We created this interview guide to help you capture the story of the elders in your life.
- Brainstorm of a list of all the questions you want to ask based on the story you want to tell.
- Re-word your questions to optimize a longer answer. Stay away from 'yes or no' questions and focus on questions that will draw out a story (i.e. "What happened when...?" "Can you tell me about...").
- Mix the tangible context questions (who, what, where, when) with reflective questions (why, feelings, bigger picture).
- We don't recommend giving your subject the questions in advance, as their answers may sound rehearsed.
-For the setting, choose somewhere comfortable and quiet -- ideally a place that is familiar to your subject.
- When you first sit down, it's important to set a casual tone and make them feel comfortable. Ask them routine questions first (“What have you done today thus far?”). The goal is to have a conversation.
- When you’re editing the video, you may want to avoid having the interviewer’s voice. Therefore, ask the subject if they can ‘repeat the question’. (Q: “Tell me about where you were born…” A:“I was born in 1918.”)
- Ask them look at you, not the camera. Make sure you film the pre- and post-interview. Some of the best moments happen when they don't necessarily feel the pressure of the camera.
- Try to mute your filler words. Let them finish their sentences. Allow awkward silences. Let the subject fill the space. Editing will be much easier if you have ‘room’ on both ends of the question and answer.
- Be open to veering: organize your questions by topic, but their response may make you think of a new question… or bring you to another section. Go with the flow!
- Remember to take breaks --- even just asking if they need a sip of water. Sometimes this helps the subject to regroup if they seem tired or need to refocus. If they seem less animated, try to raise your own energy level to help set the tone.
- Don’t be afraid to ask ‘tough’ questions or ‘deep’ questions. While staying respectful, asking those questions can create a level of vulnerability that will lead to your best clips. This is also your chance to ask the things you've always wanted to know.
- At the end, leave it open-ended. See if there are other stories they want to tell. See if there is something you missed or something ‘they haven’t shared’. Ask for a ‘final comment’.
- Practice gratitude: Being on camera isn't easy! Affirm them. Write them a thank you note. Share the final product with them & others.
Possible List of Questions
THE BIG QUESTIONS
What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did they teach you?
Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
What are you proudest of in your life?
When in life have you felt most alone?
How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
How would you like to be remembered?
What’s the most miraculous thing you’ve witnessed?
What is your earliest memory?
What was your childhood like?
Do you remember any of the stories your parents used to tell you?
When and where were you born?
Who were your parents?
What were your parents like?
How was your relationship with your parents?
What is your best memory of childhood? Worst?
Did you have a nickname? How did you get it?
Who were your best friends? What were they like?
What did you think your life would be like when you were older?
Can you tell me any favorite stories/memories from your childhood?
LOVE & FAMILY
When did you first fall in love?
Can you tell me about your first date or kiss?
How did you meet your husband/wife/partner?
What lessons have you learned from your relationships?
How did you know he/she was “the one”?
How did you propose?
If you got married, what do you remember about your wedding?
What were the best times? The most difficult times?
What advice do you have for young couples?
If you have children, tell me about what your first memories of having kids?
What were your favorite things about being a parent? What was the most difficult?
WORK & LIFE
What do/did you do for a living?
Tell me about how you got into your line of work.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
What lessons has your work life taught you?
Do you have any favorite stories from your work life?
Do you feel like you found your vocation or calling in life?
Outside of work, what were your favorite hobbies? What are your hobbies now?
Tell me about your first plane ride / first car / first vacation?
Can you tell me about your most memorable travel experiences?
HAPPENINGS IN OUR WORLD
Which world events do you remember happening when you were younger?
How old were you during World War Two?
Did the War or Great Depression change how you see the world?
What are the most surprising observations about how "times have changed" since your childhood?
What are your feelings about technology?
What does living a good life mean to you?
Has spirituality or religion played a role in your life? How have your beliefs changed over time?
If you were to give advice to me or my children, what would it be?
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were young?
What, if anything, would you have done differently in your life?
What are you most grateful for?