Into the Eyes of Strangers

Many artists have referred to the eyes as "The Windows to the Soul."  In them, a person's desire, energy, and true feelings can be discovered.  Some say that the eyes, "can never lie."

Many artists have referred to the eyes as “The Windows to the Soul.” In them, a person’s true desires, energy, and feelings can be discovered. Some say that the eyes, “can never lie.”

I’ve been working as a producer for 9 years now.

When it comes to conducting an interview, every producer finds their own technique or ritual over time.  I have come up with my own “style.” It’s something I’ve just developed along the way…a way that I’ve become reliant on like an invaluable tool.  My technique allows me to get someone comfortable in a hurry.  I can either shorten up or slow down my routine depending on the conditions around me, the subject matter being discussed, or the time my cameraman needs to get his shot adjusted right.  As technical adjustments are being made around us I explain to the interviewee to ignore the camera and the lights.  I explain that once we begin, they should only look at and talk to me.  If I do this right, it should feel like any other normal “conversation” they’ll have that day, or any other day.  I encourage them to be comfortable — to relax their shoulders and talk enthusiastically and expressively, to “use their hands,” if that’s what feels natural (it always is for me).  I tell them it’s important to me that they “be themselves,” that there are no right answers, that they already know everything we need to talk about…that they just need to trust themselves, and I ask them to trust me.  I remind them that I’m listening to them, so they don’t have to worry about listening to themselves.  In those moments before an interview begins you have very little time to get someone at ease.  After years of doing this I’ve come to recognize that the best interviews come from people who don’t think and just talk, and those that struggle the most are paradoxically the people that “prepare” their answers ahead of time.  The best interviews happen when people just let their answers….flow.

When the interview starts — I ask my first question, often trying to lead them with it where I’d like them to go. And as they begin to talk, I silently listen, nodding often to let them know I’m there with them.  My most important rule, always try to maintain eye contact.  I remind myself not to look down at my notes and the next question I want to ask, I tell myself, “don’t break eye contact.”  Over time, I’ve found that the more focused I am on them and what they have to say, the less they remember what is going around them.  Usually by the second or third question, something remarkable happens — their body language completely changes.  The tension falls from their shoulders, the shakiness drifts from their voice, their eyes settle and they blink less and less.  Their guard is let down, and a connection is created.

Usually, after twenty to thirty minutes I know we have what we need for the story.   I thank them, we collect the mic, we shake hands — and they walk away.  Sometimes I see them again.  Most of the time, I don’t.  This is the routine — and like any other, at first it’s nuanced and unique, and after awhile it becomes … well, natural.

It’s become very easy for me to walk into any environment, meet the person or people I’ll be talking to and get to work.  Too easy.  My routine has become so engrained and natural that it’s all too easy to lose perspective on what the act actually means…

I think now about all the places I’ve been, at least twenty states in our country.  I’ve conducted interviews in countless NYC highrises, an LA arena, a Caribbean beach, a famous Oklahoma bar, countless schools, hospitals, and churches.  And all of the people I’ve talked to — their ages, professions, ethnicities, and social situations so vast and varied.  I’ve interviewed CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies and the founders of start-ups to volunteers leading life-saving charities.  I’ve talked to police officers from small towns about difficult cases that still eat away at them, I’ve listened to doctors talking about the cures they’re researching, restaurant owners struggling in a tough economy, and firefighters who’d lost a dear friend.  I’ve talked to teachers, convenience store employees, entrepreneurs, engineers, architects, students, athletes and even an Oscar-winning Hollywood star.  I’ve talked to each of them about their work — whether it was building someone else’s house, or re-building their own.  I’ve learned that fighting a fire, teaching classical music, and preventing a heart attack are each an art form of their own.

So many names, so many faces it’s impossible to remember them all.  So many eyes I’ve looked into…and so many stories that’ve been shared with me.  Hundreds and hundreds of them…maybe more.  Most of them you forget over time, but some stick with you and never leave you.  Sometimes the stories a stranger shares with you help you learn an invaluable lesson about how you should live your own life.

As I grow older I become more convinced that no one knows how to live life better, than a child.  The children I’ve interviewed have solidified this conviction.  Most of the children I’ve spoken with aren’t “normal” kids.  That’s why I’ve been asked to speak with them.  Usually they’re dealing with an adversity so great, that the average adult would crumble if they had to face it.  Look into the eyes of a child who has spent time in a homeless shelter, or listen to a little girl who has just battled and beaten cancer — and you discover what true courage is…you redefine “character.”

Character is an indifference to adversity, a fortitude that allows one to not look past it, but through it — without any fear.  You grow up thinking that this kind of character comes with age and wisdom.  But these kids have taught me that the opposite is true — that innocence may actually be wisdom.

The interviews that have impacted me the greatest are the ones shared by children who have faced great adversity in their lives.

The interviews that have impacted me the deepest are the ones shared by children who have faced great adversity in their lives.

I remember many of Joseph Campbell’s passages from “The Power of Myth,” but one stands out right now.  He talks about the experience of stopping your forward thinking for a moment.  About stopping, looking back, and reflecting.  He said that if you look closely and carefully enough, you’ll notice something remarkable.  A thread appears to you, a current that has run through your life since the beginning — a narrative like the one you’d read in any great story.  Your life has a certain path that seems chaotic and uncertain in the present, but appears natural, charted, and destined when you look back at where you’ve been. It’s as if the story of your entire life has already been written and you’re the last one to peel back the pages.

I have to remind myself to do this sometimes, especially when life is at it’s most hectic.  As I do it tonight, and reflect on the individuals I’ve met, the questions I’ve asked, and the stories that have been shared I realize how these experiences have affected and shaped who I am.  I’m grateful for them, and humbled by the opportunity to listen to and later to share each story.

Years from now, when I look back at my own life, I think I’ll see in it the same thing I’ve somehow known since I was a child. Sharing stories is why I’m here.  I picked it, and it picked me.  Whether they’re about real lives or imagined, those stories — no matter how disparate and diverse, I’ll see that they somehow all came together to help me write my own.

There are some people that believe that no one on this Earth is a “stranger.”  They believe that we deeply know, and are connected to every person we cross paths with — we just don’t allow ourselves to be open to it.  It’s a radically different way of looking at life for sure, but after all these eyes I’ve looked into, I’d have to say that I agree.

~ by Dan Fabrizio on March 21, 2013.

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