There are TWO parts to this paper:
1) If the sound bites are the driver in nonfiction, and your nonfiction script is going to be built entirely out of soundbites, what do you need to cover in an interview for a nonfiction piece?
2) Reflecting back on the plastic surgeon interview (in the attached file), share what you believe are (a) the strongest “first line” and (b) the best branding line.
Recommended reading (some are in the lecture file):
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Before you would conduct an actual interview, you would need to do your research, and complete
the following steps:
1) The pre-interview, either face-to-face (strongly recommended) or on the telephone. Get to know
you subject’s story. The pre-interview also helps to build rapport.
2) Prepare a list of things you want to talk about. Don’t write a list of questions – you don’t want to
fall into the trap of reading questions during your interview.
3) On the day of the interview, make sure all of your equipment is working properly. Have plenty
of back-up batteries. Make sure you have at least 5 GB of storage space. Test your equipment record a short clip of audio before you leave for the interview. And turn your phone to airplane
mode. This will keep it from ringing, but still allow you to record.
4) Conduct your interview in a quiet place. To find out how quiet it really is, record a bit of the
ambient sound, play it back and listen to it.
An interview is not a question-and-answer session. It’s a conversation between you and the person
in front of the lens. Put that person at ease. Strike up a casual conversation even as you set up.
A word here from the late chef and television star, Anthony Bourdain: “Journalists drop into a
situation, ask a question, and people sort of tighten up. Whereas if you sit down with people and
just say, ‘Hey what makes you happy? What do you like to eat?’, they’ll tell you extraordinary things,
many of which have nothing to do with food.”
This casual conversation will also allow you to check your recording levels and microphone
placement. If you can’t monitor your audio while recording, unplug the mic, plug in your
headphones and play back the audio.
Start simple. Get your subject to say and spell his or her name. This is for the transcriber. You can
say, “Before we start, for the benefit of our transcriber, could you just give me your name and spell
your name for me please.”
Get everybody but essential crew out of the room. It’s best if it’s just you and your subject. If you
must have observers, try to keep them out of the subject’s eyeline.
As the interview gets under way, follow what your subject is saying. Pursue the subject’s thoughts
– to show you’re listening. You can always come back later to ask what you meant to ask earlier.
Say, “You said something really interesting earlier, about […]. Can we pick up on that?”
Be interested. Most people go through life feeling they’re not really being heard. Listen to your
subjects, show them you’re giving them your undivided attention, and you’ll be amazed by what
they’ll tell you.
Stay quiet. After asking a question, don’t speak. We all have a tendency to say “uh huh,” or “yes,”
during conversation. Resist that urge and simply nod your head or use facial expressions to
encourage your subject. Don’t muddy your audio with verbal fillers.
Maintain eye contact. Silence is ok. If you allow the person to think, they are more likely to share
an interesting story or thought.
If you shift topic abruptly, you’re revealing that you’re thinking more about your questions than
the subject’s answers. Better to transition gracefully by saying something like, “Great. Great answer.
Can we also talk about […]?”
You may look at your notes, but only late in the interview – to make sure you’ve covered everything.
You may even say this to your subject.
Interviewing is a delicate exercise. You’re casting a spell designed to make your subject feel that it’s
just the two of you in an intimate conversation. In a branding piece – as opposed to hard journalism
– you’ve also got to direct the subject to give you what you want.
It can’t be said often enough: the best way to get what you want is to listen and show you’re
listening. If you do it right, your subjects will say it better than you could ever write it. Remember
the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth. Use accordingly.”
Having a transcript of your audio gives you the advantage of having it all in front of you for cutting
and pasting. If you can’t have your audio transcribed, or can’t do it yourself, at least listen to it and
make careful notes, so you’ll have a rough idea of where the good things are. And, if taking the
latter approach, be very sure you’re quoting your subject accurately.
Be sure to save your note-taking for after the interview. Don’t let anything get between you and
the person you’re interviewing.
At the end of the interview, be sure to record at least 30 seconds of room tone. This is the natural
sound of the location – with no one talking or otherwise making noise. Explain to your subject what
you’re doing and why. These 30 (or more) seconds of room tone will be an essential ingredient in
Now for the job of taking all this raw material, all this chaff, and winnowing it down to something
that can call itself a movie script.
