Essential Storytelling Techniques with Producers from 'Snap Judgment'

Lesson 5 of 5

The Interview

 

Essential Storytelling Techniques with Producers from 'Snap Judgment'

Lesson 5 of 5

The Interview

 

Lesson Info

The Interview

Actually, I have a good question here that kind of leads into our interview process, so this question comes from robin and says, you ever take the interviewee through your story worksheet before the interview say, if if you don't know all the details of the story, well, yeah, is it helpful to kind of walk them through it? So that's great, we're going come like by their right now. Um so the, uh, the first step oven interview, assuming that you've landed sicker, the interview right, we've contacted the person, they're interested. We'll go over some of the technical choices later. Um, but there's a decision you have to make about what we call the preinterview and there's two schools of thought on this, um, one is do I want to lay out like this? Question asks don't want to lay out my vision of the story for this person and see how that sits with them, see if that feels accurate to them see if they have anything to say about that, um, there's a lot of benefits to doing that, sometimes they'...

ll be like that's not my story at all and you're like okay, well, what is your story? And then you get on the same page you sometimes they say that's not my story at all and, um you could say thank you very much and try for another story um, you also kind of get an idea of what kind of talk or they are you get an idea for, you know, kind of how to approach them when it comes time for the actual interview and, um, you're a little bit maximally prepared if you do a pre interview um, on the other hand, yeah, another reason that sometimes we will do that also is just so that you have all the most superficial information so you can go even yeah is another reason to do that. You don't use waste your time getting stuff you already know yeah, um so we should click through and then the kind of the other side of the reason's not do a pre interview is because lots of people think and it's often true that you lose all of the the gold when you've told them where you're going um, you lose moments a spontaneity sometimes the first time someone says something is the best time they say in the night ever think of that? Well, again, that's often the case or so I've been interviewing people like oh yeah, we already talked about that I was like, no, we didn't talk about it while recording, but that was just me and you talking like that I need you to say it again and when someone says it again, they're never saying it quite a swell um there's no right answer on the pre interview so so so there's no right answer to the question, but there is a kind of the two schools of thought and they're also there is also for you to like there's I mean, like I just said, that could be useful to you to know everything it can also be useful to us, the interview or to not know as much. So you asked the right questions and your curiosity's genuine so people can tell the difference between like, oh my god and, um well, that sound like I was faking it, they can't tell the difference between taking it and and and genuinely being shocked on tape and that that can be some of the best tape is when you yourself are like, just discovering, um what they're telling you, um, so you gotta plan your interview like I said, um, which you would be surprised how many people don't plan their interview? A lot of people don't plan their interview for narrative like long form stories I wouldn't recommend it. Um in the kind of nuts and bolts kind of way you wantto for the kind of story telling we do we start off with about thirty to fifty questions, it's about two hours? Um and and then we go back like we said, we would take that information, we build the story and we figure out what holds we have and we go back and interview again for another two hours. So we interview for four hours for fifteen to twenty minutes of story. Um, so, uh, do's and don'ts, so there's um, yeah, um yeah, so that said planning, you know, like it's great to plan, but you also, um conversely, needs me probably ready for like, everything beat down when it happens. You know, sometimes everything rests on one detail that for whatever reason, you got wrong or happened just differently enough. So you realize that that's not this what you thought was the story is not the story at all. Sometimes that means that that's just that's that but sometimes it means that it's it's actually even more exciting or interesting than you thought and you need to be ready to just, like, follow the story ricco's and not be too rigid about, um you know about about your plan and that's kind of like you just and you also for yourself you just figure out where you end on that I tend to prepare like a little bit less because it gets it it feel like it gets in the way of me honestly like genuinely listening to them and if I'm not generally listening to them, I can't um I miss a lot more questions that I should be asking them so you know, whatever it just however however you do it it's that just like, very delicate balance between the two high over prepare I might say something about who we are as people and, um so some dues and don't of ah, question that, of course don't ask yes or no questions that's going to be, um, big dead end there's also, um kind of different between why and how questions um what's it who's there boring what's in who's there also to get back to your question something you can feel it in your narration you confuse can fill in practical information as the author at the narrator is the host right? But you can't you can't make audio gold as the host sadly, that needs to come from your interviewee and you gonna get that more with why and how uh then you are with who and what, um you know keep in mind that audio is emotional so think about music write music is is moving and hearing someone's voice and hearing that the tenor of their voice and what's happening the tightness of their throat in their chest you can hear everything someone is feeling in their voice um which means ask emotional questions asked questions like how did that feel grass questions like what are you feeling right now be their therapist um and then you know how did that feel in your body how did that feel in your heart where did you feel that in your body I often that's because people hold different emotions in different places which I find interesting right people are in their neck and their jaw um so so keep in mind that it's emotional uh you have a great example of this one another strategy is to ask the same question a bunch of different ways don't be afraid that heard that don't be afraid to be repeating yourself because they you know people understand that you're there to interview them on dh and even if they recognize that it's redundant we'll be fine you asking a bunch of different ways to it hits people differently if it was like one's earlier in the interview ones later they're in a different mood you know but just um that that's a good trick yeah when I was in burma a few years ago doing a radio documentary about political prisoners who had been freed and put back in prison and freedom project in prison, you know, over