Working with cameras and microphones


There is an understandable tendency when discussing being effective in media interviews to focus exclusively on what happens in the interview itself.  However there are many things to think about when working around cameras and camera crews for television interviews.  Here are some thoughts highlighted by our “tame” cameraman (who for reasons of the witness protection scheme must keep his identity carefully hidden so we will call him “Dirk”) around managing aspects of the broadcast media environment….

Building up the pressure; “We were taught at the Beeb to get onto the job, get the interviewee miked up as quickly as possible and then let them stew.  Even the presence of a small radio mike can be quite disconcerting and put people under pressure.

“In addition if we wanted to create more pressure we would bring the camera in close. It doesn’t need to be in someone’s face but again if you can get in their bubble sometimes it can have the desired effect of making them look ill at ease.  Proximity magnifies every tic and mannerism, and the pictures, as far as the audience is concerned, suggest, rightly or wrongly, something of the character of the interviewee.

“It is fair to say that in busy places it might be necessary to come in close because given the opportunity, people will walk between the camera and the interview.  Very frustrating!”

Location location location! Much of the theme of the training we run is about taking control of the interview through sound planning and delivery techniques.  With outside broadcast interviews this control should extend to taking control of the environment around where the interview is to take place.  If you plan ahead a place for the interview that suits you and tells some of the story then it is likely to be used.  Don’t be drawn into backdrops or environments that do not suit you.

What works and what doesn’t?

Dirk says, “Windows are generally not good as you very quickly assemble an audience who will offer all kinds of not so useful encouragement and advice.  They may also give you pictures that you can well do without!  Reflective surfaces in general are not great as reflections of the interview activity looks odd.  Doorways too are a nightmare because people start coming through them as soon as the recording starts.  Watch out for rubbish bins and the “shed of shame” smoking shelter as backdrops.

“Whilst it isn’t strictly speaking my job to show you in the best light (I am just there to tell the story in pictures) the best solution for you is to try and find a self-contained area where you can control access.   If there is to be signage or a logo, ensure it is your logo and also the current version.  If using a prop as a backdrop, for example a vehicle or a scene of activity, then make sure that everybody and everything that is shown complies to all HSE requirements.  Site safety and public health inspectors watch television too!

“The key element in all of this is for you to manage the background to tell the story that you want to tell.”  Dirk summarises by saying, “If we arrive and a scene is ready for us and seems to suit then we will usually go with it without too much problem.”

Covert recording:  When does recording start and when does it end? Dirk observes, “Well, if we’ve been asked or had it agreed that we are to record something with you we can claim, should we need to, that we were invited to record and therefore (unless we are specifically told to the contrary) everything is fair game.  I can always say that I will want to ensure my kit is working and so was doing preparatory and background recording.”  Most usually none of this is likely to be shown BUT take a look at your business, the issue you are being interviewed upon and ask yourself could, or would, a journalist who has a mind to do so, damage your reputation given the chance?  Cameraman Dirk says, “The golden rule is to assume that everything that is said or seen could be recorded.  And no, for news packages you will not get the opportunity to review before broadcast.”

Microphones:  “We use different microphones for different jobs,” says Dirk. “Most usually we will use a tie mike for news interviews or corporate video.  Sometimes when there are lots of people about and you can’t get your mike onto the presenter we will use a stand based or hand held rifle mike.  The key thing is to understand that they record and don’t assume just because I cannot see you that I can’t hear you.  The signal will travel from your transmitter to my receiver through walls and windows. Often people forget they have them on and say things as an aside that they'd rather we didn’t know.”  It is feasible that sensitive information can be passed to the interviewer by the cameraman.

Cutaways:  “Cutaways form an important part of news packages,” comments our man behind the lens.  “Interviews that are simply head and shoulders shots of the interviewee are pretty dull to an audience, so for recorded pieces cutaways are introduced during the editing process.  We use short pieces of video to support the story and make the package more interesting for the audience. Shots of the interviewee typing, monitoring a computer screen, walking with the interviewer are all valid cutaways.  As a cautionary note, do not do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or might cause embarrassment in the future.”

Mistakes:  “If you make a mistake during a recorded interview when presenting a piece of information then identify it immediately,” advises Dirk. “Most usually you will simply be offered the opportunity to correct your original version.  Please don’t do anything that (you feel) may mean we could not show that particular piece of footage. Waving your hands in front of your face, making a silly noise or swearing just puts potentially damaging footage into our hands!”


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