I strongly advise that you work from a transcript. Get your interview, or interviews, transcribed.
Only a transcript puts all the words in front of you.
Let’s say you’ve done an interview for a nonfiction piece. Maybe you’ve done two or three
interviews for a nonfiction piece. You’ve got many minutes – maybe an hour, two hours – of raw
interview. What do you do with that big fat transcript?
You slice and dice it. You take the best and most useful bits and discard the others. And then you
arrange them in the proper logical or storytelling order. You create a written document. The
document becomes your script.
This part of the job is called the paper edit. It is a very special skill, and, like many very special skills,
you’re always still learning it.
Here are the most important things to keep in mind.
1) Even if it’s nonfiction, you’re still telling a story. Your story needs a beginning, a middle and an
end. More specifically, an open, a body and a close.
2) The open has to grab us. It has to be short, provocative, tantalizing. It’s got to make us want to
stick around and learn more. A good open is a promise. An enticement. (It’s not, “My name is….”)
It’s got to have an emotional component.
Again, here’s the open from Intel’s Sartorialist piece “You never know what it is – what that thing
is that draws you to that person. But you just let it happen.” Interesting. Let’s keep watching. Now
that’s a good strong open. Your open has to have that kind of strength. As you’re doing your
paper edit, you don’t have to find your open first. You can find it at any point in the process. Just
be sure that, when you’re done, you’ve got a good strong open where it belongs–at the head of
Another example, from “Line of Sight” “Painting forces you to live brushstroke to brushstroke.
You’re not thinking about what happened in the past. You’re not thinking about what you might
have lost. You’re only thinking about that one moment.”
As you’re going through your transcript, ask yourself: what line (or lines) can I use to make the
audience want to watch the rest of this thing?
Functionally, a good nonfiction open works like the first couple of shots from the Guinness “Empty
Chair” piece. It makes us say: “I want to see more.”
The body picks up and extends the logical argument. There can be a logical break (and an actual
pause) between the open and the body. But the body has to flow from one idea to another.
The close needs to leave the audience with an emotional uplift and a feeling of completion.
Most important of all, a paper edit cannot make reference to visuals. It has to work as a standalone – an article or an essay.
Here’s a little exercise to help you with the concept of “soundbiting the interview.” This exercise
is for your benefit, and to get you more familiar with the nonfiction approach to mini moviemaking. While this exercise is not a formal assignment (it is not being submitted for a grade), you
will be expected to share some thoughts about it in this week’s discussion.
Take a look at this interview transcript: Plastic Surgeon Interview (.doc)
Pretend this is your client: a plastic surgeon who specializes in repairing children’s cleft lips and
palates. She wants a two-and-a-half minute branding video that will live on her website as well as
on YouTube. Assume you’ve shot a 45-minute interview with her, and now, working from the
transcript of your interview, you’ve got to cut and paste soundbites so that your little movie brands
She wants her “Meet the Doctor” video to attract the parents of children who need “craniofacial
reconstruction.” Think about whether you want to use this phrase at all, or more than once.
Technical terms are off-putting. Who’s your audience here? Be sure to “talk to the street.” Edit the
interview so that your speaker speaks in ordinary language, even as she reassures the audience
that she is highly qualified. In plastic surgery, it’s all about results. But it’s also important for the
patient (or, in this case, the parent of the patient) to fall in love with the doctor. There’s a lot to
As you consider how you’d actually work on your sequence, you’d probably want to read it aloud
to see how it flows. The ear has to like it first. You’d also want to ensure that your sequence timed
out to no more than three-and-a-half minutes. In a later stage in the process, you and your video
editor would work together to trim it down, paper over the edits with B-roll and make it more
gracious to look at.
Don’t forget the importance of a strong first line in nonfiction. Remember “The Sartoralist” and
from “Mad Men: The Carousel.” Your first line has to capture the brand – or at least grab the
audience – and tell us, or at least tease us about, what we’re in for.
While you would not need to use the two-column script format for this process, you would need
to give the timecode for every part of every soundbite you used. Otherwise, your editor (or you,
if you’re the editor) will have a devil of a time finding the soundbites in the footage.