their whole lives. And I kept asking this question to these free political prisoners were you? Are you scared? Like, are you scared of going back to prison? And they kept everyone said no, and I was like, uh, that's, not great for my story. Um, and then I was like, you know, the point of the story was that you, they're living in this parallel the time of, like, going back to prison, going back to prison, but they weren't they weren't saying that they was here too, going back to prison, and then, um, finally I realized that like that, no fear was a part of their mission in their philosophy and not being scared. Um, so I just started to say, do you expect to go back to prison what's hard about that? What don't you like about that? How does that feel in your body? How does your family feel about that? And then that's when they revealed all the ways that that was scared? Um, they just they just didn't want to say that they, you know, they they just expressed in a different way, then I'm scared. Uh, we talked about this a little bit already. Everybody talked about this pretty much, but this is it's an important that it be on that you see it on this list, the scene, the scene setting questions. Just what? What did you see? What do you smell? What to do? Use. Use the senses on to release teo, give some visuals and set that scene. And when julie was talking about following your curiosity and speaking your mind, I always think there's a moment, always a moment in every one of my interviews where the story completely falls apart like that map that we made in the a plan that I built, like, just disintegrates because, um, they're not saying what I expected them to say it just like in that burma example, I'm like, well, I don't have a story if you're not scared of going back to prison, so, like I've flown across the country and, like, got in a lot of grant money to do this, and this doesn't exist, and in that moment, um, you know what your job teo? Find where the story is? Right, which is like this dance you do where you're leading them and they're leading you and you're leading them and you know you have to read them but can I level with you? I thought this was the story or some people who totally can't do that with you know this is I think the most exhausting part of the whole process because you're really on right you're like you can't sleep on this super on yeah and we're gonna talk about this in a little bit more in a second using music clip because this is actually a really big one but um yeah let's talk about a couple more nuts and bolts before we get back yeah a couple of questions they're gonna lead into that but here's a good one from robin and I know a lot of people are wondering this if the interview is ever going differently than you thought do you just stop the interview and say thank you or do you keep going for whether it's being polite or for posterity's sake or in the hopes of getting something that internet dating question with people like it's not going well can you just stop it? Can you pretend that way go on the second drink um I don't know I mean is that I always keep going no, I don't think it's a kind of never know I mean mr instincts but you really don't ever know and then like I would give up but like I said I would give up on like fully half my interviews if I did that end and usually by the end you do have a story again so like you want to play to your figure is too much keep hope alive yeah something good advice another question here we passed on the mic of a hand we have to mix in two hands question sue front row first I love the comfort with a second interview and planning for the second interview can you tell me the difference between planning for the first interview and planning for the second interview yeah really different it's gonna be way easier on everybody um so they're just holes like holes in your tape you know, like I didn't fit with the extremist makeover story I didn't ask him to to describe mulligan far well enough so I just asked a whole bunch of questions around that um it did tend to be shorter too on I definitely level with my interview beforehand and I say, you know, this is going to be all over the place there's just it's just really like plugging up hold on the narrative um getting more detail from things that I didn't get enough to tell him so it comes from the feedback you get from people you play it for I don't understand this part I wanted more about this yeah questioning the back so I was kind of gonna follow up on the question earlier. Um, I've been in a situation where I'm interviewing someone, and they're talking for a really long time about something, and I just know that I want to move on to the next thing, but I don't want to interrupt them, and I want to give them space and make them feel comfortable, and then I have so much tape to transcribe and go through and don't know what to do with it. So I was just wondering, like, how do you guys now obviate that? And and also in general, just, I think, getting used to being quiet? Well, someone's talking when you want to respond, like, genuinely and an interject, but do that without running the tape? Yes, that is a fantastic question. Um, we it is just like it's. Yeah, just such yet another very delicate balance between knowing when tio, uh, people taught me initially to just, like, let people talk and then leave an uncomfortable silence afterwards, um, you know, so just leave a silence so long that at least you're uncomfortable and even when they get uncomfortable sometimes that's when they say the best things, um but also there are gonna be times when they just like if you're talking to an economist and you're trying to tell you know you tell an emotional story but like it's just he was doing research at the time and he starts talking about the research like that maybe where his interest is and he could talk for forty five minutes and you just need toe just need to stop it I would say that like one thing that you know report is really, really you know, it's really important I usually we'll start with kind of just like a little bit of chit chat at the beginning. One person once told me that he tries to you say one thing about himself right at the beginning you know, just like, you know, traffic was terrible today or like you mentioned something that makes you feel awkward or a family holiday, you know, just makes that makes them see that you're a person but it's also they know where they're they know you're interviewing and so to interject um you know and to try to move people along, you know, people are a lot more willing tio go go along and you kind of want to take control of make sure you kind of keep control of the interview at all times that's one of the ways that you sort of like reminds people that like it's an interview but I think you pointed to something really important it depends on how much time you have that if you're on it, turn around story and you have to file it that night you gotta cut people off and didn't get what you need but if you're on the year long you know documentary project I mean, you know that's why you can tell how how much time someone put into something because mohr but to really get the better your story is gonna be just a question of what luxuries we have I was going to ask about efficiency