We shoot a lot of talking head videos. Mostly documentary style, with the subject looking at an off-camera interviewer. For us these are usually customer stories, where our client's customer is talking about the virtues of the product or service that our client offers. It's a testimonial that our client can pass on to prospective new customers on their website, social media, and email blasts. Over the years we have stumbled into a style for these. It's not ground-breaking or revolutionary, but we like it and it works for us. Here now, the one-two punch.
As often as we can we try to shoot talking heads with two cameras. This gives us a ton more options when editing. We can remove "um's", and stitch together a more cohesive thought from what might have been a long and rambling answer, all without having to cover the speaker with b-roll. It does present a few challenges, like syncing cameras (www.redgiant.com/pluraleyes), and some extra setup time but in terms of production value two cameras is a no brainer.
When setting these up in the wild, it can be a challenge to find a space that's quiet enough for an interview, and also doesn't look like a broom closet. (Unless your client is selling broom closets, try to avoid the broom closet). Ideally you'll find a space with acceptable natural light, and gives you a nice looking background that doesn't distract from the speaker and the topic of the interview. Once we have a space we'll throw up a couple LEDs where needed, and save setup time by bouncing around some of that natural light if we can. The space is going to need room for cameras too, but where to put them?
The one-two punch is basically an attempt to make the edits between camera angles feel as seamless as possible, so that the viewer isn't distracted from the story. For us, that means getting the cameras as close to the same angle as we can. We do this by staggering the cameras so that one is closer to the subject than the other. Then we walk them close enough together so that front camera is just out if the rear camera's frame. With the cameras at roughly the same angle, and similarly framed shots, the subject's face stays in the same place on the screen and on the same plane. This method also minimizes big changes to the background from shot to shot. Nothing jumps into the frame in one shot that wasn't there in the other.
The other major component to the one-two punch is that the close-up camera is always closer to the off-camera interviewer, thus closer to the subject's eyeline. I like this method because if we edit in a traditional manner (opening with the wide angle and cutting in close after we've established the speaker) when we cut to the close-up, the subject's eyes are more squared up to frame. The viewer feels pulled in and more connected to the speaker. In the example above, the close-up camera is in front of the wide, but we've had it behind the wide camera with a longer lens too. It all depends on your glass options and the depth you're looking for. Either way can work.
You'll notice that all these examples are composed using the rule of thirds, more or less. I also like to set up on an angle to the background, so that we get some dynamic lines running toward the subject. This keeps the viewer's eye in the frame and adds some visual interest to what might otherwise just be a picture on a wall.
When shooting a talking head we want to impose as little as possible on the subject, and get the most value out of our limited time. This setup allows us to keep the interview brief and out of the way, while giving us a pleasing set of visuals, and editing options to create a great story. Since we're on a single angle we don't have to spend a lot of time trying to dress the backgrounds, and because the cameras are close together, we take up less space. It all saves time that can be better spent talking to really interesting people.