One Interview Down: Stories Have a Way of Unfolding

Man, does it feel good that I finished an interview yesterday—and that I finished it smoothly, quickly, and well. That I have over 45 minutes of footage that we can and will use in our documentary. That my questions were answered, often without even having to ask, and that new questions were raised and explored. That I have an expert on film who can give facts and opinion, establish credibility, and disentangle myths. That I have used what we learned to create an interview that looks and sounds good. That new connections were made, and an entire web of opportunities opened up. And that since we have a start, there is so much more to come.

My process with Shawna Shapiro, a professor at Middlebury college, an expert on ELL education in Vermont, and my interviewee, started nearly a month ago. Even though we were both eager to talk to each other, we didn’t actually find a date until weeks after the retreat—and that is one of the things to learn from this process. Scheduling takes a long time. But eventually, we set a day for the pre-interview. I had a good conversation with her about our project, the work she does, and ELL education in general. It was nice to have an informal conversation before the filmed interview. It gave me a chance to get more background and feel out the type of questions I might ask, as well as get data and more contacts to use in our movie. Over the course of the conversation, she sent me three separate emails with links, email addresses, and videos that we might even be able to use as B-roll! The great thing about the pre-interview is that it allowed me to focus on my own learning before creating something that would focus on my audience’s learning. (Oh yeah, side note to my team: who is going to be our audience? I’m mostly thinking about students right now. But do we have another that audience we’re going to target for change-making?)

Anyways, I left the pre-interview on fire to keep going. I was worried that if I waited too long for the actual interview, I would lose the momentum I had just gained. But miraculously, the closest date she had proposed, the only one before December break, turned out to work for me and my team. And so, only five days after the pre-interview, I once again walked into Shawna’s office at Middlebury College. This time, I had a media kit, a team mate (Kati), and a feeling of slight under-preparedness. The thing is, it turns out that nervousness and authenticity are crucial for an interview. So what if my list of questions was incomplete and covered with scrawls of pen? A good interview is not question after answer after question. Stories have a way of unfolding on their own.

Despite—or maybe because of—my inexperience with interviewing and Shawna’s inexperience with being interviewed, we had moments of perfection. You know, those times when she said something I had been hoping she would say, only phrased with more detail and eloquence than I could ever put it—all captured on film with expertly placed zooms from Kati. She defined the term ELL, which I think will be important to have in our documentary. We discussed different types of systems for ELL education, and which ones work best. We weighed the strengths and weaknesses that Vermont has now. She told me about how much all students have to gain from being in school with new Americans, and how much we miss out on by seeing them as a burden to the community instead of an asset. All of the things that we are building our project on, said by somebody who knows and who cares.

Perhaps the best thing about the interview is that it reassured me that we can do this. If we put in just the right amount of work and keep the stress at a minimum, conversations and opportunities arise naturally. The benefit of living in a small state is that after just one interview, I already have connections to what feels like every expert and stakeholder in the state. And, as I keep reminding myself, we don’t need every person in the state for a ten minute documentary. The real question is not whether we have enough contacts, but whether we have too many. And with five team mates, suddenly two months of filming seems like plenty of time. I can give myself a break for the holidays, knowing that afterwards I can jump right back in. We have a tangible, sturdy foundation. Now we just need to keep building.

Featured Image by stevebustin

Greta Hardy-Mittell

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