My first project in my new role as Student Ambassador for the CU Marketing and Communication department was a whole day of filming on Friday. Early in the morning me and another student ambassador met with the Marketing team and were given the brief for the day – to film a number of 2-3 minute interviews with students from various university courses, asking them about their student experience at Coventry University. We were given a list of questions, release forms to fill in for each interviewee, and a list of courses that needed to be covered.
The video interviews would be used on the new Coventry University website, which is expected to be launched during the next academic year. They needed to be fresh, authentic, positive, and informative. We were given a phone-size video camera to use, which at first I thought was a joke, but it turned out to be quite a nice piece of equipment. It was meant to be easy to use, so we can focus on getting the interviews.
So after we were given the brief, we set out to film around The Hub. We were approaching students asking if they wanted to answer a few questions about their experience at Coventry University. Most of the students we asked would have been more than happy to give us an interview… if it wasn’t on camera. There were lots of occasions where we would ask a student, they’d be happy to answer a few questions, but then we’d set up the camera and they would say ‘no’. I wasn’t surprised to be honest – I am personally quite camera shy (and maybe that’s why I prefer to be behind the camera anyway), and actually I was even surprised we got any interviews at all. So it was quite important to show the camera while we were asking if they wanted to give us an interview, so it was clear what our intention was. Maybe if we would have had a bigger camera it would have been easier for them to initially decide if they want to be on camera or not, but then again the small camera allowed us to work really quickly and capture the mood without intimidating our interviewees.
We also noticed it was easier to get interviews from people who were in more public places (such as promotional stalls), because they are already open for conversation. Also, the bigger the group, the less likely it was that we’d get anyone to give us an interview. What is more, even if some of the people in a group were willing to talk to us, if most weren’t, the willing ones would also change their mind influenced by the group. Another thing we noticed was that we shouldn’t stay at the same location for too long, because people feel intimidated by someone with a camera looking for a ‘victim’.
As the media production student in the team, initially I was working the camera and the other guy was asking the questions. Though I did notice that he was often just going through the questions 1-5 as if it were a survey that needed a Yes / No question. We were told in the briefing that our questions would be edited out from the video, and that it was more important to get the people to talk about their positive experience in their own words, as if there was no one asking. It was more important to have quality testimonials than to follow all the questions – sometimes the answer to one question would also include the next one, and it really made a huge difference how we were asking the next question.
Once I took on the interviewer role, things got much different. I know from my marketing experience (as well as lots of recording work I’ve done) that having people say the ‘right’ thing is a tricky task but if you can, you can make them feel at ease and do it. So I still had the questions in front of me, but I was trying to engage people in a conversation rather than going through the questions. I was trying to make it feel like a genuine interest so that they can tell with a smile and pride all about their time at Coventry University, what they like etc. I knew my voice would have been edited out so I was trying to not talk while they were talking, but still give remarks, smile, nod, and make it feel like a natural conversation.
Another thing I noticed was that people were naturally inclined to face the interviewer while answering the questions. Since we didn’t have the interviewer in shot and were aiming for a self-contained ‘testimonial’ style video for the website, we needed the people to be almost talking to the camera, without it looking too staged. So in some interviews, I was both holding the camera and asking the questions, and in other interviews I made sure I was standing close to the camera so when they are keeping eye contact with me they’d be looking at the camera.
We found that once people were comfortable enough to speak to us on camera and knew what the video was going to be used for, they were more than happy to sign the release forms – it was just a formality as they had already given us their consent. Though in some cases, when my colleague was approaching people, he would say too much: ‘Hi, would you like to answer a few questions on camera? You’ll also need to sign a release form.’ I felt that was unnecessary and distracting – when trying to get people’s permission and trust, it’s better to give them just one thing to think about / decide. So we missed a few good opportunities for interviews just because we confused the person with too much information. We should never forget we’re intruding people’s world and personal space with projects like that, they are essentially making us a favour by collaborating and agreeing to be interviewed, so we need to treat them with respect.
This project taught me how important people skills are for producing vox pops and interviews. It may seem like a simple task ‘get a camera and ask people questions’, but if you want a quality result, there are quite a lot of things to consider in how you approach the subject. The experience also gave me more confidence in my own interviewing skills – I didn’t realise I had developed in such a way that I would be able to make people feel comfortable in front of the camera, but apparently that was the case. In just under 5 hours, we managed to go to 5 different university buildings and record 22 interviews, and I hope to see most of them on the university website.
Another quick task we had on the day was to help out with the filming of a flash mob promoting the Degree show. We went to the designated place in the Precinct a few minutes before it was due to start, and everyone went to their position. There were people from the Marketing team wearing branded T-shirts that would lead the dance, there were other students in T-shirts that had been practicing the dance routine, and they were standing by around the square, in very small groups so it’s not too suspicious. There were also ‘civilian’ group members, people from the university and students who knew the dance routine and knew what was going to happen but were supposed to look like random pedestrians joining the dance. When the music came up, there were a couple of waves of people joining in (all organised, some in civilian clothes), and the later groups hadn’t practiced the dance – so it would give the impression of authenticity.
There were a few of us around who were engaged with filming the event, some were filming the dance itself, while others were filming the passersby reactions. My role this time was to record the main audio track that would be used for the whole video – instead of using the CD track, it was a good idea to have authentic sound from the square and it was my task to record it properly. I was a bit disappointed I didn’t have a camera as I felt I would have been good at capturing the spirit of the event, but I have only myself to blame as I had already stated I specialise in sound. I guess it does make a difference what you tell people, especially when they are making quick decisions.
We quickly transferred the footage in the Marketing office and went on with our day. I didn’t realise but just a couple of hours later the edited video was online. It made me reconsider my editing workflow – I usually leave quite a lot of time between filming and editing, and I take quite a substantial time to edit stuff, but this video would only have impact if it were uploaded quickly. It was uploaded and had the feel of a ‘passersby’ amateur footage, someone who just happened to be at the flash mob. Only at the end of the video would people see the logo of the Degree show and links to find out more.
As someone with experience and deep interest in marketing and advertising, I aim to always learn about it as much as I can. This is one of the directions I would really like to develop myself professionally and I was happy I could take part in these both projects. I like working with a specific aim and intention, toward a specific brief, and love seeing the results of targeted efforts. On this day I learned a lot about guerilla marketing and advertising, about crowd behaviour and people psychology. I am looking forward to more projects with the Marketing and Communication department – I expect we’ll be quite busy in the summer.