Moments of Absurdity

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What to do when the interview goes insane?

Okay, reporters, it's time to fess up.

Have you ever done one of those interviews where everything goes totally wrong?

Yeah, thought so.

You show up at the predetermined time and location, but the interview subject is a no-show and is, at that moment, waiting for you someplace else. Thus ensues a mad dash across town...

Or the person you interview is a jerk, giving yes' or no' answers to all of your questions, and not a single quotable sentence.

Or, you mistakenly erase an important interview, and have to call the person back with news that it must be done over again. That is a fun thing to do, believe me. Yes, shit happens in this business.

I've had batteries in my recorder fail several times, in the middle of an interview. This happened with only the second interview I ever did (the first being Tommy Hunter). I was interviewing Tom Lavin, leader of the Powder Blues Band, and noticed, near the end of the interview, that the tape drive-wheel seemed to be turning slowly. I stopped the interview, rewound a little, and, sure enough, the audio was dragging badly.

Lavin rolled his eyes, and sighed heavily. I turned beet red, broke into a sweat and began taking notes. I did not give up, much as I wanted to. (Later, I managed to salvage the entire interview by replacing the spent batteries with ones that were also weak, so the tape played back at roughly the same slow speed with which it was recorded, enabling me to pick out what Tom was saying. Embarrassed but determined, I stayed up all night working to write a piece that would turn Lavin's head, when he eventually saw the clippings.)

There was the time I called one of the biggest TV soap opera stars in the business, at the pre-ordained time 5 am only to yank the person from a deep sleep, inebriated, incoherent and none too pleased with my questions (I will save that for a future item).

There was the time in 1986 when I asked Huey Lewis, of Huey Lewis and the News, what we could expect on the next album. He gave me a withering look and said, "Ten songs, black vinyl, hole in the middle." (I rallied quickly and asked what he thought about contemporary artists recording classic blues and R&B tunes, without giving the original composers credit, and he came around immediately.)

Usually, you make the best of it, and crib together a story regardless.

Other times, the cock-ups are so plentiful that the story cannot be salvaged.

I know that every seasoned reporter has at least one interview gone wrong' or shoot went crazy' story. Today, I am throwing open the comments section and inviting media people to share their own horror stories. Anonymous comments will be permitted, from media people only.

But first, an example (from late in 1988) of what to do when the interview goes ape shit and totally out of control. You make a silk purse with the proverbial sow's ear. It may not always work, but when it does, your story is that much better for it.

Boland films a comedy; interview is a comedy of errors

By GEOFF MEEKER

Sunday Express Entertainment Editor

The situation was Chaplinesque in its absurdity, a case of real life imitating comedy.

The time: 12:47 p.m. on a Wednesday. The location: backstage at the Arts and Culture Centre. Actor Rick Boland and I have just collided in our haste, and realize there is much information one wants to impart to the other. But we both have appointments at 1 p.m. and first, Boland must find the key to his rehearsal room. The interview begins on the run, as we scramble through the halls and catacombs of the centre, Boland telling this reporter about Oil Rush', his latest film.

As we racewalk across the backstage area and out the side stage door, Boland tells me the film is a short one - roughly eight minutes long - based on a skit he wrote for Rising Tide's Revue 88. It was inspired, Boland says, by a Charlie Chaplin movie.

"I wanted to become a member of NIFCO (Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers' Cooperative)," Boland says, entering the elevator, "and they require you to make a film in order to become a member... (so) the film was my entrance requirement..."

Boland holds the elevator door open and dials security on the telephone, looking for the guard who apparently has the key. No answer.

"It went well, surprisingly well really," Boland says, as we begin walking toward the art gallery entrance. "I had the best crew in the world: it was amazing, considering that it was very fly by night.

"There was no money, it wasn't really planned, just a film sort of happening," Boland says, as we realize there's no security guard to be found in the gallery area.

"(The film was) easier because it's silent there's no sound. The object was to shoot a film in three days and edit it in three days. It's a parody of Gold Rush' by Charlie Chaplin."