Transcript of interview with plastic surgeon
My primary special interest inside of plastic surgery is pediatric plastic surgery in
addition to craniofacial reconstruction, which includes facial trauma such as facial fractures,
orbital fractures, mandible fractures, in addition to cleft lip and palate. And basically it
encompasses anything to do with the bony structure of the face or skull and also the soft tissue of
the craniofacial skeleton. So that includes craniosynostosis, babies that are born without ears, and
also to the spectrum of trauma.
My special interest in plastic surgery is primarily pediatric plastic surgery in addition to
craniofacial surgery. Craniofacial surgery encompasses surgery that involves the craniofacial
skeleton which are the bones of the face and the skull, as well as the soft tissue surrounding the
I agree with that. I think that when I went through my training — plastic surgery
encompasses so many different things. You can operate from head to toe. You can operate on an
older person as well as a baby. And as you go through your training, which is very extensive, I
sort of narrowed the scope of my interest, and I found that I was most passionate when I operated
in the head and neck region. So that part of the anatomy was most interesting to me. In
addition, the patients that I felt most passionate about and that I felt I connected mostly with
were the children. So that, basically, those two interests merged into what I do today.
Well, I think that in our specialty, I think you develop a very intimate relationship with
the patient more so, I think, than in many other surgical specialties because, at least in what I do,
I meet most of my patients right after they’re born, and then I often take care of them until they’re
teenagers and thereafter. So I get to know their parents even before the child is born, often with
the technology today, with prenatal ultrasound and diagnoses, and then I follow them. Either
they need operations along the way or perhaps they need them in infancy and then maybe
something when they’re a teenager. Even if they don’t need any other surgical intervention, I
tend to follow them at least on an annual basis and watch them grow. So I get to know the
parents and the siblings as well.
But the family. Absolutely. Yeah, you know, sometimes it’s — you know, I take care of a
lot of foster kids. I take care of a lot of kids that are adopted, especially from China. I have a
large patient population from China. So it’s very interesting. There are all kinds of family
dynamics and some children have better support systems than others. And we have a cleft
palate foundation with an infrastructure that really helps social workers to get involved early on
if the children need early intervention with speech or feeding or other kinds of services.
Plastic surgeon interview – Page 1
I think that it’s very important to parents that I dedicate my career to this and to
children. If you see my office, you’ll see that the entire place is just filled with toys and it’s very
children friendly. I very rarely see my patients in an exam room. I think it makes them nervous.
And the majority of my exams that I have to do, I can do with them sitting on my couch in my
office, and then they can play with their toys and their siblings can play with the toys while I
speak to the parents about the nuts and bolts of what we have to do going forward. Because I
realized that if you’re in an exam room, the children are bored or anxious and then they’re crying
and they’re bothering or tugging on the parents. And then the parents can’t focus on what I’m
saying, and we’re talking about important things. Their child is about to have surgery. So I found
that that environment really works well with my practice. So I see the majority of my patients
in my office setting. And most of the time the kids are just playing and then the siblings aren’t
left out. I mean, a lot of times with kids like this– a lot of times the siblings feel left out, that that
one sibling is getting a lot of attention, so we try to incorporate the siblings into the visit as well.
So there’s a lot of that that goes on.
I think that one of the wonderful things when I joined the practice is that they very much
allowed me — I had this vision for what I wanted for my career and the type of practice I wanted
to have and I truly just wanted to focus on pediatric and craniofacial surgery and they let me do
that. And the wonderful thing is if I have one of the kids’ parents needs something else done -say they’re diagnosed with breast cancer and they need a breast reconstruction — I can refer to
one of my partners. And that goes with anything, whether they want some elective surgery done,
either it’s cosmetic surgery or they have a family member that, you know, needs something else
done or they have an accident and have a hand injury, we have a hand specialist. So it’s really
nice to just be able to pick up the phone and call upstairs and say, “Can you see their sister” or,
you know, their friends, and we don’t need to send them far away. So it’s wonderful.
And also, I’m able to work with my partners. They do a lot of elective rhinoplasty procedures.
