The Secret to Interviews

I’ve done perhaps a thousand interviews in a dozen different languages over the years. This is what I finally learned after the first few hundred:

The secret to interviews is getting people to talk about what they want to talk about, not what you think they should talk about.

But how to do know what they want to talk about?

You don’t.  You just don’t.

So you start off with what you think they should talk about. It goes without saying that you will have done your homework and have some idea of the content or marketing message you are after.

Just don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in the brilliance of your own questions. And don’t assume that you know what the ideal response should be, regardless of what the marketing people think.

Your questions are meant to be a good guess at what might get them going at what they want to talk about. And presumably you’re talking to them because they have some intimate knowledge of the subject at hand.

So start chatting. Keep it real. Keep it light and conversational.

And watch their eyes.

When those eyes light up, you’ve just found the entrance to the subject of what they like to talk about.

Listen to what they say. Really listen. Really be interested. Acknowledge what they’re saying by smiling or nodding or whatever is appropriate. Don’t cut them off.

When they seem to be finished, ask them more about what they just said. Better still, ask them something specific about something that they seem particularly interested in or emotive about. You don’t even have to ask a new question. Simply commenting on, agreeing with or otherwise acknowledging  some aspect just mentioned will be enough to get them to continue talking about it.

And let them talk.

Just keep doing that.

And if you screw it up and they seem to get more and more introverted and less and less communicative, realize that you’re the one that screwed it up, not them. That’s right. You screwed it up not them.  Whether you were too interested in yourself, your own questions, or the color of the windows curtains, you did it.

You can talk to anyone about anything that THEY are interested in.

When you find those topics, all their inhibitions disappear–so long as you do your part by listening, acknowledging and not cutting them off.

When you’re humble enough to realize that you’re the one that introverted them and got them to stop talking, there is still an out.  I’ve done it many times to miraculous results.  It goes something like this:

“Forget about everything I just said or asked. Forget about what you think you should say or what the company thinks you should say or what you think I want to hear.  What is it about this subject that interests YOU the most? What about it are you most passionate about? Go ahead, let your hair down.”

Sometimes after 30 minutes of interview, I’ve gotten the greatest percentage of my editable narrative after making that statement alone.

Click here for Part Two: The Secret to Interviews, Part 2

Color Temperature, Warts ‘n All

This tutorial was by request of Daren Henderson.  I do appreciate all the feedback on the first two videos in the “Lighting For Video That Doesn’t Suck” series, and particularly requests.

I’m also chuffed that people have started subscribing to this blog. I’ve just added share buttons to the articles, so please share as you see fit.

I called it “Warts n All” because I did this one 100% solo without the benefit of moral support from my assistant/model Gemma. But also I demonstrate and discuss color temperature errors.

For you Americans: “Warts n All” is an English expression that’s sort of self explanatory. So is “chuffed”. The English have a way with expressions that make no sense on the face of it until you hear them in context and suddenly they make total sense. (I live in England)

Don’t miss Part One, Lighting for Video That Doesn’t Suck, Getting Started

and Part Two, 3 Point Lighting.


3 Point Lighting Video Tutorial

Here’s the second tutorial in the series showing the mechanics of 3 point lighting.

(The first in the series, “Lighting For Video That Doesn’t Suck, Getting Started”, is here:

I want to say a little something about who these tutorials are directed toward–which is small start-up video businesses and lone operators.

I notice on YouTube, not surprisingly, there are lots of videos that come up as related videos to this. I have watched a few in the past–which is one of the reasons that prompted me to have a shot at it myself.

Of that quick sampling, some I noted were a bit robotic and dictatorial. Some simply had incorrect information–usually to do with the position of the fill light (too far off-axis) or the backlight (too high spilling onto the forehead).

But mainly these were well equipped instructors in nice large studio situations.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but here’s where I will be a bit different.

I have in the past worked with massive facilities, hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of equipment, crews ranging from small to large and budgets that enabled all of that.

