By Dan O’Reilly-Rowe, 2009.
Casual interviews with people on the street are a common way of representing a range of public opinion on a topic. This type of street interview is sometimes called a “vox pop” (from the Latin vox populi, meaning “voice of the people”). The experience of walking up to random people in the street who you don’t know can be both intimidating and liberating. This workshop helps an inexperienced group tackle their first vox pop shoot by combining technical training in video and sound recording, interview technique training, in-group practice to build confidence, real-world practice, and a critical debrief.
No more than 5 participants per camera/mic kit. If equipment is limited, consider rotating groups of 2-5 on and off the street.
- Build proficiency in image recording, sound recording, and interview technique in a street interview situation.
1-2 workshops, 2-3 hours each workshop
- Video camera
- Digital recording media (eg tape, chip, drive…)
- Microphone (type depends on availability)
Intro to Vox Pop
- Screen various examples of vox pops. These could come from television news, documentary, or entertainment programs. (In Australia, Andrew Urban’s “Front-Up” series is made up nothing but vox pop!)
- Process the clips by discussing each in terms of:
- What do you see?
- How is the shot framed?
- How many cameras were used?
- Is the interviewer seen in the frame?
- Are there edits? Cutaways to other images?
- What’s in the background of the shot?
- Do you think a tripod was used?
- What titling/graphics appear?
- How has the raw interview been edited?
- What do you hear?
- How do you think the interview was mic’ed?
- Is there a separate mic on the interviewer and interviewee, or just one?
- Who’s holding the mic?
- Do you hear any background noise?
- What type of mics would be best to use on the street? (see workshop Microphone Check)
- Interview Technique:
- What do you notice about how the questions are asked?
- Do you see the interviewer? If so, what do you notice about their body language?
- Were the questions prepared ahead of time or made up on the spot?
- How do you perceive the personality (mood? temperament? attitude?) of the interviewer?
- Where did the crew choose to do the interview? Why?
- Use these processing questions to help participants notice a range of options that are possible in developing their own vox pop style. Note that there is not one correct way to go about doing a street interview, rather a range of choices that a production crew should be conscious of in their planning.
- Discuss the particular use of vox pops as a creative decision.
- Why interview people on the street?
- Compare vox pops with “expert” interviews.
- Using the Image, Sound, Interviewcategories, write some general best practices for vox pop on butcher’s paper. Examples could include:
- Make use of available light (eg sreet lamps), avoid backlight.
- Consider what’s in the background of a shot.
- Tripods are not often used in vox pop. Keep a steady hand.
- If you move from one location to another, you might need to do a white balance again.
- Always use headphones to monitor sound.
- Select a microphone that is portable and will cut out background noise.
- If using a handheld mic, remember to hold it at an appropriate distance from the speaker’s mouth.
- Interview Technique:
- Ask questions in a way that encourages description. Yes/no doesn’t work on screen.
- Decide in advance if the interviewer will appear.
- Prepare questions, but listen well and ask follow-up questions.
- Give interviewees lots of space to respond. Pause at the end of their response.
- Don’t talk over responses.
- Think about what your attitude will be before heading out. Will these be confrontational, argumentative vox pops, or will the interviewer appear neutral?
- Consider how you will approach potential interviewees. Be prepared to answer the question “What is this for?”
- Find a good location and approach people as they pass you. Be gracious and move on when people are not interested.
- Divide the group into production teams of 2-5, depending on equipment availability.
- Each team should come up with a set of questions. These could be on a topic of their choice or a topic that the group is exploring. Facilitators give feedback on the questions.
- Think about what role each of the crew members will have on the shoot. Depending on the number of people in the crew, roles might have to be doubled up (eg one person might monitor sound, and ask questions, and handle the mic, while another operates camera). Roles could include:
- camera operator
- sound recordist (mic handler)
- cable puller
- producer (approaching interviewees, coordinating crew members)
- Ideally all crew members should rotate roles so that each person gets a chance to do each role.
- Give each crew a complete camera kit, and have them check that all their gear is working by setting it up and doing a test shoot. Facilitators give feedback on camera work, microphone handling, and interview technique.
- Discuss legal issues. Facilitators should do research in advance on what local laws have to say about recording interviews on the street. You may also want to prepare release forms, or have interviewees grant permission for the use of their likeness on camera.
- Discuss crew security. Shooting on the street with people previously unknown to the group is a relatively high-risk activity. Come up with some ground-rules that are appropriate to the age group and context of your shoot to ensure a safe, yet challenging experience.
(Optional) Practice Shoot
- On index cards, write a set of types of behaviour that the vox pop crew could possibly encounter from interviewees. These could include things like:
- “Only wants to answer YES or NO”
- “Talks a lot”
- “Very excited to be on televsion”
- “Can’t stop laughing”
- “Doesn’t speak English”
- “Talks off-topic”
- “Speaks very quietly”
- “Asks questions back to the interviewer”
- Distribute cards to each person in the group, and instruct them to keep their identity secret until the end. Crews take turn role-playing a vox pop from start to finish, including the initial request for an interview, Q & A, ending the interview.
- After each crew has done their role-plays, process by discussing what challenges they experienced (either as a result of their work as a team, technical issues, or because of strange things that the interviewee did), and give constructive feedback on how they can improve their vox pops on the street.
On the Street
- A facilitator should accompany each team, and should give encouragement and advice to the production crew before and after each interview. Refrain from correcting or giving advice to the crew in the middle of an interview.
- Approaching interviewees can be extremely difficult for many people, especially if they receive a high number of rejections early on. Encourage persistence. One common delaying tactic that inexperienced vox poppers use is to spend a lot of time looking for the perfect location for their shoot. Encourage the crew to find a well-trafficked spot with a suitable shooting environment and to stay there until they have gotten a certain number of interviews.
- Try and get a range of demographics represented in your shoot. Challenge the group if you notice them passing by certain types for another (eg avoiding older people, only approaching younger people).
- Once all crews have re-assembled, discuss how the experience was in general terms.
- Was it difficult to find interviewees willing to talk?
- Did the street environment pose any particular challenges?
- How did the crews work together?
- Screen segments (possibly just one interview) from each team. After each interview, reflect and give feedback using the image/sound/interview categories. Discuss the decisions that each group made, their thinking behind each decision.
- What have we learned from this experience?
- How would you do vox pops differently next time?
- Congratulate the group on tackling a difficult and intimidating task.
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