5 Tips for Making the Most of Interviews in Property Video

June 2nd, 2017

This is a guest post by Hamish Beeston a former producer and director of over 30 documentaries for primetime BBC One, BBC Two, and National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Hamish is a PFRE video contest juror.

On-screen interviews in your real estate film can really lift its impact, in terms of information imparted and emotional connections made. Think the passionate architect or proud homeowner. If you look back at the Photography for Real Estate video competition entries over the last few years you’ll see lots of examples of people being interviewed on screen – good and bad – and here are our top 5 tips for making the most of the interviews in your films:

  1. Audio: Viewers will forgive all sorts of picture issues, as long as you get a feel for the property, but no one likes bad sound. If you have the budget, invest in a decent directional mic and get it in close, typically just above the head of your subject. A mic stand can be useful here. Radio mics are a little more fiddly to use but allow a person to walk and talk and be heard in big wide shots. Be wary of trying to cover two people from the same radio mic. It can work if they are really near to each other but not at all if any further than a couple of feet away. If all you have is the camera’s tiny onboard mic, get the subject close, so the sound is OK. In all cases, monitor the sound with headphones to hear what’s actually being recorded and be wary of using auto levels which boost the background noise in between words.
  2. Lighting: Sometimes you have time/equipment to light a talking head, sometimes not. Often nice soft natural light can give the best results anyway. In any event, be aware that viewers need to see the face of the person who is speaking. The classic mistake is to film someone in front of a bright window ‘for the view’, leaving them in shadow.
  3. Framing: There are all sorts of options for framing and interview, from full-length long shots to extreme close-ups. Eye line can be directly to the camera, just to the side or somewhere else entirely. Play around with what suits you and your film style but don’t be afraid of the regular boring mid-shot with eye line just off-camera. It’s the standard for TV interviewing around the world for a reason. You can see the face of the speaker clearly and they have some background context.
  4. Movement: Walking and talking interviews can be brilliant – a dynamic way of showing off a property in both words and pictures. It’s also really hard to pull off well! If in doubt, keep the camera on the tripod. You can always film your subject wandering around the house afterward, to illustrate a basic interview. If you must interview on the move, the key is to have plenty to cut away to so you can edit what’s said effectively. The classic cutaway for RE is whatever bit of the property is being mentioned. Close-up details work really well as cutaways as you can go anywhere in the film after a CU. Big wide shots, either with the spoken line repeated or non-sync so you can’t see what’s being said, are good too for context. Also POV shots of a walk through an area.
  5. Content: Interviews tend to work best, and sound most natural when the subject has an idea about what is to be covered but does not pre-plan it too much. Think of how you would chat with an acquaintance in a bar. Try to use open questions like ‘tell me about…’ in order to avoid one-word answers. This will also allow you to cut out the interviewer’s questions. Another tip is to ask the interviewee to include the question in the answer. For example, Q ‘ Tell me about the design of the house’ A ‘The house was designed in the style of…’ Such tricks will make the edit much easier.

Finally, if an interviewee is really struggling with an off-the-cuff approach (it does happen, even with company CEOs) then pre-scripting / reading an interview is not the end of the world. It certainly means that you can control the content completely. Just make sure you get enough of them looking into the camera for regular in-vision bits (about 3-5 secs at a time).

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3 Responses to “5 Tips for Making the Most of Interviews in Property Video”

  • Great points made by Mr. Beeston. I also have consider experience in the video world as both a director and editor. I would like to add some tips to Mr. Beeston’s points.

    1. Audio. Now that you have good clean audio from the field, be sure to add a little EQ to reduce any boom in the low frequencies and add a bit of treble to make words clearer. Also, a very common error is that when adding music that plays underneath your sound bites, be sure the music is mixed low in the mix. If you’re not sure how low to go, err on this side of being TOO low. Nothing more annoying that music that is too loud and competing with voices!

    2. Turn on the “zebra” on your viewfinder. If you can set it to 70 IRE, try to have faces be about 70, no matter how bright or dark the rest of the scene is. Nothing matters more than the exposure of the face!

    3. Framing. If in doubt, back off the zoom. Never get too close to a face, because most faces will not stand up to scrutiny. Unless you have a full crew with makeup and lighting, give the face some space. Too many video are too darn close! “60 Minutes” style shooting is tough to do right, so if you’re not sure, don’t do it!

    4. Movement: People who are walking and talking can be great. But if they are not comfortable on camera, I would not do it. Just sit them down somewhere pretty and try to get them to relax!

    5. Asking the interviewee to include the question in their is of prime importance. Well put, Mr. Beeston.

  • 6. If you don’t have a good way to check the audio in the field, get enough non-interviwee footage to do a voice over.
    7. Small rooms and rooms with of hard surfaces make for lots of reverb/echo. You can test a room by clapping your hands. If it’s very reverberant, do a voice over instead of filming the agent/presenter in that room.
    8. Don’t zoom in and out. Use cuts when you need to highlight something the speaker is talking about. If you are going to zoom, do it one way only and plan to cut to the next segment.

  • Thank you for the five tips however I get feedback both ways on audio. I have some people that do not want a property video without audio even if it is just some type of background music. Others prefer that the property video is completely silent.
    What has been more popular for you?

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