What to Tell Your Subject Before they get to the Testimonial Shoot

The experience your subjects have with previous video production will vary tremendously. Some executives and marketing professionals are used to being in front of a camera regularly and will be old hands but more junior, or more technical members of staff, may not have much experience and will need some coaching. There are pros and cons to each extreme of on-camera experience. Old-hands are more comfortable in front of the camera but they can fall back on a learned ‘script’ which can come across as disingenuous. Video virgins can be nervous on-camera and can take more care and time to get to say what you want clearly but they may come across as more genuine and relatable. If possible we always try to have a pre-interview call with the subject which helps us judge the subject’s experience and personality. The pre-interview meeting also helps to relax the subject so we can put their fears to rest, answer any logistical questions and demonstrate our professionalism.

Goal of the Interview

We always share our goals with the interview subject and stakeholders in pre-interview communication. There should never be any surprises about the purpose of the finished video when the subject sees the final product. We always aim to delight our subjects with how good we make them and the the company they are representing look in the final video but we never hide the fact that we want to sell our own company through this testimonial. Typically we want to do this by talking with our subjects about their company’s story and their experience. We’re always looking for some transitional event that our company has helped the subject achieve and the pre-interview call can help is identify that ahead of the interview itself.

As well as the goal of the interview and the kind of structure we envisage we let the stakeholders know how we intend to use the resulting video assets when they are created. Will they be publicly view-able on YouTube or are they just for internal use? You usually don’t want to invested heavily in assets that you can’t make available to potential customers. If the interview is the foundation for its own piece or if it will be part of larger finished piece we let the subject know. Tell the subject the projected length of the finished piece. Subjects can be surprised that they sat down for an hour when the final asset is only 90 seconds long so explain the video production process. We always assure subjects that our goal is to make them and their company look the best we can so that we look good by association.

The subject should never turn up to the set not knowing the vision of what they are involved in.

Permissions

You don’t want to go to the time and expense of conducting an interview if you won’t be able to publish the finished video after the fact. To this end we always try to get a standard permission form signed before the interview takes place – preferably we have this in hand well in advance of the shoot but at the latest we will try to get it signed before we roll cameras. Occasionally this isn’t possible but we look for assurances that we will be able to get the finished video published at the end of the day.

When you’re shooting a documentary, or the news, that permission form is often the end of the conversation and by signing it a subject is signing away any control of the footage created. But we are not filming the news. Our subjects are our valued customers and partners and we want them to like and be proud of the finished video. We want them to like the video enough to promote it on their own sites, blogs and social channels and you don’t achieve that by being adversarial. To this end we give the customers final sign off of the finished edit. Video journalists will be throwing up their hands at this notion but we do this to give our subjects every confidence that nothing will be published that embarrasses or misrepresents them personally or their company. We are always careful to word this final request for publication permission to encourage and yes or no response and we try not to make it an invitation for edit notes but there are times when we do need to make edits to make the subject happy and we will do what we can to accommodate that.

Make sure that the subject has permission to speak for their company. We have had occasions when a subject has signed a permission form only to find out later that their company does not allow them to speak on their behalf on camera. This is a waste of everyone’s time and it isn’t totally unavoidable but you want to mitigate this risk as much as possible.

One final privilege we give our subjects is to request that we take down a video in the future. Again, those involved in other kinds of video production may think this is crazy but we want to keep our customers happy. We’ve been asked to take down videos for many reasons; we’ve upset the customer in some way, or the subject has left the company they were speaking for, or the company’s endorsement is no longer an advantage to us due to current events. Again, you want to try to avoid the kind of testimonials that may be subject to a take down notice at some point in the future but if the video is useful for a year or two and then needs to be retired it still has value to our company.

Questions

Video testimonial interview in progress

Video testimonial interview in progress

We prefer not to give specific questions to the subject before an interview. This is because we are aiming for something a big more documentary in style and we want to be able to chase down a specific narrative during the interview without being accused of going off script. Our interviewers are subject experts and do their homework into the subject and the company they represent – they rarely just read from a list of questions. We prefer to tell our subjects the areas and subjects we are interested in talking about so that they aren’t surprised by a line of questioning but they don’t go into the interview overly rehearsed. That said, there are times when you have to provide the questions in advance: some company’s marketing departments insist on it, or some subjects for whom English is not their first language want to be able to write their responses in advance.

Logistics

If the subject has not been involved in much video production before we try to explain the process to them both in production and post production. We explain how long it typically takes us to edit a piece so that they don’t expect to see a finished asset the day after the shoot. If you don’t have a planned published date, at least provide your best guess.

Set a dress code for the subject. We explain what moire is and why we want to avoid thin stripe or small patterns. We also suggest avoid pure white shirts as they can be problematic for exposure in-camera. We suggest solid colors if possible and that the subject bring a backup shirt, tie and/or jacket when possible. We also suggest that subjects don’t wear heavy, noisy jewelry as it can be a sound problem and a problem when trying to fit a lav mic. If the subject usually wears light reactive glasses we ask that they bring a plain pair as our lights can trigger reactive lenses to darken which doesn’t read well on camera. If we are going to provide a makeup artist we let the subject know in advance. This can sometimes take men especially by surprise but we always explain that we want them to look their best on camera.

We set the expectation that the subject will be totally unreachable for the time of interview and that we will be asking everyone present to turn their phones fully off on set as the transmissions can interfere with our wireless mics.

We try to avoid a large entourage coming with the subject but we do understand that they sometimes need moral support and a friendly face. We do try to make sure everyone who turns up on set understands the set etiquette especially that there’s no noise on set so once the cameras are rolling they are stuck in place, without use of any electronic devices for the duration. It’s also important that any third parties coming to the set understand what their role is. Some sales people in our organization are very protective of their customers and come to the set expecting that they will be the interviewer. We would only agree to that as a last resort so make sure that these attendees understand that they are present in a observers capacity only.

Your follow up note should include the location of the interview with maps etc. if the subject is not familiar with the location. It should include a meeting time and contact numbers for the day of the shoot. If the subject is going to be late they should be able to contact you easily. We try to reinforce that this is not a loose commitment and convey some of the time and resources we are investing in a shoot. Cancellations when you’ve got a crew on set and waiting around are expensive and difficult to explain to your managers.

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