Writers, Here is How Not to Interview an Acclaimed Director

Writers, Here is How Not to Interview an Acclaimed Director

I spent the
night before my interview with Drake Doremus, director of the Sundance hit “Like
Crazy” and the upcoming “Breathe In,” brainstorming questions and making sure I
didn’t sound like a 20 year-old college kid.

[Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of Indie Film Month. “Breathe In” is now available to view On Demand. This article was originally published earlier this year.]

The thing is, I
am a 20 year old college kid. I had never really interviewed anyone “big” before and was too fixated
on whether or not I would ask Felicity Jones, the star of “Breathe In,” who would also be there, if she wanted
to take a selfie with me to focus on my questions.

Unfortunately, I didn’t
actually consider the proper ways to plan my talk with an acclaimed
director. I guess it’s important to note that I first started interning for Indiewire in late January and had previously interned at the Miami Herald while in high school. At New York University, where I am currently a student, I only had to do a couple of interviews for an NYU publication, but those were mostly with students, random people on the streets and faculty. Nothing too ambitious or intimidating.

Still I had told my boss, who has called me a strong writer, that I was a fan of Doremus’ “Like Crazy,” which won the Grand Prize at Sundance in 2011. Not exactly one to make us interns go on coffee runs or pick up laundry, he generously offered me the opportunity to interview Doremus, who was in New York promoting “Breathe In.” Of course, I jumped at the chance — without any real concerns or hesitations — and assured him I was up to the job. I was a pro (sort of).

Nevertheless, when I got to
the Cohen Media Group office in midtown, where I was going to have my 15 interview with Doremus, I started to get nervous. So nervous that I became chatty. A little too chatty. I began a
conversation with an Italian journalist, a woman probably not much older than
myself who works freelance for a bunch of publications, and was also waiting to speak with Doremus. She spoke about
interviewing Paolo
Sorrentino (director of The Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film “The Great Beauty”), while
I bit my cuticles and contemplated bolting. How could I compete?

Anyway,
I finally got my time with Doremus. And he was pretty cool. He was wearing plaid,
sporting some cool facial hair and looked like every kid I go to school with — I thought we would get along swimmingly, maybe we’d even be friends.

We
were led into a small theater where I immediately commented on how “cool” the armchairs with cup-holders looked. Everything seemed cool to me, but what was I talking about? Then I began my questioning, doing my best to limit my “ums” and “likes.” I’m a professional now.

I started off by asking Doremus about how “Breathe In” came into being. The story follows an 18 year-old exchange student, Sophie (Felicity Jones), who moves to a suburb of New York and lives with an American family, where she falls for the outcast patriarch (Guy Pearce). It’s Drake’s second film that tackles a complicated romance between two individuals.

Doremus spoke about how he likes to take on subjects that relate to his own life, how he began working on the film right after “Like Crazy” and how the role was “made for Felicity.” So far, so good.

In a panic, right before the interview I had called my dad, a business professional who seems to know how grownups are supposed to behave, looking for some guidance. He advised me to be conversational, always smile and most importantly, make the interview subject feel comfortable.

I thought I was doing a good job, after all, Doremus seemed to really like when I asked him about how it must sometimes be difficult improvising dialogue —  something he had his actors do in both of his films — considering that people often talk in non-sequiturs and go on tangents. I could tell he especially liked my question about why both of his films have ambiguous, open-ended conclusions.

“I’m glad you brought that up, I didn’t realize I do that,” Doremus said, smiling. I won. Doremus and I were on our way to becoming BFFs. My dad was going to be so proud. 

But things went downhill from there.

I checked my recorder, mid-conversation. Note to reader: Don’t ever check your recorder mid-conversation. An interview is like a family dinner and you can’t check your phone until it’s over. But since I did, I happened to notice that we were less than five minutes into our conversation and I was out of questions.  

I then remembered to ask him about his upcoming project “Equals,” a sci-fi romance. Yes, I thought. I was back on track. I asked him if Felicity would appear in that film too and, well — Doremus, it’s not your fault. It was my job to check IMDB and see that Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart had already been cast as leads. It’s something that everyone should do instinctively before conducting an interview, but somehow, it just hadn’t occurred to me.

After the slip, I hardly knew what else to ask and I’m pretty sure Doremus noticed. At one point, I just babbled on about my personal relationship with the film. I caught myself saying “I really didn’t understand…” about a scene that I had thought was completely improvised where Lauren, the daughter of the Guy Pearce’s character, hits Sophie. Turns out it wasn’t improvised. It was always in the script. I know nothing. 

