Editing Interviews: Techniques for Filmmakers | Itai Kt | Skillshare

Editing Interviews: Techniques for Filmmakers

Itai Kt, Filmmaker

Editing Interviews: Techniques for Filmmakers

Itai Kt, Filmmaker

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10 Lessons (29m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Why Take the Class

    • 3. Case Study & Class Project

    • 4. Transcribing

    • 5. Tagging

    • 6. Consolidating

    • 7. Storyline

    • 8. Class Project Onboarding

    • 9. Bonus - Create Storylines Using Trello

    • 10. Before You Go

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About This Class

In this class, you will learn how to take a long interview and cut it down so it tells a good, well-structured story that captures the essence of your subject.


So you went out, interviewed someone important to your story and officially got your piece off-the-ground. Sadly — as satisfying as this moment is — it is also the point in which many documentary projects die. Sifting over and over through hours-long interviews is a daunting task.

So how do you tackle that?

In the next few minutes, I will walk you, step-by-step, through a simple, straightforward method to find the gems and magic moments hiding in your subject's stream of words. I will show you my own personal workflow that you can adapt and make your own and walk you through real-life examples from my professional work. By the end of this class, you will be able to quickly extract the essence of your story out of a long interview and turn it into a coherent, structured piece.

We will be going through specific techniques to transcribe, tag, consolidate and structure an interview.

This class is meant for all levels — whether you are a beginner and just recorded an interview for the first time or you are already a professional interested in comparing and contrasting your workflow.

The point of this class is not to dive into the theory of non-fiction storytelling, although I will touch on that briefly. It is also not about learning software although I will briefly touch on that as well. The main goal is for you to come out of this with a practical recipe that will get you started quickly and help you tell the story you want to tell with the tools available to you — even if those are just pen and paper.

I am going to introduce this process through the lens of a documentary filmmaker but this method could be applied to almost any non-fiction interview-based project — from podcasts to magazine articles.

So let's get started  — see you in class! 

Meet Your Teacher

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Itai Kt



Hi, I'm Itai and I'm a filmmaker based in Berlin.

You can sometimes see my documentary work in places like the New York Times or CNN and I do commercial work for clients like Daimler, Amazon, and the European Commission. I also make independent films including a web series called Sluggish, which I hope you will get to check out. I live in Berlin but I make videos all around the world. I often write, produce, shoot, edit, and animate my videos but I also take on projects as a creative director collaborating with other creatives.


