The Art of the Interview
Kristina Loring, Cal Peternell
The Art of the Interview
Kristina Loring, Cal Peternell
4. The Art of the Interview
The Art of the Interview
No matter what your podcast is, you're going to be talking or interviewing or just talking to another human probably, so we really want to talk about the art of the interview. We start doing, before we go into the interview we do extensive interview prep, and that contains basic facts about our interviewee, like anytime they're ever done an interview. We go through all the interview, we pull out the things that are most interesting to us, any video they've ever done, we explore their artwork, their primary resources, like every single possible thing. And then if they don't have a ton of... If they haven't been interviewed a ton, take heart that good job, you're getting them out there and amplifying a voice, and you're taking something different, but also think about what's being talked about in their industry, read articles about what they could be concerned about or care about. And also one of the things to pay attention to when you're doing that research is to not repeat... Maybe o...
ur format helps us with that, since we're cooking, but to not ask those same questions again, like if they're always being asked about the film they just finished or the book they just wrote. You can touch on that, but you need to diversify your questions so that you're bringing out something new. And then also in that prep packet I have a reporter's checklist of things that I want to make sure that we hit, like any themes that, maybe it's not a specific question, but a theme we want to get or a moment I want to capture, like I know I want to capture when Francis McDormand opens the door, or I know I want to get Tommy reading his poetry so I can weave it in our episode, things like that. And sometimes you can write a fantasy script of how you want to manifest the interview to go and it's not like you're going to be following it word for word, but it gets in your subconscious and it sort of sets the tone for the day. And some of the tricks that I learned from Kristina are to really try and get that interview prep into your head. Write the questions down by hand. And then you can kind of forget them if you need to. And also, allow time for the, once your subject has answered the question, wait a minute. Because sometimes something really good will come if you... What might feel in regular conversation like an awkward pause can actually be a place where they'll fill in the pause with something really good. Yeah, instead of filling it with a verbal confirmation, just be like, okay, with your face. Or they're telling you something... I'm a chest clutcher in real life, I'm like (gasps), you know? And I do that when I'm interviewing. Oh, I probably just messed up our mic. Sorry. But that's how I am in interviews too, someone's telling me something really intense, like they can see it in my physical face that I'm listening to them, but lately I'm not being like, oh my god, you know? Because I don't want to edit that out later. Yeah, like the usual uh huh, oh, uh huh... Kristina told me, your face should kind of hurt at the end of the interview because you're going like... (crowd laughs) Totally. And then another thing when you're forming your questions, some of your guests, like for Francis McDormand, she's been interviewed a bunch, and sometimes you hear the same questions when people are doing a book tour, their movie PR tour, so we always just remember our mission. We are a food and cooking show, so let's try to focus on her relationship with food and cooking, and not just maybe what the New York Times would ask her about a new movie that's coming out. And in that, things reveled like she raised her son pagan, or she goes to mountain spring to get her water every day. Some really intimate things that I've never read about her before. All right, people always ask us this. Do I need a professional sound studio? And the answers is just no. You don't need a professional sound studio to do great audio, great podcasting. We love to embrace the chaos of going into a somewhat loud and chaotic kitchen and sort of embracing the elements that are in there. And I think that's what people enjoy about being in our show, that it's not a sterile studio. As an example of that, as we went to Big Freeida's house in New Orleans. If you don't know Big Freeida, she's the queen of bounce music, incredible musician. And we got there and we were in New Orleans, we'd never been to her kitchen before, and when we walked in, this was happening. (multiple dogs barking) It's like cute dog parade happening. (door creaking) (man speaking inaudibly) They are a hot mess. (Kristina laughs) What's their names? Rita, Sensation, Beyonce, Royal, and King. I have a army. Five babies. Aw. Mmhm. She's