Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Young Adult at Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study

Last night I was fortunate enough to find myself at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study for a screening of Diablo Cody's new film, "Young Adult."  Several clips of reality television are used as a motif throughout the movie, including the first lines of dialogue in the film, which are delivered by Kendra Wilkinson.

Cody herself was there for a Q&A afterward, and this is what she had to say about the influence of reality television in the film.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  "I just loved seeing Kendra and the Kardashians.  How much E! do you watch when you're procrastinating?"

CODY:  "I watch a lot of E! and it's wierd; I've admitted to that and gotten these hushed, horrible reactions and I'm like, 'I'm sorry, I do.'  But it was really, really important to have that footage in this movie because in a way a secondary theme of this film is it's an indictment of the culture of fame and exposure."


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Conduct a Reality TV Interview PART 1

Sitting down to conduct your first interview for a show can be a nerve-racking experience.  An interview can make or break a day of shooting, so the pressure is on.  In the meantime, you'll probably be wearing a different earpiece on each side, one for crew and one for cast, and at the same time talking to the interview subject herself.  Needless to say, this can get overwhelming at times, so it's best to be prepared before you ever start.  In this series, I will present some basic tips to help you conduct an effective reality TV interview.


You set the tone for the interview.  The subject will be a mirror of whatever you are giving them, energy-wise.  Know this and use this to your advantage.  Generally, you want to be conversational and keep your energy up, up, up.  If you start showing how tired you are from running around the last 14 hours covering the action, your subject will start showing how tired she is too.  And then you're just two tired people wasting tape.  Likewise, if you are nervous, they will be nervous too and the quality of their answers will lower dramatically.

Your interview should feel like you are having a lively conversation that you are extremely interested in having.  Usually, you will have a few minutes while the crew sets up and lights the shot.  Do not ignore your subject, use this time to get some business out of the way and get the conversation ball rolling.


 When I sit down with a subject I start by introducing myself of course, then chatting a little about how they are feeling, make sure they are comfortable, etc.  Then, I quickly go over some interview technique, something like this...(Imagine that I am smiling and charming during this interaction)

ME: Ok, so you remember this from casting.  When this interview starts, remember that the audience is never going to hear my question.  So I need you to fold the question into your answer.  For example, if I say, "What's your favorite color?"  You say, "My favorite color is..."  Got it?

THEM:  Yes.

ME:  Ok, what's your favorite color?

THEM:  Blue.

ME:  "My favorite color is..."

THEM:  Oh, yeah.  My favorite color is blue.

ME:  Great, so just remember to keep that up during the interview.  Also, I need you to use people's names as often as possible, instead of saying he or she.  So if I say, "How does Johnny react to your big news?" you would not say "He reacts to my news in such and such way," you would say "Johnny reacts to my news in such and such way."  Make sense?

THEM:  Yes.

ME:  Great.  The last thing is try to always use present tense, like you're telling a joke.  "Johnny walks into the bar and the bartender says..." like that.

THEM:  Ok...

ME:  Wonderful.  Now, don't think about this stuff too hard, just answer naturally and if I need you to say anything differently, I'll direct you, ok?

THEM:  Ok!

ME:  Great, remember it's just tape, we can relax and do this right.  Ok, tell me your name and what you do...

And your interview has begun!

Most people will forget to use present tense (that one is really hard for interview subjects) and also using names instead of pronouns.  A good way to keep this on track is to frame your questions as sentences for your subject to finish.

ME:  Finish this sentence, "When I first see Johnny, I'm thinking..."

That way, when your subject answers by repeating what you just said, they will already be using present tense and other characters' names instead of pronouns.  Usually they will stick with it long enough to give you a good bite.  But if they have a lot of trouble with the concept of present tense, just let it go.  Better to have bites in past tense than no bites at all.  This goes also for emotional interviews, don't get sidetracked by coaching them on language or you'll kill their emotions in the moment.

Never, ever ask yes or no questions.  Ideally, every answer your subject gives should convey some feelings about something, never just information or scene set-up.  Producers call this "point A to point B stuff," and usually they tell you never to bother with it.  But if you've ever worked in postproduction, you know you often need that point A to point B stuff to set up a scene.  The best thing to do is ask them a question that begins with set-up info and leads into their feelings.

ME:  Finish this sentence, "When I hear that I have to share a bedroom with Johnny, I have to go talk to him immediately because I'm thinking..."


Remember to keep your energy up if you want them to keep their energy up.  You can't ask them to keep throwing high energy at a wall if you're not giving it back.  And a lot of bites with great content will never get used because the subject has low energy, and that makes any content instantly boring.  Try to get into the character of your subject a little bit...if you're interviewing the ladies' man, it's good to have some swagger of your own.  Don't be afraid to suggest funny or poignant lines.

Especially don't be afraid to converse with your subject 'off the record.'  You can decide together how they should answer a question and then get the 'official' answer.  Many times in the editing bay, we will use a mixture of both because the subject acts more naturally when they don't think they're 'really answering.'

Sometimes you will be interviewing subjects about serious and horrifying topics.  In this case, you want to be serious as well.  Remember, you set the tone.  If you are talking about something sad, channel your own depression.  If you want your subject's sadness to come through, you can't be mollifying or comforting them no matter how much you want to.  They will feel less sad and you will ruin your interview.  At the same time, you can't press too hard too fast or they won't want to continue.  It's a fine line and you will hone it over time.  And you can always comfort them after the camera is done rolling.


Try to maintain eye contact during the interview, and let them know you are listening.  Don't make the mistake of overpreparing for the interview by writing too many specific questions and limiting yourself to the answer you're expecting or hoping for going into the interview.  Be open to where the conversation takes you in an interview and you will often stumble onto gold.  Also follow the emotions you sense from the subject, they can take you to unexpected places.  My advice is keep a small bullet list of topics that you know you need to cover in this interview.  Discuss with your superior what they are expecting from this interview and make sure you keep that in mind.  Without a long list of questions, you are forced to stay engaged and listen to the subject which will yield better results for you; at the same time, you have your bullet list of story points so you know you will not miss anything vital.  Best of both worlds.

I realize this post is rather stream of consciousness, but that's the way it is when I'm working hard and getting ready for the holidays.  Quick shout out to Donner Pass, the film whose special features I edited, was mentioned in Variety.  And don't forget to check out the next episode of Gigolos on Showtime, Thursday at 11pm.

Part 2 coming soon...