye contact it's all about you know you're you're encouraging me. You want me to forget about the camera and you want me to just tell the story? Because being interviewing somebody with a small crew or jus...

t by yourself can be one of the most intimate things that ever, ever I've been in situations where people tell you things in front of the camera that they would never tell their best friend or a stranger or anybody, or they would never tell their anybody it's not that they're giving you dirt, it's just that if you are listening, you're giving them the opportunity to tell their story and you're if you're a good interviewer and why good venture? That doesn't mean like grilling them, that means being there for them and making it a conversation, they'll tell you things that they've never that they don't even they didn't remember when they sat down. Um, but then once but that it's all about you being prepared so that you can keep that eye contact. And then so this long list of questions then you say okay now what's really important and you pick the three or four ones that are really important, and you keep in your mind what's really important. Um, you have to make it comfortable. Most people don't dive in with two feet, and when they do it's really terrible people will generally tell you how they want to be treated. This was an actor who was a really tough hollywood actor um and he was very few came. It was an interview was in the morning we were shooting at a hotel and he he started he asked for alcohol first thing in the morning, he was all he was all very he was all chummy and really fun and it was great and then the interview was this british guy who was really uptight and then when he started into it it was became very academic and the guy just bang he was off it was over like and it was the last time he died a couple of months later you know no one ever got a chance to talk to him about this movie again what do you know the movie night of the hunter where the guy's got robert mitchum thank you alright don't tell this story against you can cut that out ok cut that whole other thing out so once we were doing a film for the bbc about this very famous movie called night of the hunter and that was a film that in many people's eyes is one of the really great movies and very terrifying movie and the bad guy and it was a guy named robert mitchum who was kind of old at this point and he came in and it was in the morning and he asked for a drink and he you know he was coming with all of us he was funny we were laughing and he he said basically without saying it this is the level of the interview I want this to be and we were already we've got the lights set up everything and the producer was a guy from england who was very shall we say, uh, academic very precise and like this? And when he sat down and did this interview and he started the first question, he lost mitchell in the first question, it was just like, bang gone, that was it, and he never got, and this this lost opportunity never happened, and we never got to talk about the film mean, he sat there and did it, but his answers were not real answers. And, you know, I once had a problem. I probably once I had an opportunity to interview robert redford, who was really who was really very hard interview to get it and still is a hard interview to get. And hey was talking about a composer named mark isham, who composed the music for one of his films, and I sat down, we sat down and said, this is a great opportunity. Thank you so much. I've been really enjoying working on this film about mark ii, sherman he's really special and redford said right what's special about him and it was like it was really putting me on the spot. I had to come up with an honest, truthful answer right away it was like, answer this and everything's gonna be fine, don't answer it and forget about it, and you know, if it worked out anyway anyway, so just tea get back into this thing so you want to keep a comfortable conversation you need to take make the eye contact and you need to encourage me all the time because most people aren't used to being in front of the camera they're not that comfortable in front of the camera they're really concerned so how do you encourage somebody you encourage them with your eyes and your joint because you can't talk because if you talk you're cutting over the person's talking to say, you know you have to wait and even just the things saying wow that's great thank you keep tell me more you have to be careful that you don't say that while he's in the sum of taking a breath and you step on it so that's really important um you have to teach the people how to include the context in your answer so that you know what they're talking about um so that if you saying ah, you know, how did you feel the first time you walked on the set with steven spielberg? You don't want him to say I was intimidated by was scared, you know, you need them to kind of include that well, the first time I worked with fear of spielberg it was really frightening or I felt really made me feel really comfortable, so you know what it's about you also don't want people if possible if we're talking about another person don't say he or she you want them to say their name that makes a lot more sense also you try to discourage people from saying and you don't do this before you start in the course of it encouraged them for discourage them from saying as I said before you don't know what order you're going to take the stuff you might never use what he said before you don't want him referring because it confuses the audience so be alert for these things be alert that that they don't start talking before you finish it so you don't they're not stepping on each other's lines um and uh a couple more things there really important follow up even though you're prepared and you're comfortable and all that you know things could go wrong you know you have to really roll with the punches but be listening and come up with follow up questions the follow up questions like he could tell you something you thought you knew the answer because you'd read six interviews with him before and he talked about well when I flew the first one I flew the x fifteen plain and I almost crashed you know he might tell you in a different way so that might offer you something totally new so these it's really critical that you listen and follow up questions and the last thing that I think is really important it's two things first of all you say hold when you're done with what you think you're done, then you hold on and you say, let me look at my notes when you say look because it's very intense when you're talking and thinking you're trying to think, but you're really so worried about keeping that I contact you don't really want your mind to think and roll off so you say you hold on a second, let me look at my notes and see if we've forgotten anything and that gives you a chance tto take a breath and really I do think if you forgot anything but also ask them as the last question, is there anything I haven't asked you that you think is important because you're on this one track and then, like I mean, they they they're the person who knows they might come up with something that's so totally different party so yeah, what's what's what you're gonna talk to me about? Uh so will can I call you bill? Yeah that's my name great. Um, you made quite a few films and documentaries, but I think we're all wondering, how did you get your start in filmmaking? That's a good question, um I actually started in filmmaking by working in the theater I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know what I wanted to do in college, and someone asked me to come work in the theater and I started working doing theatrical lighting and doing plays on and off broadway and also it's, a stage manager. And then I kind of fell into film school. Accidentally. I was finished, I went back to school and I was finishing school and there was nothing to do, and I went to film school. But how I really got, I would really like to talk about how how I really started making the jump into working. The first jobs I got were making medical films, and I was filming surgery and things like that, which was very interesting to me, but it was very hard to have a good, really. I mean, no one really wanted to watch films about medical procedures. Um, and