The term ‘vox pop’ originated from the Latin phrase Vox Populi, which means ‘voice of the people for those of us who didn’t benefit from a classical education’.
In the digital age, it is becoming harder and harder to persuade people to appear on-camera. I’ve been filming Vox pops for over 16 years now. When I first started, we used large, daunting, shoulder-mounted Beta Cameras to interview people on the street. There was a novelty factor involved in being filmed, and people seemed thrilled to appear on camera. Nowadays, even with small, unobtrusive DSLR cameras, it’s difficult to persuade the populous to give us their vox’s.
Perhaps it’s the rise of YouTube and user-generated content that means people are now very familiar with the concept of being filmed, and their opinions being uploaded for all to see forevermore. There have been many notable social media gaffs where people have expressed an opinion and found that it’s gotten them into hot water, so perhaps people have become fearful because of widely-documented fallouts like that.
Maybe people just have no time as they hurry through the thronging streets of London, adorned with headphones and the ubiquitous cup of coffee. Upon approaching them with an eager smile and a microphone, I am often greeted by an expression that clearly reads, ‘Don’t you dare disturb me during my favourite Taylor Swift track.’
Upon the completion of a successful vox pop video for the English National Opera (below), I thought I would pen some quick tips for people who are tasked with the creation of a Vox pop video for social media distribution.
This has to be the number one tip because it’s very important. A release form has to be completed in order for you to be able to use a person’s image and voice, especially when working on behalf of a client with a brand name. The release should not be too long, as lots of text will put people off. As there are many different types of release forms (image only / voice only / photography only etc.), it should clearly state what the person is consenting to and how long they consent to the material being used for. It should also state the end client, for avoidance of doubt. The most common form of release is ‘worldwide, in perpetuity, across all media’. This makes the management of rights simple once the video has been uploaded. Precaution should be taken when gathering releases from minors, as permission may need to be sought from a parent or guardian. Different countries have different ages when people transition from minors to adults, so always check local laws.
A Friendly Smile & Warm Personality
These count for everything when approaching people on the street. If you’ve ever had experience working as a charity collector, you’ll know what I mean. By making someone laugh when you first approach them, your chances of success increase ten-fold. Be upfront about what you’re doing, get to the point quickly, and let them know they can choose not to sign the release if they don’t like the way the interview goes. Normally interview videos are quick, painless, and un-controversial.
Don’t be Upset when People Say ‘No’
There are many reasons why people say no to being filmed. It’s surprising how many people you encounter don’t want to be filmed because they are out and about when they shouldn’t be, or very, often, with someone they shouldn’t be. We’ve had people refuse on religious grounds, or because they don’t like the company we’re filming for, so don’t take it personally and just keep asking. As long as you’ve allocated enough time, you’ll get there in the end.
Speed of the Camera and Sound Operating
When you do finally find someone to stand in front of the camera, you don’t want to waste their time by waiting for the audio recorder to load up, or by searching for pinpoint focus because your aperture is too wide. Be as prepared as possible before you ask someone to be filmed. This way, all you need to do is quickly pull focus, and you’re off.
Have a Plan
Know how you will use the material before you start interviewing people. In this video for ENO, rather than just gathering people’s opinions, we wanted to capture key phrases that would hint towards the music in question. We knew that we wanted to get a lot of young people in the video, as they are not traditionally the core audience for opera. The video was all about surprise, and using words that would not normally be associated with opera. That’s why we decided to bring the music in at the middle of the piece, rather than use it as a music bed from the start. Because we planned the outcome of the video from the start, we were able to have a successful filming session, and make a video that led to a happy client.
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