bad, honey. She's ever feisty, she's like, controlling. She don't want nobody to like, to be around me, she snaps at the other dogs. Well, it's good to be loved. Yes. Big Freeida obviously loves her dogs- They had dye jobs, they all had different... There was like hot pink and royal blue schnauzers... That was happening. And she loves them, and usually I kick dogs out when we're doing recordings, but I wanted to leave that in the piece because that's like, part of her family and it gives a little insight into her home life. One of the things that we've found that is really helpful, and kind of a favorite part of every episode, is we get like a show and tell. We ask our interviewees, our guests, to show us around their kitchen. It tends to help them kind of relax, it put the... We're sort of recognizing the fact that we're in their kitchen and they have something to show us and tell us. And when they do, there's inevitably some little thing that has a story, just like in everybody's kitchen. You've got that plate that you love, or this little funny broken skillet but you use it all the time cause it's your favorite skillet. And it has proven a great sort of icebreaker in a moment, to kind of open things up a little bit. And when we went to Francis McDormand's house, we asked her to show us around and she told us a little story about one of her plates. And I have to say, my favorite things, I'm a big mid century modern fan, so I've got a lot of teak. This is one of my favorite plates. The World's Fair from Seattle, 1962. This is for my personal tea time, I put my cup and saucer and my little teapot on it, and carry it around to different parts of the house. And a cookie or something? Yeah, a biscuit. You gotta have a biscuit. Gotta have a biscuit, and then this is Joel's favorite cookie plate. This was a young women, a young artist, we got this in Healdsburg, California. She gets old grandma plates, that are all flowery and have retro edges, and then she puts different sayings. This one is mothafucker, which is always fun to put your tea biscuits on. Something's revealed underneath the cookies. So we believe that too, something is revealed underneath the cookies, aka, any of the objects that people show us in their kitchen. And so we were doing this game of show and tell with Bob the Drag Queen, he's the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race Season Eight, and he's an amazing comedian and an actor. And so we're going around his kitchen, and something was revealed that we didn't see coming. We said, can we look in the refrigerator, and I don't think at first he was going to let us look in the refrigerator. Yeah. But he did. Yeah, and then... Well, listen. That's Bob. Um, there's a jar of Koolicles, which is a Kool-Aid pickle, so a pickle, but you mix Kool-Aid into... He's laughing at me, what the hell. The chef's laughing at me. You mix Kool-Aid into the pickle juice. I can't believe you're telling other people that. Can I just have you say who you are? Hi, I'm comedian Mateo Lane, and I came to visit Bob, and I just want the world to know, I don't stand by these pickles, Kool-Aid mixtures. I don't know what... Do you see how angry he got? It was a ghost, Bob. He's out of his mind. So then we leaned about Koolicles, and then we also learned that Mateo is there, his friend was visiting him from New York, cause he was in Berkeley doing a play, and so we didn't expect another voice or we didn't really know anything about Mateo Lane even though he's a very well-known comedian, and so instead of being like, you need to go, we're going a recording, we just were like, yeah, the more the merrier, and this is going to add a different sonic texture. It's obviously making Bob feel comfortable that this friend's here, and it also added a comedic layer of absurdity that we didn't expect. And inspired me to do my Julia Child impersonation. I figured if Mateo could do it, I could do it. So here's a little taste of that. So do you guys know, oh my god, I didn't even tell you guys that, um... We wouldn't want to embarrass her, cause we have so many... I've been hanging out with Liza Minnelli, she's here with us. Liza, how are you? I'm doing just fine. I know how to cook. Liza, what's your favorite meal to cook? My mother taught me how to make a great London Broil. Really? What's the secret to the perfect London Broil? When it's fresh you kind of just lay it down, and that's about it. (Bob and Cal laugh) (Cal's laugh grows higher in pitch) Thank you, Mariah. That's amazing. Okay, so yeah, we get all sorts of impressions. There's a Wendy Williams one, but we didn't have time to put it in this clip, but you can listen to the episode when it comes out for Season Two. So that was great. And another thing that we do that builds into the whole format of our show, is giving our guests a task, which is