Do you always conduct pre-interviews in-person?
Luke asked: you say get the plot points in pre-interviews. I rarely can get a pre-interview done, due to time, budget and just that many people are 'off the grid' here. Also I would shy away from doing it electronically or over the phone as there is little chance to build rapport. So do you guys always do these in person?
And I absolutely agree with your point that in-person pre-interviews really are the best option to build rapport. They also offer the most opportunity to get to know the person through nonverbal communication as well. On the phone, you may be able to tell changes in pitch or tone of voice, but in person, you can look at body language and facial expressions too. If a person leans in, starts talking with their hands, and has a big smile on their face, for example, it may indicate to you that that particular topic is something they're especially passionate about, and you might want to explore it more and see if it represents their Desire.
With that said, yes, we always try to do pre-interviews in-person whenever possible. But, if there are constraints—like geographic location or time or budget—like you mention, then next in line we'd try for video Skype.
Sometimes, we do both Skype and in-person pre-interviews, or email some questions as well as in-person pre-interviews.
For example, when Patrick, Joyce, and I were heading to Asia to teach Muse in a few workshops, we built in some extra time to find and shoot an episode of our upcoming personal web series called The Remarkable Ones. We had our Researcher, Annabel, look into some potential leads in the area before we arrived and conduct pre-interviews over Skype to help determine the Heart of that episode (his name was Zlwin, and he was a magician in Malaysia). Even though we knew Zlwin would be our Heart, after we arrived on site, Patrick, Joyce, and I still took half a day to meet with Zlwin and his fiancé for brunch to chat and get to know them better. They showed us his parents' house, his office and workshop, and he also did some personal magic tricks for us so we could experience his craft, and sense of wonder, ourselves.
Even though a half a day may seem like a lot to just hang out with your character, it was in this time that we spent with Zlwin and his fiancé that we were able to ascertain key information for our story, including his Plot Points and relevant Places that he either showed us or that came up in conversation.
But it doesn't always need to be a half day— even half an hour to pre-interview a character can let you know so much more about who they are and what their story is really about.
While I know it's still asking a big time commitment compared to a lot of folks' current process, consider how so often we assume taking more time in pre-production will lead to more time to complete a project overall. But in reality, what you'll find is that by spending more time in pre-production and actually getting to know, plan, and craft your story, it will actually save you time in both production and post-production. You'll shoot less since you know exactly what you need to shoot for the story you decided, and there's less to edit as well as a lot clearer structure going into editing. You won't have to worry about scrambling to find a story after-the-fact.