Interview Techniques

For Unit 36 we are tasked to design and construct interview techniques which will be conducted in a real life environment. Our final piece will be based on a North West City and using people’s opinions and question on a topic of our choosing.

To help gather a starting point for this project, we looked at two examples of articles based on Cities and analysed their purpose, audience, and positive and negative points which they possessed.

The first one which we studied was based on the American city of Baltimore and how the city had changed with the passing of time. What was striking was how focused the piece was, its sole purpose was to inform using historical facts and also pictures of the past and present day coincided together so the reader can easily see the differences. In no way does the writer deviate with his own opinions or go off on a tangent from the subject of contrasting how the city has grown. With a broad subject matter and a wealth of time chosen to cover, there is little text and appears to be too narrow. With hindsight, the writer could have gone into much more detail and looked into other areas; including how the people have changed or how life has become different with various developments to Baltimore.

Next we looked at ‘Birkenhead Must Die!’ which looked at a writers viewpoint on the relationship between Liverpool and Birkenhead. Obviously there was a huge difference to the first piece looked at; unlike the other one, the writer infused his own opinion, and humour aswell as good use of statistics and depth to back up his 7 point argument (one example is comparing Liverpool/Birkenhead to the five boroughs of New York.) This makes his work more personal, thus allows the reader to relate more, even more so if the reader is from the Liverpool/Wirral area as they could remember instances of seeing activities described in the text. Even if the reader isn’t from that area, it is still interesting and a very good insight of goings on in the city. What was disappointing I found was his conclusion which ended to abruptly and passed the final say over to the person reading to it. It’s main stumbling block is that by reading it you feel the writer has linked stereotypes to strongly with his work which probably doesn’t cast the area in the proper light it deserves…possibly misleading and fueling people’s perceptions.

In researching just these two articles we can look at common mistakes that we can avoid for our final project and build upon good techniques used within them.

Louis Theroux

(Questions based on Louis Theroux’s documentary ‘Fresno- The city addicted to Crystal Meth.)

Question 1: What words would you use to describe Louis Theroux’s questioning style?

Words that could describe Louis Theroux’s questioning style would be different, informal, unorthodox and unconventional. In terms of documentary filmmakers, the style of his questioning is very unique- makes it very immersive, especially as he ‘spends time in the world of the hardcore addicts.’ The questions seem that much more hard-hitting.

Question 2: What types of questions does Louis Theroux use?

Louis Theroux uses a lot of closed questions. On multiple occasions Louis Theroux uses questions with only a ‘Yes/No/one-worded answer. Yet, it’s the frequency of his questioning- and also the use of leading questions which draws the interviewee to elaborate on those points. The questions he asks are more familiar to a normal everyday conversation, rather than an interview. He also uses some open and leading questions. On one occasion Louis steers the woman he’s interviewing in a direction in which she virtually has no choice but to say that she chose drugs over he children.

Question 3: How would you describe Louis Theroux’s approach to creating rapport with his interviewees? Give at least two examples.

The connections in which Louis Theroux makes with the people he meets is very unique, mainly because of the fact he deeply immerses himself in their world, allowing for the rapport to be more genuine- able to get a much more honest reflection when surrounded in a real-life setting with the people he’s interviewing…and he’s filming where people feel comfortable with and/or are used to. Two examples of him building up rapport are when he met Kevin, the ex-dealer who introduced him to Chris, a serious addict. From this, Louis was invited back to Kevin’s house where he was in amongst friends having a barbecue. He was also able to delve deeper into Kevin’s background and home life, find a Meth dealer called ‘Wiggles’ and see first hand people use the drug. Kevin even states that, referring to Louis, ”This guys cool with me.” Secondly, Louis meets an addict called Carl at a Needle Exchange programme supported by Westcare. Carl, even though high from ‘slamming’ meth, seems very open and sincere. From this one meeting Louis had been invited to Carl and his wife Diane’s home to see what life is like for a couple actively using drugs. He’s interested in their perspective, what they believe. Personal stories which build up a bigger picture of a larger topic.

Question 4: If I asked you to identify elements of Louis Theroux’s interview style, what would you say they are? Give examples of how he drew responses, reactions or information out of the interview.

Elements which define Louis Theroux’s interview style are based on how often he questions their responses and builds upon what they say to get more information out of them; mainly by using ”Really?”, ”Do you?…”, ”Why?…” A very subtle device which he uses is hesitating after the interviewee’s response, coaxing them to elaborate. The backdrops for his interviews are almost always filmed on location nothing shot in studios etc. with them normally stood up; giving a more relaxed, informal feel to how it’s filmed. The structure of the interview with people seems slightly off the cuff- with the impression that its more like a conversation. He also meets people in real-time scenarios, where his style of questioning is advantageous. One example is when he talked to the woman pulled up for traffic offenses and was acting suspicious. The interview was carried out at the side of a police car whilst she was under the influence of Meth. By using short, closed, leading questions like ”You smoke everyday?”, ”Do they (her children) know you get high everyday?” He reduces her to tears and gets her to open up to the fact she was going to stop taking the drug because of the negative impact it was having on her life. And again, at Westcare, and also Carl and Diane by drawing on such emotive subjects like children or being away from loved ones, Louis is able to get a powerful reaction from them and, because of the style in which he uses, they are comfortable opening up to him- as Diane says to his husband on the subject of her past in prostitution.

