How To Interview the Anima Way: A 2-part Master Class
By Tim Knight
Go in with something to say and say it — irrespective of the question. You can always say ‘that’s not the real question’ and then ask the one you want to ask.
Sir Humphrey Appleby KCB
- The Yes, Prime Minister satire by Jonathan Lynn & Anthony Jay
Anima n. (Jung’s psychol.) A figure symbolizing the feminine aspect of the human psyche [Mod. L. fr. L. — soul]
Animus n. animosity, hostility, (Jung’s psychol.) a figure symbolizing the masculine aspect of the human psyche [L. — passion.]
In the first part of Tim Knight’s master-class on interviewing he wrote about the problem of Animus-interviewing — how it seldom gets to any real truths and is chiefly about reporting facts.
Then he explained how to interview the Anima way instead — how to cocoon so only the interviewer and interviewee exist and both seek to find and explore the deeper truth.
In this second part he writes about Anima-interviewing in the studio and on a remote. No easy task.
Cocooning In A Cold Climate
Studio Anima-interviews are tougher. But you can — you must — still try to cocoon.
A lot of the guidelines for studio interviews are just variations of the guidelines for field interviews.
- Focus the interview.
- Make a contract with the studio crew — through the Technical Producer or whoever else is the ranking person — that you will bring the interviewee into the studio at some agreed-on time so they can unobtrusively check size, coloring and voice-level. So they won’t need to do video and audio checks just before the taped part of the interview.
- Stipulate that once they’ve met the interviewee and introductions are over the interviewee — body and soul — belongs to you and you alone. Nobody may intrude on the relationship.
- Meet the interviewee. At the front door, if possible. This is the moment the interview starts. (If somebody else has to meet the interviewee have that person hand her or him over to you and then disappear). You — the interviewer — need to be the host, the protector. Because you’re building a cocoon.
- Escort the interviewee into the studio. Introduce to studio crew including soundperson and lighting person. Let the crew check the interviewee’s size, coloring and voice while the interviewee gets to know what the studio looks and feels like.
- Casually negotiate with the studio crew leader on the minimum time they’ll need to set up and light. Again, part of the contract is that you’re taking the interviewee away and won’t return until the crew has everything ready to shoot. You want to know how long they’ll need so you can go straight into the interview when you return. With no delays. No distractions.
- If possible, help the interviewee put on the microphone. Put on your own. Put sockets in pockets, to be connected only when you return to the studio.
- Take interviewee away to make-up, if needed. Make it as brief as possible. Talk nonsense.
- Take interviewee to the Green Room or some other appropriate place. The two of you should be alone. Offer a drink (one is probably enough) or water or coffee. Explain what you want. Define parameters. Make certain interviewee knows the purpose of the interview, his/her role etc.
- Build the cocoon. Probe, test, search. Be generous. Give to get. Focus conversation toward the interview subject but don’t get into any detail.
When crew preparation time is over and you’re ready, escort interviewee back to the studio, still deep in two-way conversation. The crew are invisible and don’t react to your arrival. Instead, they do crew-things like unobtrusive last-minute adjustments. They are, of course, ready to shoot.
- This is the hardest part. Keep discussing the subject matter — still a touch distant from the level of the taped interview to come. Hold the interviewee’s attention, keep the cocoon around the two of you, while microphones are plugged in and you take positions. No talk with crew or producer or anyone. No voice check. No voice-of-god announcements over the studio system. No fixing hair. No fixing makeup. No moving chairs. Machines should adjust to people, not people to machines. No countdown. Absolutely minimum wait. Keep discussing.
- Keep discussing until you get a visual or physical (not voice) signal that the camera is rolling and at speed. Don’t acknowledge.
- Whichever of you is speaking finishes the sentence. You say casually “Ok, we’re taping now.” And move straight into the interview with absolutely no change in voice or manner.
- Nothing interrupts the interview. The cocoon lives.
- Don’t forget afterplay.
Cocooning In a Colder Climate
Then there’s the remote interview.
You, the interviewer, are in one place, the interviewee is in another. Usually, you can hear each other speak over telephone lines. But you can’t see each other.
Video is shot at the time and matched later. It’s what’s called a double-ender.
It’s a lousy way to interview. For both of you. No real human contact. Often it’s just a way of showing off the magic of television. But sometimes it’s the only possible way.
The Anima-interviewer tries to cocoon in the remote interview, too. It’s not easy. But a version of it can be done.
The Anima-remote works like this:
- Make contract with the crew that the whole process will be divided into two parts — the technical part and the interview part. That everything technical will be got out of the way first. Then it’s the interviewer’s turn. The interviewee — body and soul — will belong to you and you alone. Nobody may intrude on the relationship.
- If possible, you, the interviewer, make the initial telephone call. Talk nonsense for a while, point out a few practical details (like using simple, everyday language, telling short stories to illustrate points etc.), then pass the interviewee to the technical people with a promise that you’ll be back as soon as possible.
- If the technical people initiate the call, have them complete all technical matters before handing the interviewee over to you.
- Talk nonsense briefly, then start Focusing the interview toward the subject matter. Take your time.
- You get a visual signal that the technicians are ready. When you’re ready — when you’ve built the best cocoon you can — signal for tape to roll. Whoever is talking finishes the sentence. Warn the interviewee that the tape is rolling and go straight into the first question with absolutely no change in voice or manner.
- Continue the interview — preserve the cocoon — without interruption. The Producer can write down questions she wants asked or you can add them after the interview is finished.
- Help the interviewee come down at the end. Talking straight to a camera and not seeing your interviewer may well have been a traumatic experience. Now is certainly a time to provide a little afterplay.
More of the Same
Live studio or field interviews add their own two rules.
