Review: The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera

By Brady Betzel

Yes, this is a book review! While I typically write reviews on post production hardware and software, occasionally I will see something off the typical NLE or plug-in grid that piques my interest, such as GoPro gimbals, lighting equipment and even books.

One day I was lurking around Twitter when I saw a tweet about a newly released book focusing on filming people from a producer’s perspective — from historical re-enactments to on-camera interviews. As an editor I have seen my fair share of raw interview footage. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, “Why didn’t you ask [insert question here]?” or “Why would you ask that?” I didn’t understand the psychology or reasoning behind the interviewer and their questions. This is why Amy Delouise’s “The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera” got my attention.

Here is Amy interviewing a child for a project.

“The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera” is a fast, engaging and self-reflective read that took me from the technical tips of interviewing to caring for the crew and talent to historical re-enactments to straight-to-camera talking with everyday real people. Within the first few pages I got the sense that Amy has been working in the trenches as a producer for many years. It’s not easy to find a producer that has the ability to draw the best out of people in interviews while still being strict enough to abide by a tight schedule and budget.

The introduction explains that Amy is well-versed in production and post, with over 400 productions under her belt. She is also currently a Lynda.com instructor, with courses like Video Editing: Moving from Production to Post and The Art of Video Interviews.

I originally started following Amy on Twitter at @brandbuzz when I saw a posting for the hashtag #GalsNGear, a movement to promote amazing women in the production and post production world. Check out their panel at this past NAB.

Digging In
“The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera” is divided into 12 chapters followed by a few supplemental items, such as the Producer’s Pre-Production, Production and Post Production checklists. The 12 chapters contain 177 pages that can be read at a medium pace in a few hours. In this review I will touch on a few chapters that I particularly liked while not spoiling all of Amy’s book in one short review.

The chapter titles range from Getting To Know Your Subjects to Editing Workflow Strategies, all of which give a new perspective on editing, compiling and distilling information needed to tell a complete and well-rounded story.

Amy directing.

Up first is Chapter 9, Beyond the Soundbite. I really love this chapter because it helps an editor like me go beyond just asking the interviewee a question and dive into what motivates the story. Amy goes through the technical process of interviewing, including the beginning, middle and end of the interview process, but also adds important anecdotes, such as “When the End Isn’t Really the End.”

She reveals many of her personal techniques to help people feel comfortable during an interview as well as become their friend. One technique is to keep the camera rolling even after you are “done” interviewing; there may be some more interaction that you get that will further the story beyond what you had storyboarded in your pre-production.

Amy also gives the advice to “encourage, guide and reveal” throughout your interview. I love this advice because it can be applied toward things like client/producer interactions in the edit bay as well as a formal on-camera interview. For instance, if you are creating a motion graphic and the person giving you direction can’t quite get across their idea the way you would like, it is your job as the artist to “encourage, guide and reveal” the true essence of the client’s idea. Of course, this is easier said than done, but a great mantra to repeat in your mind.

Another compelling chapter is Chapter 10: Challenging Interviews and Subjects. I personally identified with this chapter because of the care that interviewers like Amy must use when dealing with delicate topics like mothers of children who have died of SIDs, or other tragic and hard to discuss topics. Amy writes, “And after all, telling the stories of real people is our great privilege, and we can’t forget it.”

The Producer's PlaybookOften times I find myself forgetting the person on the other side of the lens is an actual human being, sometimes I get caught up in my job and will treat the footage as just that, a piece of footage. It’s a great reminder to take a step back and remember that most of us got into production and post to tell stories and, hopefully, treat everyone with dignity and respect. It’s a lost art these days and I hope everyone reading this review and Amy’s book can remind themselves of that fact. It is definitely a privilege to shape story, not a right.

In the end I really was inspired and motivated by reading Amy Delouise’s “The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera.” Everyone from editors, production assistants, sound mixers, students, teachers, and anyone involved in storytelling or wanting to learn the right way to conduct an on-camera interview can benefit from this book.

While on the surface this is a book that can give you insightful practical tips on interviews, such as lighting, camera movements on sliders, budgets and schedules (with full color pictures), I understood that Amy rose to such an esteemed level by caring deeply for the people in her storytelling craft and not forgetting the human elements that drive her story.

So while you should definitely take note of things like her Sample Mini Doc Budget on page 192 in the Appendix, there are also vital concepts that aren’t always on the forefront of a producer or director’s minds.

You can purchase “The Producer’s Playbook: Real People On Camera”  here, and can get a 20% discount by entering the code FLR40.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.


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