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1. Introduction: Hi. Welcome to the class. My name is Itai and I'm a filmmaker based in Berlin. In the next 25 minutes or so, you will learn a useful technique for taking a long interview and cutting it down, so it tells a good, well-structured story that captures the essence of your subject. You went out, interviewed someone important to your story and officially got your piece of the ground. Sadly, as satisfying as this moment is, it is also the point in which many documentary projects die. Sifting over and over through hours long interviews is a daunting task. How do you tackle that? In the next few minutes, I will walk you step-by-step through a simple, straightforward method to find the gems and magic moments hiding in your subjects through [inaudible]. I will show you my own personal workflow that you can adapt and make your own, and walk you through real-life examples from my professional work. We will be going through specific techniques to transcribe, tag, consolidate, and structure an interview quickly and effectively. By the end of this class, you'll be able to quickly extract the essence of your story out of a long interview and turn it into a coherent structured piece. This class is meant for all levels, whether you're a beginner and just recorded an interview for the first time, or you're already a seasoned professional interested in comparing and contrasting your workflow. The point of this class is not to dive into the theory of nonfiction storytelling, although we will touch on that briefly. It is also not about learning software, although we will briefly touch on that as well. The main goal is for you to come out of this with a practical recipe that will get you started quickly and help you tell the story you want to tell with the tools available to you. Even if those had just been in paper. I've been doing this type of work for almost two decades, working for some of the biggest publications, brands, and clients, and I feel like this is the most crucial stepping stone that nobody tells you about. I'm going to introduce this process through the lens of a documentary filmmaker. But this method could be applied to almost any interview based project, whether you're an editor, broadcaster, or print journalist. Let's get started. 2. Why Take the Class: Editing interviews is unique task because it is essentially based on a conversation between people, something we do all the time, it feels like we should be able to work with it intuitively. The thing is, this is actually incredibly hard to do without an efficient than structured workflow. It's really like trying to sort out an extremely chaotic room. It is just hard to figure out where to even begin. I didn't invent the technique I'm about to show you. It is something I picked up by working with others in the nonfiction storytelling field, following the workflows of master storytellers, and refining and adjusting it over many years in many projects. Usually, by the time I finish intuition that often caught up, and I realized that I already have a vague idea of where I want to take things without having to sit down and wait around for special mood or creative inspiration. Essentially, it's about how to prepare your setup like a pro cooks sets up his kitchen with all the ingredients, position, jumped and ready to go. Now we're almost ready to dive in. But first, we will quickly go over our case study, which we will be using to see how this method looks like in practice. We will also be looking at the class project, a proof of concept piece that will give you a chance to give the technique ago. Let's have a look. 3. Case Study & Class Project: To demonstrate this technique, we will also be looking at a short 10 minute video that I've made based on an interview. It tells a story of a police detective that was asked to look into a historic murder case that happened in the ice age at around 3,300 BC. The original interview with the policeman, was over two hours long and forms the backbone of the story. Even so, only about two percent of it actually ended up in the finished video, and 98 percent was discarded. It's not a particularly unusual ratio. We're obviously not going to break down the entire interview here, but I will be using certain parts of it from time to time to demonstrate how the process looks like in practice. I will leave a link to the final video in the resources tab, for those of you who are interested. That said, watching it isn't required for understanding the class. For the class project, we will be using this technique to create a short teaser, somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds, based on a template that I've made for you here. I suggest you head over to the resources tab and download it already. It essentially lists all the different stages of this technique, and it will help guide you step-by-step through the process. To make sure you get the most out of this class, I do suggest you follow along, work on this throughout each step of the class and post it to the project gallery when you're done. This teaser plan will act as our proof of concept piece, which will let you give this method a try as we move along the class. In many cases, however, a teaser is actually a useful thing to have in and of itself. Once you have it under your belt, you can use it to pitch it to someone else, explain the gist of your project to anyone who is interested, and very often, it will help you understand and get a better feel for the project at this early stage. If you already have an interview that you would like to use for this project, great, just follow along the different stages, implementing them on your own piece. If you don't yet have an interview waiting for an edit, no worries, you can simply use the interview transcripts from the case study video, which you will find under the Project and Resources tab. Feel free to make any adjustments or adaptations to the method, and perhaps even share your newly developed personalized workflow for all of us to see. Whether your interview is meant to become a video, audio, or a text piece, what would be really great is if you go ahead and post a piece itself too. Up next, step 1 in the process, transcribing. 