At SVA Dot Dot Dot Lecture, Gary Hustwit Advocates Elliptical Interviewing

(Photo: UnBeige)

Last night at the White Rabbit lounge in New York City, the School of Visual Arts’ MFA in Interaction Design program hosted the second event in its “Dot Dot Dot” lecture series. Among the four speakers that addressed the standing-room-only crowd in mini-lectures on this month’s topic—”the interviewers“—was documentary filmmaker Gary Hustwit. The director of Helvetica (catch it at a free screening tomorrow evening in Denver, Miami, San Diego, or Evansville, Indiana), Hustwit is now working to wrap up production on Objectified, his hotly anticipated documentary about industrial design that will debut early next year.

Hustwit’s decision to address the crowd without PowerPoint slides was indicative of his approach to interviewing, or perhaps the lack thereof. “My process of interviewing people is I do not interview people,” said the cheerful Hustwit. “I’m trying to get them to forget that they’re being interviewed.” He accomplishes this by avoiding the word “interview” in his communications with subjects (preferring “talk” or “discussion”) and going into a meeting with a set of conversation topics but never a list of prepared questions.

“You’re trying to capture the person on screen both saying something interesting and actually being interesting,” said Hustwit of the challenges of harvesting quality talking head footage. And he’s found that his own facial expression makes all the difference; it directly affects the expression of his subject, even one who is speaking through a translator in a language Hustwit cannot understand. Dutch, for example. “I still have to act like I know what they’re talking about,” he added.

Hustwit left the crowd with a charming interaction-related anecdote that took place on Monday in SoHo, during a lunch break from filming some consumerism B-roll for Objectified. A young boy cautiously approached Hustwit’s table and examined the camera tripod propped beside him. After examining the three-legged metal object for sveral minutes, the boy quietly addressed the tripod, which was about the same height as him. “Are you a robot?” He asked. When there was no answer, Hustwit assured the boy that, “Yes, he is a robot, but he’s taking a nap.”