That 1925 movie classic will be shown by the MUN Film Society Feb. 7 at the Little Theatre. "So I thought this would be a nice little short to drop in front of the feature... and I'm hoping they do that," Boland says, as we clip-clop downstairs and into the bowels of the building. After meandering up and down a series of corridors - a person could get lost down here - we locate the guard, who is just beginning his lunch break.

He agrees to follow us, though not too eagerly, as we rush back to the elevator and hold the door.

"Charlie Chaplin was a hero of mine," Boland says, between breaths. "When he started in films from the stage, what he did was make a film a week, about 10 minutes long... (He) shot it, cut it, edited it and had it on the market... And he says that's how he learned the art of filmmaking. So I said "Well, if it's good enough for Chaplin, it's certainly good enough for me'."

At this moment, Boland introduces a touch of slapstick to our comedy of errors, as he releases the elevator door a second too soon. It closes with a crunch on the security guard - not a large man - and he wrests himself free with a grunt.

"You got squat," Boland tells the guard, as if he didn't know. The guard ignores us and stares straight ahead, scowling.

"What I did was talk to (producer) Derek Norman about the film and he said it was possible... so we met and found out who was available. Fortunately, it was January and there was no major film on the go. There were a lot of really good people available to work long hours for nothing. It... wore me out, but it was an awful lot of fun."

Boland directed the film and enlisted the help of Norman, cameraman Nigel Markham, assistant cameraman Jamie Lewis, assistant director Paul Pope, art director Peggy Hogan and production manager Barry Nichols.

"It's being processed here, so it's totally a Newfoundland production," Boland says, as we thank the security guard and walk into the cavernous rehearsal room, the impromptu interview almost over.

Oil Rush,' Boland explains, parodies Chaplin in every detail, right down to the moustache and the funny walk (by shooting the old-fashioned way, at 16 frames per second instead of 24, to give it that jumpy, Keystone Cop effect). And, like many of the original Chaplin films, there's some serious social commentary imbued in the humor.

"It's about a guy who's on pogey who's quite happy ," Boland says. "(He) gives his claim a kiss before he puts it in, but just before he does so an evil UIC counsellor calls him into the office and shows him a newspaper that says HIBERNIA DEAL HAS BEEN SIGNED, so he rips up the pogey claim and tells him to go out and get a job."

Alas, the hero has a hard time and soon ends up destitute and hungry. "There's a little parody of Chaplin's famous scene in Gold Rush' where he's eating the sole of a boot with the shoelaces and stuff. My Charlie ends up down at Woolworth's and realizes he has no money, so he picks up all kinds of free things - the ketchup and mustard, salt and pepper - and makes a little stew out of that."

And Rick Boland actually ate it?

"Yes."

How did it taste ?

"Oh, it was horrible! Very, very, very bad.

"Then, of course, there's a no loitering' sign in the restaurant so he gets kicked out of there, lands at the feet of a paperseller, and sees another headline in The Sunday Express that says JOBS JOBS JOBS."

Our hapless hero hooks into a job on the oil rigs, but soon gets the boot when it is revealed that Newfoundlanders can't benefit from the offshore until 1997. The plot goes full circle, and winds up taking a sardonic jab at the Resettlement program of the 60s.

"A few weeks later you see them," Boland continues, "and the girl is taking bread from the oven and he's bringing home fish from the sea... and they live happily ever after."

The 11 scenes in Oil Rush' were shot with a large infusion of imagination ("the oil rig part was shot in the university boiler room," Boland says) and absolutely no money. "It was made on a budget of zero," he adds.

That is, not counting the hidden cost Woolworth's absorbed for the little bags of condiments.

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  • William
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Don't just dies at Rick! He's one of the best, so much talent & he's ours! Now he should do a short on Have Not, Have, Have Not, Have - and you can probably guess who the main players would be, right? Thanks, Geoff for sharing your great behind the scences story.