Stephen Williams says,
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.To which I say: feel free to link up to your own public radio stuff. Be interesting to hear it.
Ted Mills says,
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.Crap, that's a good point. I wrote up the lessons I've learned about the actual act of interviewing, but I neglected to mention anything about the setting up of interviews. I doubt I could do better than quoting myself, in my interview with Livia Bloom about interviewing Errol Morris: if I arrive at what turns out to be a press junket, I go home. If a publicist offers me, say, "25 minutes and not a second more," I say no. If I suspect the guest is going to be weary, cranky or in any sense unenthusiastic, I look for a different guest. A substantial chunk of my effort goes into choosing who, exactly, to interview; absent that freedom of choice, I doubt I could make interviews I can be proud of.
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.I suppose there are infinity plus one positions on this, and mine might sound strangely hardline, but I think that if TLJ wants to talk ranching, it's time to talk ranching. I say this because, as a consumer of interviews, that's what I like to hear: not about ranching specifically, or not about the hobbies of actors — for a variety of reasons, I almost never go for actor interviews either as a conductor or as a listener/reader/viewer — but about whatever the guest happens to be enthusiastic about. When they care about talking it, I care about hearing it. At that point, it sort of doesn't matter what I thought they were going to discuss. While I maybe have never any phrase worse than "Rosanne Cash's combo of Chtistianity and Buddhism," I'd probably meta-dig hearing about it in the event.
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?Again, I would encourage bringing oneself to the table, if only because I enjoy hearing the interaction of two wholly present people. I don't necessarily get that if one's worrying about looking boring or egotistical. I'd be down to hear you and Biggers compare notes about the Japanese life. Now, if one person, host or guest, totally steamrolls the other, that's a problem. I think I'd get irked if you turned the interview into a showcase for your memories of Japan, with occasional interjections from Biggers. But an even exchange? Solid.
(And I don't know about you, but I find that pondering questions like "Does the audience care?" is the shortest road to a padded cell.)
Alexis Hanawalt asks,
What do you say to press agents and information officers who request "a list of questions" before an interview?"Nuts to you."