Relax your interviewees and get the best out of them

The ‘down-the-lens’ interview is quite commonly seen in documentary programmes where a contributor is talking directly to the viewer rather than to an unseen person off-camera. This very powerful technique is performed using a two-way mirror box setup, which allows the contributor and interviewer to see each other and maintain a natural, relaxed conversation without the distraction of the camera lens and crew.

I’ve hired the kit to do this previously – the Eye Direct (Interrotron) – but have found it expensive, cumbersome and time-consuming to set up. I had a shoot recently in Lisbon which required the Eye Direct kit, but expensive hire costs and excess baggage made me think of an alternative….

So I decided to build my own down-the-lens interview mirror box! It’s essentially an autocue using beam-splitter glass but with the glass mounted differently. The interviewer sits next to the camera with a courtesy flag, and when needed, a small light (in order for the contributor to see the interviewer).

First Test

I took the mirror box with me to Portugal and we shot about 10 interviews using it. Prior to us arriving, the contributors were quite nervous about having to speak to camera but were instantly relieved and relaxed when they saw our setup.

Key features and advantages over the Eye Direct (Interrotron):-
  • Quick setup – mounts directly onto the camera’s 15mm rails or can screw to a lighting stand
  • Bigger glass – the contributor can see more of the interviewer’s face (the Interrotron looks a bit ‘letterboxed’ to me)
  • Two-way mirror – uses custom-made beam-splitter glass (the same used for teleprompters)
  • Cost-effective – it’s part of my kit (only £25/day), and you avoid expensive hire charges and shipping costs
  • Autocue – the unit converts to an autocue in seconds. I can provide a tablet with Bluetooth keyboard (to control speed remotely) for an extra charge.

Available for hire, with my standard kit package for an extra £25/day. With tablet and autocue software£45/day.

Mirror Box interview 1

Quick, compact and simple setup.

Mirror Box interview 2

Frame grab: Down the lens interview – but actually talking to the interviewer!

Mirror Box interview 3

Perfect two-way eye contact.

ipad Autocue teleprompter

Quickly converts to an autocue.

 

A caution about using the mirror box for teleprompting: you can never replace a dedicated autocue operator who will have all the proper kit, experience, make changes and suggestions quickly and have backup kit. This iPad system is fine for short scripts or to have on standby…. just in case, but they are far too fiddly and temperamental for my liking.