but very fortunately, someone I had met on one film somewhere knew someone at the bbc, and they were doing a serious of films about diseases, about about the hepatitis vaccine and about these different diseases and epidemics, and I was perfect for the job with that. And then once I had some films that had done for the bbc that I was able to make those so now what you might say at this point with that long answer you might say wow that's really great but you know, do you mind tight telling it a little bit shorter because it's much easier to make it short on the camera than it is to cut it afterwards so you might want to say that's really great can you tell me the part about the bbc again and then you can just get to be the the part you want you don't want to hear about the theater thing you wanna hear about the medic you know, whatever I wasn't but just keep it is that keep it going like that? You know, if you need to correct people correct them and you know that way you know another question um no, I don't know I don't know anybody else what's been your favorite project to do oh my favorite project um different projects you have different satisfactions I can tell you one that I really love doing I've always loved music and um I mean, that makes me think of a dozen other projects that I really love that I've always loved music and one of my favorite uh musicians with these canadian sisters named kate nana mcgarrigle and when I got a chance to direct and make a music video for them I just became such good friends with him that was great but also music I went to cuba with dizzy gillespie and that was really amazing because I met fidel castro and I was in cuba back when no one could go to cuba. So anyway, um, I think that's pretty any of you guys have any questions about the interviewing technique? I mean, I could do there's one thing that's really important never asked anyone a question that can be answered with a yes or no because that's what they're going to do, they're going to say yes and that's it so you want to ask open questions, open ended questions, but rather than did you enjoy when you met you when you met dizzy gillespie, did you enjoy working with dizzy gillespie? That's no good. What you want to ask is tell me about working with dizzy gillespie see the difference? What it's going to bring back? You know, if I said yeah, it was fantastic he was great that's ends so but an open question well, when I met the open one, tell me about it. Well, when I first met dizzy, I didn't realize what a big pothead he waas or, you know, things like that, um and he was really the nicest guy until this one time when we got we went and we went fidel, and they gave us each a box of of cohiba cigars which would be you know, the best gifts cigars in the world you couldn't bring them back and when we when we walked away does he said those because those cigars in mind you would not be here without me you don't even smoke cigars and I do he said I give you one box and you can split it amongst you know but you know so something like that you want to get people to where they're remembering things like that be careful not to show that you know everything people would really I mean there's not that many people who one would like to talk to a geek who knows more about their work than they do right they're afraid they're going to make a mistake's or whatever it's often better to have t be not that you want them to know that you're prepared and you can you know the reason that you're there and you recognize why it's important but you don't want them tio to feel like you're a know it all I did that was steven spielberg I was very nervous because I don't like his work very well in fact I really don't like his work and I was afraid when I was interviewing him that I was going to be like he's going to figure out that I didn't like his work somehow I don't know how he was going to figure it out but he but I had a theory we were talking about a friend of his a guy named, uh guy who wrote he wrote the speech in jaws he's the guy who did conan the barbarian he was he was an old friend of his and so I had this kind of theory about him, you know, I put it out tio spielberg, you know, maybe I was too chummy whatever, but I put out this fear very well, you know, what do you think he was like this because of this of this of this? And he said, you know, you said that better than I could, so I didn't get the answer because I was I was showing off a little too much. So anybody else any other questions you mentioned training the interviewee? Would you normally do that before the camera turns on just to warm them up with a banter toe to establish a relationship? Or would you do that somehow with the camera on? Well, very often you will talk to someone on the phone like weeks before let's say you're working for the bbc and you're coming to a film in america, you're not goingto you're not going to take an airplane flight to talk to somebody unless you know that they want they're willing to talk to you, so you'll have talked about the things maybe weeks or days before but you never ever want to talk about what you're talking about before the camera rolls because it will never be as fresh again your yes, you talk with them, you have a cup of coffee, you say look, he's talk about the main idea people are going to say, well, what other questions you never give people the questions you never give them questions because it makes them nervous and what they'll do is they'll prepare questions and then what they'll be doing is they'll be trying to remember their questions and it doesn't look really you'll just say, look, these are the areas we're going to talk about, we're going to talk about how you became, um, how you first got interested in science, and then we're gonna talk about some of your mentors, and then we'll talk about the things leading up to your discovery of the atom bomb, that sort of thing you stay vague, yes, you have to get friendly with them, but you don't want to talk about what you're talking about, and if they start talking about, say, hold on, please listeners, we're almost ready let's wait to get this on camera look again about the position I don't know if I mess right now, but the position of the interviewer, I guess in relation to you and kind of where you're your eyes are going well, you want you want if I'm looking right now, I'm I'm on the left side looking right so if I'm on the left side of the camera looking right so I had to turn around to do that um then you want to have more leading room on this I mean, if I were if I were going to frame me, I would kind of frame me kind of like this where if I'm looking this way there's more room on this side I'm lighting from this side and I'm looking off to the side of the camera there if I were going to look to this side, it would be more like this, okay? But I would I would try to light from that side because now you don't see what's in my eyes, it looks like I'm trying to hide something you want to make it the thing you want to do, you want to make sure that people can see the eyes and that they can say I trust this person? I don't trust this person most of the time you want to trust the person, sometimes you don't some it's not that you're trying to set them up, but you know, if you're doing a film about robert mcnamara or donald rumsfeld like like like uh you know, the fog of war, then you would then you then you want you really want the audience is saying, is this guy full of it? Is this guy telling the truth? What did he know? What didn't, you know, so you need to be in close enough for that, at least with one camera. Sometimes you shoot with two cameras and definitely eye level, I think close eye level, yeah, I mean, if you're way off, then you can't see anything, and I like to be a little bit aloe see what happens if the cameras a little low. What watch what happens if the if the camp is a little low, you see a little more white in the eyes around here. If the camera's high, you don't tend to see the you know, the other thing is the count that, if anything, the the interview should be a little bit above the lens of the camera that's that's really important cause that opens the white below the eyes if I'm looking down, if I'm looking down on her, then you're not getting the light in the eyes, whereas if I'm looking up, you can see it.

