Documentary is commonly thought of as a cerebral, intellectual genre (Bill Nichols’ notion of a ‘discourse of sobriety’); quite often it is virtually the opposite: emotion-driven, sensual and – in that it sometimes asks its spectator to respond to it spontaneously on a gut, almost physical emotive level – primal in its appeal.
Bruzzi, Stella. 2006., New Documentary. [online]. Taylor & Francis. Available from:
The Interview Setup
Only rarely is an interviewee asked to speak directly into the camera, in part because few “regular” people can do it comfortably. (Film- maker Errol Morris achieves this effect through an elaborate setup he devised, called an InterrotronTM, in which the interviewee speaks to an image of Morris on a screen placed over the camera lens.)
Everyone approaches interviewing differently. Some people work to put the subjects at ease, starting with more “comfortable” questions before easing into material that’s more touchy. As mentioned, film- makers whose style is more confrontational may show up with the cameras rolling. Sometimes you’re asking someone to relate an event he or she has told many times, and the story’s taken on a polished quality that you want it to lose; it may take getting the person riled up, or challenging something about the story, to accomplish that.
Another strategy for interviewing, notes Boyd Estus, “is for the person asking the questions not to look at the interviewee as a source of information but to get them involved in a conversation, which often involves playing devil’s advocate. ‘I really don’t understand why this is better than that. Can you explain that to me?’” Estus explains, “So the person’s engaged, as opposed to spouting a pat answer.”
Bernard, Sheila Curran. 2010., Documentary Storytelling. [online]. Elsevier Science & Technology. Available from:
I will look to be more conversational in my questions tomorrow and search for answers that provoke honesty and humanity.
Worthington, Charlotte. 2008., Basics Film-Making: Producing. [online]. Ava Publishing (UK) Ltd. Available from: