Wick Communications

The art of the interview

In Writing techniques on 9 Dec 2011 at 9:37 am

Steve Hardie

This week, I was fascinated by Megan Garber’s retelling of an Errol Morris appearance before an audience of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The subject was “the interview” and the documentarian, whose credits include The Fog of War, noted some intriguing ideas about what makes a good interview.

Morris told the audience that he was interested in finding out why people behaved the way they did. “What were they thinking?”

He suggested that many of us go wrong by asking questions that we already know the answers to. Instead, he says, we would be better served by an innate curiosity. Of course, if we did as he says, that would mess up many a tidy story angle. Who among us hasn’t gone out to cover a story knowing full well what we were going to write before we ever got to the scene?

I think it’s true to say that Morris considers a personal connection integral to a meaningful interview. That is a bit of a luxury. We may not be able to do that with every call to the highway patrol seeking comment on the wreck on the interstate. But it’s a noble goal and would undoubtedly enrich our work as well. …

Incidentally, Morris has given so much thought to the matter that he has invented a gizmo designed to allow his movie subjects to see him and not an unblinking camera, which can be offputting to sources. It’s called the “interrotron.” That’s a drawing of what it looks like above. Feel free to read all about it here.

— Clay



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