Can you make any recommendations creating smart efficiencies around pre-interviews and analysis of those interviews?

Mike Nelson asked: We're working on our first fully Muse-driven project, and it's going great! Can you make any recommendations creating smart efficiencies around pre-interviews and analysis of the interviews? In our current situation, we're conducting a number of pre-interviews, many of which are lengthy. They're all audio recorded, which we then listen back to analyze for the Big 3 Things. It's turning up great stuff, but it's a very lengthy process. I want the process to be as long as it needs to be -- no more, no less -- but how might we drive smart efficiencies? Thanks!

Great to hear from you Mike,

And it's exciting to follow your first Muse-drive project.

I have a few small tips that we practice during pre-interviews that I hope you'll find helpful. I would also encourage you that the pre-interview and listening process—though an initial investment in time—saves at least twice as much time later in production and post. But here's what I got:

1. Bring a helper.

Often when we do pre-interviews, we'll enlist the help of two team members. Beforehand we'll designate one person to lead the conversation, and one person to focus on listening. The latter is what we call a helper. While the helper is certainly still encouraged to hop in the conversation as needed or if there's a question they want to explore, they can focus much more on listening and being conscious of what moves them about this character and conversation.

After the pre-interview, you can turn to this person to immediately write down the details and notes that are strong and relevant to the person's potential plot points, conflict, and most importantly—Big 3 Things.

If it's an in-person pre-interview, then the Helper does not take notes, as we want to make sure the character feels that they are present in a conversation, and not feel pressured. However, if the pre-interview is on Skype or on a phone call, then we may have the Helper stay out of the conversation, and out of Skype sight/out of the phone call, so that he or she can take notes throughout. (They can even start a timer on their phone and jot down the rough times of really strong/relevant parts of the conversation.) That leads to my next point:

2. "Divide and conquer" by focusing on the Big 3 Things and conflict to share.

I'd say that most of the time, the rest of the team does not listen to the whole pre-interview. Rather, they rely on the notes from those who were present during the pre-interview, and a one-page character brief that those involved create of that person's Big 3 Things.

It allows us to "divide and conquer" so that several potential characters can be interviewed, and we all come together to look at the Big 3 Things and continue through the process from there. We also pay special attention to characters who had strong conflict in the way of their Desire.

While we used to do these one-page character briefs to share with the team, we now use the Storybuilder. It likewise has a place for notes, to define and rate the Big 3 Things, and makes it easy for any of our team members to hop on and more quickly get up to speed.

3. An immediate "brain dump" does wonders.

From my experience pre-interviewing and also being a Helper in these conversations, I've found that it's most helpful to write down as much information that's relevant as I can about the conversation as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more you may start to forget.

I also like to organize my notes by Muse categories right away. So I'll include details the person said that I organize into categories of Desire, Uniqueness, Complexity. Even though it's certainly not the final decision, I also jot down any initial impressions I have along with it. If there's a plot point the person shared with us that my gut instinct said whoa, that would make an incredible Hook, then I'll include that note. Once the Heart is chosen, we consider all of these points much more intentionally, but it can be helpful to remember your gut instincts to come back to later to evaluate.

More often then not, if there's a part of the conversation that you star as being absolutely incredible about this person, then it's worth exploring further. If it fascinates and connects you as a person, it's likely that it will for viewers as well.