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"You've got eight minutes" – adventures in interviewing
Slarek | 24 March 2012

When it comes to shooting interviews, no matter how carefully we plan out our day, it never seems to play out quite the way I pictured it would in my head. Some things go well, but there are a number of small irritations that recur with a regularity that makes me sometimes wonder if I'm being targeted by a maliciously minded fate gun. Last Thursday was a case in point. Fellow reviewer Timothy E. RAW and I had been granted interview slots with French directors Christophe Honoré and Alix Delaporte and actress Clotilde Hesme, who were in London screening their new films at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival. It was, in many ways, a typical interview outing for us, in its pleasures, its irritations, and its offbeat surprises.

The interviews themselves were held at the sort of hotel I'd have to sell one of my organs to afford to stay at (their toilets are lovely, though), one just down the road from the tube station at which I alighted. Blessed with no sense of direction, I still had trouble finding it, largely because my iPhone's GPS couldn't make up its mind where I was actually standing and kept leaping from street to street like Spiderman doing his morning exercises. Eventually I found it and was shown in by a man in a top hat and uniform who, despite his welcoming smile, seemed just seconds away from assuring me that there was "room for one more inside, sir."

One thing Tim and I have have learned over the course of the past year is that no matter what time the interview is scheduled for it's worth getting there early. This give you more time to properly prepare your questions and runs a few camera and mic tests, and just occasionally might see you granted an earlier slot. On others it will treat you to the sight of Catherine Deneuve walking right past the table at which you've chosen to sit. Today was one of those days. I'm not one to get star struck, but come on...

The time of our interview with Christophe arrived, and despite being what we thought was fully prepared, those small irritations began reappearing like old friends that you thought you'd seen the last of. Collectively they comprise a personal collection of cinematic Murphy's Laws. Here are a few we experienced that day.

1. The interview will take place in the darkest and noisiest room in the building.
This is not always the case, of course – we had a full lighting rig for Monia Chokri – but a surprising number of our interviews have been located in dimly lit rooms with gloomy décors. Had I a couple more arms and the upper body strength of an Armenian wrestler I might have been able to add some film lights and stands to the backpack of equipment I haul up to London on the train, though I doubt we'd have been allowed to erect said lights in a room that was being simultaneously used by chatty and largely oblivious diners.

2. Some of the best interview material will take place while you're still setting up the camera.
It happens when you've got an interviewer like Tim. While I'm unpacking and setting up the gear, he engages our interviewee in preliminary warm-up chat. And he's really good at it, so good that entertaining stories are often being exchanged while I'm still in the process of bolting the camera on the tripod and wiring both parties for sound. It happened again yesterday when he asked Christophe about the haircut that heart-throb actor Louis Garrel had undertaken for the film. "We actually straightened his hair," Christophe told us with a broad smile. "And he was really not happy about it, and said that it's going ruin his career as an actor." Everyone was laughing, just the sort of thing you want to capture on video. There seemed little point in trying to recreate what was an impromptu moment, though I did get the sound and part of the picture. Maybe we can still use it.

3. However you frame the shot, something will disrupt it.
A favourite here is when the interviewees suddenly shift position while in close-up and all but disappear out of frame, requiring you to reframe as subtly but quickly as possible. Today's was a bit stranger. My choice of angles had been seriously narrowed by a background populated by distracting, hand-waving diners, but I'd found a spot that excluded them and an aperture and gain level that allowed my darkly dressed subject to at least be seen in the room's table-lamp gloom. The chatty and entertaining Christophe spoke to us largely in English, but occasionally had to revert to his native tongue. His words were promptly translated by his female interpreter, who impressively delivered the translation with the same emotional emphasis as Christophe's original French. But a short while after her first contribution I noticed something a little odd on the extreme right of frame, which I quickly realised was the interpreter's highly animated fingers. In her enthusiasm she was leaning forward and expressing herself as energetically with her hands as with her words, something I had failed to calculate for and found impossible to either ignore or conceal. Eventually I gave up and pulled out to show her in full when she spoke, resulting in the sort of repeated zoom-driven reframing I am usually loathed to do. Which leads nicely to...

4. Getting the reverse shots of the interviewer is rarely straightforward.
It should be, of course. Just turn the camera round when the interview is complete and have Tim read the questions as if the interviewee were still present. But two things this requires is the continued use of the interview space and the lighting and background noise to have not drastically changed. Ah. Today the room was needed by others after our allotted time was up, and even when it was free then we were unable to return to our spot because someone else had reserved it. We figured we could shoot the questions elsewhere in the room, but needed wild sound of the the chatting diners so that the background noise didn't suddenly change when we cut to the interviewer. Unfortnately for us, by then the noisier occupants had left and those that remained were eating in silence.

It mattered little anyway, as one of those timing shifts saw our second interview brought forward and then split into two, the first with Angel and Tony director Alix Delaporte – who as a former camerawoman wanted to check my framing to ensure she was properly lit – and the second with lead actress Clotilde Hesme. Both were conducted in a hotel room with a softer décor and a far more camera-friendly level of natural light, but precious little space in which to wedge an interviewer, an interviewee, and a tall guy with a camera and a penchant for clumsiness. And here is where we hit recurring irritation number 5.

5. The camera will always play up at the most inopportune moment.
"You have eight minutes," we were told, which is not unusual when actors and filmmakers are doing a whole round of interviews. So what you don't need when that clock starts ticking is for the camera to do something weird, which is exactly what happened the moment I framed up. You want to lose weight? Try wrestling with a technical problem while being impatiently watched by the very people you are trying to look professional in front of. You'll sweat off half a stone in a matter of minutes. I jury-rigged a solution and the interview was fine, and in the short break before talking to Clotilde I able to fix the problem. My annoyance at the equipment and my own stupidity was eased when we bumped into Alix again in the lobby, where she revealed that as a former camerawoman she also used to shoot interviews and vividly recalled how it feels when the equipment plays up, including the part about sweating profusely. Nice to know that it's not just me.

But the interview material we captured was worth all this trouble, and the one with Christophe covers a lot of ground and runs for almost 35 minutes. All three of our interviewees were open and gracious, and our PR contacts were all friendly and helpful. The interviews themselves will be posted nearer to the release date of both films, along with appropriate reviews.

A somehow appropriate footnote for the day came when we took a last peek at that first interview room to see if conditions were more suitable to shoot our question cutaways. It seemed typical of our variable luck that although a number of talkative guests had now taken up residence, they were being loudly serenaded by a lady plucking a harp.