Interview Etiquette: Making the Fourth Wall Disappear

by Kaitlyn Mitchell
Here at Stringr’s SoHo office, we’re thrilled to see Stringrs eagerly accept our footage requests at every hour of the unrelenting news cycle; though of course we don’t subscribe to the “if it bleeds, it leads” ethos espoused by the 2014 thriller film Nightcrawler.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler; Image: The Independent UK

As a member of the curation team, I often watch Stringrs approach scenes with emergency medical personnel, the police department, and/or the fire department present. Last week, our in-house video producer James gave fantastic technical pointers on sit-down and Man on the Street, called MOS, interviews in his How-To  series. Now that we’ve covered the basics of framing an interview properly, it’s worth going over interview etiquette.

Last week, there was a residential building fire in Ridgewood, Queens that I covered for Stringr. I noticed that there was at least one professional videographer already there, with expensive equipment. He had already taken the initiative to befriend a fire chief who was watching over the fire fighter’s activity of shoveling onto what appeared to be the source of the fire. As I got closer to the scene, the fire chief barked at me to back away, while allowing the other videographer to get shots as close to the action as he liked whilst chatting amicably. I wasn’t taken seriously, most likely because shooting on an iPhone made it appear that I was taking the video for personal use.

In a situation where you are shooting in very close proximity to the emergency personnel who are overseeing an active scene, be polite and make eye contact. Introduce yourself calmly and confidently as a freelance videographer for the press if prompted. Most people won’t know what Stringr is, but feel free to mention us if they ask directly what network you’re with. If an official asks you to stand at a further distance from the scene, respectfully do so but remember that you cannot be asked to stop recording completely if you are on public property.

Several Stringrs covered the exciting May Day riots in Seattle, Washington last week. We received footage of tear-gassing, riot police marching, and a police officer falling off his bike and the subsequent arrest of a protester. We were impressed with the initiative taken to get man-on -the-street interviews with various protesters. This was certainly a tense situation, it’s important (however difficult) to ask questions. But sometimes simple questions get the best answers because they allow participants to give their unfettered opinion. In contexts like these, try asking : “Why are you here “What have you seen so far?” or “Have you witnessed any police crowd control tactics today?”

Journalistic ethics and federal, state and local laws apply to you as a Stringr just as readily as they apply to video journalists employed by major networks. Then there is your own safety to consider. So, if you’re shooting something ask yourself these important questions before you procede:

1.    Is my own safety at risk?

2.    Is it ethically unsound for me to be shooting this right now?

3.    Should I be helping and mediating, or calling 9-1-1 for this situation, instead of filming it?

If your honest answer to one or more of these questions is a definite “yes,” then you should take appropriate action to make sure that you are safe and do your best to make sure that others are as well.

When you’re conducting a man-on-the-street interview or a sit-down interview, there are a few essential details about your subject that our customers will find helpful. These include:

1.    Full Name

2.    Age

3.    Career/Occupation

 If your subject declines to provide these details, no problem – at least you asked. You may still interview this subject if what they have to say is essential to the story you’re conveying.

In theater and film, a term called the fourth wall is the imaginary wall through which the audience watches the narrative unfold; it is what separates the audience from being a part of the action. In news, the concept of the fourth wall is a bit more flexible, but the fourth wall that Stringrs must never break is including yourself in the shot. It’s totally okay (and expected) that your voice be audible when you ask your subjects interview questions, but if using a handheld or shotgun microphone, keep your hand out of the frame as much as possible. And for smartphone users, remember to keep your thumb away from the corner of the camera lens.

Additionally, be aware of your subject’s ability to elaborate or exaggerate what they have witnessed based on the excitement of being interviewed. And don’t always believe what people tell you. An example of this happened on May fourth in Baltimore when subjects interviewed claimed to have witnessed a police shooting that didn’t actually happen. If you suspect your subject is embellishing the truth, ask him or her to recall a highly detailed account of the occurrence and use your better judgment.

We hope these tips will help you interview people better. And remember: a steady, horizontal shot and confident, meaningful interaction with your subject will make your footage—standout on Stringr.

One comment

  1. Stringr · November 17, 2015

    Reblogged this on THE STRINGR BLOG and commented:

    This week on the Stringr blog, we have tips on interview etiquette. If you don’t know the industry term ‘MOS,’ read up — we’ll be making more and more a footage requests asking for interviews!


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