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Planning the Most Appropriate Documentary Video Interview Questions

Interviews are the foundation of the documentary experience, but there’s only so much time to perform interviews and most interviewees will have a time limit in regards to how long they’re willing to answer your questions. Planning your documentary video interview questions to make maximum use of your time is absolutely essential. The content you gain from your interviews not only builds the excitement and overall foundation of your documentary, but with proper planning you can really gain a lot of insight from the questions that you ask. 

Great documentary video interview skills will drive you to asking the right questions for your project. Ideally, you’re going to ask a mix of questions that are both open ended so that you can get as much detail and information as possible from your interviewee as well as questions that are pointed and on-topic so that you can drive the conversation in the direction that is most important to your documentary. It’s a challenging process that requires a bit of planning and some practice, but you can do it!

If you’re planning a documentary and not sure where to start with your documentary interview questions, we’ve got some pointers to help you out. 

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Introduction Based Documentary Video Interview Questions

First and foremost, you’ll need background details on who you’re interviewing and why they’re important to your project. This means you need a proper introduction. Asking the right documentary video interview questions at the start of your interview will help you to establish credibility of your source and to provide your audience with the background story they need to follow along.

You’re going to ask questions that help to create the understanding of WHY this person is part of the documentary, WHO this person is, and WHAT this person can provide. For example:

  • Can you state your name and your current age/occupation/role? (to build credibility)
  • How is your name spelled?
  • Can you introduce yourself to me and to the audience (keep in mind the audience has never met you)?
  • Can you tell me why you’re here today? (to create the background story)

You’re going to use these questions as your introduction so that you can have the key details of importance that your audience might need if they were to follow up on the interview.

Documentary Video Interview Questions to Avoid

It’s important to avoid some questions during your interview for obvious reasons and for not so obvious reasons. For example, you should generally avoid questions that are going to result in “Yes” or “No” answers. As a rule, these types of closed-end questions that have a one word answer are really not going to provide any value for you, your documentary, or your audience. 

Instead of closed end questions, especially those with a “yes” or “no” answer, consider rewording so that you can get some additional insight from your interviewee. For instance, instead of asking, “Did you go to school with XYZ?” for a documentary about someone that went missing in which XYZ is the individual that the documentary is about, you would instead ask, “Can you tell us what it was like to attend school with XYZ?” This is going to answer the question of whether or not they went to school together, and it’s going to provide details about that relationship or time period. 

It’s also important that you do not ask questions that assume your audience has the background information that you have. The documentary video interview questions should build the foundation and background story so that your audience will have the information that you have. When asking questions, your interviewee should assume that you know nothing and have no background info.

Additional Documentary Video Interview Questions & Tips

In addition to the introduction questions, you should be asking questions that are going to build the storyline that you’re creating for your documentary. Allow the answers to each question to develop, and to guide your next question. (this takes practice!).

It’s also important to ask your interviewee to repeat your question with their answer. For instance, if you ask, “Can you tell me what it was like to go to school with XYZ?” the respondent will say, “I can tell you what it was like to attend school with XYZ. Going to school with XYZ was…” This will help you to formulate the final documentary video without the prompted questions from the interviewer having to be included in the final cut.

Consider the following additional documentary video interview questions:

  • Questions that describe the people that are a part of the documentary.
  • Questions that describe the products, services or equipment that is part of the documentary.
  • Questions that describe the locations and places that are part of the documentary.
  • Questions that describe the time period and activities that were part of the documentary.
  • Questions that describe the history, background, and any details that an audience might need to fully understand the documentary.

The exact questions that you ask as part of the documentary are going to depend largely on what you’re producing a documentary on specifically. For example a documentary about a product will have questions that are very specific to the product, product use, pricing, manufacturing, and similar details whereas if you’re producing a documentary on a location the questions will be more location focused.

For more on producing a video documentary or what documentary video interview questions you should ask, give Beverly Boy Productions a call!