Question 5: How would you describe Louis Theroux’s body language in an interview situation? Do you think this use of body language is deliberate?

His overall body language seems rather awkward and at most times throughout the interview he distances himself away from the person- times where he has his arms folded etc. and his face makes grimaces indicating that he’s uncomfortable. From his almost naive approach this could allow people to be more relaxed with him when answering questions on rather personal, heavy subject matters. From his body language you feel as if he’s diving head first into the worlds in which he’s investigating, especially by the tone of his voice when he reiterates a comment that has just been said by someone. Sheltered from ‘their’ world. It also appears that, from his choice of stance/distance he takes, he’s an on-looker in certain situations (for example, going back to Kevin’s house and the sessions at Westcare.) I believe in some cases this use of body language is deliberate because through it he appears less hostile and intrusive which may be dangerous for him when dealing with people under drugs- creates a much more calmer type of interviewer for the people being around to connect with him. I also think that with his body language people are more likely to express more to him than if he were more conventional. Louis Theroux expresses a certain naivety that those around him my feel less threatened to be around and more welcoming to allow him to be a part of their world. Due to his height he never tries to stand over the person he’s interviewing. He does this in two ways; creating distance between him and them and also hunching his shoulders downwards. It’s easily noticeably that when he’s relaxed he stands on the back foot. What is admirably about Louis Theroux is that he’s not scared of shying away into the background if he feels overwhelmed, when he feels more comfortable and the situation seems calmer hes able to step back in and continue.

Jeremy Paxman

(Questions based on Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Conrad Black)

Question 1: What words would you use to describe Jeremy Paxman’s questioning style?

Some words to describe Jeremy Paxman’s questioning style are hard-hitting, to the point, searching, abrupt, professional.

Question 2: What types of questions does Jeremy Paxman use?

Paxman uses a lot of leading questions, mainly to get his interviewee to admit certain things about his character and his past. Closed questions are used as blunt statements put towards Conrad Black. Jeremy also throws back his arguments and questions which Conrad Black has just raised against him, one example being the hypothetical question of convicts being allowed to serve in the House Of Lords after touching on that argument.

Question 3: How would you describe Jeremy Paxman’s approach to creating rapport with his interviewees?

Due to the hostility clearly expressed between the pair through the duration of the interview, the rapport is purely professional. On one occasion Conrad Black remarks due to the questioning so far that, ”…And actually being able to endure a discussion like this without getting up and smashing you in the face which most people would do….” Which Jeremy Paxman replies, ”Well, you go ahead.” Some of Jeremy Paxman’s questions are on the verge of belittlement and humiliation. Conrad Black shows clear dislike towards Paxman.

Question 4: If I asked you to identify elements of Jeremy Paxman’s interview style, what would you say they are? Give examples of how he drew responses, reactions or information out of the interview.

Some of Jeremy Paxman’s questions are on the verge of belittlement and humiliation, Prying deep into his character and exacting the answers which Jeremy wants from his interviewee. His interview style, as in the case of Conrad Black, makes them anger which in turn makes their response fiery and intense. When Black got emotional about describing the 99.5% conviction rate over in America and his miscarriage of justice which he felt he’d experienced he angrily put that question back to Jeremy Paxman. Again, the use of hypothetical questions is extremely clever in these types of interviews, especially when talking about whether it is right or wrong that a convicted criminal serve in The House Of Lords, with Blacks response that there is nothing wrong with that, Paxman put it to him that would it be alright for a Paedophile to sit in the House Of Lords and make laws about child protection he had to back-track from his remarks. An other example is his Catholicism, this is used in a broader sense to open up his character and also relate it to the time his spent in prison.

Question 5: How would you describe Jeremy Paxman’s body language in an interview situation? Do you think this use of body language is deliberate?

Jeremy Paxman’s demeanor is that of relaxed, calm and professionalism. Examples which show this are; Legs folded, leaning back, notes on his knees, and his left hand in one of his jacket pockets. I would say this use of body language is deliberate, he represents someone who is in control of the situation, which becomes very useful the longer the interview goes on for when things get more heated and it becomes more like a battle of words than an interview. When Jeremy puts tough, no-nonsense questions to him his body language changes- open arms to plead his points, sitting forward, and raising of his voice.


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