And all of this is applicable to craniofacial reconstruction as well. So if I’m doing a nasal
reconstruction in a cleft lip child who is now a teenager, a lot of the applications of an elective
rhinoplasty go into that as well, so we can work together and vice versa. Oftentimes they ask me
to help them with certain procedures and I ask them and we give each other a hand. So it’s just
a wonderful environment to work in.
Elaborate on that? It was a hard decision whether to go into — in any kind of medicine,
you can go into academic medicine or you can stay in private practice — or go into private
practice. And where I trained in Dallas, my mentor there was in private practice. However, he
only did pediatric craniofacial and he had a fellow and he was very involved in our national
meetings, et cetera, and he published a lot and I kind of emulated him and wanted to mirror what
kind of practice he had in my own practice. And so being here, we have a residency program
where we’re training residents and fellows, so I think when you’re around young people and
Plastic surgeon interview – Page 2
you’re training them, it forces you to stay current with all of the techniques and there’s a
wonderful family environment or camaraderie amongst the partners, as well as with the residents
and fellows. So I honestly couldn’t think of a more perfect environment to be practicing in.
I think the bread and butter, if you can say, of my practice is the cleft lip and palate
So cleft lip and palate is one of the more — one of the most common birth defects or birth
deformities that occur. And it’s a misconception that these are deformities that occur in just Third
World countries. It’s extremely common in this country and the reason why people think that this
only happens in Third World countries — and it’s that picture that people see on the side of a bus
— is because we take care of these things very early in life.
Typically, if the baby is born full term and is gaining weight appropriately, the first
surgery, the cleft lip and nose surgery, is performed typically about three to four months of age.
So that stigma of what the baby looks like with a cleft lip and nose is taken away very early on.
And the cleft palate procedure, again — and this is if everything is going well and the baby is
gaining weight and was full term — is usually performed between nine and twelve months of age.
So before the child is one year of age, they’ve had the majority of their surgery performed.
So we don’t have children walking around our streets with wide open lips and palates.
Now many parents ask me, “Why did this happen?” And there are 14 genes associated with cleft
lip and palate. However, that doesn’t mean if you have the gene, you’ll have a cleft. We may
carry one or a multiple of those genes. You have to have environmental factors that also play a
role. So we’re not quite sure. With the involvement of folic acid, with mothers taking prenatal
vitamins, the incidence has gone down somewhat.
Craniosynostosis is another birth deformity that I treat and what craniosynostosis is is
basically premature fusing of the sutures of the skull and we are all born — the skull isn’t just one
bone; it’s multiple bones connected together with expansion joints which are called sutures. And
if those fuse too early, it prevents the brain from growing in that area and prevents the skull from
expanding in that direction. So those have risks and it can be associated with increasing pressure
in the brain and it also — each suture that’s fused causes a characteristic malformed shape of the
head. So I perform the surgery in conjunction with the pediatric neurosurgeons where we — they
remove the portion of the skull that’s involved and I reshape it and put it back. So it gives them
more space so that they don’t have increased pressure, in addition to giving them a more normal
It depends on the suture involved, but it can be performed as early as four months of age
Plastic surgeon interview – Page 3
or as late as a year of age. It really depends on whether there is a syndrome involved, whether
there are multiple sutures involved or just one suture.
Facial fractures and facial trauma are a large portion of my practice.
Facial trauma — which includes soft tissue facial trauma like lacerations, dog bites to
the face, as well as facial fractures including jaw fractures and orbital fractures — is a large part
of my practice. I take a lot of trauma call at multiple hospitals in the area, and although the
incidence of facial fractures has gone down quite a bit because of the invention of airbags, it is
still quite high and also, unfortunately, dogbites, especially in little children. Toddler age is
very very common. So that encompasses a large portion of my practice.
Essentially, in my practice, I do primarily cleft lip and palate repair, craniosynostosis
repair, as well as facial trauma which includes facial fractures and the repair of them, as well as
soft tissue injury.
