Skip to main content

Shooting Documentary Short Films

Lesson 5 of 16

How to Frame an Interview

Griffin Hammond

Shooting Documentary Short Films

Griffin Hammond

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

5. How to Frame an Interview
Griffin demonstrates how to set up an on-camera interview for a documentary film.

Lesson Info

How to Frame an Interview

So let's get into setting up an interview what I do is we're going to shoot a sample interview in here we'll talk about kind of setting it up we'll go through my checklist of everything you know for an interview that's also is chris mentioned one of the bonus materials is actually the checklist so if you like this segment it's written it all down for you and then we'll take a look at a video of how these principles play in the field how we shot some of the stuff yesterday and this is gonna be fun so we bring in a volunteer up whose are you say that you're eric gets a cool good to meet you aaron I'm griffin giving a presentation thank you for coming in no problem, no problem all right? So we're going to sit down and well imagine that we're interviewing you so if this is the camera that we use today then ah, what I'm gonna do is uh I'm going to stand off to the side of the camera because one of the pieces of visual grammar that happens in in filmmaking and documented filmmaking is any ne...

ws on those when we looked at that bad news even though it's bad I was using correct grammar the um what what is this whose video is this my pity right? Like on the author of this and I'm telling you that by looking at the camera I'm saying on the author now when we do sound bites, we often usually most people me because I'm not that creative stick by the books we know he's actually got a camera in that frame, but most of the time he's looking off camera, I know where his eye line is I need to control that, but that's that's the visual grammar we're used to we're telling the audience this is not the author this is the guy I'm quoting so that's what we're gonna do with you, eric, we're gonna have you look off camera. Of course we have to because I don't know how you would look into the camera and give a a good interview. So are we able to cut to this camera right there we go beautiful in fact, I could even walk around just just look at me and we could see his eye line now this will look kind of weird, right? That's what happens sometimes when they do like the secondary camera angle on this one of the reasons I like focusing on just one camera because, like I don't always want like a really weird eye line that looks off the side if I walk over here and there follows me the closer I get to the camera messing with like this is pretty good we could see his face but we also know that he's not the author he's quoted he's being quoted but it does look like he's looking up and of course he is he's sitting down I'm standing up so I should probably lower myself and now let's look at his eye line that looks a little bit more natural so that's kind of the start of like visually I know it needs to look something like that now the what I used to frame a shot is the rule of thirds and we'll bring up if we can a rule of thirds guideline it's the brady bunch right that's what? It looks like this blue background so what I like to do is I'm gonna walk up here to erica quick is as the camera operator I use this these these rule of thirds is a guide if I take this access for this access and put it on actual gonna care if you could turn your chair a little bit that way to make this a little bit more obvious why we're doing this is might be how I set him up one I do turn people because it just it looks more visually interesting it can also be kind of slimming if you want that if you want the more you turn someone you kind of it could be a flattering look it's often weird toe square someone up against the camera you just it's very broad so this is nice it also makes it pretty clear which of eric's eyes is closest to the camera in this case it's his right or his left time right to me and that's the eye that I want a place this axis on so there we go now can we drop off the rule of thirds for a second we'll bring it back in a minute there's an interview shot it's roughly framed the way that I like I mean that's that's the guy that I used now let's bring it back up one things I like about the rule of thirds is that whatever distance I'm working with it usually works pretty well alex can you zoom out at all and now put the rule of thirds back on his eye you know I actually kind of like the other one I mean I think sometimes there's a reason to break out of rule of thirds I do I just liked the framing of seeing more of his body but like this this could work it really depends on your sensibility and now zoom pretty far in we'll get a close up that was closer than before so I was like a wide shot we just got wait a medium shot before that here's like a close up interview and again we could do rule of thirds and its frame nicely and I'll turn off the rule of thirds for a second what I like about that is that without even thinking and you can pull up the rule of thirds guide on your camera la times my camera has it without having to think too much, especially if it's, you know, sometimes it's bright you can't see your lcd that well, so this is nice just to like get the rule of thirds right in place by doing that. I know that I've given eric an appropriate amount of head room he's probably not it's not touching the top of the frame and I've given him look room if eric is gonna look at me while we do this interview, I want more space on that side of the frame it's just it's that it's that visual grammar that were used to and now zoom in even more zoom in zoom in really far, far yeah that's fine and you rule of thirds again. Yeah, there we go. Even now, like his head is touching the top but that's appropriate for this level of zoom and again, the rule of thirds applies pretty well and if eric was sitting looking the other way, then we were just doing on the other side so this is my my way of doing things now I like the rule of thirds, I like sticking to it a lot times I think one of the reasons they probably look kind of weird when we were wide is the angle that were shooting him or a little bit above him. The background is not a lot happening, so sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. These are just these air guidelines. Now some people completely mess with this stuff, so turn off the rule of thirds real quick and alex just put him in the other side of the frame like you giving like, no look room even farther I mean, that's interesting, I see some documentaries that do stuff like this, especially if there's like something cool behind I mean, there's a you could break out of this, but I just want you to start from that place of this is what's normal. This is what people are used to. I mean, every time we do anything as a filmmaker were either getting into or breaking out of audience expectations, you have to know your audience know that they expect even though they don't think about they don't know what rule of thirds is they expect something be framed like that, and if you want to be normal and do that, if you want to create something it's kind of like visually dramatic, like this's mohr dramatic, all of a sudden we're close he's on the wrong side of the frame. You know, it's my fit well for, like, a crime drama documentary mean, but there's there's a reason you choose to do something like this. So let's, continue down my list of, uh, of checklist items now this location there's not really anything going on this big blue space, but when I'm in a really environment, I'm looking for a good location. I'm looking for a good background and the video that we take a look at it in a minute, we'll show the process is going around figuring that out, but you saw that a little bit in the bad news example that a background could make all the difference. So when you're at your location, look around. I like deep backgrounds, that's what I'm looking for so I can get some shallow depth of field and get a lot activity. I like stuff in the background. It doesn't need to be this sterile thing like, who cares if someone walks by? If they're out of focus? I'm probably not the kind of deep focus, but, uh, like that's, okay, if that's the point like we're in a space that's busy, let's, let's, embrace that there's no reason