You see interviews on the web and in magazines all the time, but most aren’t very good. Rehashes of better interviews and barely scratching the surface of the person or subject, most interviews on the net today are exchanges of e-mails, with very little depth. In today’s modern age, you don’t have to even be in the same room, or country to conduct an interview with someone. Nevertheless, a face-to-face or Skype interview is always best. However, crunched for time, young journalists and bloggers can escape many pitfalls by following these simple steps. The end result may be more work than you originally intended, but it will result in a far superior piece that will be able to stand the test of time.
Sharing some of my experiences in journalism, I’ll try to shed some light on how to write an interview you and your audience will enjoy reading.
Make Small Talk Before the Interview
You never want anyone to feel like they are a transaction. An interview isn’t like going to an ATM or getting fast food. It’s an invitation into someone’s world. Make conversation with them and veer off the questions from time to time to let your subject know you’re a real person. In an interview with Gregg Allman’s son and equally as solid musician, Devon Allman, I simply asked him how his day was and he vented to me that he was pissed because his last interviewer didn’t know “shit” about his new album. I made sure to mention how the album made me feel and it instantly made me more likable and credible.
In a recent interview with Mr. Big frontman Eric Martin, we discussed anime because the band is huge in Japan. The end result was a lot of laughs. Small moments like that can make or break an interview.
Know Your Subject/Interviewee
Getting a big name to interview is great, but how much do you really know them? Wikipedia is a decent start, but it’s not enough. Go on their official site, read their bio. You must always be super prepared. I once interviewed Ricky Phillips, the bass player of Styx. One of the questions I asked him was how a certain person felt about his career. That person was his first piano teacher. He asked me how the hell I knew her name. I told him I read his bio on the band’s official site. His answer? He didn’t think anyone read that stuff.
The same thing goes for many of the interviews I did for my upcoming book, The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Game Developers. One of the first questions I asked many of the developers featured was, “Tell me something no one knows about the game.” If you’re not zeroing in on trying to get something special, it’s just not going to happen.
Match Tone And Be Unpredictable
If someone you’re interviewing is fun, try to be fun. If they’re serious, follow suit. This way they are comfortable and you get high-quality answers. At the same time, throw curveballs at times and control the pace and flow of the conversation. Challenge them. Ask them short, questions that get them to explain how they feel. Avoid the long questions that make you look smart. If you know your subject, everything will come across smooth and real.
Understand That At Some Point, All Your Questions May Go Out the Window
I once interviewed comic book writer John Backderf about a great ‘70s punk rock-inspired comic he did and at the end, I asked him what his next project was. His reply? “I’m working on a comic about (serial killer) Jeffrey Dahmer. I grew up with him.” I was shocked. Many young journalists in that situation would go, “OK” and leave it at that. Instead, it changed the entire interview. Now that comic book is Backderf’s master work, with a motion picture on the way. And I interviewed him first about it.
Understand Your Interviewees Goals
Every person you interview may have something to discuss that you don’t know. It’s in your best interest to find out what it is. Or else you’re in trouble. I once interviewed legendary Sha Na Na lead singer Johnny Contardo and I wanted more of a piece on his career and after every question, he’d mention food. It got to the point where he was making e hungry. I had to stop the interview and ask him what was going on. The guy had a pilot for a cooking show he wanted to promote. So I had to tell him that we’d spend some time on it during the interview and there was no need to mention salami and rye after every question.
Always Ask To Speak Again
Your work is never done. After the interview, you may have more questions and it’s always best to maintain and develop relationships. Build your network, watch it grow. It may take a while, but a decade later and you’ll always have stories and people will think that you’re great. All you have to do is play smart and cultivate all of the land around you until it’s fertile.
Promote, Promote, Promote
Use social media, all of them, Twitter, Instagram, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Tumblr and even old fashioned e-mail and forums, to share your work. People will find you annoying after a while, but that’s only if you’re sharing crap. it’s not gloating if it’s great work. Modesty is good with your mate, but in today’s journalism, you have to share your work and get it out to as many people as possible.
There will also be many times where interviews you get don’t get the traffic you want. I just waited for opportunities and reposted again. For example, I interviewed Channing Tatum for a documentary he was doing and no one really cared. A few months later” Magic Mike” came out. After that, I posted it again. It’s not annoying though. It’s simply the way the game is played. In the end, it’s one of the most read pieces on my site.
About Patrick Hickey Jr.
Patrick Hickey, Jr., is the founder and editor-in-chief of ReviewFix.com and a lecturer of English and journalism at Kingsborough Community College, in Brooklyn, New York. Over the past decade, Hickey’s video game coverage has been featured in national ad campaigns by Nintendo, Disney and EA Sports. His upcoming book, The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Game Developers features interviews with the creators of 36 popular video games–including Deus Ex, Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Wasteland and NBA Jam–this book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some of the most influential and iconic (and sometimes forgotten) games of all time. Recounting endless hours of painstaking development, the challenges of working with mega publishers and the uncertainties of public reception, the interviewees reveal the creative processes that produced some of gaming’s classic titles.