The beautiful thing about documentary filmmaking (and all interviews are a form of doc) is that you give up a large amount of control over what happens. All the prep work in the world can only carry an interviewer so far. Eventually, you have to toss to the interviewee and let them direct the conversation.
Bad Interviewee Bad
Host Jian Ghomeshi kicks things off with a decent amount of setup and then starts his interview. Despite his best efforts, the interview takes a drastic turn south as he learns that one of the band members seems to hate him with a blood vengeance. As it happens, Billy-Bob Thornton didn't want his acting career brought up in the conversation. The other members of the band try to scoop up the dialog, but the anger is too thick not to address.
How could it have been better?
- Follow Interviewee Instructions - Mr. Thorton had informed the producer not to bring up the acting career. It's entirely possible this was communicated to Mr. Ghomeshi as "Don't talk to the band about acting", which he doesn't (he mentions acting in the intro and then sticks to music in the interview). Always find out if there are no-go topics before you start an interview. Then, don't go there.
- Pull The Threads You Can - Mr. Ghomeshi gets some answers out of the other band members and this helps keep the interview moving, but every time he asks Mr. Thorton a question, the conversation is immediately derailed. The other members are the threads that he should be pulling as they are proving to give him the best results.
- 6 AM Is Too Early - Schedule your interviews when everyone is going to be fresh and warm, not at the crack of dawn.
- Some Rooms Have Elephants - If the interview is terrible, it must be fixed. If you're planning to edit the conversation later, cut and sort it out with the interviewee. If it's a live broadcast, don't cut to commercials. Figure it out. Work it out. And keep moving. Why?
- There's No Such Thing As A Bad Interview - The above interview with Mr. Thorton could easily be called a catastrophe. It's not. It's a terrific success. Good interviews keep the audience engaged and this conversation is nothing if not fascinating. The tension is incredible and Mr. Ghomeshi's handling is expert. It's a thrill to watch BECAUSE Mr. Thorton is so hard to talk to.
So, if there's no such thing as a bad interview, does than mean good ones are boring? Nope. Behold:
Good Interviewee Good
The interviewers were prepared and ready, but here's an example of the interviewee derailing the conversation and making it a million times more engaging in the process. Why does it work?
- Relax, Relax, Relax - Mr. Russell Brand is very relaxed in the interview, perhaps a little too much so. But, that relaxation brings the interview to life.
- Keep It Personal - Mr. Brand follows the conversation wherever it goes. He's not there with an agenda. Instead he's just there to be in the conversation that's happening. This gives the dialog a very personal and engaged feeling. As an audience, we are also engaged.
- Ownership - Many interviewees are happy to let the interviewer steer the conversation. But, interviewees shouldn't be afraid to take the conversation where they want it to go. Nothing is more boring than watching someone recite rehearsed talking points. Nothing is more exciting than watching someone take control of a situation you never thought they could control.
Bonus Clip - Interviewee Chaos
Sometimes, things go out of control because they have to. The interview was boring and pointless until the second guest stopped caring.