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You Can Do “Man on the Street” Interviews Like the Pros

Jesse Watters, Caleb Bonham, Jay Leno. What do they have in common?

They do “man on the street” interviews. And you can too!

All you need is a video camera or smartphone, some questions, and people to interview.

Doing “man on the street” interviews is a great way to get entered into our Summer Video Contest. You could win prizes including a trip to Washington, D.C.

Here are our top ten tips to help you get going:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but come prepared

If you’ve seen Jesse Watters ask people questions on Watters’ World, you know he comes prepared with questions. You also know they don’t have to be that complicated.

Do your research before you conduct man on the street interviews and prepare questions in advance.

Questions Prepared

You can ask your questions in any number of ways. For instance, you might share a fact and ask them for their thoughts.

  • Did you hear our town’s District Attorney was recently arrested for DUI?

You can also quiz people.

  • How high is the national debt?
  • How many people are on the town council?

People always have opinions about local and national issues too.

  • What should we do about the town’s budget shortfall?
  • Do you support or oppose the Governor’s education plan?
  • What are your thoughts on immigration reform?

Sometimes simple questions get the best responses.

Caleb Bonham of Campus Reform knows this well. He’s a judge for our Summer Video Contest. Look at some of his videos for good examples of using fact-based questions.

caleb bonham

When asking your questions, you may want to tailor them to your audience. For example, if you are filming at an immigration rally, you will likely want to ask questions about immigration.

Make sure you ask for a person’s name, where they are from, and, if applicable, why they are attending the event you are filming at.

2. Respect people’s space and don’t be pushy

Don’t be a jerk when asking people questions. Don’t shove your camera in someone’s face, don’t stand right up next to them, and don’t make people feel uncomfortable.

Respect the Hula Hoop

As a general rule of thumb, pretend they are hula hooping. Don’t get any closer than you could if they were. Respect people’s personal space. Respect the hula hoop!

By standing that distance, you should be able to get a nice shot. Not too close, but not too far away.

3. Don’t ask gotcha or leading questions

Nothing ruins an interview like gotcha or leading questions. The people you try to interview won’t be pleased, and you’ll have a hard time getting good answers.

Gotcha

If someone answers a question differently than you would, that doesn’t mean you should start a line of “gotcha” questions. Ask them a follow up, but be polite. If someone is clueless, it will be obvious from the video. No need to embarrass them any more.

Leading questions are a bit different, but just as bad. Don’t ever suggest a correct answer in a question.

Don’t ask a question like this:  “Isn’t Obamacare terrible for America?” Instead, ask the following: “Is Obamacare good or bad for America?”

Also, unless you are a comedian, don’t ask questions with a false premise like “Do you think Obama will win the Democratic primary to run for his third term?”

4. Go to a place with lots of people

This is pretty obvious, but if you want to get people to appear on camera, you need a large group of people to draw from. You’ll have a much better chance of getting a variety of responses.

Follow the Crowd

This is one time when it’s good to “follow the crowd.” Try to interview a variety of people, not just one demographic.

Go to public meetings, town halls, protests, parades, community events, and popular public places to find willing participants.

5. Let people answer (don’t interrupt)

Another thing that ruins man on the street interviews: interruptions. Though you may be the “star” of the video in a sense, when asking questions, the video is not about you. Put the focus on the person being interviewed.

Jesse WattersJesse Watters of Fox News is a great example. Even though he’s a famous interviewer, he rarely interrupts and allows his subjects to speak.

6. Add visual elements to your questions

Pictures, graphs, props, and costumes are a great way to grab people’s attention. They can also help you ask questions.

Jaywalking

Jay Leno did this a lot on The Tonight Show‘s ‘Jaywalking’ segment. In the image above, he asks a woman to point to France on a map.

7. Practice at home with family and friends

Practice makes perfect, and who better to practice with than your friends or family members. It’s low-pressure, plus if they love you they’ll be willing to help.

family gathering

And even if they aren’t willing to help, they probably will anyway. Do everything as if you were interviewing a member of the public, and don’t forget to practice filming with your camera. Practicing in front of the mirror is also helpful.

When you go out to do it for real, you may want a helper, so recruit a family member for friend! Sometimes it can be difficult to interview someone and hold the camera at the same time.

8. Hold your camera the right way

This is a simple tip, but it will make all the difference. If using a smartphone or handheld camera, you want the frame to be horizontal.

LIKE THISNOT LIKE THIS

So many people hold their phone the wrong way when filming. Don’t make that mistake.

9. Get some background footage (B-roll)

You don’t have to make your video look exactly like the pros, but some background footage, or B-roll, might look nice. Film a little bit of the area where you are conducting the interviews.

best-b-roll

You don’t always have to shoot, B-roll, but it can’t hurt. If anything, it’s a good way to practice using your camera.

10. Save the original video

This isn’t likely to happen, but someone you interview might claim you took them out of context. Save the video so you can prove them wrong.

Save Original

If you have the proof, you’ll be fine. Save early and often, keep all your original video, and back up your files on your computer if possible.

If you have any more questions about videos, contact us at info@watchdogwire.com. Sign up to be a citizen journalist with Watchdog Wire and get your video on our website! 

Don’t forget about entering our Summer Video Contest!

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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