of interviewing because a lot of people don't have hours to do the editing and if you want for efficiency sake if you want to do something live practically you know, maybe yeah how does thie interview process change in that case in that scenario versus something that's less live in immediate uh what's that z very good question it is a little bit outside of sort of the party of like storytelling we canto absolutely answer thank you for asking, but just so we don't get confused about where how this fits in just a storytelling do you feel like you have a you're just about your no I mean I mean you're right to identify the problem it's it's a problem um I my approach would be tio to kind of really nail the preinterview and like, let them know this is where we're going. I know you have really interesting things to say about the nonprofit you're starting with your wife it's fascinating, we'll put a link to it on our website, we can't talk about it in this interview, these the questions I need to ask you and I really need to stick to it because I want your message to come across. I want this to be a great story, so like, I'm just going to ask that you that I think that's what I would do it's just really be honest with my interviewee, which you can really do more than you would expect in my experience. It's a question over here for one or two more questions we do about fifteen minutes until we have to wrap up. So thank you for your questions try to keep him concise. Do you always do your interviews live, or do you sometimes do them remotely? And how does that change things when you're not with them and our some ways that you kind of compensate for not being in the room? President that's perfect question that's where we're going to talk about next so you have some decisions to make kind of technical decisions about, um, how to record your interview. So you can record it in someone's home on site if you want an experience like julia had where he's gonna walk you around and show you the memorial has built his wife and tell your photo albums and show you the space that they shared um if there's reason to interact with the space which is often very nice than its great again and you have the money to get there then it's great to go on location um there are scenarios in which that's less than ideal lots of people can open up much more if you're not looking at them and they're not looking at you um and it's cheaper than flying to wherever your interview use um terry gross is never in the same room with her interviewee, right um and you wouldn't know it but there's something about the way that she interviewed maybe almost never um is it true that even if they're in the studio there into different maybe some mythology around this I'm not sure I can assure you it is so uh you think that because of hate and how she works so it's so these are decisions you have to make is the point right? Do you want teo? Do you want to spend the money? Do you want to spend the time that you want to get the minister here somewhere um and just have their end of the interview recorded one quick thing I'll say about this is that if you're recording somebody on the phone the laws are different everywhere you are and they're always changing so a good wayto look at him look up the laws look up with their but tell somebody that you're recording the phone conversation say do I have your permission to record this phone conversation, get them to respond in a full sentence? You have my permission to record this phone conversation um because that could be tricky territory and the last thing about this kind of technical thing is that the most important element is to not let poor audio distract from your good story. Um that's the most important thing just make sure that however your recording your story you recorded well and I'm not listening to the traffic behind the story I'm actually listening to your story so I kind of do some research no, no had him hold a microphone knowhow to record so that's what happened? Um I talked a little bit already about establishing, um report with people and again, this is just kind of wherever you find yourself to be most comfortable um and how you bring enough of your personal self to it so that everything's you know, so that you're you're genuinely relating but also your professional self so that your, you know, executing um and uh the question of when do you know it's over we got to ask this question a lot um yeah and do you have an answer to that question I do it's never over I'm never I'm never in an interview and the interview ends and I'm like great got everything I need my story is gonna be great like I have no idea what I got maybe I got one thing that I need but like it's been two hours this person has a life I have a life like you just got a call it at some point right um so so that's the truth um I should probably let them go and that's why it's lovely to have you identified this like follow up interview were like you know let's pick a time ten days from now when you can get back in the studio does that work for everybody and like do that at the end of the interview because that's your leg lifeboat to all those things you didn't get do you want to play that clip um uh um and the very last thing is just make sure that you will back up your interview once you have it it is you will probably have to go through losing one one time before you actually do this but I cannot tell you and everyone's gonna have one has to learn the hard way don't make yourself learn the hard way yeah, yeah uh, yeah, well, just wondering in your story, you didn't need to use a translator, but could you talk about the logistics of having told translator? Yeah, and like, when do you make a decision as to when to use one, depending on the language ability of the person you're interviewing? Yeah, this is that I mean, this is when you really wish you had some titles and radio translations really it's really difficult distracts him a story a lot. Um, the best way we found a snap judgment to deal with it is some toe actually get actors for the final round there's something about translators, they're doing a really difficult job and they end up speaking without yeah, a lot of emotion, and they're like, just use this translator voice, which is kind of generic and universal and takes all the emotion out of a story. Um and they're doing the lord's work, so thank them for that, but, uh, so you have to keep it really tight, keep the translation really tight. I will say, um, that at the interviewee, I'll raise my hand after that someone's been speaking, answered my question the language I don't understand for about ten seconds, I'll raise my hand, that's my signal to them to pause the translator then tells me what they've said and then I'll let him go on because if you have two minutes of the language you don't understand and then two minutes for translation you can't make any small cuts within that chunk so it makes sense so establishing ground rules like that it really helpful um but radio in a foreign languages really tough precisely because of what I was talking about that a lot of the power in this medium is hearing the tenor of somebody's voice and hearing the nuance of inside the words that they're saying and you lose that a lot with the translated