Years and years ago at the end of the 1950s and early 60s a reporter called John Freeman for the BBC made a series called Face to Face. It was a revolutionary series because he didn’t appear in camera – for the first time. And the subjects were in a black background: rather similar to today. There was an establishing shot and then a shot here as he interviewed them. But most of it was shot in forehead to chin: profile; and face to camera.
And Freeman interviewed them with surgical persistence. So much so that Freeman’s friends in the BBC called it torture by television.
So, it was years before I saw any production shots of them. And what do you think? When I saw the first production shots, all around him was the entire industrial paraphernalia of a television studio.
There was the huge camera. The camera person. There was the boom. There was the sound man. There was a sound assistant. There were the lights. There was the lighting electrician. There was the big table on the side with all the gear and so forth.
And so I had to say to myself that even in those circumstances, and what I think was an intimidating environment, Freeman somehow got the most exceptional intimacy – out of very famous people. John Houston is one of them. And confessions from them – out of that intimacy – despite the environment.
So I have to admit to myself in the end that it’s probably all about a thing that the Russian stage director and theorist Stanislavski called the circle of concentration. For an actor it’s about keeping your concentration on the other actor that you’re working with; or the three actors if that’s a bigger circle; and so forth. For an interviewer in oral histories, it’s about keeping the circle of concentration within the two of us as we’re talking. So much so that the interviewee doesn’t even notice the environment around them.
So if you can do that with a camera and so forth, I surrender my case and say that – and this is my position – I don’t think it matters a bit – the technique – at all. Bring on the cameras. Bring on the mikes – in any mix you like. As long as the product is not in any way distracted by the technique.