A few years ago now I mentioned the Washington Post’s experiment with video profiles they call OnBeing as part of a larger piece on the Art of the Interview. The series went on hiatus for a while and now is back. Created by Jennifer Crandall, each three-minute piece presents a new person against a white background, talking to camera. Each talks about something important to them, something that helps define who they are or who they hope to become. They’re very informal and she keeps it short and sweet.
You can find some background about the series here. And an interview with Jennifer here.
What makes the pieces so interesting, and worth writing about, is how skilled Jennifer is as an interviewer. Of course, all we see is the results of her efforts. And here’s what I notice: the people are relaxed, open, speaking easily. They’re thoughtful, trying to find the right words to express what they want to say. They seem like people we’d like to know. All in all, it’s a friendly, intimate experience.
What we don’t see is how Jennifer puts them at ease, makes them feel like they’re just sharing thoughts and feelings with an old friend. We don’t see how her curiosity invites them to talk about themselves and her journalistic background helps her edit their monologue into an inviting and often intriguing portrait. And then, once the one or two big ideas or story points are explored, it’s time to move on. Her editing style, using multiple jump cuts to get to the heart of the matter, works for this kind of piece too. It adds a sense of authenticity. You can see that manipulation, but she does such a good job with the rhythm and flow of ideas you don’t mind not hearing what’s been cut out. Don’t even think about it.
But, for me, what makes onBeing really stand out is how easy it is for us to hook into the people Jennifer has chosen. They feel so fresh, real, vital. You know, I’ve heard it said that magic is all done with mirrors. In this case, I think what feels so good is just a reflection of her artistry.