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Choosing a Background

What is in your frame says a lot. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, as we keep that in mind, let’s cover the basics of how to decide what the background for your interview should be. 

There are three types of background spectrums that we’ll look at here: Cool/Warm, Casual/Professional, and Loud/Quiet. We will go over all of these and give you some tips on how to achieve them. 

Type 1

Cool / Warm

What is the feel of the background? Is it inviting and calm or a little distant or maybe even ominous? The background of the interview creates a feeling for the viewer long before the subject ever speaks. The goal is to get that feeling to match the subject’s content. For instance, maybe the subject is talking about loss (a family member, a pet, a job), then a “cool” background might make more sense because it will help to create that tense feeling through the visual space. Cool spaces are ones where there are lots of heavy, deep shadows and/or objects that may not appear familiar with sharp curvature to them. 

Warm spaces are at the opposite end of this spectrum. These spaces feel cozy; just seeing the frame makes you sigh in relief. These are great spaces for talking about success, achievement, and connection. Typically, “warm” frames are the best for fundraising videos because they help to create a positive feeling for the viewer. 

Type 2

Casual / Professional

This spectrum is all about the information that is being shared and the subject doing the sharing. “Casual” is a frame that includes objects and settings that the average viewer would identify with home. “Professional” is a frame that includes objects and settings that the average viewer would identify with a professional space (i.e office, laboratory, manufacturing, etc.). That said, this is a spectrum and often you’ll want to blend these two feels, making one dominant. For example, if the interview is an Executive Director of a large non-profit organization and they want to be recorded in their office, then “professional” will be the dominant feel; however, you can use photos of family or maybe artwork by kiddos or grandkids to make the individual more personable and approachable. Visually, it sends a signal to the viewer that the person in the office also has a life of connection outside of it. 

Type 3

Loud / Quiet

Think of this spectrum as your volume control. How many items do you have in the frame to make it “warm” and “professional” or “cool” and “casual”? This can be tricky – especially in the beginning – because the urge will be to throw everything in and say a lot with the background. But in this case, less is more because if your background gets too loud it’s like trying to communicate with someone a foot away from you using a megaphone. They will “hear” you, but they won’t be able to listen. So a good rule to stick to in the beginning is to aim to have no more than three prominent objects in the background. This will be loud enough to be heard, but not so loud that it is overwhelming. 

This might bring up the question, do you have to have anything at all as a background, or could you just use a backdrop? On the spectrum, a backdrop is visual silence. It allows your viewer to focus solely on your interview subject and the content they are presenting.

There are two things to keep in mind with backdrops:

  1. Your lighting on the subject needs to be good since they are the entire focus,
  2. Someone talking directly to the camera gets boring so you will need to plan to use lots of B-roll to keep things visually interesting.

That said, backdrops are great options when the space you have doesn’t have the right feeling or you need to have several interview subjects appear in the same space, which creates cohesion within your piece. (This is especially important when recording projects for a team, organization, or company with many members working towards a common goal.)

So that’s it for choosing a background. Just remember those three spectrums: Cool/Warm, Casual/Professional, and Loud/Quiet, and don’t forget that the only thing that matters to your viewers is what is in the frame!