Transcribing the interviews, finding the story – Part 12: How to make a (good) promotional film
Transcribing the interviews, finding the story – Part 12: How to make a (good) promotional film

Transcribing the interviews, finding the story – Part 12: 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.


Congratulations! You’ve done your day of filming so the stressful part is over. It’s now time to take what you’ve shot and start turning it into a film. The first step is to look at the interviews. This is where you’re going to shape your story.


Transcribing: DIY or online service

You can either transcribe the interview(s) yourself or upload to an online service. The decision really comes down to time and budget.

Online services are quick and relatively cheap. The downsides are waiting for it to be done (if you choose a slower, cheaper option) and if your topic is industry specific then they may have some quirky interpretations of the technical words! If you’re super lucky, your editor may even have the software to do transcriptions without needing an external service.

If you’re on a mega tight budget there’s an opportunity for a little bit of cost saving by doing it yourself. However, it will take you a lot longer than a professional, so be sure to weigh up that cost benefit.

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Adding a time code

If you’re working with a professional editor (I will stress later that I think this is a must) then ask them to create a file of the interview with the sound files synced and a time stamp over the video. This means whoever is transcribing can refer to the time stamp as a common reference point.

You can then upload this file to your online transcription service, or use it yourself.

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DIY transcribing

If you’re doing it yourself then plug in some headphones, download that video file so you can use the play/pause key on your keyboard (that doesn’t work when streaming) and get up a word document.

Play through the video until the first question. Mark down the timecode just before your interviewee starts talking. Then transcribe their answer. Write each answer in separate sections with the time stamp at the beginning. This will give your editor a reference point when you start moving things about.



Whether you’re doing it yourself or paying for it to be done professionally, here are some formatting tips:

  • Add the timecode at the start of every answer.
  • Don’t bother transcribing your questions (it doesn’t matter what you asked, it matters what they answered).
  • Mark up accurately what they say with repeated words (from… from), hesitations (…) or other errors (from reaching…sorry… research). This will help you see how clear an answer is when you’re later choosing what sections to use in your edit.
  • Mark any sound interference [CRASH]. Again, so you know how clean an answer actually is.
  • If you’re using a transcription service this usually means ticking the ‘verbatim’ option.

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Reviewing the transcription

Once you have your transcription, it’s time to go through and mark it up. Play the interview video from the beginning again, and choose a highlight colour (if you have more than one interview, highlight them each in their own colour).

Every time they say something that is on message and sounds good, highlight that section. It doesn’t have to be the whole answer, just the bit you liked. That might mean the first sentence from an answer, and then the last sentence – missing out the middle section. It might even be part of one answer and another part of a completely different answer that fits together nicely.

Edit as you go, so if they say the same thing but better a bit further down, highlight the new answer and un-highlight the earlier option.

You’ll want to have your key messages document with you as you do this. It’s usually quite easy to tell which bits are interesting and engaging, but sometimes a message is so important that you’ll have to find a section that covers it, even if it’s not said in an ideal way.

Save this document as it is ­– your editor can use it to find your desired selects. And you might want to revisit it later if you’re looking for an extra section.

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Gathering the ‘best bits’

Once you’ve gone through and made all of your highlights, copy and paste those sections out into a clean document. Make sure you keep the time codes with each section.

I then save a copy of this document as is, without any further editing, so you’ve got something to go back to if you get in a muddle or are looking for something you later delete.


Paper edit

It’s time to start finding the story. I always feel this is a bit like carving a sculpture or sieving for gold: the story is in there, you just have to work through the content enough until it shows itself.

I often start by rearranging all the segments (keeping their timecodes with them!) into a structure. I’ll put down headings (e.g. how we started; how it works; customers; benefits etc) and then copy and paste each answer selection under the correct heading (sometimes you’ll put one part under two different headings, that’s ok).

From there, I’ll either pick out the sections I want to build a story that makes sense. Or, I’ll ruthlessly cut out all of the non-essential parts, and what’s left will make the story. The story will emerge: trust the process.

Once you’ve got a story that works, this is your paper edit.

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Cutting it down further

Once I have a story that seems to flow and make sense, I give it to the editor to make a video ‘paper edit’.

To do this they’ll need the original transcription and your paper edit. They’ll then collate what you’ve made on paper using the actual video clips.

When you get this back it’s best not to watch it, as it’ll jump all over the place. But use it to listen to the audio, and to check the length.
Take a look at an example…



Your first edit will be too long. You’ll have selected everything that is relevant and tells the story, and it might be 6 or more minutes long.

So now it’s time to cut. Be ruthless. A paper edit will run at about 1 minute shorter than a finished film will be (once you put in pauses etc). For promotional films you want to aim for a final length of under 3min 30s, so ideally you want a paper edit at 2min 30s. 

You can cut out whole sections that aren’t key. You can also shorten each answer. This is similar to the editing you do with writing to make it more concise. Think: what point are they making, do you need all those words to make it? Often just the first and last thing someone says makes a point, and the middle is waffle that you can cut. Don’t be afraid to splice out, creatively and splice together. Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 15.19.56

Having enough footage

This form of story construction means that you will have a lot of cuts in what your interviewee is saying. Remember, if you cut them mid-sentence then you can’t ‘see’ them for that section. You don’t want any of those jump cuts to show in the finished film (because it looks horrible and reminds your viewer that they’re watching something quite heavily curated).

This is why it is essential to get enough footage of the plant, process, people working etc. If you don’t have much additional footage, then you’ll need to stay ‘on’ the person talking a lot more. And if you’re doing that, you can’t cut up what they’re saying in the same way.


Final paper edit

Keep cutting, and getting your editor to produce new versions to listen to, until you get it right.

The story should flow and make sense. You should remain engaged while listening to it. And it should sound like the person is talking continuously – some cuts might work on paper, but really don’t in real life.

This is now the final framework that’s going to be used to create the film.

See how this paper edit lays the foundation for the whole film…


If you’re working for a client, or if you need sign-off from other people in your organisation, this is a good check-in point.

Ideally, you want to know that this isn’t going to change again once the editor starts the picture edit. It’s easy to make changes now. It’s much harder once the editor has carefully worked all the sequences together.

If you’re sending the video file for approval, be sure to warn the people looking at it that this isn’t what it’s going to look like, and that the final version will be more spaced out and have visuals! I usually advise them just to listen and not watch.


Now you’ve got your paper edit, you’re ready to start the picture edit! Up next – Part 13: Picture edit


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