piece. One thing that radio lab does really well is how they handle I think how they handle people speak while they're speaking foreign languages on on the show they do they do to things that I've noticed one is that they'll have the person that's translating in some cases be somebody that knows the person personally, um I haven't experimented a ton with this I would really like to because I think that they can actually start to like they can they can capture some of like the spirit of the person when they know them as well oh, as the words on and sometimes they even you know, if they're relative or something they have, um some skin in the game themselves you know, if it's family story or something also the way you can, like if you weave them in and out of you, sort of doing the translating, being like man talks in arabic, and then you sort of be like, so so, you know, the motorcycles came around the corner and, you know, the helicopters were right behind him, and then guy speaks arabic again, and then you, as the narrator, are clearly doing the translating and it's, actually just a big block of you telling the story, but you just feel him there, you know, it's, a good it's can be a good waves splitting the difference of taking it all away from him and get, you know, having a voice over and a nice little trick is if there is a word in the language that they're speaking, which is the same as the english word pop that up louder, like I was interviewing guy and uganda he's talking about how his house was burned down, I said what was lost? He said, his radio cassette player in the word in the language, he's speaking, was radio cassetti. And so we we pop that up right when the translator was saying it so that it makes it more believable that that's what these people are actually saying after your interview, er your your first thing you're gonna do is backing up um transcribe the interview this is a great opportunity to also listen back and then you hear what questions you like wish you'd you'd wish you'd asked you hear things that you didn't fully you know clock when you first heard it also then you come out with a transcript don't send your transcript out to a third party then you've missed the experience of becoming intimate with your tape um evaluate what you have you know, look back at your building you're building your your look at your look back to your story map and you know what? You wanted to get out of it and then look at what you actually have um so you can figure out what to get from a second interview or what you just like you realize you're never going to get and how do you have to rethink your story now that you know what you you have, um figure out how it all fit as in um and then you know, find find your gems in there this's just like the moment when when you were most curious interested you felt, you know, most emotional when they're being funny like really sort of idiosyncratic, you know, moments when there's sort of something idiosyncratic that comes out about them that like, give some texture just those little those little nuggets that don't actually fit in any of like the checklist that we've given you but you're just like you just you just love it and find I've identified this it's the funnest part thanks you mentioned a couple of times that music is so important and for those of us who don't have a composer in house can you just talk briefly about where you're finding it? Obviously mood is a stylistic choice but where you sourcing your music? Um that was a good question we actually had a lot of that online as well so thank you for asking that uh I want to be careful about how we answer this one because there are there's this this is like a being big gray space right now with um to sort of proprietary stuff and and what how like what podcasts I can and can't use you know that I haven't actually started going after podcasts but like you know you should go and stuff you're allowed to use so um music was always called just search around for free music and find the some some sites have people have taste for in some sites they don't there's a lot of bad it's a lot of bad options out there so it'll take some digging I also wants I don't rule out just like asking the publisher for right they give it more often than they don't especially if you're starting your own podcast and then also like if there's a band you really like just reached out to them that there's a composer you really like um that's sometimes all you need to one or two albums and you could get get a lot of mileage out of him I actually just wanted to ask a really specific question about a snap judgment you said that turnaround time is different for everyone what's the turnaround time for you guys and do you work on multiple projects at once? Uh, yes would do turnout in time our production cycles about two two weeks from our first edit to when we handed over to the sound guys to score they do that in about a week it's amazing what they do um uh yeah, so then that's that's pretty this pretty quick for fifteen to twenty minutes story, but I've had stories that I've been working on for a year. Um just because I'm waiting on access um or something fell through but average it's about him a month to two weeks. So people have been calling this the second golden age of audio and storytelling and I very much believe that there's this is a great a great time to be getting into um I'm storytelling in an audio storytelling and also just a note about this if you do work in other mediums um trying to develop your skills in audio like people at the end of alex bloomberg who also taught creative light of course used to tell his grad students like don't get into audio um and and and now they can't find enough people to do it and you can use all your skills over there so like there's just like so much opportunity in audio and also storytelling is incredibly important in a way that um you know, it hasn't been for a really long time yeah, I mean julia since then I have been talking about it it's hard to say without sounding cheesy or like sounding very trite but stories of the way that we connect to do each other a minute it's just true it's true in every culture to turin in the human race um and so what you're doing is important and what you're doing is um is needed right now and like a really visceral way julia said there's new podcast popping up every week and they need they need content and there's not that many people out there who are actually making stories like people are gathering stories together and talking about stories and tweeting stories and doing all kinds of things about stories but they're not making stories so if you're someone who made it's a story which all of you are that's very valuable and like you can find homes for those stories and people were listening and when people listen their lives will be enriched slide ways people can keep in touch with you we don't want this conversation to end right here. Um, yeah, and it's an, a. Feel free to email anna or or tweet at me, and then we can find other ways to communicate. If you have, uh, more questions, you know, things that we didn't you didn't. We didn't get to you wanna elaborate just yet. Keep keep the conversation going. Yeah, thank you, but with that let's, give a huge round of applause.