I think — you know, obviously one of the most rewarding things is the change that we
can bring to these families by treating these children. It’s very -A
One of the most rewarding things about my practice is the impact that my practice — it’s
so hard for me to say that — operating on my patients can have on my -02;33;21
You know, I think one of the most satisfying things is not only seeing the effect that I
can have on the family as whole and the parents and bringing the baby out from the operating
room and having the parents hug me and cry and be thankful for the change that was made, but
also when the kids are a little older and they can talk to me and they come in and at one point,
they come in crying to me saying, “The kids at school are making fun of me,” and then after
surgery they come back and they’re smiling and they’re not crying anymore and kids aren’t
teasing them anymore. I think it’s just one of the most amazing things to transform a child’s life
like that so that they’re not — that they don’t have a disadvantage in that regard and they’re not
teased and that they can go to school and be full functioning and be a normal kid like they are.
Yeah. I think that life is challenging enough and the majority of these children are 100
percent normal as far as their intelligence is concerned, so they just need a few operations so -but to have the stigma of having a deformity, a congenital deformity, can have an unbelievable
impact on kids and how they eventually develop as young adults. So especially the young girls
and young boys in teenage years when they get into dating and they’re interested in, you know,
the opposite sex — it’s tough on them. It’s really tough. Like, their girlfriends are dating and
Plastic surgeon interview – Page 4
going to the prom and it’s hard and it’s hard to see them go through that, and if I can make any
difference and help them transition into a more normal life and social life in that regard, it’s just
I think it’s just what I’m realizing — what I’m realizing are the rewards of it now, I
guess, because when you’re in training, you don’t really have the benefit of seeing the outcome
necessarily long term and you don’t really get the intimate interaction with the families. And now
being in practice, I’m able to see that side of things. Whereas initially going into it, it was
simply that I really loved working with the kids and I liked the anatomy, the basic head and neck
anatomy. But now I’m realizing another portion of this that’s wonderful is that I get to really
make a difference.
In addition to treating these craniofacial disorders here in this country, I’ve also done
some traveling with medical missions as do some of my partners. I’ve gone to Vietnam with
Project Vietnam which was just a wonderful experience and it’s something that I would like to
continue to do on an annual basis. I think it helps everyone just maintain perspective. I think you
end up operating on many children in a very short period of time. The people are so very
thankful and appreciative. And although you make a difference in quite a few individuals’ lives
in that week or two weeks that you’re there, you leave behind a feeling that “Wow. There’s just
so much more to do.” But I think it’s very important. I think it’s important to travel in general, but
I think it’s important to travel to these places. And also we’re blessed here in this country with
having access to physicians and hospitals and the medical care, and I think it’s just very
rewarding to travel and go and make a difference in other countries as well. Many of my partners
actually are involved in traveling in medical missions all over the world.
I think that my commitment to the field, I think, is also in not only operating and taking
care of these children, but also in contributing either new techniques or even just reporting
outcomes, which is very important in any specialty. So I’ve been involved and will continue to be
involved in many of our national meetings, like the ASPS, which is the American Society of
Plastic Surgery, the American Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Society. So I’ve spoken and
presented a lot of the work that I did, either during my training or after, and having the residency
program here allows me to -02;40;14
I think working with the residents you not only teach, which is very rewarding, but you
learn a lot from them as well, and there’s so many times before the cases — I go over all my cases
with the residents beforehand and the plan, the surgical plan, and a lot of times, they bring up
things and bring up ideas that I hadn’t thought of and the discussions that we have in the
operating room and after when we review the case, so it’s just a dialogue you have with them and
there’s a lot of give and take in the relationship. And also seeing them develop over a couple of
years and seeing how much they learn in a couple of years is very rewarding as well.
Plastic surgeon interview – Page 5
I think the onus is on the physician to stay current in our field and I think a way of
doing that is attending these meetings and not only attending them but participating in them by
presenting our work, getting feedback from our colleagues, and we have opportunities at these
national meetings to give lectures. I think it’s very important and I think patients — it’s important
to patients. I think that if you just practice in your own little microcosm of the world and you
don’t get input from your colleagues nationally or internationally, I think you’re doing yourself
and your patients a disservice.
I think there are many facets to a physician, you know, or to a surgeon in my situation. I
think it’s not only that you had good training. I think it’s not only that you keep yourself updated
on the most recent literature and that you go to the national meetings and you contribute to your
field by presenting your work, writing your work, traveling all over the world, seeing what else
is out there, I think by doing all those things, by continuing to teach and continuing to learn over
the years, I think that’s the most — I think that’s -02;43;58
Well, I think, you know — I’m trying to think of the word — I mean, I really think that
you’re bringing the most to the table to taking care of the patient. I think that exposing yourself to
criticism, meeting with colleagues, staying up to date, I think that your patients deserve that.
