Producing video vignettes

In September, Richmond’s First Baptist Church is embarking on a year-long every-member mission trip. The idea is to encourage every person in our congregation to get involved in at least one mission project right in the metropolitan Richmond area, where most of us live. We’re calling it KOH2RVA – Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

The Communication Ministry is involved in many ways. One of the most important is reporting on the mission projects that our members do throughout the year. And one of the ways we’re going to do that is by producing brief video clips on the projects as they unfold.

We’ll post them on the church website, include them in our Sunday morning television broadcast on WRIC-TV8, and show them on the big screen in the Dining Hall on Wednesday evenings while folks are having dinner.

Producing a 3-5 minute video vignette that includes interviews and footage of people involved in mission projects requires about 15-20 hours of work.

A video editor operating an AVID video softwar...
A video editor operating an AVID video software editing system in an editing suite. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Five brave members of our video crew have stepped forward to volunteer in the effort. Each one will take an assignment to cover one project at a time. They’ll shoot the video, conduct interviews, and edit the final piece. Next week, we’re going to have a little orientation and brainstorming session to coordinate our work. I’ve been working on some guidelines for them.

If you’re involved in this kind of documentary video production, the guidelines may be helpful for you, too. Here are some excerpts:

KOH2RVA Vignettes

  • Answer the questions, “How is Richmond a little more like the Kingdom of Heaven because of this project?” “What difference is being made in the lives of the participants (both ‘do-ers’ and ‘receivers’)?”
  • When possible, conduct the interviews in the midst of the action.
  • Show the action, not just the BTF (Big Talking Face).
  • Show us their faces (facial expressions tell the real story of what’s going on).
  • Show us the context (Wide shot, Medium shot, Close up).
  • Shoot action-consistent sequences that illustrate what’s going on.
  • Use interesting angles (don’t shoot everything from eye-level height).
  • When you think you’ve shot enough b-roll, shoot that much more. You’ll be much happier with yourself when you get into the edit room.
  • Remember the audio! Carefully mic the interviews. Record good nats sound.
  • Use a music underscore to enhance the emotional impact of the piece.

Interviewing: the key to a great story!

An interview for television.

  • Keep your questions short.
  • Ask only one question at a time.
  • Endure awkward silences. This is totally counterintuitive. We want to keep chattering and asking questions to keep people feeling comfortable, but sometimes, you need to shut up and wait. Ask your question, then sit there quietly and see what comes next. You’d be amazed how often this technique yields powerful results. (
  • Have a list of questions, but don’t be a slave to it. Be flexible and respond to the situation as it unfolds.
  • Listen. A common mistake is to be thinking about the next question while the interviewee is answering the previous one, to the point that the interviewer misses some important information. This can lead to all sorts of embarrassing outcomes.
  • Ask open-ended questions such as “Why” and “How,” or use phrases such as “Tell me about…” (
  • Ask interviewees to answer your questions in sentences rather than single words and phrases. This will allow you to edit the piece using only the voices of the interviewees rather than having to insert narration, which explains the question. You might give the interviewee an example to help them understand, such as, “To help me in editing, I’m going to ask you to give your answers in complete sentences. Such as, if I ask, ‘what color is the sky?’ you would answer ‘The sky is blue” rather than just saying, ‘blue.’”
  • Don’t interrupt. This can upset the subject’s train of thought.
  • Keep quiet while the interviewee is talking. Give non-verbal responses that let them know you’re listening and engaged, but don’t say anything until they’re completely finished with their answer. It is difficult to edit out your “right” and “I understand” and “uh-huh” remarks in the background.
  • Close the interview by asking, “Is there anything you want to say that I haven’t given you a chance to say?”
  • Don’t be in too big a hurry to turn off the camera and pack up. Some of the best sound bites come at the very end, after the interviewee is comfortable and knows it is over. “Be strong, have courage, and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm  27:14)

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