the cooking. We got to cook with one of our heroes that we share, Mira Nair, director of Monsoon Wedding and Mississippi Masala and many other movies. Queen of Katwe, great one. And Mira was there in Berkeley working on a musical version of Monsoon Wedding and she had actually literally broke her leg in the theater. She fell off the stage, I think because there was so much rain involved in the show. So she was on crutches and she came and we sat and cooked together, which is something we don't usually do, but it just reminded us of how having a task to do can really kind of take the focus off. There's a lot of emphasis put on eye contact, interviewing face-to-face. But it turns out that interviewing not face to face, like standing next to each other or across from each other but looking down. So we were sitting there picking herbs and sorting through greens and peeling cucumbers, and the pressure is off a little bit. And I think people feel like they can be a little more candid, they don't feel so on the spot. It's something if you're a parent, you may have noticed this with your kids, that sometimes when you're driving together in the car and everyone's facing the same direction, you can have a more candid conversation sometimes cause you're not like, staring them down. So have a task, and it can be, if you're cooking it can be picking parsley or shelling beans, but it could be any kind of... Just something to kind of take everyone's attention away for a second and allow some flow to happen. Yeah, and maybe you're not going to be in the kitchen like we are, but sometimes I take interviewees for walks just so that they're showing me their neighborhood, and they're more like, storytelling, more of a guide, or I give them some other task to do. And you can see that we do sometimes put the dog out. Oh yeah, that's Cal's dog Benny. That's my dog Benny. He had to go out. Sorry Benny. Another aspect of interviewing that's really important is making yourself vulnerable. You're asking somebody to sort of... First of all, we go into their kitchen for quite a few hours. That's a really personal space. Second, you're asking them to really tell you stories, share intimate experiences, sometimes people's relationships with food is very personal. It's a really intimate thing, and so it's a fine balance between sort of... You want to share a little bit of yourself sometimes, and it's a fine balance between talking too much about yourself, and sort of offering something up so that it's more of a call and response, and it's more of a symbiotic thing between you and your guest. Sometimes I'm not there to tell my story, so it can seem sometimes odd if I start going off on some story, but it can also be helpful to preface a question with a little anecdote of your own. Like it just shows that I'm revealing this about me, you know, I do this, how about you? There's other ways to make yourself vulnerable that can be embarrassing. Big Freeida's the queen of bounce, and I don't know if you know about bounce music, but the traditional dance is the twerk. And it's probably not even called the twerk, just that I said that is probably reveals something about my age and hipness. But I asked Freeida to give me a little twerking lesson. Unfortunately, it was captured on video. Arch your back like this. Oh, okay. Yes, and then you twerk it up and down. There you go. It's like you're humping You gotta get the hump thing, not just up and down. Yes, it's like you're that. Think about in the bed. Well I was wondering if everybody after your show- Doing something like that just broke up the energy, we had been sitting down and doing the interview, we had finished all the cooking and the energy was lowering, and then it was like, we're getting up on our feet, we're going to volunteer Cal for this and not me. Happy to do it. And some of our guests have been a little surprised at how prepared we are when we show up. It's like when you go on a date and it's obvious that you've googled that person. And it can definitely be that kind of vibe. I remember Alexander was kind of like, whoa, you guys really dug in deep here. So if you can find that... It's not always going to be twerking, probably somebody's not going to say think about in the bed, but if you're lucky you'll get something like that, and it kind of just breaks up the tension a little bit.
Ratings and Reviews
I really appreciated the overview of the original steps taken by Kristina & Cal to flesh out their idea. This was a great fly-on-the-wall type conversation to have sat through! There were plenty of gems along the way if you are like me, just at the initial stages of an idea for podcasting. A fabulously enriching way to spend just under an hour and a half!
What a fantastic course. I loved hearing their process and how they've shifted from their original plan when it made sense.