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  • Interviewing people via Zoom/Skype

  • Bob Cole

    August 7, 2021 at 5:57 pm

    Back in the day, Errol Morris created what he called the Interrotron. He fed video of the interviewer into a teleprompter on the camera recording the interview, so that the interviewee could look directly into the lens. It was extremely powerful to see Robert McNamara looking right at you, as he confessed his shortcomings during the Vietnam War.

    I’ve noticed that this direct-to-camera imagery has become standard practice on the PBS News Hour. Interviews are conducted over Skype, and the interviewee is looking right into the lens. My naive question is: How do they do this? Because when I see someone on a Zoom session, he is talking to the screen BELOW the camera, not directly into it. Is this simply a result of a practiced public figure, who knows he has to look right into the lens? Or is there some trick involved? Perhaps as simple as using a smartphone rather than a laptop, decreasing the angle between camera and screen?

    The relevance of this question: Thanks to Covid-19, the old practice of sending a crew to create a professionally-recorded interview has declined. It’s cheaper/faster/more authentic to record interviews over the internet. I just did my first Zoom interview for a documentary, and I didn’t miss the hassle and expense of flying halfway across the country to do it.

    If someone has insights as to how to operate in this new Zoom/Skype world, and specifically, how to create the “Interrotron effect,” I would appreciate hearing from you.

    Bob C

  • Mark Suszko

    August 9, 2021 at 2:24 pm

    There are webcams that can be slung to hang in the center of a computer monitor, and there are mirror devices that do the same. If the monitor is large and the subject can sit a bit farther back, it’s easier. Also, teleprompter rigs are insanely inexpensive today; you could easily build one that’s tablet-based or phone-based, and make it something that’s mailable and easy to set-up at the guest end.

    You can build or print a webcam mount that hangs center-screen.

    I’m also getting occasional facebook ads for a fly-away remote system for very high end interviews that’s like a gigantic jack-in-the box: you plug it into AC power, the remote PTZ camera with prompter deploys, you connect a lav mic and bam. It even has built in soft lighting. and IFB connections. Expensive; you use this to interview movie stars and heads of state type deals. I didn’t retain much else about it, in much the same way I don’t keep a tight tally on various aspects of billion-dollar super-yacht interiors; Never gonna see one.

    But maybe the simplest way to go is: you don’t send video to the Skype type interview subject at all, or if you do, it’s a still graphic with an arrow pointing up to the webcam, as a reminder.

  • Steve Connor

    August 16, 2021 at 4:10 pm

    Yes, I second the “big arrow” technique. In the pre interview email, I ask the interviewee to have some post-it notes on hand, then, on the day, i ask them to draw an arrow pointing at the webcam and stick it on their screen! It’s a good icebreaker too.

  • Dan Baker

    August 18, 2021 at 1:33 pm

    Wow great thread! Not being able to look straight into the camera AND simultaneously at the person I’m talking to on the screen is an issue which frustrated me so much, I did something about it! I’ve invented the View-You Cam™. It’s the world’s only webcam you can move round the screen while talking to be people online, whether that’s a tv interview, an online meeting, whatever. You position your webcam right next to the face of the person you’re talking to and can then actually look at them on the screen while talking to them. It’s the closest you can get to a connected, meaningful online conversation, thanks to being able to make eye contact. Where are we at? We have a fully functioning prototype and are now looking for investment. If you want to know more (or better still, want to perhaps invest!), pop over to our website We are trade marked with patent pending, just need to find that investment now. Crowd funding didn’t work, so we are looking at more traditional investment routes. Any thoughts? Feel free to contact me [email protected].

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