Sue: So, talk to me a little bit about breaking the fourth wall. Because a lot of television storytelling is about the reporter or the writer talking, but you spoke very little. And I noticed that you didn't ask a lot of questions, but you would make these simple statements. And then Bob would also address Joseph. I thought it was a wonderful character-driven technique, but this is very different for television storytelling.
Joseph: The way we approach storytelling, we don't really consider the format. We look at it as, what is the best way to tell the story?
And it doesn't matter if it's digital, if it’s TV or web, still photos or just audio. We just want to do the best. Present it in the best possible way.
When it came to breaking the fourth wall, that wasn't necessarily our intention. We were just going to have him narrate the story. But, when we’re interviewing him, he constantly referenced us and he would talk to us.
So at a certain point, I think maybe three days in, we knew we were going to be part of the story.
John: Well, he was flirting with you, Joseph.
Joseph: (laughs) He was definitely flirting with me.
John: That helps when your subject is flirting with the journalist, and that immediately breaks the fourth wall.
Joseph: (laughs) He would admit that.
John: He did admit that. We have it on camera.
I think it was the right decision for me not to have narration. Joseph will tell you this, I am a big proponent of putting the mic on me, so that you hear my question always, or my statement, as you observed. So that the sound bite, for me often in any story I do, and certainly in this one, is the question and answer. There are journalists and storytellers out there who will never use the question, only the answer.
I don't know how many years ago, but there was this epiphany I had when I realized, ‘No, I'm going to ask the question that maybe the viewer was about to ask.’ Right? So, at the very beginning when we were in his garden, I had to ask and we had to include, ‘What are you going to do here?’ And then he proceeds to tell us that his ashes are going to be right where he's standing.
This is the wonderful thing. Joseph and I have worked enough with each other that, I like to say, we pick up on each other's skill sets or whatever. Joseph asked the best questions, I think, and had the best moments with Bob. So Joseph is the one who asked Bob, ‘How would you like us to cover this on that day?’ (referring to May 10, Bob’s death with dignity day).
Sue: Oh, my God, that just ...
John: This is what I will be thinking about and talking about for the rest of my life, that moment when Bob describes how he wants the cameras to go. He is making the decision about his end of life. Why not make the decision of where he wants the cameras to go? We wanted to empower him with that. And we wanted to make sure that we did that at the end.
So he describes how he wants it. He wants the camera to pan up to the angels on the wall. And then he says, ‘Maybe pan over and then take a shot of the window.’ Now Joseph, at that point, is not doing those things. He's got the camera on Bob (as he sits on the bed). And then Bob is finished with what he has to say, there's a pause and he says, ‘How does that sound?’ And Joseph brilliantly throws it right back at him and he says, ‘How does that sound to you?’
It's one of the most brilliant moments. One of the great moments of this entire one-hour documentary, because at that point what does he say?
Joseph: ‘It sounds nice.’
John: ‘It sounds nice.’
Sue: Yeah, it's his choice.
John: Right? And that's how we end ‘Bob's Choice.’
Sue: Yeah, it’s a bookend.
John: Yes and you know … this is an uncomfortable subject, right?
And so, my whole thing is, in storytelling, I want people to love the person that we're doing a story about right off the bat. And if you watch the first minute and a half of ‘Bob's Choice,’ there is no way that you can't love this man. He is so funny. He is so engaging, he draws you in. So you'll love him.
Joseph: I do want to mention how that process came about.
So early on in our shooting the story, a lot of people started asking me the same questions like, ‘Are you going to be … are you going to film it? Are you going to be in the room? What are you going to do? Are you going to show it?’ All these questions and I was like, ‘I have no idea.’ I actually was pretty terrified of this.
Sue: That’s a good answer though.
Joseph: And actually, that kind of just hit me when I was talking with him that day. So I asked him, ‘How would you like us to do it?’ Again, what more power can we give him in this moment? It is his choice. And I wanted to just make sure that it was his choice.
John: Wishes were carried out.
John: We always have to keep in mind the viewer’s experience, right? I didn't want the viewer to think that this was in any way our choice. I wanted to let them know very clearly that these were his (Bob’s) wishes. And we are going to, in fact, carry out those wishes. So this gave us license to roll because he wanted us to.
Sue: So, every so often there would be some self-video by Bob. Was that something that was talked about beforehand? Or was that something that he also offered up? I mean, he put the camera, a mobile phone camera on himself. There are some really uncomfortable scenes doing that.
John: Yeah, so we came up with the idea. We knew we couldn't be with him 24/7. So, I said to him at one point, maybe a couple days in, I said, ‘Bob, we can't be with you all the time, as much as you probably want us to be.’ Because he loved having us being a part of the journey. I say, “We can't be with you all the time. So here's your phone. Here's what I'd like you to do. I'd like you to first of all, point the camera, point the phone at yourself and take some selfie videos -- horizontal please, not vertical." And then, because I knew that he loved talking, I said, ‘Make these videos 30 seconds or less.’
Sue: That's great.
John: And he said, ‘Thirty seconds?’ I said, ‘Yeah. Those are your orders, Bob. Thirty seconds or less. Not over 30 seconds.’ So then from time to time, he would send us these videos during the day as he would do them. And then we realized the most dramatic parts of the journey were really videos that he took.
Sue: And they were, again, his choice.
So there were four reveals in this piece.
John: I think you are right, four big ones.
Sue: Okay, so here’s a spoiler alert. Bob was diagnosed with AIDS in 1998. He was a recovering alcoholic. He was previously married. And then he re-married at the end. The wedding was on his death day, May 10th.
Sue: Three days before May 10th, you guys go visit him and he tells you this?
John: He springs this on us. (Joseph laughing in the background.) We honestly did not have any idea. And so, how do we reveal that? It seemed really an easy one for us. We'll reveal it the way we learned it, which is three days before (his death).
It was our intention to do it in the way we discovered it. And of course, what we're trying to get is the same kind of reaction that we had when we learned the surprise. And we call that segment ‘Scream, Scream, Scream’ and it’s because he actually says those words ‘scream, scream, scream, surprise!’ It was a surprise!
Sue: Earlier when we were talking, Joseph, you were talking about the power of silence. There's this one scene when we hear Ray (a friend of Bob Fuller’s) talk about Bob and the focus remains on Bob in the background. That takes discipline not to rack focus on the speaker. How did you keep your hands off the camera?
Joseph: That is actually kind of a common technique that is done often in news (video) when somebody is referencing something behind them and you're focusing on that.
The question to Ray was, ‘if (Bob) he wasn't in the room right now, what would you want to tell him?’
I wanted to see Bob's reaction because this is going to be the first time he really opens up and somebody is telling him how they really feel. And to me it's not important what the person is saying. It's the reaction of Bob hearing it for the first time. And Bob is looking down, he’s soaking it in, he's taking it in.
Sue: It's beautiful.