NCoW Technical Specifications

If you want to contribute video footage to the NCoW project, please read (and abide by) these technical specifications so that the video is consistent among all interviewers/videographers.


NCoW content: Dominic Delli Carpini (; Linda Adler-Kassner (
NCoW technical/editing: Pete Vandenberg (

Content Specifications

  • Also see the NCoW interview questions for additional content specs.
  • Stories are key. The more specific the examples you can elicit from people, the better -- generalities and/or platitudes aren't useful.
  • Remember that NCoW is attempting to hear from non-academics about writing. Try not to interview teachers or people in school settings.
  • Start with "are you a writer?"
  • Use the NCoW questions or some variation on those questions (if you'd like to diverge significantly, contact Dominic and Linda).
  • Strike a balance between brevity and depth. Try asking fewer questions (3-4) and getting deeper responses. If you hear something really intriguing feel free to follow up, but go for more people rather than longer responses.
  • Final interview tapes (to be sent to Pete by July 1) should be no more than 20 or so minutes.

Interviewer Specifications

  • While it may sound counter-intuitive, remember while you're interviewing to keep verbal feedback -- including vocal cues (e.g., "uh huh," "interesting," and other markers) -- to a minimum. These cues work face-to-face, but are enormously distracting in a documentary setting. We also will have multiple questioners, so the variation in voices will be quite distracting.
  • Try to get people to loosen up before the interview. Chat with them about the purpose of the project, get them to chat with you.
  • Setting is important. Get some establishing shots and think about what's behind and in front of them as they talk.

Format Specifications

  • The project must be shot in Mini DV format only --these are the small tapes that measure approximately 2 ¾ x 2 x ½", and say DV or "Mini DV" on the package. To participate in the project, you must use a camera that allows you to shoot on this particular format of digital tape.
  • If you have the capability to edit your material ahead of time, you can do so and print back on a DV tape. Do not save to a DVD.
  • Do not use an HD setting if your camera has one.
  • Your interviews may be submitted in original tape form only. If you have the capability to dub or copy the tape, or to capture the tape in digital file form, please do so as a back-up. However, do not plan to send digital files in any other form, and do send your original tape, clearly marked with your name and email address.

Shooting Conditions and Specifications

  • The overall look of the project will be improved to the extent that interviews shot in discrete locations are technically similar. Please adhere to the following.
  • Plan your shooting location/s carefully so that you will have strong light on the interview subject--be sure to shoot with the dominant light source to the cameraperson's back, taking care that the cameraperson's shadow does not fall on the interview subject.
  • If your camera tells you that the subject is overexposed, do not shoot in those conditions. If you intend to shoot at night (say on a street corner or outside a building), plan to light the interview subject. Daylight or indoor shooting is preferable.
  • Plan your shooting location so that you do not have individuals standing or walking behind the interview subject; if possible, position the subject 2-3 feet in front of a stationary background. If you are shooting in a mall or public area, this is very important, as you do not want incidental persons to be identifiable in your footage.
  • Too much variation in composition will make overall coherence difficult to achieve. Please don't make this the project in which you experiment with Orson Welles or Coen Brothers camera work!

Please adhere to the following as closely as you can:

  • In general, you should shoot the interview subject from the front, with his/her head and shoulders filling the frame. Watch for glare off eye-glasses. Position the camera so that you do not need to zoom to get the subject in the frame in this way.
  • Unless you are shooting the scene with two cameras--one on the interview subject and one on the interviewer--keep the interviewer out of the camera shot. Do not swing the camera back and forth between the interviewer and the subject, and do not shoot over the interviewer's shoulder.
  • Never zoom in or out while the subject is answering a question. We can create zoom effects in post-production if they are necessary.
  • Do not shoot without a tripod unless you have an experienced cameraperson using a shoulder-mounted camera. The image stabilizer on consumer cameras softens movement, but it does not eliminate it. Interviews with jerky camera movement will likely be judged unusable.
  • If possible, use an external microphone to capture the interview. The condenser microphone built into the camera is not ideal for this project. Almost all cameras have a microphone input; you'll need to use such a camera for this project. If possible, keep the microphone out of the shot, but remember that the purpose of using the mic is to ensure good sound quality. Also remember that the subject's voice is what is important. Don't swing the mic back and forth between the interviewer and the subject; instead, keep it positioned at a consistent distance from the subject. If your camera has a mic input, it will also have a headphone input; the person operating the camera or holding the microphone should wear headphones. This might seem like technical overkill, but even the buds that came with your I-Pod will improve your control of the sound. Note that while many adjustments can be made to the picture in post-production, in large part, what you hear when shooting is what everyone is going to hear in the finished project. A weak voice, a hot or distorted voice, buzzing, hissing, or excess competing ambient noise will make a given shot unusable.
  • If you use a clip mic, do a test with the mic ahead of time. If you're using a boom mic, be sure to hold it outside of the shot.
  • Timecode: This is important: Every time a video camera is turned on, the "timecode" is reset; you never notice this unless you need to edit the video using a software program. The software will "capture" the tape only between timecode breaks. Timecode breaks are very time-consuming. You contribute to the overall efficiency of the project by keeping the number of times you turn the camera on and turn off to an absolute minimum. Plan to plug the camera in to ac power, or take lots of battery power. Use the PAUSE function on the camera between interviews. If you have a lot of "dead time," press the power button on and off periodically to keep the camera from timing off. Your help with this will save hours and hours of time, and ensure that all of the footage on your tape is potentially useable.
  • Those completing the final project may want to show something of the setting in which the interviews were shot. Either before or after your interviews, take some "establishing shots": if you're interviewing in a mall, take some pictures of the exterior and the concourse, for example. (Take care not to get identifiable individuals in these shots.) We may also want images of the interviewer, which can be sliced in at any point. Provide some footage of the interviewer (from the perspective of an interviewee) in one of those often-satirized shots that show the interviewer listening attentively.

Send DV tapes to:

Pete Vandenberg
Department of English
DePaul University
802 W. Belden Ave.
Chicago, 60614

Tapes must be sent to Pete Vandenberg by July 1, 2007

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