By Marion Abrams
As part of my research to help you be a better interviewer and stand out from the crowd, I've been studying successful interviewers. How do they think about their craft? In other posts, I'll be talking about tactics, strategies, and methods specific to interviewing for oral histories, testimonials and other interviews with specific goals, but today I want to look at the philosophy of some of the best journalistic and documentary interviewers.
GROUNDBREAKING DOCUMENTARY FILM
One groundbreaker in the documentary film world is Errol Morris. Before there was the podcast Serial there was his best-known film "The Thin Blue Line." It's the true story of the arrest and conviction of Randall Adams for the murder of a Dallas policeman in 1976. Errol Morris's background is as a private detective, so clearly he had the spirit of curiosity.
THE POWER OF THE INTERVIEW
The key scene in the film is carried completely by the voices of the interview, in fact, because of issues with prison security, timing, and tech, there is no video recorded of that scene. The editor cleverly showed closer and closer shots of the tape recorder tape turning to build intensity.
WHAT ERROL MORRIS SAYS
So what does Errol Morris say about the art of the interview?
"My advice to all interviewers is: Shut up and listen. It's harder than it sounds." This is one of my favorite. While it's great advice on and off camera. For interviews specifically, there is true magic if you are willing to wait through the uncomfortable silences with your interview guest. Don't jump in to fill it. Just wait. Keep waiting. Most often the best sound bites will come from those moments.
"If everything was planned, it would be dreadful. If everything was unplanned, it would be equally dreadful." I love this statement, too many interviewers abuse the idea that the conversation should be fresh. It should, but the more you plan and research, the better you are able to be nimble & responsive to your guest's answers. The goal is to coach your guest to be them self within the framework of your requirements.
"I think an interview, properly considered, should be an investigation. You shouldn't know what the interview will yield. Otherwise, why do it at all?"
"Interviews, when they are just simply an exercise in hearing what you want to hear, are of no interest."
HOW HE MADE THE FILM
If you haven't seen the film, I recommend it.
If you want to know more about how Errol Morris thinks, you may like:
The Making of The Thin Blue Line part1
The making of the Thin Blue Line part2