A lone video operator or small company might be mis-lead into believing that lots of equipment is required to produce professional work. It’s an alluring thought to obtain and have all these bits and pieces until you have to start dragging it all around.

Even as I operated in the past with a small video documentary crew, the encumbrances of all that equipment started to wear me down, and over time, I shed most of it in favor of a small kit that enabled me to be more “ninja-like” (as we used to call it). In other words, I developed the ability to move in and out very quickly.

When you arrive at a location, previously unseen, with an appointment and limited time, there’s too much to do too quickly without also having to unpack and set up a bunch of fancy equipment.

When I started Video Whisperer, as a lone operator (allowing me to charge less), I cut the kit down to the bare essentials.

So these tutorials are for people like me–lone operators or small crews who want to produce professional quality with minimum kit in the real world.

But I also want to impart an understanding of the fundamental basics of the aspects of video production (lighting, camerawork, how to do interviews, etc.) that enables you to be able to think on your feet in applying this information effectively in the real-world circumstances that you’ll be finding yourselves in.

So, without further ado, here’s the next tutorial. Please do comment, make requests and share it as you see fit.

Rather Than Complain About Amateurs…

(written for a Linkedin Video Group)

Like many of you, I follow quite a few related blogs on Linkedin and elsewhere.

So this is not a criticism of this one.

But doubtless you’ve seen your fair share of soulful but utterly irrelevant chatter about amateurs driving down prices and quality of video production.

If you take a moment to check out the actual work of the complainers (on their sites), you probably won’t very often find the work of a true professional. I’d wager you never will.

So rather than complain, if you are a professional, why not teach what you know?

With some 30 years experience in the fields of cinematography and video, I learned a few things from a combination of study of the basics texts on the subjects, mentoring from a master and then years of working it all out in the real world.

After a year or two of reading too much aggravating drivel about amateurs, I decided to start a blog called “The Video Whisperer” (

More recently I started to focus it more toward exactly what I said above:

Why not teach what you know?

A month ago I started with the first video tutorial series  “Lighting for Video That Doesn’t Suck”.  The first one dealt with the fundamentals behind lighting.  I got some great feedback from professionals and amateurs alike. Many noted that there was information in there that they had never heard before. And so it will be with the rest of them.

This week I’m going to complete several more in that series, the first one specifically on 3 point lighting.

I’d like to invite anyone who wants to learn the basics cinematic lighting to subscribe to the blog so that you are the first to know when the new videos are up (which should be in a few days). Meanwhile you can watch the first one that’s already up.

The Lighting series will cover the fundamentals of lighting, the mechanics of 3 point lighting, lighting in the real world, kit and some vital technical subjects which themselves are fundamental to lighting.

Later series will cover the subjects of camerawork and composition–including, I promise you, things you will probably never have heard before.

And all of it will both give you the fundamentals and techniques which will enable you to produce professional cinematic-quality video without having to spend thousands on kit.


Subscribe at

Warm regards,


The Video Whisperer

What Does a Good Wedding Video Cost?

Interestingly, even though there are more expenses involved with wedding video production, rates for a good wedding video track pretty closely with good photography.

The reason a perception exists that wedding videos should be cheaper than photography is that there is a bigger glut of new videographers out there than there are new photographers.

To make it in photography, one generally needs some training background as well as a lot of experience. And the cost of cameras and lenses used by good photographers is relatively high.

Yet somehow newcomers to video feel they can get away with little training or experience. HD video cameras can be obtained for much less than the cost of a quality SLR, and many editing programs (such as iMovie) are free.

This is the YouTube generation and many of these new videographers are simply from the School of YouTube.  And it’s not a very good school.

Anyway, let’s get back to costs.

Costs and Quality

In both videography and photography, you can consider that there are broadly 5 different classes of product available:

(the following rates are summarized arbitrarily from a search of websites and blogs on the subject)

1) FREE  (Uncle Joe films or photographs your wedding).

