Interrotron: an Interviewing Tool Essential to the Documentaries of Oscar Winner Errol Morris
One of the most crucial pieces to a great documentary is the interview. In post production you will ground your edit around a transcription of what these people have to say about your subject. When you are performing the interview, you obviously want the subject looking straight at you to achieve a human connection and better result. But what if you want to connect your subject to the audience more… how would you go about making the connection with the subject while getting a first-person angle on them? Enter the Interrotron, a favorite device used by Oscar winner Errol Morris. Check out these clips from Fog of War, his Oscar winner that used the device:
The Interrotron is basically two teleprompters connected to two cameras. Camera A is rolling on the subject, and Camera B is simply feeding Camera A’s prompter. This allows for the subject to be looking directly into the interviewer’s eyes through the beam splitter, as they are being interviewed. This fantastic technique was championed by several other filmmakers before Morris, but he is most known for it (probably because he’s just that great of a filmmaker).
Check out this great graphic describing the technique:
Over at Co.Design, John Palvus had this to say about the technique:
Morris didn’t invent this camera angle — nor was he the only one to devise this clever system. Production designer and frequent Morris collaborator Steve Hardie (who also made these illustrations) independently invented a nearly identical system a few years before Morris started using his…
Luckily, the basic idea is simple enough that any enterprising filmmaker could probably build her own if she really wanted to. And Hardie’s illustrations should make that process even easier.
I couldn’t agree more. This technique isn’t going to replace building a relationship with your subject, but it is a tool to assist that during the interview portion. If I were to take on a large documentary project, this would absolutely be a part of my arsenal. With the right telemprompter (a personal favorite brand being Autocue), you could have light setup times, which would help keep things personal on set.
Have you ever tried this technique or built this device before? Anyone with examples from their own films they’d like to share?