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February 25, 2010

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Really enjoyed this post, Colin.

Revealing my own ignorance, when you said "Nearly every time I watch my favorite interviewers in action — your Roses, your Thorns, your Silverblatts", I knew Rose but I am afraid not the other two. I found Silverblatt easily via Google and will give him a listen, but was unsuccessful in figuring out who Thorn is. First name, please?

@ Justin: Jesse Thorn (maximumfun.org / The Sound of Young America) I particularly liked his Ira Glass interview.

I don't like Rose very much (though i continue to watch him everyday for his guests), he interrupts his guests too much and answers his own questions! I would say he's the opposite of the Errol Morris school (shut up and listen). I suppose there is value in both approaches, I just wonder when one approach is better than another.

I also like Elvis Mitchell on The Treatment.
Also, the Mike Wallace archives are available on the University of Texas at Austin website
http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/collections/film/holdings/wallace/

Thanks Colin!

Interesting take on Rose. I typically don't mind when he interrupts because I think it is usually well-timed, as in he knows exactly when the guest is about to repeat themselves. The thing I am most impressed by is how he always seems to get the best out of his guests -- he asks such difficult questions to which they always have such a smooth response. And what I most love about him (although often violating your "answerable by no one else" advice) is his big picture questions that get at the important points, and frequently surprise me.

I am in love with the Mike Wallace archives. The Ayn Rand interview is classic. Glad you pointed that out!

That wasn't actually me replying -- someone else got on it first! But I'm glad you got your question answered.

I've actually heard a really good 7 minute interview once and it surprised the hell out of me. It was one of the /film guys talking to Dave Gibbons at a watchman junket. It might have been the first time I heard anything interesting come out of a junket interview, actually.

All the same, great post, and keep up the great work on TMPOI.

This is a wonderful post! I also work in public radio and have learned over time not to cling to the tyranny of the "Question List" during interviews. When an interesting point is brought up by the guest, I'm perfectly happy to ditch the prepared questions and explore. (And if the new direction doesn't work out, you can always go back to your prepared questions if need be). I still always try to learn new and improved ways of interviewing, and your post Colin revealed some new techniques I look forward to trying out. Thanks!

Indeed, the best interviews I have had are the ones that turned into conversations. But that depends on both subjects being interesting and interested in the other. Many artists, when I get to them, are meeting me as journalist number 253 and are just tired of talking. Others don't like to be interviewed at all.

For the heavy hitters, i have a sheet ready to go with topics if my mind goes blank, or things I think make good topics that nobody else has asked. You've gotta study all their previous interviews, digest the bio, and also make sure they don't go off on fruitless tangents.

The best artists use interviews as a way of speaking through their own thought processes. (Brian Eno, as usual, comes to mind.) Some artists are rather guarded or bored with talking about craft. Edward Albee only got interested in talking about art. Tommy Lee Jones suddenly came alive talking about ranching. Rosanne Cash wanted to talk about her own combo of Christianity and Buddhism. Personal politics or issues are more important to certain celebrities than their latest work.

So, should you make an interview about this? On one hand, you get an excited subject. On the other, you risk boring your audience because they tuned in to hear Tommy Lee Jones talk about acting, not his ranch.

The other problem with the conversational approach is the risk of putting too much of oneself into the interview. When an artist talks about living in Japan, should I mention that I lived in Japan, like when I interview Sanford Biggers? Will that make him more open to talking? Does that make me sound egotistical? Does the audience care?

These are all good, difficult questions which I still struggle with every interview. But I try to get the line "that's a good question" every time, and feel like I earned it.

This is excellent advice.

What do you say to press agents and information officers who request "a list of questions" before an interview?

@alexis

You write out 10 anodyne questions and send them to the PR person.

Then you start the interview with question #11.

I teach people how to do interviews. Rule #1 is that you are doing the interview to tell a story, not to answer the interviewer's questions.

And full points to Colin for recommending that you learn about the interviewee and their background beforehand. Even a few minutes of research (especially if you can dig up one or two insightful/offbeat questions) can make the interviewee open up and make the interview far more interesting for the listener/viewer.

These tips are great to have...definitely printing them now.

In a question, someone answered that if we were able to travel the speed of light, then we could somehow achieve time travel. How would this happen?

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Thanks for the article. Conducting an interview can be very difficult. These tips can really help.

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Cody -- this tip here: "Reveal your ignorance. Hey, it beats the alternative. There's no shame in not knowing what your guest is talking about" is incredibly valuable. So many times you here the interviewer act like they know more about the topic and they do, and it ruins the entire dialogue.

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I still always try to learn new and improved ways of interviewing, and your post Colin revealed some new techniques I look forward to trying out. Thanks!

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