To be an effective journalist and storyteller, you need to liken yourself a sponge.
Absorb everything your interviewee says. Soak in all the knowledge you can. Have as much give and flexibility as possible. In other words, be very openminded and openhearted.
This was a lesson I had learned this past weekend while filming more footage for my Independent Professional Project, a documentary called Stories from Cambodia.
Here's a trailer I put together recently to hint at what's to come.
It has been a slow filming process, something I had not anticipated. In fact, I thought quite the opposite. I had thought the project would go nicely and smoothly since my interview subjects live under the same roof as me, therefore I would have them all to myself for the next two-three months of filming. Boy, was I wrong.
Visiting relatives, unforeseen household chores, and urgent errands got in the way of my progress (or lack thereof). I had prided myself these past few months on being patient and understanding of these situations. But then, I had a lot of time.
Now it's the beginning of November. I am a little farther behind than where I'd like to be.
This weekend, the sponge turned into a fragile piece of plastic in which even the slightest tug would cause it to snap into two.
My dad admitted to me that he was uncomfortable talking on camera, which surprised me because he has quite a flair for drama. (When you see the end result, you'll know what I mean.) He's the one at our family gatherings telling absurd jokes and sharing ridiculous anecdotes, so it didn't make sense to me that he would clam up in the presence of a camera. Turns out he and I are more alike than I had thought.
His camera shyness alone was frustrating, leading to many takes and retakes, to his stopping mid-sentence and waving, "no, no" at the camera while shaking his head. I kept telling him that he doesn't need to be well-versed and scripted because it's just a documentary. Talk like you're talking to a good friend, I said about a thousand times.
"No, I need to do it this way, or I can't do it at all," he replied a thousand and one times.
I was getting angry. Why was he trying to sabotage my documentary, making it more difficult that it was supposed to be? There were times I had to fight back tears of frustration while filming.
But that's the job. No one said being a sponge was easy.
Your interview subjects may wring your neck and wipe you around in their mess and leave you out to dry until you're brittle and weak, but remember the sponge always regains composure and strength through time and rehydration.