- You adapt the appropriate Anima-interview guidelines — particularly those focused on cocooning — to whatever’s happening.
- You do the best you can, under the circumstances, at the time.
The Two Commandments
Cocooning may be the most important part of getting a first-class Anima-interview. But cocooning, by itself, isn’t enough.
Commandment # 1 — Thou Shalt Cocoon.
Commandment # 2 — Thou Shalt Provide Edge.
Edge is the other side of the same coin. It’s the sweet with the sour. The yin with the yang.
Once the cocoon has been crafted, the edge comes in.
- Edge is challenge.
- Edge is the fearless mind refusing to take waffle for an answer.
- Edge is the eager, inquiring mind pushing further and deeper for truth and understanding.
- Edge is the sharply Focused question that cuts right to the heart of the matter.
Edge helps the interviewee reach deep inside, into the Private Person.
- Researches thoroughly.
- Mostly travels chronologically in the journey of discovery that is a good interview.
- Knows the start, the direction and the intended destination. Doesn’t necessarily know the exact route.
- Asks simple, probing, intelligent questions in simple, spoken, intelligent language.
- Asks one question at a time.
- Asks open — rather than closed — questions. “Why did you come to South Africa?” rather than “Did you come to South Africa because the climate’s so great or because you’re running away from something back home?”
- When appropriate, has interviewee doing something while talking — something he or she would be doing anyway. Take advantage of real life. Don’t interrupt it for interviews.
- Responds physically and emotionally while listening.
- Is vulnerable, warm and generous.
- Gives to get.
- Draws out specifics, not generalities.
- Encourages illustrative stories.
- Shows genuine, human interest.
- Doesn’t show off research, knowledge or intelligence.
- Doesn’t compete with the interviewee.
- Never precedes a question with bush phrases like “can you tell me …?” or (unless the question is exceedingly delicate) “can I ask you …?” If the interviewee can’t tell or the interviewer can’t ask there’s not much point in the interview. Never says “Tell us a little bit about …”
- Asks questions the viewer — the third person in the discussion — would ask.
- Listens. Listens. Listens.
The Essential Edge
Edge, much like cocooning, gives the interviewee permission to go inside, to talk in depth of things that really matter. Edge is there to help the interviewee just as much as the interviewer and the viewer.
Without edge from the interviewer, it’s hard for the interviewee to give anything more than pablum. Interviewees need edge. Interviewees need to be pushed, challenged. So they can give great interview. Which is what they’re there to do. Which is what they want to do.
As the interviewer, you need to give edge particularly when you’re interviewing someone with whose views you agree. In fact, most particularly when you’re interviewing someone who you regard as more like a god than a human being!
Cocoon and edge are the two most important elements in Anima-interviewing. They complement each other.
Interviewers do interviewees a grave disservice when they don’t give them edge.
An Anima-interviewer also:
The Interviewer Sets the Rules
Anima-interviewing isn’t soft. It isn’t weak. It’s just that Anima-interviewing, unlike the traditional Animus-interviewing, isn’t into aggression and confrontation and interrogation and testosterone-waving.
Anima-interviewing tries to set up a genuine, human relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee. A relationship within which two people can trust each other enough to talk from the heart of things that matter.
Just like the interview itself, it’s a relationship which starts when the two of you meet. When you — the interviewer — sets the tone, defines the situation, sets guidelines of mutual respect, mutual interest.
It’s a relationship which grows as the interview progresses. It’s a relationship which doesn’t change when the taped part of the interview starts. Or when the taped part of the interview ends.
Anima-interviewing asks tough questions. But asks them in an appropriately human, generous, respectful, searching, interested tone.
It’s a tone which, in return, prompts the interviewee to answer from the heart — not the head — in an appropriately human, generous, respectful, searching, interested tone. To search inside. To find and tell the truth.
You Can Get From Here to There
Interviews are journeys. Ideally, they’re journeys of discovery. Only a fool starts a journey without knowing the purpose or the destination.
So always know:
- Where the journey starts
- Why you’re traveling
- What your intended destination is
- Ways to get there.
It’s also vital for the interviewee to know the purpose of the journey and (usually) its intended destination. In fact, the interviewee needs to know as much as possible.
An interviewee who doesn’t know where you want to go — or why — is wary and protective, waits until things become clear.
Often, they never do. And nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in the interview.
Good interviews have a shape, a form, a structure. Just like good stories. In fact, good interviews use the same shape, form and structure as good stories.
The Last Word & the Best Interviewer
Finally, never forget that your job is not to win arguments or score points with the interviewee. Your job is not to show how clever you are or how much you know.
Your job is to help the interviewee give the best interview possible. Your job is to bring understanding to the viewer through the eyes, humanity and emotions of a participant in the story.
In the end, your job as an Anima-interviewer is to serve the most important person in the interview. The third — the silent — person.
I think the best question I ever heard in TV journalism came from a 10-year-old boy on a CBC children’s program. He looked up at Wayne Gretzky — probably the greatest hockey player who ever skated — and asked:
“How come you score all those goals, Mr. Gretzky?”
This column is adapted from Tim Knight’s book Everything you’ve always wanted to know about how to be a TV Journalist in the 21st Century but didn’t know who to ask or STORYTELLING AND THE ANIMA FACTOR, now in its second edition. It’s available on Lulu and Amazon.
Knight recently moved his broadcast training company, Tim Knight + Associates, from Toronto, Canada, to Cape Town (“fairest cape in all the world”). His website is www.TimKnight.org and there’s more detail about his storytelling coaching on LinkedIn
Tim Knight executive produced, co-directed, wrote and narrated the 3-hour wildlife documentary trilogy Inside Noah’s Ark, shot in South Africa and broadcast on Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, PBS and 15 European networks.