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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Art of the Interview

If nothing else, Errol Morris has perfected the art of the interview. And more than that, he has a keen talent for drawing people out. Which means he's able to present them as their real or authentic selves. And that kind of authenticity really communicates, making his work at once powerful and intimate. That's the magic of using real people in video and political campaigns.

The New York Times has an interesting article about the history of using real people in campaigns, written by Errol Morris. In addition to his well-known documentaries, he makes his living producing commercials and political campaigns.

Having worked on many campaigns myself, I know effective interviewing is a subtle art form. You have to use a great deal of skill to create something that seems so real and unedited. You have to gain a person's trust, make them feel at ease, be patient, empathetic and gently lead them to the place where they will let down their defenses and say what is on their mind. It's not something that you can force or fake. And watching the raw footage, you can feel when those moments are there and when they are not.

You have a greater ability to manipulate the words and to some degree the sentiment if you take the person off camera, edit their comments, and add strong images and music. That's what you usually see with politicals, but Morris takes a more pure and difficult approach.

And you can see some of his current work in the political realm at People in the Middle for Obama. No matter your party affiliation, it's worth a look at how he's able to craft a message. Each person is shot against a white background. And their comments are pasted together to create an informational moment. There is basically nothing there except the person and their comments, yet the overall effect can be quite moving.

You can see the same technique employed by Jennifer Crandall and her wonderful people portraits at "On Being" a special video feature of the Washington Post. Jennifer's series has been running for some time and creates an in depth look at character and life story through a similar approach to the art of the intervew.