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How to Make Good "Person on the Street" Videos

Tips to improve one of the most useful kinds of videos.

Check out this new content from Midnight Oil Productions.

One of the easiest ways for churches to start creating great video for worship is to begin with the "Person on the Street" interview. Made popular by Jay Leno on NBC's The Tonight Show, the "Person on the Street" is usually fun, entertaining, and educational—all at the same time. It's a great way to get a finger on the pulse of the culture at large. It's also a great way to start worship (or, in some cases, keep it moving). We've compiled a list of some of our best tips that will aid you in creating your own Person on the Street (or POTS) videos. These come from personal experience; we hope you find them helpful.

Before you shoot

Find a good interviewer. The best interviewers are ones who have some charisma. Whoever asks the questions needs to feel comfortable both on camera and in approaching and striking up conversation with complete strangers. It's also an asset to use someone who can think quickly on his or her feet. The ability to make funny comments or to ask follow up questions is a crucial addition to the finished video. In fact, the stronger the "personality" in front of the camera, the more the editor will have the option to integrate the interviewer into the cut. We've also found that sticking with the same interviewer over multiple POTS videos is beneficial, because the interviewer develops a style and the congregation will begin to look forward to seeing the same person in that role.

Pick a good question. The easier and more universal the question, the better the answers will be. Always look for questions that will elicit an open-ended answer.

Stay away from issue-centered questions, such as "Is abortion wrong?" or "Should gay marriage be legal?" POTS videos work well when their purpose is to enlighten congregations on the state of the culture, and not to create divisions with hot-button issues.

Avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no, such as "Is there absolute truth?" or "Do you ever pray?" When people are allowed simple one-word answers, the interviewer is put into a position of having to badger someone to elicit a more detailed response.

Avoid the use of "believer" language, such as "What are you called to in life?" and heavy questions that would alienate seekers, such as "Are people naturally sinful?" or "What is the meaning of life?" If you can't come up with a funny, interesting, or thought-provoking answer right away, chances are people on the street won't be able to either.

In our experience, good examples of POTS questions include: "What is heaven?", "What is grace?", "What does God look like?", and "What do you hope for?" Try to think of questions that might allow a person to answer without pressure, but will cause them to think on the question as they continue through their day.

Choose a good location. Large downtown areas work great. You'll find that indoor places such as malls, airports, and schools will usually kick you out. Sometimes you can get permission to shoot in these types of establishments, but more often than not, they don't like you "harassing" their customers.

Use an external microphone. Don't rely on the microphone mounted in or on the camera. You'll pick up too much ambient noise from the surrounding environment, and if it's windy, you might not be able to make out what the subject is saying at all.

When you shoot

Ask everyone you see. People who look like they might not answer will sometimes give you the most interesting responses. Sometimes even those who reject you might give a response that is usable in the finished piece. We've even included rejections in videos, both as cutaways for pacing purposes and to convey to the congregation that what they are seeing is what really happened, and not a one-sided representation.

Get permission. When you interview someone, you usually need their permission to include their answer on the finished piece. After asking the question, ask for permission on camera to get a verbal "okay." Don't do it beforehand unless you want fewer responses and more "church-y" responses. Try to avoid anything that could make someone give a less-than-candid answer. The quicker the reaction from people, the more likely you are to get candid answers.

How to get permission: Some producers prefer that that a subject fills out a waiver after answering the question. The challenge with written waivers is that most of the time you'll only have about 10 seconds to get a response, and many people who are willing to answer on camera don't want to take the extra time to fill out paperwork. We have discovered that simply asking on-tape permission for use of their answer in a non-broadcast video will suffice.

Another rule used in the broadcast news world is called "implied consent." This rule basically says that if someone is in a public place and chooses to answer questions, then they have granted consent for you to use their answer. Many news stations employ this approach. If you feel more comfortable with written permission, however, hide the papers until after the question is answered. Then leave another crew member with the person to fill out the waiver while the shooting teams moves on to more subjects.

Shoot more than you think you need. Once you feel like you have enough answers, shoot a dozen more. Nothing is worse than getting back to the editing suite only to find that a few of your good answers aren't useable because of any number of problems. It could be bad audio, someone across the street mooning the camera, a curse word that you didn't hear when you originally heard the answer, and things much worse. Getting those extra shots can save you.

Shoot lots of good B-roll. B-roll is cutaway footage, like the footage you'd see on the news when a reporter is illustrating his or her voiceover with shots of the scene. Shooting B-roll helps you capture the location of where you shot the POTS interview, but more importantly, it gives you editing choices later.

Keep the interview team small. Using two people is the best option: an interviewer and a camera operator. Having an entourage of people hanging out in the background can make potential interviewees uncomfortable. If you prefer written consent waivers, have a third person whose sole purpose is to handle the forms.

Set your camera up correctly. Although many cameras have greatly improved automatic features from only a few years ago, it is still dangerous to simply turn on a camera and begin taping. Having said that, tinkering with camera controls is a good way to miss out on important answers. In a POTS shoot, camera operators need to be able to quickly respond to the movements and actions of the interviewer, who is responding to the movements and actions of multiple subjects. Before you begin taping, capture a good white balance of the environment, set your camera to auto-iris, and then only worry about focus while shooting. Lapses in the action make good opportunities to check your settings, but make any changes, such as re-white balancing, quickly. Nothing ruins good answers more often than bad videotaping, so the best way to avoid these kinds of maddening problems in post-production is to let a good camera do most of the work for you.

In the editing room

Start strong. Create an intro still or motion graphic that includes the question you're asking, set to a fun and catchy music track. You may also set up the question with an introduction by the interviewer.

Keep it short and keep it moving. Frequently, novice editors make their pieces too long and drawn out. Pacing is the primary characteristic that separates edit quality. POTS interviews are best when they move quickly from answer to answer with a few B-roll breaks spread throughout. Keep the answers short and snappy (think sound bites). The best total length for a completed video is about two to three minutes. Anything beyond that can feel long and lose momentum, which is the worst thing that can happen to a video made for worship. Use music from time to time throughout the piece to keep it moving. A good soundtrack is a must.

Be fair and balanced. Don't sway the answers in any one direction. Take a fair sampling of answers—both positive and negative—to represent what people on the street are really feeling.

Avoid being preachy. The temptation for editors is sometimes to make the video preach the sermon. Use the POTS video to set the tone, ask some questions, and set up the message. Its purpose is to capture the pulse of your community by raising questions, not by attempting to provide answers.

Make it funny. Add as much humor as you can. In general, video can never be too funny, and humor works well with POTS videos.

End strong. Save your most thought-provoking and funniest answers for last. We've found that most of the time we know while shooting the interviews which answer will be the one we save for the end. Many times that answer will be humorous.

So now that you know the ropes, pick a question, grab your camera, and hit the street. As with most things in life, the more you do this, the better you'll get, and your congregation will soon begin to look forward to your "Person on the Street" videos.

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