Short Ideas Blog Post 24 on story formats part 3 of 3

Story Format — Part 2 of 3 — Interview–Based

Story Formats continued

Carrying on with last week’s look at story formats, here is our discussion on the interview-based format.


An interview–based style presents the upfront challenge of not knowing exactly what someone will say or how they will phrase it. Writing it out is still essential, though, as it gives focus and clarity to what each person might say and how each of these comments may relate to one another. This lets you determine who is the best person to say each thing and the necessary depth and breadth of each comment. Without this guide, it can be extremely difficult to judge if an answer is a good fit for the video, and you’ll either capture an ill-fitting response or unnecessarily exhaust your interviewee with multiple takes to accommodate different variations of the answer. Ideally, each statement should build upon the previous to move your overall idea towards a compelling argument, much in the way we were taught in school. Make an opening statement, prove it with a few examples, and provide a conclusion that highlights how your examples prove your statement. A video for ‘Massive Bank’ that wants to show how personable their staff are may have the following flow:

At Massive Bank, we pride ourselves on taking care of the customer first.

I try to find a moment in every day where I’m able to make someone’s life better, whether it’s helping them get that loan or just letting them know that we’re here to help. That’s how my boss treats me, and our team stands by it.

I never thought it could be like this… I’d nearly given up hope after being turned away without even an appointment at 5 or 6 other banks, but at Massive Bank, they welcomed me with open arms. They listened to what I wanted and found a way to make it happen.

Everybody here seems to know my name! It’s really a refreshing and friendly place. Every time I come in, Cathy, my usual teller, asks about my grand kids by name. It’s sweet.

Whether it’s our employees or our customers, we’re committed to being a place where people come first, always. Massive Bank.

This script also provides a first opportunity to consider what b–roll sequences are required and what their sub–text should be. Consider how much less interesting it is to use generic office imagery that could be applied anywhere in the video than a sequence that communicates how busy, cooperative or diverse the employees are, thereby appropriately supporting the interviewee’s statement. During the EMPLOYEE’s line, for example, a busy office shot would be much less supportive of the statement than one employee rushing to hand another one a file as elevator doors close, visually suggesting that they help and look out for each other.

Deconstructive Questions

Once this script is approved, you are then in an excellent place to deconstruct each statement into unique building–block questions that lead to this sort of answer, and are fit to purpose for the specific interviewee. This deconstructive philosophy is much more successful than a ‘standard questions’ approach. If you just write out “good” questions, they are likely to be generic and not specific to the individual. Well constructed questions take into consideration why the individual has been chosen and imagines what would elicit the answer you’re after. Avoiding short yes/no answers, they should follow each other from one topic to another so that you are creating a conversational flow. Few things are more alienating to an interviewee than randomly jumping from subject to subject with the feeling that their answers have no impact on the questions asked.

If you are writing the script after the interviews have already been shot, then an effective starting point is re–organising the material by the most relevant criteria, say first by subject then by speaker. This will let you get a strong sense of the material that you are working with, and can either be done in an edit program or by transcribing the interviews. Then you can print, cut and collate the material in a tactile way or keep it in a document for quick and easy re-arrangement. I would caution against truncating sound bites shorter than full statements that end with the completion of the thought unless you have developed an ear for audio editing and can identify when you can get away with omitting or replacing a word. Editing (and production) experience is incredibly valuable in this situation, as you can then re-order complete sentences or, if recording additional audio is an option, you can identify when is a good point to cut into the existing quote and record new audio to begin or complete the statement.

Non–Synchronous Interviews

An important distinction for interview–based videos is whether the interview needs to take place on camera or not. Like V/O–driven videos, non–synchronous — or audio only — interviews offer an incredible freedom in sculpting the answers to maximum eloquence and effect, and provide the most relaxed environment for the inexperienced interviewee, but provide the extra burden of determining more extensive on–screen elements.

Another point worth considering is if your speaker is the best person to speak on a subject. I wrote and edited a documentary about an arts figure with the obligatory title, “The Legend Behind The Legend”. Unfortunately, the long–gone director had only shot an interview with the subject, which created the awkward situation where the subject came off as a presumptuous and boastful braggart rather than an important innovator and well respected member of the community. Fortunately, we were able to organise some additional interviews with appropriate figures who established the respect and influence of our subject up front, letting his clips serve as interesting storytelling sequences.


If your interview turns into a teleprompter session, be extra careful to consider the readability and pacing of the script. The low–end, portable machines are notoriously clumsy to control and present a reading challenge to the performer — unless the speaker is very experienced, it may be difficult for them to keep a good pace for an extended amount of time.

Number of Characters

Finally, I recommend keeping a tight cap on the number of characters involved. Clients can run away with the excitement (or political necessity) of a cattle–call of interviews, but consider the length of the piece and how many people you can get away with introducing. How would you feel about meeting that many people in that span of time in real life? How many are required to make the point? An excess of characters with no consideration of what this multiplicity brings to the project dilutes the strength of the message and can just confuse the viewer. Introductory lower–third messages are helpful, but can quickly become overwhelming, and aren’t a satisfying solution to the problem. It’s best to be focused on who is being interviewed for which reason, as you’ll understand their piece in the puzzle and have a starting framework to devise their questions in the deconstructive fashion we explored above.

Next week, our conclusion with the animation format.







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