4. Transcribing: The first part in the process is all about listening. In my experience, at least there is no way around it. The best way to really understand what it is that you've got, is to transcribe your interview, listen to the whole thing, and type the words into a document. This is a pretty straightforward process, but here are a couple of pro tips, things you should think about while doing this. First, it is not so important to catch every word exactly the way your interviewee says it. Occasional paraphrasing is perfectly okay in the interest of saving time. What is more important is to catch important moments in the interview where the way in which your interviewee speaks is meaningful. Let me show you what I mean. At some point in my interview with the police man, I asked him about his personal takeaway from working on this very bizarre case. He mentioned a couple of mildly interesting things, and then he added something. Let me play this for you. I think it's interesting to see that although we changed so much in our technology when it comes down to emotional behavior, we don't seem to change that much. Look at his half smile, the shaking of the head and the paths. His delivery here is just so good and that's what makes it a powerful moment. I'm sure you can tell. I think you could also tell this was a good moment because he just put a full stop at the end of the sentence and let the words resonate with a long pause, which makes this whole bit even better. If you just type the words into your transcript and then reread them, most of what makes this moment so great is going to be invisible to you. So I really, really recommend that you note things like that down as you transcribe. No need to get overly descriptive. It's enough just to write down the text and add in brackets. Grins, pauses, and looks at the camera. This is quite a subtle example, which is why I think it's good. It's why it's so important to pay attention. Many of these important moments tend to be subtle but there are all kinds of happenings you should probably note down. I recently had an Italian con man in his house. Suddenly, as we were filming, his two giant German Shepherd dogs managed to jump open the door and walked into the frame. To which he added. I'm sorry doorkeeper. This happening, supposedly a blooper moment or outtake as we sometimes call these, is also something you want to note down. The image of the two hounds submitting to him in this way reinforces his bad character and makes him likable at the same time. I'm going to show you two more examples but before I do that, I wanted to explain why I'm spending so much time here. I mentioned listening earlier and on top of the usefulness of having the interview transcribe. It is also part of developing a sharp documentaries sense. Just picking up and paying attention to all the little details that happen in and around the interview. We're essentially tricking ourselves to think we're just organizing things, but we have probably started to play around with some story ideas already, and without even trying. It's one of the many advantages of working this way. It's also why I'd recommend you do this yourself if you can. Okay, back to the examples. Here's another example from an interview I've made a couple of years back. This charming professor was telling me about a eureka moment that he had in his research while watching a football match, soccer. Let me play this for you. Which I could investigate and theoretically and give it some meaning, you want to hear about it? Well excuse me I have to take some water. To answer his question, I flew over to another continent to interview him about this exact thing. I think I made the point that I want to hear about it but it still revealed something about his personal charm and the way that he talks. He gets carried away when he is speaking and then comes back to get the affirmation that you are still there listening. This moment was included not just in the video itself, but it also became a trailer for the entire series. Do you want to hear about it? In the context of transcribing, that's another moment where the words alone are not enough for capturing the scene. You will want to mark something about the goofiness of the moment and now that you've noticed it, all you need is a reminder, something like abruptly pauses and leaves the question to hang. Final example. Here's an interviewee that is just scrambling for a second to remember something. How did he first get the idea for his video art project? I don't know what the starting point was, I mean, I guess in the beginning I realized there were different sounds to different typewriters. It's another wordless moment worth noting. This actually became the opening of the video edited together with the piece was talking about. Generally speaking, you can't really tell at this point if any happening like this is an interruption that needs cleaning out or an important moment that reveals something authentic about the subject. But the good news is that you don't need to know this right now. All you need to do right now is it note down. Be on the lookout for anything that could be important beyond just the words and avoid trying to clean up your interview. There are definitely some Easter eggs hiding there. The second tip is more technical. Get a video player or software that can play a recording into slower speed while you transcribe. This can save you loads of time. I personally use a free and open source player called VLC. It is super convenient. You can control the speed based on percentage and it works pretty much on every platform and with any format, but you can use almost any player or editing software to do this. When you're done, we can move onto the next phase, which is to make sense out of what is probably a long and messy story scattered over many pages. Let's have a look at how to do this. 5. Tagging: Now that we've got all the words on paper, it's time to start sorting things out. The way we're going to do this is by dividing the text into short snippets or soundbites which we are then going to name and also tag. The descriptions are going to remind us what the subject is talking about at each point. Tagging is going to help us refer back to any part of the interview super quickly. This is going to make life so much easier all throughout the actual editing of the project. Even after this process we're discussing here is complete. Let me show you what I mean. Just a quick note. I'm going to use an iPad here just because it makes filming this way easier. But to be clear, you really, really do not need an iPad or any other special tools to do this. In fact, when I was working on this video, I didn't even own an iPad, so I just printed it out and used a much simpler piece of technology. Now I have the transcript here and I can see my questions and his answers word for word. The first question basically here is just me asking him to present himself. Let's start with a short presentation of you. "What do you do exactly?" He says, "My name is Alexander Horn, I'm the unit chief of the behavioral analysis in Bavarian police." Pretty straightforward. What I'm going to do here is I'm going to mark that part this way. I'm going to call it A, which is the tagging. Then I'm going to give it a name which is going to be "Presentation". Then the next question is me asking him about his daily work, which he says, "We get sexual homicides that we have to reconstruct or understand. There is no motive, or there is no victim, or there is no clear connection between them." Basically, I'm going to mark this thing and I'm going to call that B and what I'm going to say is this is now called, "What we do." Because this is what this is about. Then I asked him, "Is this