Finding the Story

Dr. B Interview

Creative Limitations

One of the best exercises you can do to challenge yourself is to experiment with creative limitations. It seems like one of the most frequent hurdles to overcome these days has to do with inadequate production budgets and the problems they cause. But rather than getting into fiscal obstacles here, let’s instead focus on purely creative challenges. Sometimes limitations can help us grow if we approach them with the right mindset.

Lens Discipline

A common photographic exercise involves shooting with so-called “lens discipline.” Even though you may have a full bag of various lenses at your disposal, you go out and shoot for an afternoon with only one of them. We’re talking only prime lenses here, by the way. Using a zoom would be cheating!

Having just one focal length can spark creativity by getting you out of your habitual responses (like reaching for your favorite close-up lens) and force you to rethink composition and a host of other issues. With only one lens available, you’re coerced into working differently if you are going to be able to get a broad variety of shots—wides, mediums, tights—without resorting to lens changes.

Less is—by Definition—a Limitation

On some projects it’s not uncommon to have very little or even no footage to work with beyond a “talking head” style interview. Ideally you’ll be able to do a 2-camera setup for an interview like this in order to get both a medium shot and a close-up. This way you can more easily cut down the overall content into snappier phrasings without having to resort to jump cuts or white flashes. Now, if you like jump cuts or white flashes and creatively they fit your story, then you don’t have to worry about the limitation we’re discussing. I tend not to like jump cuts or flashes because I often find them distracting. Flashes or not, though, you’re still faced with the challenge of making something compelling from just a talking head interview.

But I Want More Footage!

Yes, so do I. Clearly, it would be lovely to have other footage to cover jump cuts and flesh out the story, but sometimes it’s just not possible for a host of reasons. You may only have a few minutes to spend interviewing someone before they have to get on a plane. You may have to shoot 20 interviews in a day, leaving no time for anything else. But by facing these limitations and pushing yourself to make the best of them, you can still find ways to bring a simple but effective story to life just from a simple interview.

Supporting Cast

You’ll need a few crucial elements to pull off a decent piece from just an interview: good pacing, effective music, strong editing, a sense of flow, humor or emotion, a sense of story structure, and probably some graphics. If you’re the person conducting the interview, do your utmost to get concise, focused, personable content from your subject. If the person on camera isn’t coming across as engaging, do whatever you have to help them relax and be themselves.

Every one of us is unique, interesting, idiosyncratic… so you can’t approach every interview the same way—unless boring, lifeless content is actually what you’re going for.

Obviously, if all you’ve got to work with is the interview itself, that interview needs to be as strong and engaging as possible. If you’re the one conducting the interview, the pressure’s actually on you to deliver—not the person in front of the camera. It’s your job to elicit the kinds of comments your story needs to bring it to life.

Something from Nothing

Disclaimer: Working with creative limitations can be frustrating.

There are reasons we normally shoot significantly more supporting footage than we do interview clips. It’s much easier to edit that way and your piece will be more dynamic. So given the option, you will always be better served to shoot supporting footage. But again, we’re only dealing here with situations that are imposing limitations on you for one reason or another.

Ultimately, you may not always be able to create a “silk purse from a sow’s ear,” or something from nothing. But on occasion, when tackled with skill and determination, limitations can yield unexpected results that transcend what you might have originally thought possible.

The next time you’re faced with limiting factors beyond your control, keep an open mind. You may discover that a good story can still be crafted from nothing more than a simple interview.

I've lived in Alaska, acted and directed in live theatre, and cycled through the French Alps. I'm the owner of EditLab, an award-winning production company. At varying times I'm a writer, producer, director, cinematographer & editor. I love traveling, but always return to life at the water's edge.

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