It's no secret that I'm a huge Errol Morris fan -- mainly for his documentary work, but also for his unbelievably complete essays on photography. Today, I'd like to introduce you to a device that Morris created to help him film face-to-face interviews for his documentaries: The Interrotron.
Wikipedia says: "The name 'Interrotron' was coined by Morris's wife, Julia Sheehan, who, according to Morris, 'liked the name because it combined two important concepts — terror and interview.'" The Interrotron allows the interviewer and the interviewee to look directly into the camera, and see each other's faces, using a projection style similar to a teleprompter (here's a photo of the device).
By allowing direct eye contact with the camera, Morris gets a unique interview style, which he uses to create a close personal connection with his interview subjects. Check out this clip from The Fog of War to see what footage shot through The Interrotron looks in practice (warning, McNamara uses some slightly coarse language, and it's a grim subject -- the firebombing of Japan in WWII):
There's an interesting Q&A about The Interrotron on Morris's web site. Here are some telling bits:
We all know when someone makes eye contact with us. It is a moment of drama. Perhaps it's a serial killer telling us that he's about to kill us; or a loved one acknowledging a moment of affection. Regardless, it's a moment with dramatic value. We know when people make eye contact with us, look away and then make eye contact again. It's an essential part of communication. And yet, it is lost in standard interviews on film. That is, until the Interrotron.
Q: Did McNamara like it?
A: Well, you have to remember that we are talking about someone who has been interviewed a thousand times. He walked into the studio and said, "What is that?" I smiled and said, "The Interrotron." He said, "Well, whatever it is, I don't like it." But then he sat down, and we proceeded to record over twenty hours of interviews. I guess he came to like it, too.