Rachel Skybetter
Senior Copywriter

Lights, Camera, Act Natural

Getting Great Video Interviews

We’ve all been there — you’re cool, rehearsed, and ready. Then you have to stand up in front of people or a camera crew and you completely forget how to act—or, not act.

Freezing in front of the camera can happen to the most experienced of personalities, so when interviewing regular people, it’s important to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

Our work with University of the Pacific has taken me from in front of the computer to behind the camera on multiple video shoots for their new fundraising campaign: Leading with Purpose. We partnered closely with Pacific’s marketing team and Friday’s Films, a San Francisco-based video production company, to put together the perfect videos to build momentum for the campaign. The launch event was held Oct. 21 at their Stockton, Calif. campus with a one-of-a-kind celebration and, of course, prominent displays of our work.

At the heart of the Leading with Purpose campaign are the people of Pacific—and the transformative stories they can share because of the university. We showcased these stories in two very different videos: the first, “Voices of Purpose,” is a candid, heard-on-the-street style that features many different people. The second is a formal, scripted campaign launch video, featuring just six people.

Though different creative treatments, they had one thing in common – we wanted these videos to be as natural and authentic as possible.

We “cast” Pacific students, faculty, alumni, and administrators and worked with them to get the perfect footage. When it comes to getting people to relax on camera, the Friday’s Films director was a pro. Here’s what we learned from him:

While you’re checking sound or light, ask your subject questions to get him or her used to talking to you in a regular speaking voice. Have them spell out their name, state their occupation, then tell you how they got to work that morning or what they ate for breakfast. Remind your subject that they don’t need to raise the volume or over-enunciate—the mic will capture everything perfectly.

The camera and all the people around it can be intimidating. Tell your subjects that they’re talking through the camera to the person on the other side—you. Stand right behind it at eye level while you continue the conversation. If they look away, have them repeat the line while locking eyes with the lens.

Have your subject say the line three times in a row, that way there’s less pressure to get it right. As they get more comfortable with the line, it starts to taste more natural. The third time really can be a charm when filming.

Need more oomph? Pantomime a volume dial to have your subject visualize taking the energy—not the volume—from a five to, say, a seven. Or if you need a little less “acting,” it works well in reverse.

For both scripted and unscripted language, the subject’s words are always your best bet. If you notice them adding a word or rephrasing on the fly, write it down and have them repeat it that way. It will sound more natural, because it is.

Gone are the days of film and high stakes. Digital videography means that no matter how many takes it takes, subjects won’t have to worry about getting it right every time. If you notice them tensing up or feeling the pressure, encourage them to say the next line like they don’t care about it. Or maybe use a silly voice. Then start again. It will help loosen them up and get you the delivery you’re looking for.

View Videos:

Voices of Purpose

a young woman smiles in a video screencap


Launch Video