2) BASIC (generally new, un-seasoned and unestablished videographers and photographers establishing their portfolio).  Rates: £350-£550

3) PROFESSIONAL QUALITY.  Trained and experienced professionals who know what they’re doing and can competently produce a quality product that won’t disappoint. Rates: £650-£1100

4) TOP PROFESSIONAL QUALITY.  Two factors influence this category: 1) specialized expertise gained from long experience in a particular genre, 2) equipment.  By equipment is meant not only top quality cameras, but specialized camera support systems similar to that used in Theatrical Film productions. Rates: £1200-£2500

5) UBER PROFESSIONAL QUALITY.  This refers to famous photographers who can charge whatever they want (typically in the 10s of thousands of pounds) and who are booked solid years in advance.  I’ve not yet heard of videographers having achieved this status, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

The Difference Between Videography and Photography

There is a difference. I say that because some videographers in the BASIC category as well as the PROFESSIONAL QUALITY category spend too much screen time shooting inanimate objects which they must think is “arty” or something.

Let the photographers do that.

Video is about capturing motion and telling a story.

And the fundamental conventions of that subject have been developed over the last 100 years. There are lots of books and texts on the subject and whatever has been written about cinematography is equally applicable to videography. It’s simply a different medium.

To give a perfect illustration of what I mean, please click on the video below. You don’t have to watch the whole thing. Just watch the FIRST SHOT and see the choreography of motion and emotion that unfolds in the first 20 seconds.

That’s video.

And that’s the sort of thing a good videographer captures and puts into your wedding video.

A photograph can’t do that.

So What About Video Costs?

I mentioned above that more expenses are involved with video. If nothing else,  those costs involve the hiring or paying of additional cameramen.

You simply can not produce a professional film of a live event with a single camera.  That’s what Uncle Joe can do (bless him). He’ll have to be zooming in and out and all over the place to get everything and it will make you dizzy. And he’ll miss half of it in the process.

In the PROFESSIONAL QUALITY category you will generally find that the company will provide at least two cameramen. That’s bare minimum. Better still is two cameramen and a 3rd unmanned camera shooting a wide shot of the church or ceremony.

Now assuming one camera is in a fixed position and assigned to the actual ceremony full time, the second cameraman is free to shoot alternate angles of the ceremony, shoot from 2 or 3 different positions in the venue to provide different viewpoints, and also shots of various of your family and guests. All that, done to a plan based on having attended the rehearsal, and with the footage from the unmanned 3rd camera, it is possible to produce a very professional video edit.

So, for about the same cost as a professional photographer, a professional videographer will automatically also be incurring the costs of at least one if not two additional cameramen.

Then to produce the video, he will have to import and synchronize as much as 4-5 hours of video (or more), in addition to separate digital audio recordings from devices placed on the groom or pastor (or both) and often one at the podium where speeches are made. Then he has to organize all of it in the editing program (electronically label everything) so it can be found when needed in the edit. Once edited, the sound has to be mixed, music added, titles, etc.  And this generally takes about a week full time for a given wedding.

You can start to see that at a rate of £950, with cameramen expenses taken out, the videographer is making probably less than £100/day to produce a wedding video.
And this is assuming that it is a professional who will go the extra mile to make sure it is something you will love and he will be proud of–as opposed to some sort of assembly line throw-it-together edit which wouldn’t be professional anyway.

A Little Story

I was actually prompted to write this article after a recent series of emails with a prospective client, a lovely girl who is trying to nail down all the major vendors for her wedding next year.

I wasn’t able to come down to her budgeted cost.  She was so persistent that I almost considered a compromise, but first asked her where the wedding was to take place. It turns out to be a huge beautiful church, almost a small cathedral.

I knew at once that I’d need a 3rd manned camera during the ceremony and told her so.

She protested, explaining that there were only 130 guests and that the wedding was to be held in a certain portion of the church.

Then I realized what she didn’t understand.

It wasn’t me trying to jack up the price.

It was me knowing by long experience that in a large beautiful venue like that, you can not cover it with one fixed camera on the ceremony (which is a must!) and only one other to shoot the various angles around the church (from the back to the front, from the front toward the back, audience shots, family shots, bridal entrance, etc.  One guy running around like a maniac trying to be in all the right places at the right time during a fast moving ceremony 1) couldn’t do it, 1) would be a distraction.