Class Description

It is common to "postpone" your filmmaking due to insecurity and doubt: Do I own the right camera? Do I have access to the proper resources? Can I support my vision with a strong artistic/technical point-of-view? Those fears are why so many film and media projects never get off the ground.

In The Lone Wolf Filmmaker with Bill Megalos, you’ll learn camera, sound, and storytelling techniques that will place you on a simple, yet sophisticated path towards completing a moving-media project. 

Bill will help you:

  • Choose the best camera for your project and budget
  • Use the camera on a technical level, with an artistic intent
  • Develop an aesthetic and technical approach to sound recording

The class will demystify the distance from the first step to the completion of a formidable, marketable piece of media. You’ll learn techniques that will simplify your process, no matter the scope of the project or your experience as a filmmaker.

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Mulk Raj

This was excellent. I’ve been learning filmmaking up until now from watching YouTube videos and from my own practice which has been great. But I found these lessons to complement everything I knew and filled in much of where I was going wrong or wanted to know, and all in one convenient place. The course covering both the technical aspects as well as telling the story. There were lots of great techniques, tips and information from all aspects. Shooting mainly on the Sony Camcorders but I didn't consider this to be an issue, and the course also provided an excellent side by side comparison with the Digital SLRs. You can see from the lesson list that many topics are covered from the different types of lenses (one interesting question Bill asked was “what type of lens was that photograph taken with?” I had never thought you could discern this from the photo). Other great lessons was on sound tests, covering reflective sounds and comparisons with booms and lab mics and the ideal placement. The emphasis was always on telling the story and the reasons why you would choose one over the other. I learned a heck of a lot from the interview section. How to set-up, where to set-up an interview, looking at all the different aspects and backgrounds open to you from a location, how to conduct an interview, how to ask questions, lighting from the far side, the concept of slow disclosure, and the final hour being a fly-on-the wall on getting the shots was really interesting if you’ve never worked on a filmed set before. I personally thought this was an invaluable insight into filmmaking, well worth the investment. Great work.

jamie applegate

I have seen a couple other film courses on CreativeLive, but I think I have enjoyed this one the most. It was very informative, Bill's personality is great. I loved how hands on he really got with his student's including seeing them actual film. It had some good laughs. Well done!

Josh Moore

Great overview of capturing video from a one-man/small production team perspective. And great insight from an expert who's done it all. The Making One Location Look Like Many episode was fascinating to see how Bill spontaneously approaches creating shots in a location.