Welcome to the Interrotron

WRITTEN BY
Dave Itzkoff

From the very beginning, I liked the idea of making eye contactwith the people I was interviewing. We are very, very sensitive tothe fact that someone is looking at us -- you know whenthat's happening. But in cinema verite, you're supposedto be as unobtrusive as possible, and I didn't know how to dothat. My answer in those days was to put my head as close to thecamera as possible. If you know where to look in [Morris'first film] Gates of Heaven, you can actually see my hair.

Ithought about the problem for a while, and then it became obvious whatto do: use TelePrompTers in a way that they have never been usedbefore. When you think of prompters, you always think about them inconnection with text: a politician reading a speech, a news anchorreading copy. The idea is that he can be reading the text and lookinginto the lens and making eye contact with his audience. He can read thetype across the lens of the camera while he's being videotaped at thesame time.

When I used this thing the very first time [for 1997's Fast, Cheap & Out of Control],I thought, "This is risky. What if my subjects run out of the roomscreaming? What if this is just too damn weird?" But it workedperfectly from the very first interview. I did this film for the [2002]Academy Awards, and among the people I put on the Interrotron wereMikhail Gorbachev, Donald Trump, Iggy Pop, Walter Cronkite, and AlSharpton. They were actually all in the same room at one time.

So far, the only person who has ever raised any objectionabout the Interrotron is [former Defense Secretary] Robert S. McNamara[the subject of The Fog of War]. He said, "What is this?" And Isaid, "It's my interviewing machine." And he said, "I don't care whatit is, I don't like it." And then he relented and we spoke together fora total of 20-plus hours.

My production designer has said the beauty of theInterrotron is that it allows people to do what they do best: watch TV.I say it's much better, because it's the TV that wants to find out moreabout you. It's the TV that cares.

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