I’m going to take this blog in a slightly different direction today, and talk a bit about the filmmaking process. In particular I’m going to talk about my philosophy on interviews, and how difficult my philosophy is for cameramen. It will also make apparent how fortunate I am to have such a talented cinematographer as Zack Ecuyer working with me. Our interviews last week with Glen Stassen were wonderful and beautiful productions, made successful by following rules of good communication, and by having Zack there able to handle the challenges of filming honest communication.
When I was in the early stages of my career, I had the good fortune to work with some great directors and cameramen. We shot a lot of interviews, and I always felt something was lacking. I came to realize that our focus on our craft of filmmaking was interfering with the art of communication.
Subjects of interviews were told: “Keep your head turned in this direction for lighting.” “Don’t rock in your chair.” “Tilt your head down so your glasses won’t reflect the lights.” “Keep your hands away from your face,” etc., etc. It was amazing they spoke at all.
I was so lucky to have a mentor, Enid Vien, who was a master of communication and developed it into a science. In weeks of study with her, I understood that communication is perhaps the most important function a spiritual being participates in, and it deserves to have great importance placed on doing it correctly.
A successful communication occurs when one being’s thoughts and feelings are transmitted and duplicated by another. That is the communicator’s intention: That the listener has a duplicate experience of the one being communicated. The communicator knows when it’s not happening, and will either begin to communicate with force, or withdraw and internalize. Under these criteria, very little true communication takes place in today’s world. I have to be different. I have to communicate.
A good interviewer must have the intention to receive and duplicate the communication, acknowledging to the communicator that he has duplicated it. You have to have interest, even passion, about the topic of the interview. You don’t interrupt. You maintain eye contact. If the interviewee struggles for words, you don’t finish his sentence. You send a gentle intention through your eyes and body language that says, “I can wait for you to find the perfect word.” You cue with your body language what you would like the subject to do with his.
The greatest sin is to cause the interviewee to introvert. You want his communication flowing outward, not inward. Giving directions on how to sit, where to look, moving around less, etc., all put the speaker’s attention on himself rather that his communication. The flow reduces to a trickle; and as easily as you can introvert someone, it’s virtually impossible to re-extrovert someone.
This minimizing of direction gives the speaker more space and more freedom – and makes things very difficult for a cameraman. Especially with my preference for close-ups. The video clip in the link below will demonstrate what I mean.
When the interview is simply imparting information, I generally like a bust shot of the subject. I want to get a feel for his body language, the methods he uses for communicating. But when things get personal or passionate, I want a tight close-up. I want to see the moisture in their eyes, the upturn of a brow, the twitch of a lip that shows suppressed emotion. I want the viewer to completely duplicate their experience, just as I did during the interview.
I now have to get into a bit of camera lingo, which I hope most will understand. I shoot with the minimum lighting needed to get a good exposure, because that is easier on the subject. In the clip below, we’re shooting ISO 320 with a 135mm prime lens at f/2. Our depth-of-field is virtually non-existent. That means that there is less than 2 inches in space where the camera will be in focus. And the lens is so tight that there is only three inches of air on each side of Glen’s head.
In this Clip, Glen is telling the story of the downfall of Communist East Germany, of which he played a large part. Glen’s natural communication style is to move with the story; the energy of the tale engages his body. I don’t want to lose that.
Zack does an incredible job of following Glen through his story – reframing and focusing simultaneously. (And for any of you film buffs, there was no focus puller. Just Zack. This is HARD.) The movement of the camera and the focal shifts give incredible energy to the tale – something we would have lost if I had focused Glen’s attention on lighting, framing, etc. – the typical craft. It’s a dynamic clip because of good communicators in both chairs, and a talented eye on the camera.
I’ve told Zack in the past: If they fall out of the chair, I’ll make sure they’re OK. Your job is to refocus, reframe and keep shooting. I can count on him to do just that.