to hide the environment, but we do want to find a relatively quiet environment if we can so step one, um and just pulling them away from the wall. I mean this right now helps he's there's depth here. If if if we had something on the wall, he probably had a focus right now. That's good. Um, and then my next thing is to is to move the level of the tripod into the right position effect. I'll just bring my tripod over real quick. Um, I wanted to be level with eric, so I'm gonna stand here? Well, I'm a tripod put it up here because I know that it's gonna need to be taller and I'll just actually this is right there, but I can I can move the center column up down now if I want to go up, I can kind of diminish eric, I can make you look smaller and if I will go down and look up at him, I'm going to make him look more heroic and bigger. It's like pulp fiction when they opened up the trunk shot uh, they're big, they're scarier generally in documentary, I'm trying to be honest and truthful and I don't want to inject some weird style onto eric, and right now, you know, in a perfect world I would tell alex to move down just a little bit, but the benefit of that he's so far back is that it pretty much level if we brought him all the way up on stage right now he'd be looking like down on eric and that would that would look pretty bad so getting a level shot I think is important ah flat angle we want we just want the tripod to be level right unless we want that crazy look um lighting which you'll see a little bit in the video obviously we want him well lit and we don't want light coming as you saw in the previous video right from on top of the camera you get this really flat look uh all of these lights were dealing with right now are pretty soft floodlights were getting kind of but we are getting some interesting shadows here they're mean this works um I'm not a lighting genius. I think as long as it's it looks nice this looks pretty nice. We're good to go but use natural light where you can a lot of times I'm just going into space with on ly natural light I'm gonna take advantage of that. You know, if I if I came in here and was like, hey let's eric let's do this video for my youtube channel of course I'm going to say sit here where the light is instead of coming out here uh alex, you pinpoint carry me real quick yeah it's tze darker over here it's not that bad but I mean any space you're in finding the best light and take advantage of it now my eyes are like staring at the lights too much um we also want to be careful about mixing light sources just recognize that lighting from your incandescent bulbs is gonna look different than these fluorescent balls going with different in the sun so just finding a good balance is important. Um and one thing I like to do is as we're shooting this interview with eric um having alex get this nice close up, is it great, especially when he starts talking about something emotional, the closer you are to someone, the more we're going to see their their facial reactions that where we're going have empathy for them, we're gonna feel what they feel now go wide or kind of medium wide on him. This is an ego even wider. This is mohr establishing I mean, we'll see more of the space that he's in maybe we'll see his hands moving and sometimes people are really expressive with their hands will need both of these kind of shots. So if I'm working with alex on a shoot, I'll say just use your own discretion but sometimes shoot this sometimes zoom it in give me options in the editing because eric is probably say something really great right now and then he's going to be boring for a minute, right? And they're gonna say something really great in like ten minutes but it's gonna be about the same topic and I probably won't come together and maybe alex was shooting the same way two different points of view but if he's being getting a little bit of variety here and there, chances are I have this shot and I have the close up and if I cut them together that way I don't even need b roll to hide it I could just come together and it feels natural, so getting some visual variety is great and what I'm gonna do is whether alex is doing the interview or if I'm, uh the one using the camera I'm gonna stand off the side of the camera like we said, we want to control that eye line of yours and if I'm doing the camera by myself, I'll just have to kind of keep an eye on it and give some feedback to eric uh or I have a great camera person too, that I can trust to do this. And so I'm sitting here I find pretty close to the camera works like I showed you like if I go too far away that island just it doesn't look engaged it's like you almost want the audience to feel like they're a fly on the wall not staring like look at the camera right now now the audience is like, whoa, I'm in this thing but if you're just a little bit off it's like we can appreciate we could feel your emotion but we know where a third party here when they were not part of this conversation and I'll just stand here I actually tend to shoot things pretty close like mean this might be where I am and actually this might look pretty good if we're getting like a secondary interview shot or something although I am so pale, but what I'll do is I'll get a microphone in here oh, close I mean, we want close audio, so maybe I have this love mike on eric, if I'm just using a shotgun, michael get it real close but I'll get it out of frame I'll just find that spot that works I'll put the light on that side of me cameras on this side of the lights on that side of me that will give me some nice shadows but not too far if I go like I mean the farther I take the light the mohr the shadows will change if I want to put the light kind of behind him and get really dark shadows on the space it'll be great for my crime documentary and it looks scary and I could do that and then finally, while I'm there this is my opportunity now now we're now ready to start the interview we have we have the shot, I have the audio uh and now I need to put you at ease. Eric so I'm going to I'm going to tell you a few things one is I'm going to tell you just ignore the camera I hope they put you at ease, but also I really don't want you looking at the camera during the interview, so please just don't do that and if you are doing that during the interview, I'm goingto tell you to stop uh and two I'm gonna explain my philosophy is a filmmaker a little bit because I know you're going to be nervous about what's happening it's all about controlling expectations we're going to be sitting here for ten minutes talking russian not, but in an interview we would be and I only need thirty seconds of you talking it is only a five minute piece, so don't worry about what you say because I'm gonna cut out the bad stuff and I'm going to use just the stuff to make sure expressed okay? And, you know, if you mess something up that's okay, we can just say it again, okay? You don't know and and depending on interview sometimes it's like I know I only need thirty seconds uh I might tell him I keep your answer short like just one sentence answers or something if I need to, but really, I'm just trying to I'm trying to get you comfortable with the fact now there's lights, there's, microphone camera and the first few questions I might ask you some lame things if it's news, the first thing I always asked and I was, I feel like I'm stupid for saying this because I always say this, but I would say first question's, easy what's your if you could just tell me your name and spell it for me is like they label they laugh a little bit because they're like, ok, yeah, that is easy, but it's news and I know I need to get their name down, I'm not writing it down, and if they spell it for me, I know I'm going to spell it right on the lower thirds. But it's an easy, just ice breaker question like cameras rolling, tell me your name and they're like, oh, that's easy and then I'll ask him why they're here today and maybe they give me a really terrible answer and I don't worry about it too much, I just keep moving and I remember that maybe that first question was really bad and by the end when they're really comfortable I'll go back to that question. But for the first minute of an interview, I'm just trying to get you like talking. Maybe I'm telling youto talk a little bit louder, kiss my it's, really noisy or something. I'm just kind of getting it, getting it right.

