Tips on Interviewing Children for TV
A few years back, I was the showrunner (writer, producer, director) of a documentary show about teens and interviewed the children who appeared on the show. Interviewing children can be fun but also a challenge. Here are some quick tips regarding interviewing that age group:
Connect with their parents first
For legal reasons, always work through the school or parents. If you somehow stumble on the child first, then immediately contact the parent.
Don’t pre-interview them
I was advised by my predecessor on the show to not pre-interview children as children only like to tell their story to you once. I followed this advice and it worked well, but I didn’t do the opposite to see if that worked too. To get the gist of the story before the shoot, I pre-interviewed the parents and researched the child’s story online, etc. Try to find the key beats of the story and what the child’s motivation and conflicts were.
Understand their maturity level
Children’s minds change a lot during their teen years. At 12 they are very concrete bound, at 15 their heads are filled with floating abstractions. You have to adjust your interviewing accordingly. You also have to be very patient and encouraging and pray that the child is articulate.
Begin their sentences to help them
If needed, use sentence strings to start the child’s answers: “So Jill fell down the hill and you…”
Get to know them first
In some cases, it might be best to do b-roll first, to build a relationship with the child.
Parents or not at the shoot
I found that some (older) children preferred not to have their parents around during the actual interview. The child’s call, if it is okay with the parent/guardian.
Explain the process
Like all interviews, tell the child beforehand how the interview/shoot will work and that you will redirect/redo some questions, “I do it for everyone.” Tell them that they can re-do any question that they think they didn’t give their best answer to. Tell them, “You’re doing great.”
The first 2 questions at least should be really easy.
Be prepared for surprises
Their answers could really surprise you. They’re kids. Be prepared to go with their story, not the script in your head. And yes, be very patient and reactive, be interested in their story.
Keep it brief
Don’t make the interview too long, especially if the children are younger than 12.
It might help to choose an interview location that is interesting or relaxing to the interviewee, such as the location his/her story took place, at his/her home, etc.
Hope that helps. Remember, children love to tell stories. Your job is to make that safe, easy and fun for them.