Shooting two-camera broadcast interviews

Here is an interview with the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, from a series that I recently helped shoot for The Politico.

As part of this series, we filmed interviews with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.
These interviews were made available to broadcasters, and portions aired on MSNBC, ABC 7 (WJLA Washington) and others. Therefore - although primarily aimed at a web audience ( - they needed to be broadcast quality.
To achieve this, Washington shooter Brad Zerivitiz and I used a full light set-up to achieve the quality you see here. We used two softboxes, a fill light, two hair lights (Lowell pros) and two back lights (lowell Omnis).
In the example above with Nancy Pelosi - interviewed in the Speaker's ceremonial office in the Capitol - we achieved the dappled effect in the background by cutting small slices into a black filter covering the backlight omnis.
The books you see behind the Speaker were positioned to cover up a mirror to prevent reflection.
When shooting high quality interviews, it's critical to spend time arranging the background, and lighting the subjects properly to avoid shadows.
In a two camera shoot like this one, it's also important to make sure the cameras are set so the pictures match in terms of white balance, warmth and so on. This will help avoid extensive color correction in post production - almost impossible when working on a tight deadline.
We also tried to achieve as much depth as we could in what were often small spaces.




Mixing up shots in stage discussion events


Recently I was asked to edit a couple of highlights packages for The Atlantic magazine's website. The pieces were daily round-ups of a two day discussion event at the Newseum in Washington, DC called "The First Draft of History."

These packages, narrated by Nathan King, were to be a maximum of four minutes long featuring the top soundbites from each day's speakers.

The pictures I had to work with were from four Sony EX3 XDCAM cameras: two located in fixed positions facing the stage, another fixed position for audience cutaways, and another roaming camera to gather shots from around the event as a whole.

As you can see, the trick to editing these kinds of pieces is to make sure you try to keep the video interesting despite having a limited range of shots to work with. Cutaways of audience members, interviewers and so on are very important. Also important are the shots from the fourth roving camera which really help break up the sequence of shots from the debate hall.
These packages were edited using Final Cut Studio HD and XDCAM Transfer. Footage from this event was used on several networks including MSNBC



How to shoot public hearings

Over recent days I have been shooting a series of videos for a non-profit organization called Broadband for America.

These videos are essentially highlights of public meetings held by the FCC into how to bring broadband for far-flung corners of the country.

The key to producing a three minute video from a public hearing is to get interesting bites of as many compelling speakers as possible into the piece. I also interspersed one-on-one interviews with the interviewee looking straight into the camera as if doing a location remote.
Cutaways are also critical in pieces like this, not only in order to avoid jump cuts, but also to illustrate the types of people that show up for these hearings and are directly impacted by the subject in question - in this case, a lack of high-speed internet.
Because there is no script and no narration, the editing of the video needs to tell the story. The upsounds, bites and graphics alone should be able to illustrate what is going on without the need for a voicetrack.
This video was shot in HDV 1080 interlaced format, but then compressed into an H.264 codec HDV 720 progressive video format. The graphics utilize a simple slate and Final Cut Pro machine fonts.
You can view all the videos here.



Framing head-on studio shots

As solo reporters and videographers, many of us are often required to shoot interview subjects head-on, rather than the traditional interview format where the subject addresses a reporter sitting to the side of the camera.

In pre-taped packages, the traditional looking interview usually involves the subject occupying approximately a third of the screen and looking off to the side.

But the head-on shot can be used for various reasons, for example if the interviewee in your package is in a remote location, or if you are shooting a tape-sync which will be used as an as-live remote interview.

However, I have seen some extraordinarily badly framed head-on shots, so I thought I'd write a little blurb explaining how I try to shoot them. As usual this is not a definitive how-to, as I'm sure you can tell. Rather it is just my favored method:

1) Make sure you give the subject plenty of headroom. There isn't very much room for error in this part. For this kind of shot you do not want to chop of any of the subject's head, but you also don't want to give them too much head room.

2) Remember to leave enough room at the bottom of the screen for the lower-3rd caption. Bare in mind the size of the lower 3rd used by the outlet you are shooting for.

3) Make sure you pay attention to your background. Don't situate your subject in front of anything too distracting, or an object that will appear to be protruding from the person's body.
Sometimes according to the style of the outlet you are shooting for, you may need to use a blank background.

In this case, the client favored a plain background rather than a room. I used a sheet which I then lit from one side using a Lowell Pro light. This gave the background a nice texture and prevented the subject casting a drop shadow.

4) Make sure to center the interviewee correctly. This is particularly important if the station you are shooting for uses a split screen showing the anchor and interviewee.


Personal profiles in news stories

I've just wrapped up a story for Voice of America on the use of video games as teaching tools in American classrooms.

You can see the complete story here.

"In the last two decades, American students have fallen behind in critical subjects like math, science and reading. In 2005, the U.S. ranked ninth among some industrialized nations in the percentage of students graduating from secondary school.

American education officials are searching for novel ways to stimulate learning again. One tool that is getting some attention is the use of video games.The National Education Association says some schools across the country are now incorporating video into learning."

For this story, the fact that it's about a video game helps immensely with the question of b-roll. I used a mixture of provided digital files containing footage of the video game, and my own screen shots which I filmed from a flat screen panel to avoid strobing. To get the best results shooting a computer monitor I film the screen slightly dark and then brighten the picture when editing. I find this helps bring the colors out nicely.

But the more important point is to do with the scripting. It's one of those pieces that really requires a personal profile - no matter how short. Here I use a student that takes the course covered by the video game. Personal profiles are often key to humanizing a story so that viewers can relate to it.

Below you can see another example of this in a story I recently put together, also for VOA.

"Midwives are growing in popularity as the caregivers of choice among expectant mothers, with the number of midwife-attended births in the United States doubling between 1991 and 2008. Fueling the trend is the shortage of obstetricians and the low-cost of midwife services for women with no health insurance."

As you can see from this example, profiling subjects can be a useful way to make a story interesting and colorful when you have very few pictures to work with, as in this case.

Many news pieces require a personal story. If you're responsible for setting up interviews for your own pieces before shooting them, it's something worth thinking about.