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Making Remote Interviews Face-to-Face

By: Mich Donovan

Often in our course production, instructors wish to include video interviews with guests as part of their materials. While doing this in the studio is straightforward, often these guests are not able to join us on campus. In these cases, we rely on tools like Google Hangouts or Skype to facilitate the conversation, which while convenient, adds some complexity to making a great video. For those with access to DukeWiki, we’ve documented some of that process here.

For a recent interview, I¬†wanted to push our usual process further. If you’re familiar with Errol Morris documentaries, his interview subjects talk straight into the camera. Instead of the interviewer sitting off-camera, he uses a teleprompter-like device that displays the live video feed of the interviewer in front of the camera, which gives a deeper level of intimacy to the interview. With the tools we had, I wanted to see if we could do something similar.

Here’s the set-up I ended up with. We have our usual 4K camera/iPad teleprompter set-up, only I’ve swapped the iPad out with one of our LED monitors to display the video feed coming from a Google Hangout hosted on my Macbook Pro. An iPad would’ve been ideal, but there’s no way to use an external webcam (here mounted right on top of the teleprompter glass), and the built-in cameras simply wouldn’t face the right way for our interviewee to see us on his side of the Hangout. We filmed the interviewees in our studio, and they looked straight ahead at the camera the whole time as intended. This got me half-way to my goal.

The other piece was capturing the video of our interview subject. This is always tricky since we can’t easily control the set-up on the other end of the call and there’s not always time to fully test things out before the call. The ideal scenario is the interviewee can capture themselves locally with Camtasia, Quicktime, or similar software, at the same time as they are in Google Hangout. A lot can go wrong there, so I wanted to make sure we captured the video feed on our end as well. Between the Macbook Pro and the video monitor, we ran the Macbook Pro’s output through a Ninja capture device, which had a speaker hooked up to it so our interviewee’s could hear our subject. While the video quality would be reduced due to streaming compression, at least we had it if something went wrong with plan A.

With this much technology working in tandem, there’s bound to be hiccups. In this case, the issue that got me was a bit of audio feedback. In future set-ups, I would want to swap the speaker with a speakerphone that would eliminate this. There were some instances where I re-recorded elements in the studio after the call ended so that I could have a cleaner take of the interviewers giving a question. I’d additionally encourage the interview subject to use a similar device or use iPhone-like headphones to get around the same issue on the other end of the call.

Altogether, it came out pretty well:

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