I currently sit on the board of a pediatric charity, a local charity on Long Island that
started on Long Island, and basically its application to my patients is very important which is
why I joined. It deals with bullying that children go through from when they’re little — so when
they’re made fun of, perhaps the way they look — and it also extends to cyber bullying that a lot
of the teenagers go through. So it was a very important charity and it was very applicable to my
patient population. So in general, it’s not only important to me to be involved internationally, like
going on these medical missions, but I’d also like to be involved locally as well.
I serve on the board of a local pediatric charity or a children’s charity that basically
deals with abuse in children and it’s not only what you think of first with physical abuse or
emotional abuse, but also bullying that goes on in schools. And although this charity doesn’t
involve plastic surgery directly; indirectly, it involves my patients because a lot of them are
subject to a lot of bullying and teasing in school and that portion of this charity work for this
organization drew me to it and that’s why I now have recently become one of the board
I think that when I joined the practice, I think that they — it was an equal marriage, if
you want to describe it that way, where I brought something to the practice where they didn’t
have an associate or partner that did pediatric craniofacial and had that experience and wanted to
dedicate their practice to that. They needed it, not only for the practice and to take care of the
Plastic surgeon interview – Page 6
patients, but also for the residency training. That was a piece that was missing. I provided that
piece. But then what they brought to me was the support system and the infrastructure in order
for me to be able to have this type of practice. A lot of people would think that there isn’t a place
or it’s not possible to just have a practice that is so incredibly focused and specified as pediatric
craniofacial, but being involved in a big group like this with the support that I have not only
emotionally, financially, and through the residency program and the support I get with the -because these are big operations and it’s nice to — you know, it’s nice to have the support of my
colleagues. So I think that in that way, we met each others’ needs.
I think what makes me unique perhaps or my practice unique is that I’m 100 percent
dedicated to pediatric craniofacial surgery.
I think what makes my practice unique is that I’m the only physician here that dedicates
my entire practice to taking care of pediatric and craniofacial -A
I think what makes my practice unique is that I’m the only plastic surgeon here on Long
Island who dedicates her practice -A
I think what makes my practice unique is that I’m the only plastic surgeon on Long
I am the only plastic surgeon here on Long Island who dedicates their practice to
pediatric craniofacial surgery.
I honestly think that the reason why I connect with the kids is that, first of all, I never
wear a white coat in the office. It scares them. They always go to the pediatrician’s office and
they get shots and they get scared. So not only do they come to my office and they have a
playroom to play in while I’m examining them and they don’t know I’m examining them, I think
I’m small. I’m sort of their size almost. And it sounds silly, but I think I’m not intimidating to
them. I never stand up with them. I’m always sitting down. And they — I play with them while
I’m examining them. We sit down on the floor and a lot of the — especially my cleft palate kids, I
need to get speech samples from them, so we play with toys. Instead of having a formal
examination where they’re going to get quiet and not talk and get scared, we play. So I think that
I noticed that very early on, even in my training, that the kids really related to me and were very
relaxed around me versus a lot of my colleagues. And if it’s just virtue of the fact that I’m
smaller and they think I’m one of them, it works.
The touch. I don’t know. I think that’s part of it. I think I agree, but there is just this je
ne sais quoi — I don’t know — this connection I have with them and it’s very easy. It doesn’t -and the parents comment on it a lot. And I think it’s important that they’re not anxious and they’re
not scared because I see them a lot in the office and I don’t want their association with me or my
Plastic surgeon interview – Page 7
office to be something negative because I want everything that comes out of my office, whether
it’s from the surgery that I perform to just their visits that they come every month or every year,
to be a positive experience.
I think a common misconception with children that are born with any kind of deformity
is that there is something intellectually or mentally wrong or that there’s some sort of mental
disability associated with it.
I think one of the most common misconceptions made with children that have birth
defects is that — or birth deformities — is that they also have a mental