The process of shooting a TV Interview

Have you ever watched an interview on TV, be it for the BBC or some celebrity news program, and wondered how this whole thing came to place? Yes? So have I. Sitting in front of the TV and watching all these people being questioned on the most various topics, I’ve always asked myself what is going on behind the scenes.

The questions that would pop into my head most frequently were;

  • Who are they even looking at? (This only counts for those interviews where the journalist who asks the questions appears to be a bodyless voice from somewhere next to the camera)
  • Do they read their text from somewhere or do they know all of this by heart?
  • How long did they prepare for this?
  • Where was this recorded?
  • Is this live?
  • Who is behind the camera?
  • Who is this person to start with, considering themselves expert enough to sit there and talk about this to millions of people (unless it’s a celebrity interview, then I’d either be star struck or surprised this person is still considered a public figure)

TV interviews are quite a mystified thing for common people like me whose only chance to get on TV would be being caught on camera in a crowd of thousands of people at the latest hometown football game. I am happy to tell you that this ominous thing finally got demystified as I was lucky enough to be part of an interview for Sky News. No, I was not in front of the camera. I would say unfortunately, but that would be a lie since the only camera I am comfortable with is Snapchat’s (for those who don’t know; it’s an app that lets you use filters which make you look like someone straight out of a Neutrogena advert). I am not an expert in anything relevant enough to Sky News, but I was honoured to witness a true expert sharing their expertise on national television.

I am currently an intern at a company called Image Line, I would explain what they do but you probably already know since the only reason you’re reading this is because you’re on their website.

My supervisor for this internship, Sue, was asked to do this interview on free ports which are planned to open in Britain after the Brexit. This is not an uncommon thing to happen to her, she’s done this many times in the past, proof she really knows what she’s talking about. When she got the email and announced she was going to do this I thought, hey cool, I’m definitely going to watch this when it’s recorded next week. The more surprised and admittedly shocked I was, when half an hour later a cameraman stood on the threshold, equipped with everything from camera over lightbox to microphone. I don’t even manage to shower in half an hour, how is someone supposed to prepare for being on TV in half an hour?

Even more surprised I was when Sue asked me to join her on this interview. She wanted to give me some insights into this whole TV thing. Of course, I agreed, as long as I would stay behind the camera I’d be happy to come. So we went outside with the cameraman where I expected a crew of sound- and light people together with the journalists who would eventually do the interview with Sue.

Another surprise, there was none.  Sue told me that nowadays a big crew of personnel is not required anymore, the cameraman can do this all by himself. This was confirmed when we made our way to the filming location and the cameraman was still fully packed with windshield, puffy microphones and a lightbox, not to mention the huge camera hanging from his shoulders.

The location, by the way, was picked out randomly and spontaneously, another thing I got surprised with. Is this always like this, I asked Sue. No, this was a first for her too, usually, she would go to a studio.

We then went to a promenade near Canary Wharf, a nice location for an outdoor interview. There, the cameraman started to set everything up, while Sue went through her notes one last time. I think I was more excited than her.  I was even allowed to play a minor role in this, I was being asked to stand next to the camera so that Sue had something to look at. Apparently, it would look funny if she just looked straight into the camera. So, now I know who these people on TV always look at because it is never the audience. Usually, though, Sue told me, she would just stare at something behind the camera, but since I was there, I played this role that day.

I was still wondering who would eventually interview Sue since the only people accompanying her were the cameraman and I. And surely I was out of the equation, so it must be the cameraman, I thought. Well, that’s what I call multitasking. He is not only recording the visuals and sounds but is also the one asking the questions.

I was wrong though. Sue got equipped with an ear monitor with a reporter on the line. So, unbeknownst to the camera, she was talking to a journalist who was questioning her live, straight out of the studio.

Behind the scenes

Things happened pretty quickly then. As soon as we were rolling, everything just found its natural flow and the interview was over in no time. I was really impressed by how well everything worked, I think it would have been more nerve-racking if it had been live. That day, the interview was being pre-recorded and aired on the evening news the same day.

If I had to guess, I would say the whole thing didn’t take longer than five minutes to record.  Although this felt really fast, it is still quite a great amount of time for an interview that’s supposed to be part of the evening news which normally last around 15 minutes in total. But no, Sue told me, not all of this is going to be in the final result. They would cut the interview down to approximately 30 seconds filled with the most important facts.

After everything was in the box, the cameraman dismantled his construction of different recording utensils and we were allowed to go.

The end result on Sky News

It was a really interesting experience to see how something like this works and my questions about those TV interviews finally got answered. I am certain that each interview is slightly different, considering the location, the time of day, etc. Also, the topic of the interview and the program it would finally appear in plays an important role as well. But all in all, I think most interviews on these kinds of things are fairly similar in their structures.

So, in conclusion;

The person the people are looking at is either someone next to the camera, in some cases even the interviewing journalist themselves, or a random spot somewhere in the distance.

The interviewed person will either learn their texts by heart or have some notes with them which will not be seen by the camera.

The preparation time people get for these kinds of interview is a maximum of two hours, in this case, it was only 30 minutes (I still cannot believe that).

The location is either a studio or a place somewhere outdoors, it doesn’t necessarily have to be planned beforehand.

The interviews can be live but are usually pre-recorded and then edited to make them fit into the air time.

The crew of personnel nowadays only consists of the cameraman, whose job it is to make all of this work. Although I was told this can differ from interview to interview, sometimes there would still be a few more people on the set, especially in a studio.

The person who gets interviewed doesn’t necessarily have to be a public figure, as long as they are an expert in the topic the interview is about. Usually, it is someone who is a quite regular guest on various news channels.

So, next time when I see an interview like this on the news I know what was going on behind the scenes and how long it took to set all of this up. And I am going to feel even more sorry for the person in front of the camera, knowing they only had this short amount of time to get ready and prepare themselves.

Lien Vogt, Intern Image Line, 2 August 2019