I'm big on preaching the power of prep, but I sometimes forget to acknowledge that it's not always possible to have a fully formed outline before asking your first interview question. Sometimes, you just gotta wing it.
That was me, just last week. I was writing an episode for The Long Game
. It was pegged to the start of the Qatar World Cup. So it had to get done. No excuses.
Plan A was nixed because of breaking news. Plan B went wrong when the people I was planning to interview stopped responding to my emails. (It happens.)
Plan C suggested I talk to someone else instead. Plan D was eager to talk, but ultimately couldn't find the time.
So that leaves us with Plan E.
Now I don't want to offend Plan E. I was really excited about Plan E. Three guests. Three great interviews.
But my original plan had been to produce a single narrative interview with lots of sound design and news clips. Something along the lines of The Daily
Instead, I had three separate interviews. And I was gonna need narration to pull them all together.
I had not budgeted enough time to write narration.
A narrated story just takes longer to put together. You've gotta figure out how to introduce multiple characters. Balance differing viewpoints. Follow multiple timelines.
It's just more complicated.
Usually, I'd have a sense of it all ahead of time. I'd know that this person is going to be my main character, so I ask them for a bunch of character details.
I know this other person is going to give me context and analysis, so I focus their interview on that.
But this time around, I didn't know what I was going to get until I got it.
That's how I ended up on short deadline with absolutely no idea what story I was trying to tell.
Oh…and did I mention that I had to get the script to my editors by Wednesday night, so I could get up at 3:30am on Thursday morning, fly to NYC and moderate a panel for a UN conference on sports?
Yeah…pressure. Big pressure.
So, in the interest of transparency and openness, I'm gonna tell you the exact steps I took to get myself out of this pickle. Sunday:
Spend a couple hours listening back to interviews #1 and #2. Identify selects — cuts I'd maybe like to use. Record interview #3. Breathe a sigh of relief that at least I will have something.
Realize there's one more person I'd really love to talk to. Put in a request. Spend a little time wondering if I should wait to hear back before I start writing.
Hop on the first of 5 1/2 hours of Zoom calls I have scheduled for the day.
(None of them relate in any way to the episode I'm trying to write.)Panic.Monday, between Zoom calls:
Pull all selects into a single Google doc. Use headers to organize by story beat.
Check the word count and realize that I already have more than 9000 words -- just in selects -- for a piece that's only supposed to be 4500 words, including narration. Panic.
Text my best friend, who reassures me that the right answer is probably gonna come to me in my sleep.