Class Description


Storytelling is one of the most effective tools we have as a species – to connect, to persuade, and to entertain.

There are stories all around us. We watch stories on TV, read them online and share them with each other. They are the most important and powerful way we have to interpret our world. 

Essential Storytelling Techniques with Producers from Snap Judgment will be of particular interest to those drawn to crafting and sharing intimate stories about the human experience.

This class will cover storytelling techniques that will help you turn an idea for an audio, radio story or podcast into a real and concise narrative. 

You’ll learn about:

  • Finding and pitching stories 
  • Constructing a focused, compelling story arc 
  • Conducting interviews to craft a complete, engaging story 
  • Building dramatic tension, narrative surprise, and higher meaning 
Whether you’re a podcaster or simply curious about the mechanics of building a better story, you'll leave this class with the tools you need to connect and engage your audience through story.

Reviews

Serena Larkin
 

Loved this training---plenty of great takeaways from women who've done the hard work, done it successfully and well, and know how to share that with others. Especially enjoyed: 1. Their clear story checklist (Compelling lead, Unique angle, Who will listen?, Who will speak?) 2. Their hammering home of continuing to ask yourself throughout the process why YOU love your story, so that that passion helps to drive it 3. Their emphasis on the dynamism of storytelling and its taking shape between the producer and the audience Great stuff---thank you! PS Could commenters here please focus on content, rather than the presenters' voices? I liked both myself, but if you didn't, that's really not the point of this review section. Also, please see: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/545/if-you-dont-have-anything-nice-to-say-say-it-in-all-caps?act=2#play.

Georgia Buchert
 

Three hours and 10 1/2 pages of furious note-taking later, I'm feeling encouraged and excited to get back into some story projects I'd put on hold. Julia DeWitt and Anna Sussman brought to my memory some great concepts I've interacted with in my previous work and gave me fresh information to help me evolve and become a better storyteller. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and helpful resources.

Sara
 

My high hopes for this class were exceeded. Co-instructors Anna and Julia did an excellent job conveying what story collection is like in the field, offering pointers for capturing necessary tape, and explaining the building blocks of narrative that's strong enough to keep the attention of distractible listeners. I loved that they're seasoned producers who get the human elements of storytelling and understand that it's a messy, challenging process, but shared the paths they've mapped out that work. Also appreciated the pointers on pitching, which was one of the most useful part of the session to me. I second the comment of another reviewer that the moderator's interjections distracted a bit from the flow of the instruction, though understand why CreativeLive wants to do this.