Interviewing Celebrities for Your Documentary

I freely admit that as long as I’ve been in this business I still get excited when I interview certain celebrities. However, for the celebrities themselves, the excitement just isn’t there. Most of them have been interviewed a thousand times (some literally), especially if they’re promoting a new project. And it’s generally a tedious and boring exercise from their side of the microphone. However, I have found that by mostly avoiding the standard questions that they get ad nauseam, you can bring them to life and get past the standard canned answers.

My simplest technique to get celebrities to open up is to do my homework on their passions and just talk about the actual substance of what they do. So many celebrity interviews are about their social lives, salary, and lifestyle aspects, that most never get past the tabloid surface. There’s a reason why everyone tunes in when master interviewers like Oprah Winfrey or Howard Stern interview a celebrity—they know they’re gonna learn something new and interesting about that person.

A little bit of research—reading old interviews and articles, combing through their bio for interesting facts, studying their work—can go a long way to finding some obscure fact or some topic that that person feels strongly about, but has rarely had a chance to speak about. You’ll know when this happens, because their eyes and voice will light up. More than once I’ve been on projects where some VIP who was very adamant that he only had 20 minutes for an interview, then went on to converse for an hour or more (and sometimes well after the camera was off), because the interview tapped into issues he felt passionately about but has rarely been asked about on camera. And that’s what people want to talk about most; their passions, the things about which they feel strongest.

Even if your goal is more shallow, touch on those passions first and they’re much more likely to open up and maybe share something new about a juicier aspect of their personal life or their new secret project once they know you’ve done your homework and respect and know them as a musician, actor, athlete, etc., and not just as a celebrity. Remember, a good interview is just an engaging conversation. Ask the questions that no one else has asked. Make people think. Demonstrate your deep knowledge and sincere interest in what they do and the things they love and you will get better results almost every time.

Excerpt from The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide: A Down & Dirty DV Production, 2nd Edition by Anthony Q. Artis © 2014 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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