a normal unit that you would find everywhere?" He says, "No, we just have special expertise and we're in charge of this area." I'm going to say C and I'm going to call that "Specific knowledge" that they've got. But that was actually not my question. I just want to know if that's like a common thing that every police station has and so I asked that question again differently, and he answered and he says, "Well, it's become more popular in last 20 years." I'm going to write popular last 20 years. Then I asked him something about this being an interdisciplinary approach. He talks about that a bit. I'm going write "Interdisciplinary", which I cannot spell. Then I asked him about the first time that the museum contacted him to work on the case. He answered that and I'm going to call that F, and I'm going to call that, "First contact." But the way he talked about it was pretty general and so I wanted to know what was the moment that they actually approached him and that he first heard about this. I asked the question again. That would be actually "G first contact", but that would be called "Take 2" I'm going to go back and I'm going to mark this as "Take 1". I'm just going to keep on doing this throughout the entire text of the interview. By the end of this process, what we have is essentially the entire interview divided into micro descriptions along with the tag letter assigned to each of them. This, as I mentioned, will help us quickly refer back to it and in a minute you're going to see why this makes everything so much easier. 6. Consolidating: Now that everything is tagged this way, we're ready to start looking at what we've got and how this is going to become a story, which is the most fun part in the process. At this point, what I'd like to do is transfer all those tags into one single sheet of paper. This is really useful because it helps you get an idea at a glance. For me at least, it helps my brain see each part in context in relation to everything else. Even though my handwriting is barely legible, and well I guess you've seen that already, I still like to do this by hand on one big piece of paper. Now it's finally time to focus on our story. We're going to mark a couple of important things for ourselves. You can mark them here by making little stars next to the letters or simply note it down on a different piece of paper. The first thing we're going to look for here is, what could potentially be a good beginning and what could be a potential ending. You could mark more than one option if you like. As I mentioned at the top, this class isn't really about nonfiction storytelling theory. So, I'm not going to get into too much detail here. But I will say that while you may want to note a straight-forward beginning choice here, like the characters presentation, consider that it could also very well be an intriguing phrase that your interviewee says in the middle of the interview. Something that would make you curious because you can't yet fully understand it. The general abstract advice here is to just be open-minded towards the idea of what could be an opening. Since you now have everything organized so neatly, you can afford to experiment. Full disclosure. In a case study, I did choose to begin with the policeman's presentation, which is both the actual beginning of the interview and the most obvious one. This is because I knew I had a lot of background information I need to convey to get the story started. I wanted to quickly lead to the stories premise. The moment when the policeman gets the phone call out of the blue asking if he could take 5,300 year old cold case, it felt like that was enough of a surprise. This is just to say that there are many things to consider here. This is why we're having it all written down. So it'll be easier to make deliberate decisions and easily change them if we need to. Next, we're going to look again and see what are a few soundbites, typically three or four, that are absolutely essential to the story. These are moments within the interview where you say, "I just can't tell the story without those soundbites." Make a note of a couple of them. But keep it real. If you're finding you mark 20 of these, you probably have to think again about what essential means for your story. Maybe your soundbites actually belong in the next round of notes. Here, we're going to be looking for some moments that you absolutely love for whatever reason. But they are not essential to the story. I mentioned a few examples that would fall under this category earlier in the transcribing video. But these could also be little off-topic stories, anecdotes, very specific details, or anything else you find funny or interesting. There's a simple rule of thumb here. If these moments are not in your essential moments category, but you love them, they belong here. Now, everything that's left is a bank that we can use to tell the story. We're not throwing it away. It's like building blocks, but we now understand their utility. Keep in mind, these are all just notes. It is actually more likely that you will end up making different decisions later on in the edit. That's what makes this method so efficient. You can and probably even should go back and reconsider your decisions at some point later in the process. But you will also know what you have and where to find it. Right now, we're focusing on moving forward. But don't feel like you're pulling any triggers with the decisions you're making here. Next up, the final part in the process. Coming up with a story line based on what we've just created here. 7. Storyline: Welcome to the final stage of the method. Now we're finally deep in storytelling territory. If you've been following the class, working on your class project, or even just thinking about your interview, maybe you notice that at this point, you already have at least some new thoughts about your story. As I already mentioned, how to structure your piece is a story for another time. What I'm going to do here is show you how I write down storylines and share a couple of tricks that I find useful. I'm back on the iPad here, which still you do not need for this, and I'm just going to look at my tags and I can already put down what maybe my beginning, because I've already decided this. Next, I'm going to put down what I marked as my essentials in an order that makes sense to me right now, and then the ending. Now have the basis of the story line, and I can come back to my pool of building blocks here and use whatever I need to start adding some character and volume to the story. You can continue in this flow chart style and then just add alternatives this way. If you're a crafty person, you can make yourself cards with the letters on them. If you want to be really cute about this, you can even use Scrabble blocks. The format really doesn't matter, just choose what works for you. I've recently started using a free and simple app you may already know called Trello to do this. I find it useful and I will talk about how I