GUEST BLOG: MIKE SHERIDAN
Throughout his career, Mike Sheridan has hosted events for Ireland’s biggest brands and been lucky enough to interview some of the world’s most notable celebrities. We’d a quick chat with him on the best approach to getting the most out of a celebrity or ambassador panel, the production that follows and how social media can amplify it to millions.
Over the course of the last 14 years or so, I've conducted hundreds of interviews. Some with movie stars, or filmmakers, others with far more divisive figures for a conversational video series and podcast called The Delve. Everyone has their interviewing style, with a more abrasive approach the general norm for those who speak to politicians, as opposed to casual for longer-form chats such as podcasts.
If you've been given direct access to A-list talent the chances are that the environment is strictly controlled; there will not just be time limits on the interview, but someone will be in the room, in your eye line, notifying you on how long you have before another interviewer enters the room. How do you differentiate yourself, your questions from likely a couple of dozen other people in the space of between 5-10 minutes, and conduct a successful discussion?
In late 2018 I had an interview with Tom Hardy and Riz Ahmed for the blockbuster, Venom. As can be the case with effects-heavy productions, the film wasn't finished by the time the cast were doing interviews, so generic movie questions seemed even less substantial than usual. I reached out to a mutual friend of Hardy and he confirmed he's not crazy about doing interviews - fair enough, it's a surreal situation for everyone involved. So I did what I always try to do, simply have a conversation with them. As you can imagine, this isn't easy to do in such a stringent set-up amidst the carnage of a London movie junket, but we had a great, all be it short, chat that resulted in the most shared interview of 2018 in Ireland. I had posed a question to Hardy on his love of dogs and if (asked in jest, obviously) he liked dogs more than humans. The resulting answer was so inherently genuine, the edited clip took off garnering million-plus views on Facebook and hundreds of thousands on Instagram and YouTube. This is obviously good for the studio (Sony Pictures) in terms of coverage, good for the outlet conducting the interview and indeed the interviewer who managed to get the talent relaxed enough to share a genuine moment.
Another example is the controversial professor Dr. Jordan Peterson who I had on The Delve in July of 2018. Peterson has an incredibly dedicated fanbase who are extremely vocal online - in particular, YouTube. The Canadian author routinely has interviewers attempt to expose, or outsmart him (maybe not the smartest move with a 20 plus year Clinical Psychologist who taught at Havard), which more often than not ends in Peterson dancing intellectual rings around the opposing journalist and ultimately countless hyperbolic YouTube headlines of 'Peterson Destroys...' by his often ravenous fanbase.
Peterson had become so disillusioned with interviews, he'd only do 'live' conversations, or unedited chats so his words couldn't be misconstrued. When he first sat down I made sure the cameras were already rolling and asked him how his trip had been so far and commented that he must be exhausted, as he was in the middle of a book tour for 3 million-plus seller 12 Rules for Life. Cagey and almost expecting an attack, he eventually relaxed and the resulting discussion was cut into multiple clips, garnering over 3 million views. The full 70-minute sitdown achieved an incredible completion rate - especially when you consider the majority of those watching will do so on their phone. Peterson commented afterward that'd I'd likely take guff from people on the left and the right as I'd conducted a fairly balanced interview. He was correct and the evergreen element to those clips continue to garner thousands of views, shares, and comments every day over a year later.
One of the final interviews I conducted for The Delve was with the notoriously private Keanu Reeves for John Wick Chapter 3. After much negotiation, I'd managed to wrangle an exclusive 20 minutes with the star in the Soho Hotel in London, for which we'd have to bring our crew to shoot. Generally speaking, there's an entire production team running multiple rooms, but for us to get the extended time with the superstar, we shot on a print interview day, so no cameras, etc were at our disposal unless we provided them ourselves. Flying over that morning with a crew, I was shocked to find that the airline had misplaced the majority of our equipment; but we still had mics and two cameras. Missing lights, tripods and a Zoom audio recorder, we endeavoured to make the interview work as best we could. We had the hotel move us to a room with more natural light and my superb crew member Charlotte rested cameras on shelves, held up by whatever else she could find in the room - books, a speaker. Reeves walked in to greet us and immediately laughed looking at our setup and then doubly so when the interview finished "so how late were you guys for your flight?"
Multiple clips from the interview on my own, and entertainment.ie's social channels were shared throughout the web, including Reeves talking about a film festival based on his work at The Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin. Hundreds of thousands of views later and our hard work and the stress was worth it.
That day, in particular, I thought we were done; weeks and weeks of pre-production had gone out the window due to no fault of our own. But we made it work and the resulting video is among the most well-produced we'd worked on.
Momentary moments of panic are completely natural in any professional capacity, but particularly when you're dealing with noteworthy people. In my experience thus far, allowing yourself to panic but remembering the job at hand is crucial. Despite all of the stress that day leading up to speaking to Reeves, I still had to sit down and do a coherent interview with him. I defaulted as I generally tend to do to what has worked for me over the years - talking to whoever was in front of me like a human being, as opposed to someone I wanted soundbites from.
Mike Sheridan is a broadcaster, producer, and journalist with vast experience in the Irish media industry. He has edited two of the biggest publications in the country, JOE.ie/Entertainment.ie and featured in many national newspapers and magazines - including the cover of FIT Magazine and a fitness cover for 'Tatler Man' - writing about men's style, health, sports, and entertainment. His interviews have been viewed over 8 million times online. Get in touch at @ImMikeSheridan or visit www.immikesheridan.com