Asking the questions – Part 11: How to make a (good) promotional film
Asking the questions – Part 11: How to make a (good) promotional film

Asking the questions – Part 11: How to make a (good) promotional film

This is the latest instalment in our How To Make A (Good) Promotional Film series. If you missed previous posts or want to go right back to the beginning and find out what it’s all about, click here. New instalments will be released every Friday. Click here to have them emailed straight to your inbox the moment they go live.


Interviewing isn’t easy. You have to ask good questions; review the answers as they come; repeat questions if necessary; keep a mental track of everything that has been said; remember the key messages you’ve agreed; mentally edit the interview as you go; AND keep the interviewee confident and relaxed. Doing all that without going cross-eyed is the real art!


Getting started

  • Have a casual chat with the interviewee while the crew set up. Try to get them relaxed, suss out their mood and style, and maybe chat over the key messages to see what might make them open up or get excited.
  • Before you start, remind the interviewee of why you’re doing this, how you’re going to approach it, and how it’s going to be used.
  • Tell the interviewee to be relaxed but passionate. I usually tell them to pitch the style as if we’re chatting at a networking drinks event – enthusiastic enough to make me want to know more, not so much detail that I’ll get bored and walk away!
  • Remind the interviewee that your questions aren’t included (if, like in our films, they’re not). You need actual sentences – ‘Yes’ is not a usable answer!
  • Stay relaxed, show them that you are in control and they don’t need to worry about anything but talking to you. The worst kinds of interviews are when the speaker is also trying to mentally track their answers and edit what they say. A natural flow of conversation sounds best.


Writing the questions

  • Your list of questions should cover all the points you need to create the story.
  • To create a list of questions, first write out your key messages and a description of the story. Then jot as many questions as you can think of. Each question should prompt them to tell some part of that story or cover a key message.
  • It’s good if your questions overlap, and you ask the same thing but in different ways. Someone might not open up to ‘what does your company do?’, but they might get really enthusiastic when asked ‘what issue are you tackling?’.
  • Once you’ve drafted all your questions, rearrange them into an order that makes sense. Consider breaking them into topical chunks. That will make it easier for you to run through them in a way that feels natural. Grouping also means that if they covered everything you need in one answer, you can consider skipping similar questions.


Asking the questions

  • Have your printed list of questions. Don’t bury yourself in it, but have it there as a prompt so you can keep the interview moving.
  • Have a list of ‘key points’ that you have to cover, mentally tick these off as you go through.
  • To keep the interview flowing and feeling natural, pick up on what was said at the end of the last answer: So how does that work? Who are those customers? Why do those customers come to you? etc.
  • If an answer is long, waffly, off-point or includes notable mistakes or hesitations, a useful response is: That was great, how would you summarise that?
  • The second answer is often better. You can either repeat questions straight away, OR you can cover all questions, then go back to the beginning and ask them again. If you don’t do repeats, you’ll kick yourself when you come to edit and think ‘if only they’d said that a little bit clearer!’. I usually interview for around 40 minutes to get content for a three-minute film.


General hints and tips

  • The interviewee will follow your energy, so give the energy you want to see in the interview: relaxed, serious, professional, casual, enthusiastic, personable etc.
  • Keep eye contact and keep smiling. It will show in their expression on camera.
  • Act like you genuinely found the answer interesting, this keeps the person motivated. Don’t bury your head in your question sheet.
  • Don’t speak over them! Once they finish talking, wait a beat before you chime in with ‘Great, next question!’ (Otherwise the editor will hate you)
  • Think on your feet and be adaptive. If a particular phrasing of the question isn’t working, ask it a different way. Or leave questions and come back to them.
  • If your interviewee isn’t breaking out of ‘formal presenter’ mode, you can try to trick them into being a human. Break your style and act as if you’re asking a question informally: ‘Hang on, just for my own understanding, do you guys actually make this stuff?
  • If you’re not enjoying the interview or aren’t interested in what they’re saying, then chances are that the viewer won’t enjoy it either.
  • Keep going until they relax, open up and get passionate, and then stay in that energy and keep pushing. That’s the gold dust!


Once you’ve got your interviews, you need to work through them to find the story. So up next – Part 12: Transcribing the interviews, finding the story.


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