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How to Shoot Family Interviews on Video

Every time you sit down with your parents or grandparents, it's possible they will share a story about something they experienced in their past or something about another family member that you didn't know.  These highlights of your personal history are important to preserve on video and share with friends and family.


Your family ties you to your past and capturing your past on video is important. Here are some general tips and guidelines to setting up and recording a family interview that you will be proud of.


The Setting for your Video Interview

Perhaps the single most important factor for your video interview is the setting. You don't want the lighting to be distracting, or the sound quality to be poor. You want to make sure that there are no distractions in the setting so that the future viewer can focus on the interview’s questions and answers.

  • Choose a space that is easy to work. You also do not want any background sounds to conflict with the interview
  • An indoor interview usually works better than an outdoor interview because the surroundings are controlled
  • Stay away from extremely bright walls as a backdrop during the interview. Choose a backdrop that complements the video interview setting
  • Move extra furniture away to create a more intimate setting by around the family member being interviewed

Getting Ready for the Interview

Where and how a person sits during an interview creates a feel as well as the way the person tells their story. This and other factors play into the way a person is composed during the interview. Here are some ideas on how to position the person so the flow of the interview goes smoothly.

  • Create depth of field by placing the interview chair in the middle of the room, preferably 6’ from any wall.  This is will help prevent the background from overwhelming your interview subject.
  • Use a wooden kitchen chair with a low back and a hard seat.  This will restrict the interviewee from slumping in too-comfortable of a chair.
  • Consider having another family member run the camcorder for you, and make sure it is mounted on a tripod. This will allow you to concentrate on every word the subject says, and give you more freedom to improvise the interview as you would with a normal conversation.

Quality Sound for the Family Interview

When you watch these videos years from now, you will want to be able to clearly understand what your family member had to say, instead of straining to hear and understand them. Before beginning the interview, review these tips to help you with sound during the interview:

  • Although camcorders have built in microphones, they really are not good enough for interviews.  If possible, use a separate microphone such as a lapel microphone, to achieve higher audio quality that gives the subject’s voice a full sound
  • Place the microphone close to the subject’s mouth and don't hide it under any clothing, where it may cause sound problems
  • Close the gap between the microphone’s professional connection (usually an XLR-Audio connection) and the camera’s consumer connection (usually a composite audio connection) with an adapter from Radio Shack or other personal electronics store
  • Try to monitor the audio levels through a set of headphones plugged into your camcorder

Interview Preparation

videotaping interviews, there are some common rules to follow during the question and answer process. Here are some points to take note of before you begin:

  • A couple of days prior to the interview, it might be wise to prepare by asking your family member for any diaries or journals they might have kept from their past experiences.
  • Ask your family member some questions before the interview to let them know you are interested in their story. This will also lay the groundwork for good questions
  • Make a list of interview questions you are going to ask in a notebook for easy reference.
  • Look through childhood photographs as part of the background research. To truly understand where the person is coming from, it’s important to get good anecdotes.


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