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Writers, Here is How Not to Interview an Acclaimed Director

Photo of Eric Eidelstein By Eric Eidelstein | Indiewire March 24, 2014 at 10:42AM

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.
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Amanda Schwab/Starpix Drake Doremus at the NY premiere of "Breathe In" sponsored by Forevermark Diamonds

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. 

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.

Drake Doremus' "Like Crazy"; stars Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones

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. 

An interview is like a family dinner and you can't check your phone until it's over.

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. 

"Breathe In" will be released on Friday, March 28 in NYC and will open in Los Angeles and San Francisco on April 4.

This article is related to: Drake Doremus, Breathe In, Interviews, Felicity Jones, Filmmaker Toolkit