Branded Doc Interviews: Part I
Updated: Mar 23
I was in Tallahassee a couple weeks ago filming some branded docs for a couple of non-profits, through an agency called Moore. We were shooting 2 separate 2 minute docs and 1 brand film. I shot several interviews and was pretty pleased with how they turned out, for the most part. I wanna chat about how I got each look and what my thought process was. Maybe as I write this, I'll have ideas on what I could've done differently. I'll probably break this up into 4 separate posts...Oh also, apologies for the lack of BTS photos. In the future I wanna try to get a photo of each thing that I describe so it's a little less vague.
So first off let me show you the interview frames I'll be going over in this post. The one up top is our starting WIDE frame. Keep in mind this was HANDHELD w/ an Easy Rig so there was subtle movement and frame adjustments throughout the shot:
* I'd say 90% of the look was done in-camera, I moved a couple wheels around briefly in Lumetri
*Camera Settings: 5K HD on Red Scarlet-W, 4400 WB, 1/4 Black Pro-Mist, 50mm lense at T2.0, 800 ISO
*I had 2 grips helping with lighting & our sound guy helped swing. Set up time was suppose to be ~ 45 min but ended up being longer since talent was running a bit behind
The motivation behind this look: This was a very serious subject matter so we wanted a frame and a space that looked like a casual , home-y area where the talent would be comfortable telling their story, almost like a heightened cinema-verite style interview. Subtle handheld camera to help push the emotional fragility of the subject matter. Warmer tone for the sense of parental warmth
Finding the frame: some challenges
Windows ALL around the house. On the right hand side of frame there's windows along the top of the whole wall, and big windows about 30' behind camera. And windows on the back wall behind talent. And we were scheduled to shoot at 5:30p, so there would definitely be changing light
We were suppose to be shooting a 1-person interview but last minute we found it was going to be 2-person interview. In this scenario it wasn't the hardest problem to solve, BUT I did have to think about some things a bit differently.
When we walked in, all the couches were facing inward, so if talent were sitting on them, the cam would be pointed towards less-interesting textures
Limited space for lighting & grip in the angle we ultimately decided on
First order of business: finding best angle to point the camera towards. I wish I had taken a photo of the space to illustrate what I'm talking about. Here's a wide-ish photo of it during the interview
With the right side of the living room having dark cherry-wood bookshelves and the fireplace having a rocky texture that was a bit lighter and contrasted the wood nicely, I knew we had to shoot into that. And with a little bit of white wall in the background to the right of the window where that practical was, I knew I could frame a person's head in that gap to create separation without adding a super unnatural backlight. So we just turned the couch and figured the shot would be tight enough that it would not seem weird that the one couch was flipped the opposite direction.
But when we had some stand-ins sit in frame, another problem occurred: They sink into the couch. So when I frame up a shot with proper headroom, we don't see any of the beautiful textures in the background. We just see couch, and person. And it looked like shit. Putting them on 1/4 apple boxes would have been super weird and distracting for talent, and for this interview we needed them as comfortable as possible. So we just propped them up on a couple small throw pillows, and it worked perfectly.
Controlling the environment
Once that was all sorted out, here's a list of things we did to figure out our lighting:
Black out the windows in the back of frame. The one in frame needed to be blacked from the outside. We were on the 2nd floor, but luckily there was a balcony there. Black out the windows behind camera. We had extra 8x8's of duvetyne and the black side of an ultrabounce. But we also used cheap dollar-store black table cloth to black out some extra windows. This whole process only took like 15 minutes.
For the windows up high, we just put up 4x floppies up high to block out the light from directly hitting talent's faces. We didn't have a ladder to get up and block out every window. So we'd have to just live with light slightly changing in the background since the windows in the back right corner weren't able to be covered.
*we got somewhat lucky and talent arrived an hour late so fighting the changing light ended up not being a massive pain
Treat the practicals: All practicals on dimmers with low-intensity INCANDESCENT bulbs in them so they don't clip to white but also don't go super-duper amber when dimmed so much. I had 25w, 40w, & 60w bulbs that I brought. The practical farthest camera right was fixed to the wall on a swivel arm so we just adjusted that positioning. The lamp to the left of the painting in the very back of frame was one we moved in ourselves. The one right behind the guy's head was already there, we just inched it in so it just barely got into frame.
"Ok just talk about the lighting already"
My first stroke of light was the key light: an aputure 300D w/ lightdome II with egg crate, with full CTO, shooting through a 4x silk. It was in tight quarters because there was a wall and a computer desk in the vicinity so we just had to find the best spot for it within the space at an angle I would've been OK with. I wouldn't have minded the light being more side-y and moody but there's 3 reasons that probably wouldn't have quite worked
Would've been TOO moody and client & producer would not have liked it
With a 2 person interview, if my light was more side-y, the talent on the right would've been a fair bit brighter since the light would be closer to her. How would I fix that? Either add another frame of diffusion or a net on just the side of the light hitting talent to bring the levels on the right-side talent down to match left-side talent. But even if I tried to do this, there wasn't enough space.
Additionally, I added just a kiss of backlight with a quasar-fitted Kino fixture (quasars set to 3000k) and clipped some frosty diffusion onto the front. I had the light dimmed down SUPER low to just give me a little hint of backlight. You can barely see it.
For the background, since the practicals were dimmed down so low, they weren't emitting enough level to do anything substantial to the background. So we had to do a couple things:
I added another quasar-Kino frame left, dimmed down low to bring up background levels so they didn't get too muddy and boring. Without this, the background would've been way too dark. I also added a small battery-powered dracast panel on the ground in the back right corner of frame because it was going too dark.
Then I realized that the flowers in the background started looking too muddy and boring. So I added a subtle pop to that with a 250w lowel pro light, with a black-wrapped snoot, just scratching the flowers a bit.
Man just writing all this out makes me realize how much we freaking did to this shot. But I don't think any of it was unnecessary. 3 final things we added: a fill card slightly frame left of talent (would've preferred it directly in front but didn't want it too distracting for talent so it was offset a bit). I shot a 500w Lowel Omni (literally the only light we had left) with a 1/2 CTB gel into it and panned it off almost ALL the way off, I just wanted a tiny bit of cooler fill.
I also added a small battery-powered aputure m9 into the fireplace but that never ended up in frame so it pretty much did nothing. But it would've popped up that area a bit if it did show up in frame; otherwise it would've ended up as boringly dark area with no texture.
The last thing to take care of was putting a piece of artwork to cover an area of boring white wall in the background. I wanted to hang it on the wall but we didn't have anything to hang it with because we suck. So we just set it on a small little table and leaned it against the wall. Whatever; not perfect but it did the trick. I really need to take more BTS photos because this has to be a boring-ass read. But that's how I got this interview look. I feel like it looks pretty naturalistic and fits the vibe we were going for exactly
Shoot me a text if you have any questions or if you think it looks like shit: (386) 237-4222. Better yet, comment here so it could potentially help someone else.