When we finish filming an interview, we know if we have gold for the edit or if the interview didn’t flow as we wanted. The editing process will allow you to make the interview shine, even if you think you don’t have the best footage to work with.
It’s all in the ingredients
As we mentioned in our previous article, a good interview begins in the pre-production and continues in the interview production. The more you know about the interviewee’s background, the points you want to highlight, your skill and empathy as an interviewer, the better material you will get. You can cook an acceptable dish with average ingredients if you know how to get the most of them, but everything will be easier if you have good ingredients.
In a world full of screens, it’s easy to fall into the temptation of editing the clips of your interview directly in the timeline of your editing software. However, I like to approach the editing process differently. First, I always export the audio and listen to it while taking a walk, getting an overall feel for what the sounds tell me: the essential points, the emotional bits, how the speech organizes, the repetitive parts, the fragments that could be edited with fewer words… Nothing definitive for now, but this step will help you arrange a structure in your mind.
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An edited interview will not have the same organization as the actual interview. Your role as the editor is to rearrange it into an exciting story with an internal structure that engages the viewer. For example, maybe the director prepared the interview with more general questions in the beginning and leaves the sensitive questions for the end when the interviewee has opened up and feels more confident to talk about specific topics. When you edit the interview, you will reorganize the content to create interest from the beginning and leave some boring or non-relevant answers out of the final edit.
Transcribe and build a structure
After listening to the audio interview, I like to transcribe the interview into words. However, this step is not essential for all the interviews; some corporate and more straightforward content will be easier to edit without this step. But I like to see things on paper. If you are dealing with a complex interview, with changes of directions, going back and forth to the same topics, repeated answers, etc., transcribing the interview will help you visually organize your structure.
You can use pen and paper or a text editor. You even have apps to transcribe audio with excellent results. It will be easy to see the flow, delete the repeated parts and unnecessary words, and reorganize the structure when you have everything on paper.
Ask yourself what are you trying to tell and start with aspects of the speech that will create suspense and raise the audience’s interest. Then guide them through the content and decide when you want to release the tension with the parts that answer those dramatic questions you created before.
Once you have followed the previous step, you will be more familiar with your footage, and your brain will start creating new and exciting connections. Here are some helpful questions to ask:
- Would it be catchy if I began with this sentence?
- Is it maybe too aggressive?
- Would this sentence work in the beginning?
- What questions are we putting in the viewer’s head by placing this here?
- When should I release the suspense?
- How could I give rhythm to this part?
A good piece of advice is to look for a reason for your decisions, so here are helpful questions in this context:
- Why should I start with this sentence?
- Why would this sentence be suitable as a wrap-up?
In this documentary, Ana’s ideas about art and the concept of ‘journey’ and ‘connection’ became the pillars of the structure. Those ideas were so strong that we didn’t keep any information about her career in the final video.
In interviews and editing in general, it’s all about rhythm. Too fast and you will confuse the audience, too slow and they will lose their interest… Editing interviews is an art, and it improves with practice.
Think about good storytellers and how they organize the content. Storytelling is a human expression, and you don’t need to be a writer or a filmmaker to know how to organize and tell a story.
Tips for editing interviews
Separate your a-roll from your b-roll
I recommend keeping your files organized before and during the editing process. First, I always separate the footage by folders with adequate names to help later and make the edit faster. Also, when working on a project like this, I try not to mix things on the same track. It’s better to have 1 track (or 2 if you need) dedicated to the interview and different tracks for the b-roll.
If you have followed the previous steps, the edit is almost done even before opening your NLE.
After all the speeches are structured, go to your timeline and select the parts to build your interview. Now that you see the character talking, you can decide where to leave the face on screen and when to use b-roll according to what the words describe. You can also use narrative editing techniques such as dramatic contrast to express your point of view. For example, a character talking about the goodness in human beings, and you show stock footage of war. These techniques are more common in creative genres such as documentaries. For corporate work, for example, it’s better to use a more conservative approach with images that underline the spoken words.
Corporate videos use b-roll to illustrate what the words tell.
A common technique is using a sentence from the interview that generates interest. It can be the summary of the whole interview or something that will be revealed later. For example, in this short documentary, we started with the sentence ‘Everything started out of love.’ It makes you wonder ‘How?’ or ‘What’s the story?’ It looks like a documentary about bread. However, when the story unfolds, it becomes a love story with a twist in the end.
Establish a rhythm
After you edit the interview, it’s time to polish the edit. Cut silences, repetitions, taglines, unnecessary words… Make the interview flow and give it rhythm. But be careful: some silences are precious because they communicate an emotion or imply something more profound than words say.
Now, you can use b-roll to cover the cuts you created in the interview. Images should be equally powerful and blend with the interview. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words.
A final tip about music: a good track will help your story, but be careful with your selection and the volume; you don’t want to distract the audience. Your final video should be powerful and precise, even without music.