use it later on in an extra bonus lesson. That said, if you don't like to work digitally or just want a break from your screen while you do this, that's totally fine. A couple of helpful tips. First, creating scenes. This is a really useful thing, but I should say that it doesn't work on every project. The idea is simple. Try and think of your storyline as a series of scenes or chapters in a book, then try and see which of your soundbites belong in which chapter. Let me show you what I mean. In a case study video, I came up with six scenes like that. Opening backstory, where do you start, what we know, actual story reconstruction and conclusions. I knew that I'd like the opening to introduce the premise quickly so I can dive into the backstory. It's because I wanted to let the viewer know that there is a true crime story waiting over on the other side of this history class. I put down the policeman's presentation and what is normal work looks like. Now the story is set to begin. The backstory is narrated, so it is not relevant to what we're doing here. Next is the where do we start seeing. Here I'm going to start putting all the relevant soundbites, W, X, J, and put them in a logical order. I'm just going to continue to do this all the way through to the conclusion, and remember, these are invisible chapters. They are only meant to help you make deliberate storytelling decisions. Another helpful tip, try out more than one structure. Once you manage to come up with one story line that seems like it could work, don't stop yet, try and come up with at least one more alternative if at all you can. The first idea is not always the best. Sometimes it is, but you wouldn't know that before you come up with a second one. That's it, if you like, you can put down the titles back next to the letters, but basically you're ready to start the actual edit, putting it all together. It is very likely that your structure will continue to change from here on to. But now you have a storyline to start with. You know what you've got and what you don't, and you can refer back to any part of your interview super quickly and make changes. Coming up, final details about the class project and a bonus video that will show you how to use software to make the process even easier. 8. Class Project Onboarding: First of all, congrats for making it this far. As I mentioned at the top of the class, I think this method is simple and straightforward. It's also a lot to take in. Now we're going to basically put it all into practice, preferably right away. We can really say this is now a skill that we can add to our tool kit. Maybe you've been working on your class project all throughout, but if you didn't, no worries. Now is always a good time to start. Here goes. Our project here is to take a long interview of your own or use the case study transcript that I've provided here, tag, consolidate, and create a storyline for a short teaser about 30 to 60 seconds long. Simply follow the template I've made for you. It should help walk you through the process. Your goal here is to make something that you could use to explain, promote, or just experiment with peace. By now, you should know how to get to a point where you have a storyline but what we're doing here is making a really short piece. We need to zoom in a bit more and actually use another trick that could help our workflow. Once you get to the point where you have a storyline, go back to the marked-up transcription and highlight the exact sound bite that you want to use. Like so. Then all that's left for you to do is copy and paste them into the template. I would really love to see you put the skill into use, and again, what would be really awesome is if you could also share any adjustments you've made to make this workflow yours. Also, whatever your pieces format is, video, audio, text, it'll be really great if you share the actual edited trailer with us. Next up, one last bonus class, how to use jello to make easy storylines. 9. Bonus - Create Storylines Using Trello: This bonus lesson is all about using a free app called Trello. It's mostly used as a productivity tool and for things like team project management. But as it turns out, it is also a great digital version of those cork boards and white boards you've seen editorial rooms. These are my notes from a video I made a few years ago. It's the final version of the story line I came up with. Look how elegant it looks here where I changed my mind. Anyways, I thought I could probably do this in a way that is, well, less gross and feels more like you're doing creative work, but without having to make cutouts. I'm using the Trello app here on my iPad, but you can also use it on the web, desktop, or on your phone. I'm just going to click the "Plus" button here and create a new board. I'm going to call that awesome interview. Now I'm going to click here to create a new list and that will become our opening scene, just like we've seen on the story line lesson where we've created six different scenes as in chapters in a book. Next, I'm going to click and create a card. I'm going to call that card a presentation, as in my annotated transcript and then another card which I will call B, what do we do? Now you can take each of these cards, move them between lists, changed the order, and so on. If you click on the card, you can see even more options like labeling and creating inscription. If you want, you can paste the full soundbite here. This is the board I used while working on the case study video. You can see the scenes and the different soundbites along with their tags. I also created another list here to use as a bank for soundbites. I wanted to keep handy. You get the picture. It's pretty useful and there's also more you can do here if you want. Just play around with it and see if it helps you out. Next up, conclusion. 10. Before You Go: All right. Well done. Thanks so much for watching. We've covered everything from transcribing your interview to creating a story line and also gathered a tip or two along the way. The workflow I've been showing you here is what works for me and you don't need to take it as this. But I think the most important thing to take away from this is how to set yourself up for creating a good story. Think of yourself as a pro cook and spent time preparing your meals on plus, your set up, trust the process. It'll be really great if you go ahead and post your work to the project gallery, but also any thoughts, ideas, or questions. Let's turn this corner of the Internet into a resource that can help anybody doing this kind of work. If you like the class, please consider leaving a review and maybe also share a class with a friend in need. I have included links to the case study video, how to solve a 5,300 year old murder mystery and other videos I used as examples here. You will find them all in the project and resources tab. You can also follow my profile here to see future classes and you can also find me on Instagram. Thanks, and see you next time.