Interviewing a Film Director (and how to write about it)

So you would like to interview a big, famous, Hollywood director, huh? Maybe even a less-famous, more-renowned indie director? You want to get inside their head and share it with the world? Welcome to your guide to interviewing a film director – and how to write about it afterwards. We will look at three interviews of indie directors and most-mainstream directors alike: from Greta Gerwig who is relatively new to Hollywood behind a camera; Bong Joon-Ho who is not new to film but gained tremendous popularity in American culture with his Parasite, and more indie-based director John G. Young. 

One of the most important pieces of being an interviewer is understanding the importance of building your credibility as an interviewer. Come prepared! Prep your questions ahead of time but be flexible and open to whatever direction your conversation will take. You should have an idea of what you would like from this interview, but stay open to surprises! 

When writing down your interview in an article for a magazine like GQ or Vanity Fair, you should include an introduction before you introduce your interviewee. This involves “setting the scene” of the most for which you are interviewing them. You’ll want to give the basic gist – without revealing too much. For example, in “You Try to Find the Beauty, Shoot It and Move On”: John G. Young on His Microbudget Drama, Bwoy,” Brandon Harris begins by letting his audience know what this movie is about so that they can be best prepared to understand the depths of his interview with director John G. Young. He writes: 

As Brad, a grief-stricken closeted gay man in upstate New York who becomes increasingly obsessed with a younger Jamaica man (Jimmy Brooks) he meets in an online meat market, Anthony Rapp (Star Trek: Discovery, Rent) is fantastic in writer-director John G. Young’s Bwoy.”

Harris not only lays the scene for the movie, but names other figures involved. He points to Jimmy Brooks and Anthony Rapp, while listing Anthony Rapp’s other credits as to help the reader begin to visualize Bwoy. 

Then, Harris goes on to describe John G. Young directly. This includes listing achievements outside of this film (awards, other works, etc.) Look at what Harris wrote to get a better idea of how to introduce your director: “Young is an indie film veteran whose previous features include 1995 Sundance entry Parallel Sons and 2005 Tribeca selection The Reception.” Harris also voices what he believes Young has accomplished in the film about which he will be interviewed: 

Young shows how easy it is to channel repression and self-hatred into an online persona offering a measure of dignity and self-worth to the saddest web 2.0 denizens among us, those whose identities are defined by numbers of likes and retweets.

It is also useful before the interview even starts to make mention of what your interviewee is doing now, effectively setting up the context for the interview even clearer. In an interview of Parasite director, Bong Joon-Ho by Gabriella Paiella, she writes in her introduction that “Bong is currently in New York City for a slew of press duties around the New York Film Festival, the latest in a busy year on the festival circuit, which has included Parasite becoming the first Korean picture to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes.”

When preparing your questions, you’ll want to choose good questions that do not lead your interviewee to a certain answer. Avoid such questions as, “Don’t you think that this means this and that means that?” You are here for their brain, not to affirm yours. Additionally, avoid too many yes or no answers. That doesn’t make for an entertaining and juicy interview – a series of yes’s and no’s. The best interviews are centered around a specific film – or theme. If you want to be especially prepared, you might even center your conversation around a specific theme within a specific film.

Try and ask questions that only the director could answer. Not questions like, “Did you have fun?” or something that isn’t centered around their work. Use the themes of the film to help guide your interview. When Gabriella Paiella interviewed Bong Joon-Ho on Parasite, she asked questions like: 

  • There are so many different ways for wealthy people to signal that they have money. How did you settle on the aesthetics for this particular family?
  • Smell is a pivotal force in the film. I know it’s the most evocative sense, but are there any other reasons why you wanted to use it to push the narrative forward?
  • Something I was struck by in the movie is that there’s a huge lack of class solidarity between the various working class people. What inspired you to write the relationships that way?

These questions reveal that the interviewer has done her work. She has seen the film – and thought about it. That’s a must in an interview with a film director. You must be able to say something about the film about which you are interviewing. This also includes knowing other works by the director. For example, when Vanity Fair interviewed Greta Gerwig on her film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Vanity Fair brought up one of Gerwig’s previous films, Lady Bird, which stars two of her Little Women actors. Vanity Fair works this past experience into a question, asking Gerwig, “You’d worked with both Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet on Lady Bird.Were they always going to be Jo and Laurie?” This creates a synthesis of sorts between many of the director’s works, giving a deeper insight into what makes the particular director tick. 

Your title should actually be decided in the process. Why? Because oftentimes the titles of interviews will include a quote from your interviewee in the title or at least a mention of the thematic content. This acts as an attention-grabber as well as a good indicator for what the interview will be about. Take a look at the three titles of these three interviews: 

  • Parasite Director Bong Joon-ho on the Art of Class Warfare
  • Greta Gerwig on the Little WomenScene Inspired by Meryl Streep
  • “You Try to Find the Beauty, Shoot It and Move On”: John G. Young on His Microbudget Drama, Bwoy

This inclusion of theme in the title is much more engaging than “Interview with Greta Gerwig.” These titles give its audience a brief look into what will be discussed, drawing them in further. And concerning your conclusion, you can usually end your article with the end of the interview. That is the most natural ending. And interviews are best when organic. 

That’s it! Now, get your notebook and a pen and go interview Spielberg like an interview pro. 

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