Video Testimonies: The Pre-Interview

Ben Stapley

Many churches use video testimonies in their services to tell powerful stories of redemption and restoration. 


Stories of God at work. The pre-interview is an important step in capturing these stories. The pre-interview is a chance to ask your questions before the day of the recording. This gives you a clear sense of the story. The last thing you want is to vague notion of the testimony only to find out the day of the shoot it is completely different. It also reveals new narrative threads to possibly pull at. In the end, the pre-interview verifies that the story you want is the story you’ll get.

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Step 1

Start With Story. What is the story you want to capture and convey? You need to know this before you move forward with any additional work, because story dictates everything. Now when I say you need to know the story I am talking big picture. Not all the details, just the 30,000 foot view. You need to be able to express what you are trying to capture in 4 basic sentences. A solid structure for these sentences is background, problem, solution, and resolution. If you are looking to grow in this skill then here is your homework assignment: condense popular 2 hour films to 4 sentences, then use those sentences to explain the film to a friend and see if they know which one you’re describing.

Step 2

Get Alignment On Story. Now that you think you know the story, get alignment. Alignment needs to happen between three parties to verify everyone is on the same page.  Client, subject and producer. Client, the one requesting the story. Subject, the one telling the story. And producer, the one crafting the story. A simple email to the client and subject with the 4 sentence description of the story will suffice. Once you have alignment across these three parties you can move forward in the process. If you don’t have alignment you are throwing darts in the dark. You are hoping to stumble upon a story that everyone is pleased with. Which rarely happens without alignment.

Step 3

Develop Your Questions. After you have story and alignment you can start to develop questions. This process involves a little bit of reverse engineering. You have identified where you want to go, story. Now you need to identify how to get there, questions. I usually write down the types of answers I am looking for from the subject. Then I craft a question that will elicit that response. Side note – your questions should be short and open ended. Keeping them short allows the subject to retain their train of thought. Asking open ended questions avoids the dreaded one word response.

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Step 4

Get Feedback On Questions. Now that you have a list of possible questions and desired answers, get feedback from your client. Get the client to sign off on the questions and potential answers. This step helps you keep alignment. You might also want to get feedback from another trusted storyteller. Someone who could add a little polish to your questions before you ask them. As an advanced step you might want to develop alternative versions of your questions. Sometimes a phrase or sentence structure can hang up or freeze the subject. When this happens you can just pull out your alternative version which gets them back on track. An example might be “tell me your testimony”. Your subject might not be familiar with the word “testimony” and have no idea what you mean. At this point you can pull out your alternative and say “tell me how God has changed you”.

Step 5

Type Out Answers. This might be one of those obvious steps but I feel inclined to include it because I’ve skipped it in the past, and have suffered the consequences. So when you are conducting your pre-interview don’t forget to type out the answers to the questions. I would also encourage you to type over the phone instead of in person. Typing out answers to personal questions in person can be off-putting. The subject can feel like they are dictating a legal deposition. If they do, there answers become stiff. If you quietly type over the phone, they are unaware and the answers become natural. That is unless you have one of those loud mechanical keyboards from the 90s. Typing out the answers allows you to along your work to another producer if need be. It also allows you to present the answers to the client.

Step 6

Don’t Give Out The Questions. After you finish the pre-interview the subject often asks for a copy of the questions. They will want to look over the questions to prep before the day of the shoot. Do not do this. Do not email the questions to the subject. If you do, they will try to memorize their answers. And this will take all the spontaneity and authenticity out of their responses.  

Step 7

Discuss Logistics. Another thing to do at the end of the pre-interview is discuss logistics. Logistics like wardrobe, shooting date, time and location. Location is key to discuss because you want a place that visually tells the story and is emotionally safe for the subject. So if it’s a story about a financial guru blowing the whistle on misappropriation of funds, then shooting in front of the stock exchange would visually tell the story. But the subject might not feel comfortable conducting this sensitive interview outdoors on Wall Street. So you have to balance a location that visually tells the story and is emotionally safe. You find this balance by discussing logistics.

Step 8

Discuss B-Roll. After you have discussed logistics and found a location that visually tells the story, you need to discuss b-roll footage. B-roll is supplemental footage inserted as a cutaway to help visually tell the story. Let’s go back to our stock broker as an example. If we interview him in front of the stock exchange, we need to get b-roll of the iconic bronze bull statue. Also ask the subject for personal footage or photos that tells the story. The stock broker my talk about a keen understanding of numbers from an early age. They may have glowing report cards from elementary school that you can capture as b-roll for this moment. So capture and collect as much b-roll that helps to tell the story.

Step 9

State Share-ability. This testimony video will be shown in your service, but you’ll also want to share it online to reach as many people as possible. So you need to let the subject know that you are going to share their powerful story in service and online. Stating this upfront avoids the shock of the story living beyond Sunday. This is a vital step. So vital that some put it first. The thinking is that if the subject is unwilling to share their story beyond Sunday then we should be unwilling to capture it. And I agree with this line of thought. Video testimonies involve a lot of resources and should be produced only if they have the fullest range of distribution. But I have found that if you start with this step, it can scare away potential stories. If you wait until after the pre-interview has finished to state the share-ability you get buy-in. And this is because you didn’t have anything salacious in the pre-interview. You didn’t use any got-ya questions or tabloid journalism. Instead you demonstrated a sensitive to the subject and a care for their story in the way you have framed the questions.

Step 10

Get Alignment On Answers. We got alignment with the client on the story and questions. Now we need to get alignment with the client on the answers. Sharing your typed out answers allows the client one last check-in before you go to the shoot. This check-in verifies that the story you are going to capture is the one in your client’s mind. If there is a disconnect, you need to identify it before the day of the shoot. Because after you hit record, your ability to craft the story becomes radically reduced. You can still shape the story when you edit, but at this point it is minimal. Getting alignment on answers also allows the client to highlight any particular answer or phrase that is key to capture for the story.

So those are my 10 steps to nail the pre-interview. Send an email to [email protected] and let me know what steps I missed. I would love to hear from you and learn from you. I would also love to connect on social media so look me up.  In the end we want to tell powerful stories of redemption and restoration – stories of God at work. So hopefully these steps will give you a clearer sense of the story that God is calling you to tell.

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About Ben Stapley

Executive Pastor
The Life Christian Church | West Orange, NJ

For over 20 years Ben has created & captured moving and memorable moments for individuals, non-profits & corporations across the globe. Some of the fields he has worked in include pastoringpreaching, speakingvideographyphotography, bloggingreporting & producing. He also consults for churches and speaks at conferences about leadership, communication and creativity.

Ben received a BA in Video Communication from MBI in Chicago. After graduating he worked in Toronto as a television producer for Context, a national news program. For a decade he designed compelling services at South Ridge Community Church as the Director of Programming & Media. In 2011 he received a MDiv from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia. For four years he worked at Liquid Church in NJ as the Creative Arts Pastor. For three years he worked at Christ Fellowship Miami on the executive team as the Experience Director overseeing worship, creative, production, online, communication & guest services.

Ben currently serves as the Executive Pastor at The Life Christian Church leading staff and volunteers to execute the vision and mission of the church. TLCC is located in West Orange, New Jersey and is known for its vibrant diversity.

Ben and his wife Rose enjoy life with their two lovely daughters, Violet & Scarlet in New Jersey.

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