The truth behind the on-camera interview
It was just the other day as a storyteller and I sat through another amazing interview…an interview that not only brought me to tears, but the people around me. Laneika is a more than a domestic violence survivor and her story is one of purest of crystal balls…you have to carefully take care of her story or it will slip through your fragile fingers and crash all upon the floor.
Storytellers have a tremendous burden, one of not only crafting the story…but finding the right characters and helping them find the right words at the right time. It is a special dance and we carefully step around the ballroom. The largest part of that dance, those steps, is finding the path through the interview.
Typically, I never bring a list of questions to an interview. Why, because the interview for me is a conversation…and we humans do not have wonderful, honest conversations with the assistance of notes and pre-conceived questions. We are curious beings with the natural inclination to wonder, learn, understand, and engage in rich discussions…especially those discussions where we find our deepest passions.
I spend lots of time preparing for the on-camera interview. I spent lots of energy researching the storylines, the background of the interview subject, the potential narratives, the areas of the story that people do not want to wonder, and even critically challenge the stakeholders in this quest for the truths.
I take pride in my preparation, even meeting the person whom I will be interviewing on-camera before that special day. I will sit down, study their methods of engaging in conversation, watch how they react to uncomfortable conversations, see when they fidget or even get on the edge of their seat waiting to respond. I share with them my intentions, specifically I am purposefully avoiding all conversations related to the topic of the interview and divert the conversation to other topics, including personal topics. I am sizing them up, building trust, and allowing them to see me (the interviewer) as more than the person sitting next to the camera surrounded by lights.
We do hold a burden…because during the interview…we hold something very true, very real, very palatable…we are the gatekeepers of their story. It is our ethical dance we must step carefully through as we are shaping the reality of their story for the consumer to watch, judge, share, engage, and fully take part in that dance as they feel the words come across the speakers next to the screen.
Our goal as a storyteller is to create a theater, a place where the audience forgets they have peripheral vision and become fully invested in this story…so much they forget their is a world happening around them. Our mission, our truth…to make them (the audience) feel like they are actually inside the screen…the experience…the storyline…and that this is actually their storyline…their reality…their truth. We bear this burden and we must hold it carefully like that crystal ball…not too tight…not too loose.
When we sit in the interview and the camera is capturing every movement, every sound…we must help navigate the interviewee through a process of not only forgetting their are lights and cameras, but we are here to tell their story. The first five or so minutes are really throw away questions, allowing the production crew and myself to make sure all the audio is perfect and the lighting is consistent as the interviewee moves around in their seat. But as those walls begin to come down during those first five minutes, I being to dive into the heart of the subject.
I love the interview…I love it more than actually writing and editing the final product. The interview is truly the place where the story unfolds. It is the place where we guide the interviewee down a path of conversation…where we help them articulate those most important moments in complete thoughts, well articulated thoughts, thoughts that are honest, real, and undeniably truth, their truth!
There is always that one big question. This narrative emerges in the preparation. That one big moment that must be revealed in the interview. It is that one statement that pulls it all together. It is that one story inside the whole storyline we are waiting to hear, we just don’t know when it is the right time to help it emerge from down deep, below the surface. I love that part of the interview…getting the person ready to unveil that one truth that will set the story free. You know it when it comes out and you know…at that moment in time…you better not peep a word, sneeze, let your chair make a noise…because that moment is when you want to capture it without the slightest technological barrier.One of the best interviewers I know taught me to bite my lip during the interview. When the person is talking and sharing, do not make a sound.
And then…when it is time…when there is a moment of silence, let the interviewee fill the silent void, let them articulate, let them share…because at the end of the day…it is their story we are telling, not ours.