You have to understand that Doremus had been doing back-to-back interviews all day. The guy who went in before me took up the full 15 minutes and I didn’t want to leave until I had at least 10 full minutes. 

So I proceeded to humiliate myself by asking what he watched on TV, justifying the question by saying “it seems to be the thing film directors are doing lately.” 

Doremus told me he liked “soaps like ‘Homeland’ and ‘House of Cards'” and I agreed those are great ones. They key to any stable relationship is communication and I was failing you, Doremus. I had nothing else to say. I was stalling.

As we hit the nine minute mark, I realized it was probably best I wrapped up before I appeared any more unprofessional, and this is where I made the most fatal flaw. As I was about to stand up, I told Doremus that I didn’t have much else to say and asked if there was any subject matter he’d specifically like to talk about. I, the person who was supposed to be steering the conversation, became a backseat passenger. No one was driving the car.

He politely said he had nothing specific to talk about and it was over. I finished and I had failed. We shook hands and I thanked him and said goodbye to what I had hoped would be a blossoming friendship. 

As I walked out, the organizers and press people in the office gave me funny looks. One woman even said, “that was fast.” I nodded and left, embarrassed, but hopefully wiser. 

Indiewire has partnered with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand to kick off Indie Film Month. Enjoy exceptionally creative and uniquely entertaining new Indie releases (“Under the Skin,” “The Congress,” “The Trip to Italy,” and more) along with classic, Throwback Thursday indie titles (“Swingers,” “Black Swan,” and more) all month long on Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand. Go HERE daily for movie reviews, interviews, and exclusive footage of the suggested TWC movie of the day and catch the best Indie titles on TWC Movies On Demand.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , ,


Comments

K

I hope you study interviews more and mature as a writer. I had a similar experience in my college years but it wasn’t until I got serious about being a writer/journalist that things changed. Good luck to you.

Dirk Diggler

Don’t beat yourself up kid. Doremus is hardly "accomplished." He only knows how to make one kind of movie and is extremely one dimensional. He’s a total douchebag in real life too. Ironically the title of one of his films as well. Art really does imitate life

Kate

Improvised or scripted, even Guy Pearce couldn’t save Breathe In. It’s so boring, it’s a wonderful cure for insomnia. Like Crazy was full of contrivance and unbelievable. Doremus is not a great director and I have little hope for Equals, since 1984 doesn’t need to be remade into a romance. I don’t understand how directors like him keep getting funded.

Eugene Gee

Writers, here is how not to write an article about an acclaimed director. Self-indulgent shit.

Vegard Skj.

Still a great article! Absolutely worth the read.

Sir Farts A Lot

What is this crap? This is what Indiewire publishes these days? Truly shameful.

Emery Martin-Snyder

The important thing is that you came back from the assignment with something interesting for your audience to read…

KG

Hey, this could be worse. It’s not bad a for a first-timer and you have a good sense of humor about it. Two tips, though. One: don’t take selfies with the talent. Ever. It makes you look instantly unprofessional — suddenly, you’re a "fan," not someone who is engaged in the same kind of conversation. Two: don’t ever think you’re going to become friends. It’s not productive. Go get em, tiger!

Katy

That doesn’t sound bad to me – at all. As you stated, you got a few good questions and answers. I’ve heard far worse stories especially one where I saw a young interviewer ask a very famous actor about 5 character/movies he didn’t appear in at all. She had the wrong actor. Yikes.
My only major interview I had was with Shane Caruth – I actually missed the day and he contacted me wondering where I was. Too humiliation. Luckily, he was gracious enough to try again the next day and instead of 30 minutes, we ended conversering for over an hour even though I prompted the 30 minute mark.
Keep at it, Eric! :)

Cristiana A.

It was still an interesting read!

Kay Dee

The good news is, you nailed how to make a lukewarm interview into a click-worthy headline. Great way to frame this piece. You’ll do fine.

Frank D

Eric – Relax. It’ll get better. Doremus isn’t, like, Wong Kar-Wai or someone. Not Sorrentino either. He’s made a couple of "comfortably safe" indie movies. Get your game up for when you prep for the Coen Bros. Or when Doremus gets to that level.

Christopher Phillips

I wouldn’t worry about it. You got a few questions in and talked about his latest projects. Interviewing gets better over time. It’s not always easy to juggle being in the room, handling the glam and the glitter, and dealing with the recorder at the same time.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *