Talking Heads—Do We Need to See the Storyteller ?

The longer I do the video thing, the more I appreciate a shooter who can get a great interview out of an every-day person; the type of  subject who isn’t a media-savvy professional used to being on camera and giving soundbites. Although he is known for so many other visual things in the world of DSLR videography, Philip Bloom seems to be able to get great interviews out of ordinary people, which is just one of the many reasons I admire him.

Half the time,  I don’t know what Bloom is talking about when he’s comparing the finer points of “luts” and dynamic range in his camera reviews, but damn, that man can get ordinary people to bare their souls in a most eloquent way in his short mini-documentaries.

As a one-man-band in a hurry, I don’t have the luxury of multiple sessions with subjects. Half the time, I’m lucky enough that they will actually sit down and speak to me, or to my fixer if it’s in a foreign language.

In the above video, about the French cowboys called “gardians” I was three minutes into an audio-only interview when my subject was pulled away because one of his cowboys was injured by a bull. It all turned out okay, but when it happened, my subject bolted and I was stuck with what I had.

It’s probably a sign of my inexperience, but the best interviews I get from “regular” people are just audio-only interviews. I find people are much less inhibited when we’re sitting at a table with a microphone and an audio recorder, than when they have lights, two cameras, and a big boom pole over their head. And I’m a much better interviewer when I’m not checking composition and audio levels on two different cameras.

And the question I’m asking myself is: do we need to see the talking head to make our movies? Or can we just show a video headshot of the speaker and use mostly B-roll? I’m leaning towards the latter, because I’d rather have a compelling story than a nice-looking headshot. Ideally, I’ll learn to get both, but in the meantime, give me a strong audio only interview over a nervous talking head any day.!

12 thoughts on “Talking Heads—Do We Need to See the Storyteller ?

  1. Great article, after a lot of interviews for my channel I was wondering if I should be visibile while interviewing an artist, but it is the first time I am considering not to show the artist at all, it seems a little extreme but in extreme situations I will consider your advice, thank you

  2. In our videos, we almost never appear in any serious way. I do like the occasional fleeting Hitchcock cameo, usually dressed in my tuxedo T-shirt, but that’s about it.
    — jules

  3. It’s a visual medium. When used correctly, as you do, the video tells the story. Narrative has its role, but it’s subordinate.

    I’ve just come to your site as a new reader after the reference to it in Thom Hogan’s blog. Your work is superb!

    Each time I view something like the Bali story or the latest one, “Les Gardians”, I’m just awed by the visual quality. The idiot voice inside me keeps asking, “Which camera was that?” as the particularly juicy shots fly by. Of course I realize the proper question would be more like
    “Wow! How does he do that!”.

    Looks like you’ve nailed the editing part, too. He sees…he shoots…he scores!

    If you ever have any spare time (unlikely), consider putting together a paid tutorial site.

  4. I’ve been making documentary slide-shows, videos and other media for 40 years. About 25 for Nat Geo. You can see a few on my website. I have never used a talking head. They break the mood of transporting people into a story. Interviews can capture the soul. A talking head isn’t necessary. At least for me.

  5. I contacted you about 4 years ago asking a question about shooting video with a Nikon D7000 for my real estate business. At the time I was mesmerized by the quality of your videos using very basic equipment. You were so helpful to me as I was starting out and I will always be grateful for that. You helped me to see that all this video stuff is much less about fancy, expensive equipment, and much more about using whatever equipment one has well. I will forever be grateful for the emails we shared back then. Your new blog is wonderful. Thanks for continuing to share.

    Jim Coon
    Bend, Oregon

  6. I absolutely concur with you Bob. I frequently favor taking a gander at significant and excellent pictures with little as conceivable film of a talking head. You helped me to see that so much video stuff is considerably less about favor, costly hardware, and significantly more about utilizing whatever gear one has well. I will perpetually be appreciative for the messages we shared in those days. Your new blog is awesome. A debt of gratitude is in order for keeping on sharing. Extraordinary interpretation coincidentally!

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