Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Interviewing Logistics

Do you do your celeb interviews in-person or on the phone or through email, or does it vary? If you do them in person or on the phone, do you tape record the whole conversation or just take really good notes?

I do as many of them as I can in-person, not because it's fun to get a cup of coffee or drop in at the apartment of an actor, but because there are a lot of things that you can pick up on in an in-person interview that are obviously lost over the phone or worse, via email. I think that also, in-person interviews can lead to a certain congeniality and/or intimacy that you miss out on over the phone, BUT, in many cases, because so many actors are in LA or on location all over the world (I just interviewed Anna Friel from her farm house in the mountains of Spain), many times, this isn't possible.

So my second choice is always the phone. And I don't think I've ever done an interview via email. In my magazine days, yes, I would have (and I know that hard-school journalists frown on this, but in some cases, I have no problem with it), but there is, in my opinion, a difference between getting a specific quote from, say, a nutritionist and conducting a more nuanced interview with an actor. Email limits the flow of a conversation, and one of the things I love best about my interviews is that I really go in to them with very few preset questions: some, sure, but mostly, I let the interview go where it goes, and I often get great material this way...with email, you're out of luck. I do, occasionally, ask for quick follow-ups via email because celebs are very tightly scheduled and getting them back on the phone can be tricky, but initially? No.

Finally, yes, I tape EVERYTHING. I am super-paranoid that a publicist would go bonkers on me if I got a quote or innuendo wrong, not to mention that, obviously, as a journalist, you want to be 100% accurate, and the only way that I can ensure this is via tape. So I just plunk that good old recorder in between us over dinner, and we go from there. I also feel like it would be awkward to carry out a really good conversation while taking notes...I think the key to getting a good celeb interview is to really pay attention and see where the tangents can lead you. If you're wrapped up in note-taking, this just isn't possible.

Anyone do things differently?


Cynthia Ramnarace said...

I just started doing celeb interviews and so appreciate this post, Allison. I haven't had the opportunity to do any of my interviews in person, although I do agree with you that I'd be able to add a whole other dimension to the story if I did.

I did hear an interview with Terri Gross once where she said that she prefers to do interviews over the phone, and in fact most of her interviews are conducted that way. She says not being face-to-face helps her to ask the tough questions, and helps stop her from being intimidated by the star-value of the big celebs. I'm the same way. On the phone, celebrities feel just like any other interview. If I were face-to-face with George Clooney, though, I know I'd hyperventilate (no, I haven't interviewed Clooney but you know what I'm sayin').

Thanks for the post!

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Cynthia -
That's a good point. Hmmm, you know what? I've found that after those first few weird moments of recognition and thinking, "Wow, I'm chatting with so-and-so," the star-struckness falls away. But I do see how that could be tough for some people. And, of course, I've never interviewed Clooney, so who knows? :)


Unknown said...

Totally agree with you 100 percent. I do remember I would get pretty intimidated back in the early years, interviewing bands and musicians I really liked so...well, this is going to sound awful but...I usually had a cocktail or two beforehand (yes, even for daytime interviews). It made for some interesting conversations. Ah, the rock 'n' roll days. Interesting that I don't feel the need to do that when talking to pediatric nutritionists. ;-) XO said...

I think tape recording the interview is a great safety net to not only check your quotes but to have a resource if the celebrity then turns around and disavows the quote after publication! As for phone interviews, I can see Cynthia's point, but I'd miss the facial expressions and body language you might observe during one of those tough questions.

PS Allison, I sent you an email yesterday with 2 questions about TOML, don't know if you go it? I was inspired by your tweets about reviews yesterday.

sarah pekkanen said...

I think in person is best. Over the phone, you can only fill in quotes and background but you miss the little telling details (like Celeb A puts five teaspoons of sugar in his coffee... Celeb B bites her nails...)
And definitely tape record! Celebs can afford to hire a lawyer if they think they've been wronged, but it would blow the budget of your average free-lancer to do so.

Christina Katz said...

Thanks for saying that you use a tape recorder! I just did an interview with Sci-Fi guy Cory Doctorow and felt like such a dork using my antiquated tape recorder...but it's the only device I trust! :)