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How to interview a loved one at home

Capturing video and audio of our loved ones is a treasure that will become more valuable the longer it is preserved. Our Legacy Interviews are professional grade recordings with high end video and audio. 

We think it is a worthwhile investment, but our level of quality is not required, in fact you can do a Legacy Interview with what you have at home right now.

Capturing quality video

Which camera should I use?

The best camera is one that has 3 qualities:

  1. Easily stays in the same place A camera that is easy to aim at the subject and not have to worry about it moving (this can be solved with a tripod or something holding the camera (or phone) is the most important. A camera that tips over or moves off the subject is very frustrating if you are in the middle of the conversation. This is why a computer camera can be a good option, because they will stay put!

  2. Has PLENTY of storage space I would rather have 3 times the amount of space I need with lower quality video than to have high quality video and run out of storage. You may get all the way done and realize that the last 20% was cut off. If you use your computer or phone, do not guess if you have enough storage, run a test of a video for twice as long as you think you will need to make sure that you have enough space. After the recording is done you can just delete the file but it will give you total peace of mind that you won’t fill up if the conversation goes deeper and longer than you expected. 

  3. Won’t be interrupted If you are using your phone or computer, make sure you turn off all notifications, wifi, and ability to get calls. Some video recorders will stop if a call comes up, or your battery gets below 20%. You may not even get a notification. Most camcorders won’t have this problem, but phones and computers are easily stopped, and you may not know it till afterwards

Where to put your camera

The best camera is one that can be placed so that it captures the subject from the bottom of the rib cage up. The eyes should be about ⅓ from the top of the screen making sure you leave a little room above the head so it the subject sits up the top of their head won’t be out of the shot.

If you are the interviewer, you want to sit in front of the camera so that it is shooting over your shoulder. Ask your guest to look at you when they are talking. It will make the scene more comfortable and authentic than asking them to look at the camera. Make sure that if you get a little uncomfortable sitting that you won’t move in front of the camera when you shift your weight.

Lighting is more important than you think

Most people think that great video comes from expensive cameras, but the truth is that most phones are capable of shooting movie grade films. The secret to quality video is knowing how to use light. There are many videos on YouTube about this subject but the best advice if doing a simple setup is:

  1. Use at least two lights two lights will help give the camera everything it needs to capture non-grainy footage and it will eliminate shadows that can make a person look old or tired.

  2. Use some diffusion to make the light look soft Soft light is created when a strong light source (like a lightbulb lamp) is put behind a thin material so that there isn’t too much light shown on one part of the subject’s face. You can use a thin scarf or even a bedsheet in between the light and the person. When people have soft light on them, they look more human and real.

  3. Natural light is beautiful but it changes People often look their best when they are seated near a well lit window, however if you are doing a long interview, the light may change dramatically or the sun may even set, leaving you with a really weird look at the end. If you are going to interview near a window, make sure the light won’t shine it too directly or won’t be gone part way through your interview.

Capturing Quality Audio

We naturally think that video is the most important, but the reality is that if the audio is poor quality, people simply can’t listen.  You can ignore bad video but audio that is too loud or soft is annoying and audio that has screeches, buzzes or a lot of noises will be turned off by almost everyone.  To care for your audio we have the following advice.

  1. Don’t record a lot of echos Recording in a room with high ceilings or a lot of hard flat surfaces will cause your voices to be picked up by the microphone and a split second later the echo will be picked up- this is one of the most annoying sounds for humans to hear. Choose a room that doesn’t have a lot of echo, or consider putting some blankets or pillows on the ground or on the surface of countertops to milit how much echo there is in the room.  It may look a little silly but it will make a huge impact on your recording. 

  2. Have a dedicated microphone You should not rely on the microphone of your phone or computer to pick up sound if it is far enough away to get the right size of video. The sound will be low and it will pick up all kinds of other noises that will be a distraction. You can either have a bluetooth or wired headphones with a microphone OR consider setting a second phone in front of the guest and use the voice recorder to capture it. If you have a microphone be careful that it isn’t rubbing on clothes or being regularly bumped.

  3. Be prepared to do a little editing to combine audio and video If you use a second audio device you may need to do some video editing to combine the video and the audio, there is a lot of free software on the internet to allow this (including Apple’s iMovie). This may take a little bit of work to learn how to merge the two together, but the audio and video will look and sound considerably better.

Asking the right questions

Interviews come down to how the guest feels when they are being asked questions. Most people have never had a chance to reflect on their entire life, and this may be the first time they have ever imagined that someone 50 to 100 years in the future will hear about their life. There is a flow to getting people to open up and that flow comes from the questions you ask.

We have a list of thought starter questions here, but if you want to ask your own questions, consider the following tips.

  1. Questions should be open ended but also specific enough to get a person thinking. Asking a question like “tell me about your childhood” is too vague for most people to know what to say. Instead as a question that will direct their thinking, “who was your best friend when you were growing up?” This type of question will bring a person and a time to mind. This allows a person to be more specific and feel comfortable they are giving you what you want.

  2. Invite people to tell stories. People are willing to talk in vague generalities  but it doesn’t create something compelling to listen to. Consider the difference between the question “what values are important to you?” vs. “tell me about a time when your values were tested.” A person asked about being tested may not have an answer that immediately springs to mind, but if they do, the story will have embedded into it life lessons that are timeless and interesting.

  3. Don’t worry if a person doesn’t like a question Guests can feel like they are under pressure to give insightful answers and if you ask a question they don’t have a good answer to, they may push back on you. This is fine, Ask another question and be clear that it is no big deal, you have lots of things you want to hear about. 

  4. Go where their emotions are. Laugh when people say something funny, if they are pausing to fight back an emotion let them have time, if they are crying offer a tissue. When in doubt you can always ask “what are you feeling right now?” Don’t rush the moment, the pause itself can say a lot. If they feel like you are not judging and still open, they will share more. The stuff they share during emotional moments are deeply valuable to the future.

  5. The interview itself changes people. Sometimes people will be experiencing a memory or emotion that they have never put into words. Remember most people go most of their lives never being listened to, the fact that you are asking and putting work into recording these thoughts will prompt a person to look back, and they may see things they haven’t seen before.

  6. End on a positive note. Whatever emotion your guest feels for the last 3-5 minutes is how they will remember the interview when they look back on it.  Towards the end of a Legacy Interview I often ask people about the most difficult lessons they had to learn or about their thoughts on death/dying, but I never end on those questions. Instead I ask people to tell me about the last time that they laughed really hard, or to tell me about something joyful they will always remember. This creates levity and even if their interview has been filled with difficult stories, this ending allows them to recalibrate.

When you finish an interview, always assure the person that you enjoyed listening and that they did a good job. I’ve never had an interview not go well, not because I am amazing, but because these interviews are impactful things in and of themselves. I also tell them that if there is anything they think about that they want removed, that is not a problem. I’ve only ever had one story removed but most people feel better knowing they can look back and make changes. 

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