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Transcribing Video Interviews

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/1/2011

Interview transcriptions are important for many people's post-production process, but requires specific elements to be successful.

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    Writing it Down

    If you are working on a documentary project of some type, whether cinematic or technical in nature, you may end up with huge stacks of tapes containing interviews. This can be intimidating for some producers and you may need further documentation to keep it organized. This is where transcribing the interviews can come in handy.

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    Documentation

    A transcription of video interviews is simply the writing down of what is being said in the video. From here you are able to use it as a reference tool, especially if you have every interview copied onto paper. When it comes time to put your interviews together as the skeleton of your film’s story you will be able to go quickly to the right text that will fill in the correct moment.

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    Creating the Form

    The best way to arrange a transcribed document is to get both the question and the answer in their entirety. This is important not just so you know what the answer is referring to directly, but also in case you end up wanting to put the question actually paired with its answer in the film. This is a good device that works well if the interviewee did not include the subject in their response. Create a table in your word processing document with three column and many rows. The left hand column should take up at least two thirds of the length, so make sure to stretch it over. This column is where you will put the actual text of either the question or the answer. The next column, which should be very small, is where you will put the initial of the person talking. From a quick reference you should be able to glance at this document and know which initial is the interviewer and which initial is the subject. The next column is where you will place the time code for each block of discussion. This should be the exact time code right before the specified person begins talking. The idea is that either manually or with the assistance of a function within your editing program you will be able to jump to specific moments in the time code where the interview clip is that you would like to use.

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    Story Editing

    Once you are finished doing this it should look like a series of column blocks, with there being short question blocks and long answer blocks. You can employ these documents in a number of ways. Commonly they are just used to look through and are marked up in connection with the outline or story arc you are trying to achieve. For example, you may, after capturing all of your interviews, decide on a general story path for the film. Then you will look for interview clips at each point in that story that will exemplify the moment and move the progress forward. It may be easier to go through the text of the interviews when trying to story edit than actually having to watch through them. Before doing this you may want to go through all of the tape transcriptions and put little labels next to questions and answers indicating what point in the story they may fit in.

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    Aesthetics

    One important thing you must do if you are using tape transcriptions as the main reference point for your story editing is to take notes as to the aesthetics of each question and answer block. It is not enough to simply write notes as to how the sound and visuals are for the entire tape, but instead you must be very specific. Try taking the document you have and then creating a blank spot in the table underneath each answer. Here write some notes about how the subject looked when they answered the question, how the standard video and audio were, and what kind of inflection they used. This will be important later on for sustaining a mood during your film.

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    Post-Production

    Transcribing is yet another way to organize massive projects. Go ahead and integrate it into your post-production tasks, but you may find that it is at times more work that it is worth in the end.