By Jane Marie
So, you’re ready to gather your tape. First things first: your equipment must be ready to go and not ready to fail. We have another series coming up that will address what kinds of equipment you need and how to use it, but as far as interview prep goes, here are some marching orders:
Bring tons of batteries and backup power sources. Depending on your recorder, mic and file format, you can rip through batteries at varying and alarming rates. Last week three AAA batteries lasted you a few hours, but this week they may only get you 30 minutes. Don’t ask me how that happens, but it does! Be prepared.
TESTING, TESTING, TESTING. The first track on your recorder before any interview should be of you testing your mic. You know this, just a friendly reminder.
Check the space on your SD card. Not that anyone has ever had to pause an interview to run to Rite Aid and buy a new one or anything *cough*.
Don’t forget paper things: your notebook, business cards or credentials, and releases.
Okay, onto the chat. You already have in hand what you want to ask. The number one tip about your list of questions: go off script if the story takes you there. Don’t be so tied to your questions that you can’t listen for the real story. Your questions are not as precious as the stuff coming out of your subject’s mouth.
You know what you want to get, so below are some techniques to help you in your quest.
1. Always tape your questions.
We’ve all strained and rewound a show to figure out what the hell the interviewer just asked (to which the subject answered “yes” — we’ll get to that in a moment). It’s better just to tape your questions in case you need them in there.
2. Silence is golden.
No one is comfortable sitting in silence. Rather than jump in with more questions during an awkward pause, let the subject fill the air with god-knows-what. People will talk just to make it less weird, and you can get some really surprising quotes in those unprompted moments.
3. No “yes or no” answers.
Go for anecdotes and thoughts or feelings. Yes and no questions are fine for fact-finding, but you need stories and feelings for good tape. “Tell me about the time that….” and “What were you hoping…” and “How did that make you feel?”
4. Make the tape easy to edit.
Ask your subject to repeat the question in the form of a statement so that you can cut yourself out of the tape if needed. For example, if you say “Tell me about the first time you met Tom,” they’ll say “The first time I met Tom...” Try not to talk over your subject. Keep laughter to a minimum, as it’s impossible to cut out on the same track.
5. React and challenge.
If something seems weird or surprising or like a goddamned lie, say so on tape in the moment. You should assume your listeners are catching this stuff — don’t leave them in the lurch! You are their foil in the moment, so as carefully as you can, call people out when needed. And if someone says something wild, be surprised! It’s so frustrating and weird when a reporter hears, “And that’s when I killed the alien with my bare hands,” and goes “What did you do next?” Like, NO! WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!
6. Have fun
That’s all, just have fun. No one will hear this tape if you don’t want them to, so drop insecurities and pretend you’re a little kid discovering a tape recorder for the first time. Just enjoy yourself, be yourself and stay curious.