You split the task between two cameraman who can each have one or two different spots to shoot from at different times while still giving full coverage from various angles of the ceremony itself. And its’ all done according to shoot plan which is worked out during the rehearsal which is attended by the primary cameraman.

You can get away with two cameramen in a typical smaller church or venue, but in a large one with scope and grandeur, you’d be silly to not have at least 3 cameramen in addition to unmanned cameras.

Look at it this way: The location you’ve chosen is obviously an important and significant part of this very special day. You’ll expect it to feature as the backdrop to your wedding. Yet you’d be disappointed if so much time was spent on the church that you couldn’t see yourselves during the ceremony, and you’d be disappointed if so much footage was on the ceremony or flower arrangements that you never get to see the church, and you’d be very disappointed if the ceremony footage was always the same camera constantly zooming in and out on you….

The art of cinematography and videography has much to do with the seamless integration of multiple viewpoints from multiple cameras.  Two cameras can be made to look like 4 or 5 cameras if one has the freedom to change position. Three cameras can be made to look like 6 or 8 when two have the freedom to change position.

A good editor puts it all together so seamlessly you’re not even aware of the cameras. Instead you’re given the best possible opportunity to re-experience the event.

And a good videographer will automatically do all this without you’re having to ask.
So  in considering costs, don’t expect a professional video for less than £650 which is probably border-line for professional quality anyway.

And don’t expect one if the videographer only uses one manned camera.

And don’t use price as the only gauge. Look at their work!

Are they being glorified still photographers or calling attention to their marvelous qualities with fancy camerawork,

or are they capturing the essence of the wedding, cherished moments and emotions that bring tears to your eyes every time you watch?

Is the editing style seamless (you don’t even notice it because it flows so smoothly from one shot to the next) or is it distracting with dated electronic transitions and effects?

You do get what you pay for. But just like anything else, there are those who will charge you more than they’re product is worth.

You’ll know by their samples if they are good enough for your wedding.

Lighting For Video That Doesn’t Suck


I’ve been wanting to do some tutorial videos for a long time. Finally was able to get one done. This one is on lighting for video.

I, like many in the video production field, follow a number of different blogs on the subject of video and marketing.  If you’ve been there, you’ve seen the periodic rants from “professionals” about amateurs coming into the arena with cut prices and little talent with further rants about how the general business public are tolerating amateur video quality.

Like in politics, there’s a grain of truth in that.

And like politics, there are very few professionals left. In politics they used to be called “Statesmen”. And true statesmen never bothered too much with the general rants of press and opposition. They’d just get on with the job and improve things, educate and  lead people by example.

One of the untruths is that the general business public accept low quality. They don’t. Just low quality businesses do. And who wants them for clients anyway?

So maybe there’d be some benefit in providing some real practical knowledge so that those current amateurs (aspiring professionals) can learn a few of the basic conventions that have evolved over the past 100 years or so which form the bedrock of what makes a quality film or video that people will actually want to watch.

Part One is below. Part Two can be found here.

Wedding Video Critique–or–How to Choose a Wedding Videographer

Recently a colleague at the IOV (Institute of Videographers) requested a critique of some wedding videos. My reply could be of interest to those seeking wedding videographers

I thought I’d reply privately as “constructive criticism” can sometimes draw in a gang-bang of irrelevant comments on forums.

I watched the video you linked to and then watched half of the one on the home page of your site.

It looks like you’ve done quite a few wedding videos! So don’t think you have it all wrong.

I’ve never been influenced by other wedding videos I’ve seen particularly. My background and training is in cinematography and the disciplines of good story telling along with about 6 years of video documentary work and the need there to move in and out quick while thinking on your feet.