Class Description

Today’s media landscape is largely made up of regular folks who know how to spot a good story and use basic gear to document the world around them. Find out how you can join their ranks and make compelling, marketable shorts in Shooting Documentary Short Films with Griffin Hammond. 

Griffin made a name for himself with the ode to an iconic hot sauce, Sriracha. In this class, he’ll teach you how to identify, shoot, and share documentary-style video. 

You’ll learn how to:

  • Recognize and tell a good story
  • Capture high-caliber footage with low-budget gear 
  • Incorporate all the essentials for online and TV news
  • Produce corporate work clients love
  • Find your audience and monetize your work

Griffin will share tips on lighting, framing, and interviewing subjects so you walk away with lots of usable footage. You’ll watch as Griffin shares clips from a one-day shoot and you’ll learn exactly what it takes to turnaround a complete documentary-style short on a deadline.

You’ll also learn a handful of helpful editing techniques and get insights on the ethical and legal responsibilities of documentary filmmaking.

If you want to learn how to tell meaningful stories that look great and sell, while working on a shoestring budget, don’t miss Shooting Documentary Short Films with Griffin Hammond. 


Bruce Gruenbaum

First off, if you have not watched Sriracha, go and do that. The techniques that Griffin used in it are pretty incredible. This course expands on those techniques and what really surprised me about this course is how simple the setup is that he uses to make some absolutely amazing documentaries. The quality of what you can produce with the most basic of equipment is really mind-boggling. Some of the most interesting stuff was about B-Roll and how to use it to create a visually interesting presentation. The idea of a lot of small clips that show specific information is invaluable. The techniques he uses to create shots like the one where the camera was placed on top of a cart and pushed down an aisle was amazing. More than anything else, the ideas and tips I came away with have helped me find ways of making my own videos much more interesting.

a Creativelive Student

Griffin is a great storyteller and I was hoping to learn a LOT from this class. But I didn't. I'm an experienced corporate video editor/shooter who's always dreamed of doing a documentary. About half of the class is the very basics of video production (b-roll, rule of thirds, good audio) and the other half is interesting content that seems to cut off just as it becomes engaging. I'm not sure why Creative Live edited it that way other than to extend the number of segments? Although the next segment doesn't seem to pick up where the previous left off. I've never felt that way before about CL, but it seems like every segment is cut right as it gets to things I'm interested in. It did have some great information about revenue streams for a short form documentary, but I was left wanting to learn more. If you're just starting out... this is a great resource to learn the basics of non-fiction filming. If you already work professionally in the field I would pass.

Tim Greig

This is brilliant. Griffin is such a generous, self-deprecating filmmaker you just can't help but love him. He goes into great detail on just how he makes his documentaries and other work and is so inspiring, mostly because he is a one-man band and produces such interesting and wonderful videos. Thank you Griffin and CreativeLive for offering this.