You’ve determined who you want to interview, you’ve made your contact, you have your equipment, and your sound editing software, so now you need to prepare for the actual interview. How much time should you ask for? You need to ask for an explicit amount of time when making your arrangements. It’s very bad form to extend an interview past the time to which you’ve both agreed. If you go over on time, there’s the chance that your guest or one of their assistants will unceremoniously cut off the interview, and you may never get the opportunity to ask a lot of what you wanted to ask. Of course, you can ask your guest if s/he would like to go over the allotted time during the course of the interview, but especially with more famous people, that may be met negatively. Often when a person is promoting a project, they have one press interview lined up after another, and the time is tight.
Because of that, in the initial email contacts, I always specify how much time I would like up front. I used to think the more time the better, but I’ve since learned that that is a big mistake. It really depends upon the amount of time your finished segment needs to be. The longer the interview in relation to the final cut, the more editing that will have to be done. And when that interview to final cut ratio is large, the editing becomes very difficult and time consuming. It becomes harder to match material from one part of the interview to another. It becomes harder to remember what was said when. It becomes harder to follow the thread of an argument. It becomes more tedious reviewing all the material each revision. And besides the tedium of wading through the irrelevant material, the regret factor also increases with a long interview. Necessarily, there will be more tape left on the virtual cutting room floor, and while that can be some of your favorite material, it may not fit into the limited time available.
I’ve found my ideal ratio is about two to one, that is, I gather about twice the material that I’ll ultimately use. So if I’m preparing a 15-minute segment, then 30-35 minutes is a good interview length for me. That allows me to pick out the most interesting and essential parts of the interview without getting overwhelmed by the mass of material. Sometimes if the rapport is very good with a guest, and the conversation goes long, the best solution is either to make the produced segment longer, or to break up the interview into two separate segments. Of course, in commercial radio, interviewers are more strictly bound to their time constraints and this probably won’t be possible, but I am lucky that in my situation my time limits are more flexible. Presumably, if you are producing your own podcast, you will have that flexibility as well. But don’t take that flexibility as a reason not to edit tightly, or to gather too much material. I have learned from experience that that is not a good idea. Like a sonnet or short story, form and limitation are your friends. They give you the container into which you can shape your story. Time in a bottle. Two to one has been a realistic and very useful guide for me.
Once you know how much time you’ll have with your guest, you’ll be able to prepare your outline of questions. Preparing an outline really deserves its own post, so next week I’ll talk about what I do to prepare the framework for a good radio conversation. See you then.
You can find the next installment here: