Many years ago when I was just getting my feet wet with professional photography, my long-time friend John H. told me, “Never go into the field with untested equipment.” Of course the one time I break that rule is when something goes horribly wrong.
TODAY'S STORY IS WRITTEN BY bill foster, director FOR TEAM iceLAND, ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCE FINDING A REMARKABLE STORY AND learning a valuable lesson in their interview.
Our team was buzzing at the reality that we had finally made it to Iceland. We were making a film about a remarkable young mother of two who had figured out a long time ago who she is and the adventurous life she wants to lead as an example to her kids.
We had overcome a lot of hurdles to make this happen: drastically changing weather, only 4 hours of daylight, and safety on ice glaciers, especially while carrying a very expensive camera. But we had overcome each and every obstacle and we were finally in Sigga’s apartment conducting the interview that I had meticulously prepared for. Game on!
In her small, but homely decorated apartment, I sat listening to Sigga describe her adventurous life to me. The conversation was off to a great start. She was engaged, we had a great back and forth going, and I was thinking in the back of my head “Wow! This is going awesome. I’ve totally got this!”
But as we began to dive into deeper moments of her life, something went terribly, terribly wrong.
Now you must know, I’m not an experienced interviewer. In fact, this was my first interview using Muse’s interview process.
Before our main character had walked into the room, as a team, we had devised an interview system to help us keep track of talking points. We were going to use a Google Doc with bullets points of what we needed Sigga to say to tell her story. The laptop would sit in front of me, slightly to the side, to give me visual cues, but Sigga wouldnt be able to see it. Maddy, sitting in another room with a monitor and the same Google doc pulled up on her phone, would listen to the interview and delete items from the doc as we hit them. She would also make notes to me to circle back on a point or to get clarification or whatever was needed in the interview. Brilliant, right?
Well it was a perfect plant until my computer's screen went black. While Sigga started talking about the deeper parts of her story, I saw out of the corner of my eye the screen on my laptop flicker, and then black. And in that half a second, my mind went totally blank.
SO HERE I WAS, SITTING IN THE MIDDLE OF A DEEP MOMENT IN SIGGA'S STORY AND THE COMPUTER WAS ASLEEP AND MY BRAIN WAS EMPTY!
All I could focus on was not having my notes, my guidelines to the story! The irony was that I knew this story backward and forwards. I had already talked with Sigga on 4 separate occasions for a total of 6 hours. But in that moment, my thoughts were just as blank as the computer screen!
I knew what the problem was. My Mac had fallen asleep. But out of concern for Sigga’s experience, I didn’t want to tell her to pause while I entered the password on my laptop.
I decided to press on with the conversation. But my mind was drained of every last detail. What have I already asked her? What do I still need to ask her? What did she just say? My stomach started churning in knots knowing that I needed to focus on her, but I couldn't.
After bumbling through questions for what seemed like an eternity, I managed to hit all the major points we needed for the story, except two. These were darker points in her life and I had been talking all along about the fun, happy and uplifting parts. I had no idea how to naturally shift gears. Maddy had sensed a while ago that something wasn’t right had come into the room and stood near me, hidden from Sigga’s view by one of our lights. A quick glance in her direction with a panicked look gave her the cue to step in and take over.
Maddy casually walked into the room and joined our conversation. I moved from the chair, and very naturally backed out of the room as Maddy took over. Sigga never skipped a beat.
I went into the bedroom across the hall where our crew and Patrick were holed up listening to the interview through a monitor. I might have said a few bad words, frustrated at myself. Then I whispered to Patrick what the problem had been and that I had totally failed at the interview. I blamed the laptop, but inside I knew what the real failure was.
But Patrick looked at me and said, “I thought it went fine. It wasn’t nearly as bad as you think. Cut yourself some slack.” It took a few minutes to get my head back in place and listen as Maddy finished up the interview. In fact, Maddy eventually called in Patrick, and they did the same casual switch so that he could take a deeper dive into the really hard stuff in Sigga’s story. At that point, I started to feel better.
Our interview ended, and we all came back into the room to hug each other and thank Sigga for sharing with us her beautiful story.
The result was still a remarkable interview with an incredible woman who I believe will inspire many. But while interviewing someone else, I gained perspective on my own work and self thought.
First, don’t ever ignore John’s sage advice: always check your gear before you use it or ensure that a system works. These days my team has the Google Doc system dialed in and I have an iPad with the Google Doc open and it is set to never sleep.
More than anything else, I learned the incredible value of every team member having a true understanding of the story. We were able to, as a group, listen to the interview and point out inconsistencies or holes based on the story we were trying to tell. We were able to have three different people conduct the interview, switch with us while maintaining an exceptional experience for Sigga, and work as a team to create a remarkable story.
Had I been the holder of the story, and everybody else had a very basic understanding, they wouldn’t have been able to critically analyze as it was happening in the moment and be able to contribute when things went wrong.
In the end, that made all the difference.
Bill Foster, Director Team Iceland
WATCH bILL AND TEAM ICELAND'S FILM IN SEASON 2 OF THE REMARKABLE ONES!
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Sigga felt stuck.
Her whole life, she’d followed the same well-worn path most women in Iceland do – settle down, have a family, live a predictable routine. But the well-worn path wasn’t taking Sigga where she wanted to go.
This is the story of how Sigga found herself – a journey that took her all the way from the circus tent to the top of a glacier.
Produced by a global team of filmmakers as part of Muse Film School (musefilmschool.org) for the original web-series The Remarkable Ones (theremarkableones.org).
A Film by Muse Storytelling and Sigriaur Yr Unnarsdottir
Directed by Bill Foster
Produced by Madeline Saporito
Director of Photography: Braden Dragomir
Second Camera: Josh Merritt
Gaffer/Audio: Bruce Lomasky
Editor: Pedro Da Silva
Executive Producer: Kaleb Kohart
Executive Producer: Patrick Moreau
Executive Producer: Kathryn Giroux