When I went through the TV sequence in journalism school (U. of Mo. ’79), they issued guidelines for shooting TV interviews. Among them: When the interview is over, shoot a two-shot, then shoot a reverse.
In recent days, I’ve learned that ol’ Mizzou got it completely wrong.
The two-shot shows the interviewer and interviewee together, typically a wide shot framed from behind the reporter’s head. The reverse is the same shot, framed from behind the interviewee. It’s a shot often lampooned, typically showing the reporter gazing thoughtfully at the interviewee or nodding his head inappropriately.
Until I worked at WXIA, most photographers with whom I worked were of the Mizzou mindset: Shoot the two shot and the reverse. It’s a no-brainer.
As a newcomer, I noticed WXIA photogs never shot reverses, unless the reporter specifically asked. Such a request would typically lead to a snort / smirk that non-verbally said: Oh, you want to see yourself nodding, eh pretty boy?
I finally questioned this with a well-respected, exceptionally-talented WXIA photog, a guy with NPPA credentials who nonetheless waves the NPPA flag very guardedly. He was blunt: I don’t shoot reverses. Never have, never will– unless the reporter specifically asks for it, or unless I’ve concluded that there are extraordinary circumstances that demand a reverse.
It’s lousy TV, he said. If you need a cutaway — a shot that conceals an edit during an interview (not to hide the edit from viewers, but to give the story a cleaner look), I’d rather use video from the story to cover the edit. There’s always a better way to cover an edit than by using a reverse. If your story requires a reverse, then your story is probably visually flawed from the outset. I strive to avoid that.
He also said reverses are “staged,” and look it. If the reporter’s presence in the interview is important, then shoot the interview with two cameras.
Why on earth would you want a reverse?
- Sometimes you don’t have a better option editing-wise, if you need to use a cutaway during an interview clip. I’d much rather see a reverse than the overused white flash, for example.
- Sometimes you don’t want to divert the story, visually, away from the interview at that particular moment by using b-roll.
- Reverses maintain / add the presence of the reporter in the story. This is local news. It ain’t Frontline, and we rarely do two-camera shoots.
- Why not? You’re there with a camera. Shooting a reverse takes almost no additional work. If you need it, you’ve got it. (If you’re a one man band, shooting a reverse is pretty impractical.)
My opinion: Shooting the reverse should be the default procedure, unless waived off by the reporter. It eliminates the awkward “hey, shoot a picture of my mug” moment in front of an interviewee.
The photog, a great American whose work I admire and whose company I enjoy tremendously, was completely puzzled by my piss-poor reasoning. “I learned it in J-School,” I stammered as my flawless logic and persuasive abilities dissolved into a pathetic heap of mush.
“They sure didn’t teach that at the University of Georgia,” he answered.
Welcome to the SEC, pretty boy.