But my approach still goes back to the basics of cinematography. “Videography” is not really different, as it’s just a different medium, but I believe it has largely been influenced by the “MTV” age and also by a plethora of would-be movie-makers who, owing to the relative low cost of video equipment and editing programs, launch themselves into the field with no schooling except what they’ve seen on MTV or YouTube, etc. Their approach, therefore, can be a jumble of “gimmicky” shots edited with no sense and covered up with pointless electronic effects offered up by their editing programs.

I wrote a couple of related articles on my blog some time ago I’d like you to read:


Camerwork, Purpose of

Anyway I have only two observations that might be helpful, beyond what you may agree with or not in the two articles I wrote inasmuch as they may also be helpful to you.

First is that I see a tendency to record on video what is normally in the purview of wedding photographers.

Wedding photographers normally do all the “conventions”–photographing details and doing all the usual posed shots of the couple and entourage, etc.  I wouldn’t mix that up with doing video of the same or similar material.

Video is not really a glorified still photograph.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that you shouldn’t shoot these various set-ups as they are happening. I shoot everything–or as much as I can. It’s more because of the documentary aspect–meaning, one shoots as much as one can during a live event just to have the material to cover the edit. It doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to use these things, but your purpose for using them is different than the purpose of the still photographer.

Now let’s hold that thought for a minute…

My view of the end product of a wedding video is that it should distill down the essences of the event and meld together memorable images (memories) in an artistic fashion such that anyone watching it (even just Joe Blow off the street) would enjoy and be moved by it. But more importantly, the couple and their friends will want to watch it over and over and over again and experience the emotion again and again.

How long should it be? Well, that depends on the wedding and any particular requests of the couple. But I’d say even the grandest events in all aspects can be edited down to 30 minutes, more or less.  Ironically it takes much longer to do that than to just put it all in there, but will they want to watch a 60 minute or 90 minute pure record of the event with a few cutesy shots over and over again? I doubt it. Twice maybe. Friends and family, once.

It should have emotional impact and should present what they want to see or remember, not what the cameraman thinks is cool.

Along those lines, you know that many more moments than they will ever know which are recorded on your tape, are not really what they want to see or remember.

Sometimes it’s fleeting expressions, nervous gestures, or awkward stumbles and other things–right on down to the obvious (scratching an itch or whatever).

For example, in one of the two I watched, the groom really stumbled badly on part of the vows. While they might socially laugh about that, you must know that it’s really something that makes the groom cringe and which could make the bride “wonder”.  Those kind of things, wherever possible, I would cut out.

But it goes back to creating a moving montage of wonderful and poignant memories.

Part of that is “who was there”.  So going back to shooting photographer set-ups, I tend to use them to get close shots of the people, or two-shots or three-shots where they are interacting, for the purpose of including faces in the video I may have not gotten otherwise.  And I usually do all that kind of stuff in slow motion to their chosen song.  That’s just my approach–the ceremony (or the essential parts of it) real time and most of the rest in slow motion montages interspersed with any necessary real-time footage such as speeches, or highlights from speeches.

But the reason I do it that way is to create a piece that they will want to watch over and over because it’s got so many memories compacted into a short space.

Which brings me to a second point.  I feel that your shots go by too quickly. You’re editing nicely to the tempo of the songs, but, for the most part, you don’t need to cut on every beat. What happens there is that it’s all going by too quickly in terms of those memories they’d want to savor. It’s a subtle point, but just a bit too fast to allow the various bits to be soaked in.

I personally never stage anything. I prefer to try to capture as many good candid moments as possible while being as invisible as possible. That way they’re seeing themselves as they’ve never seen themselves before. If they’ve posed something, they’re not seeing anything they don’t already know.

However, you have some beautiful shots there–walking in the woods, etc.  So your eye is good–and I’m not saying to never do that. I’m just saying, consider using that eye more to capture moments without them ever knowing they were captured–and those moments will have a lot more emotional impact for them.

Again, it’s all about presenting an emotional memory package to those who want to share or re-experience the memories.  And when you accomplish that well, it will always exceed their expectations and they will always tell you so and you will know that they really mean it. And that, I feel, is the end product one should go for.

%d bloggers like this: