In this week’s newsletter, I shared these notes for my chat with Sarah Ruhl and how I prepare for an interview.
Questions for The Producer
Yesterday I was on the phone with a music producer I know. He’s starting an interview series with other producers and wanted to know if I had ideas for good kinds of questions to ask them.
I thought this was an interesting question itself: Is there a set of questions for creative people that are always interesting?
Much depends, I think, on the audience, and whenever I interview someone, I try to find some Venn diagram of what I’m interested in that the interviewee would be interested in that the audience would also be interested in.
Some things I came up with:
1. Media diet: what creative people watch, read, listen to, etc. Their input, how they fill the well. (I love, for example, reading Steven Soderbergh’s Seen/Read list at the end of the year.)
2. Storage and retrieval: How do they capture and keep track of ideas? Do they keep a notebook? Voice memos? (I recently read that Phoebe Waller-Bridge writes ideas down in a big draft email on her phone.)
3. Daily practice: What their day-to-day routine is like, any rituals they have, favorite tools, etc. (See: Daily Rituals.)
4. Troubleshooting: Overcoming block, what people do when things aren’t working. Weird tricks and constraints they come up with. (Example: Oblique Strategies.)
5. Hobbies: What people are interested in outside of work, how they recharge, how they spend their time away from the studio.
6. Personal life: What their parents did, how they grew up, did they go to school, did they like it, what they wanted to be when they were younger, etc.
7. Collaboration: I’m not much of a collaborator, honestly, so I’m interested in how people warm up to each other, the balance between making things comfortable and getting people “out of their comfort zone,” how much of your own aesthetic and ideas you inject into a project.
This last item was particularly funny in hindsight because this morning my son, Owen, who’s a budding music producer at the age of seven, asked if he could listen to a piano track he asked me to add to one of my songs.
“Yes, but I’m not sure if it’s any good,” I said.
“Oh, that’s okay,” he said. “If it’s not good, I’ll make it good.”
Shut up and listen
Some interviewing wisdom from Robert Caro’s piece on researching his LBJ biographies, excerpted from his book, Working:
In interviews, silence is the weapon, silence and people’s need to fill it—as long as the person isn’t you, the interviewer. Two of fiction’s greatest interviewers—Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret and John le Carré’s George Smiley—have little devices they use to keep themselves from talking and to let silence do its work. Maigret cleans his ever-present pipe, tapping it gently on his desk and then scraping it out until the witness breaks down and talks. Smiley takes off his eyeglasses and polishes them with the thick end of his necktie. As for me, I have less class. When I’m waiting for the person I’m interviewing to break a silence by giving me a piece of information I want, I write “SU” (for Shut Up!) in my notebook. If anyone were ever to look through my notebooks, he would find a lot of “SU”s.
Filed under: silence