I had the opportunity this weekend to sit down with James Marsh, the director of documentaries like 2008’s Man on Wire (which won an Oscar) and this year’s Project Nim. He’s a hugely talented filmmaker who turned out to be a charming, funny interview subject. He’s also loquacious, which is a huge relief; it’s much easier to cut a long interview down than it is to stretch an unproductive one. I was pretty pleased both with the interview and with the feature that came out of it.

You can read the long(ish) feature I wrote on Marsh for Vox Magazine, or you can listen to five minutes of excerpts from our conversation at KBIA’s website. And here are a few things about the interview process itself:

  • The night before I interviewed Marsh, I had a dream that I spilled coffee across the table and into his lap. (This is a recurring nightmare of mine whenever I have advance notice I’ll be meeting someone for the first time.) The next morning, the first thing that I did when I sat down was – yes – spilled my coffee. It wasn’t exactly a flood, and it didn’t get anywhere near him, but still – I couldn’t fucking believe it.

    So Marsh said, “Oh, let me get you some napkins.” But I was already standing, so I said, “No, no, it’s ok, I’ll get them.” I was harried and upset with myself, and listening to the tape later, I realized that it showed; in fact, it sounded like I was upset with Marsh, for offering to get me napkins. I certainly hope he didn’t take it that way.
  • It’s stressful to interview someone whose made his professional career interviewing people. At one point there was a lull in the interview as I thought about what line of inquiry to pursue next, and Marsh noticed and started giving me tips on what to do when the same thing happens to him. Which was useful – actually, very useful – but he still acknowledged that the interview had hit a snag, which interviewees tend not to do.
  • As we were leaving the cafe, Marsh asked if I knew someplace to get some beer. I figured he meant a bar, so I started rattling off a few places downtown, but then he said no, he was looking for bottled beer. I generally get my beer from the local HyVee grocery store – it’s got a kickass craft beer selection – so I told him so and gave him directions. It was only after we parted ways that I realized that it was likely he was planning to walk there; the grocery store was two or three miles away, and some of the terrain in between was not particularly kind to pedestrians.

    So long story short, I may have sent an Oscar-winning film director on a wild goose chase through Columbia. And all because the guy wanted a six-pack.