There are many different approaches that interviewers such as documentary filmmakers and journalists have taken when trying to build a productive interviewer to interviewee relationship. Many of these have been built up over time by a trial and error process. I once heard legendary BBC documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield (Kurt and Courtney, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer) speak about this subject at the Scottish Documentary Institute:
I think as an interviewer if you want to interject or come up with something you need to have very good reasons for doing it. I have looked at so many interviews I have done, for example where the interview was going just great until I said something that took it off into completely the wrong direction. When you look back at the footage in the cutting room, when you do not have the pressures of filming around you, you can see so clearly what you said that sent the interview off into the wrong direction. Now, I find it very useful to just repeat the last few words the interviewee said after they finish speaking and to just let them talk.
Whether the purpose of the interview is to expose a truth from the interviewee that they are trying to keep hidden, or simply to bring to focus a certain subject that they are happy to discuss, it is important to build a relationship between both parties so that the person being interviewed is comfortable on camera and there is a certain amount of trust present. If there is no trust the interviewee will be cautious about every word they say and will not open up. This technique of Nick Broomfield’s of repeating the last few words they have just said, leads the interviewee to believe that this person is genuinely interested in anything they say, creating the illusion that it is an honest conversation between two people and, most importantly, this is a conversation where the interviewee has the power. This is naturally an illusion as it is the filmmaker who has the power in terms of the filmic choices that are made from tools such as editing techniques and music. These choices create the mood and texture of the interview more than the actual content of what the interviewee is saying.
Nick Broomfield is seen as one of the groundbreaking documentary filmmakers in the history of British television. His work is well known worldwide and inspired the generation of documentary filmmakers that followed, specifically Lois Theroux who adopted the casual and friendly approach of Nick Broomfield when conducting an interview on camera. However, Lois Theroux he took this one step further by creating the identity of a naive, innocent and amateur interviewer to put his subjects at ease, when the reality of his personality and the professional competence of his work could not be more different.