Writer/Director/Cinematographer Albert Hughes (courtesy IMDB.com)

Last night I talked to Albert Hughes, half of the directing team behind epic films like Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. The Hughes Brothers have a new film coming out called Book of Eli, and I'm writing about it for the Cinematographers Guild magazine.

Telling it like it is

Albert Hughes is one of the most intellectual people I've interviewed in a long time, and it was really great talking to him. He's beyond passionate about filmmaking -- I might characterize him as rabid -- and that emotion comes through in everything he says, not to mention in the movies he makes.

I was struck by how straight-up the dude is. He's not interested in making people happy or playing the PC game. He says what he thinks in plain terms, so if you're looking for metaphors and innuendo, you should look elsewhere. He freely cusses, using it more as punctuation than anything. And he's thoughtful as Hell.

Getting fresh

A lot of directors I interview have been on the press junket for a while before they get to me, and some of them can't hide the boredom. Though I try hard to come up with interesting questions, there are just some everyone has to ask. So I appreciate it must get tedious. Dial in the standard questions we all agree have to be asked, but don't carry that over to questions that you know few others are asking. Mr. Hughes was refreshing because every answer felt fresh and off the cuff. There was no rehearsal. He just told it like it was.

Speed kills

I was also gratified that he took time with me. The last director I had to interview (who'll remain nameless because I'm sure I'll have to interview him again -- he's that prolific) gave me 12.5 minutes. Now, I did get one quote I could use for the article, so it wasn't a total loss, but he made it clear he had bigger names on the other line (babe) so even though he called me 15 minutes late, he was still going to hold me to the original schedule. It wasn't enjoyable for either of us.

I think there are a couple of lessons here for journos and PR people -- and, of course, the interviewees themselves:

1. Journalists: Yes, there are questions you probably have to ask, even if they're kind of standard and even if you know every other reporter has asked them, too. But don't stop with those. Work hard to think about what your readers (not just your editors) might like to know and ask questions that will get that information. The highest praise I get is, "That's a great question".

2. PR folks: There's nothing wrong with making sure your clients are prepared for the interview. Rehearsing not only makes sure they have the messaging down, but it can help them feel more relaxed. But over-rehearsing makes your client sound boring and robotic -- at best -- and that's not going to turn out well. And if you've got them on a press tour, please -- help them stay fresh and remind them to mix up their answers a bit so they don't sound like they're saying exactly the same thing every single time.

3. Interviewees: I know it's tough -- I've been interviewed a bunch myself. But being prepared, engaged and focused for interviews will reap huge benefits for you. And if you don't have a lot of time, try to be nice about it and perhaps offer another time to finish up. Half-interviews don't get you the ink you want.

Interviewing is one of the most critical skills in journalism. I fear that with the extensive use of email, the live interview is a dying art. I hope schools of journalism continue to emphasize it, and I hope my colleagues and I continue to rely on this tried and true way to gain information and insight.


I'm thinking of developing a workshop on interviewing skills. What do you think I should include? Email me.